On-Versus Off-Bike Power Training

TOOLBOX: Power training is ultimately going to be beneficial for your cycling, whether it’s done on the bike or in the weight room. However, are there differences in your acute physiological response and your ability to recover from these workouts?

A Powerful Argument

We recently looked at an article comparing power training conducted either on the bike versus off the bike in the weight room. The results suggest that both types of training improved power and on-bike performance (wattage over an 8-min TT).

But as anyone who has done heavy lifting knows, resistance training can exact a heavy toll on your body, due to the eccentric contractions from resisting a heavy weight against gravity along with added risk of injury. This can leave you sore and hamper your recovery for subsequent training.

Kristoffersen et al. 2018
Comparing the acute and recovery rates in metabolic and muscle damage following either off the-bike strength work or on-the-bike sprint work was the objective of a 2018 Norwegian study (Kristoffersen et al. 2018) . What was the study design?

  • 12 national/international level male cyclists with VO2max > 60 mL/kg/min. Importantly, they were experienced with off-the-bike resistance training and in that phase of training, so it wasn’t a case where they would have have an artificially high rate of muscle damage from being their first time in the gym.
  • Resistance training (HS) was done on a Smith Machine as 3 sets of 6-rep maximum for squat, unilateral leg press, and unilateral hip flexion.
  • Sprint training (SS) was done on a Watt Bike, with 3×4 sets of 8 s seated sprints from a standstill. The two trials were performed 48+h apart.
  • Blood samples were collected at 5 min, 30 min, and 1, 21, and 45 h following each training bout. Tests include creatine kinase and myglobin (markers of muscle damage) and human growth hormone.

Power to the Pedals

This was a pretty well-designed study to look at the relative acute impact of on- versus off-bike power training. The participants were well-chosen to be both strong cyclists and actively performing resistance training. What were some of the major findings?

  • In terms of actual work performed, the SS trial (~90 kJ) was about double that of the HS (~47 kJ). Lactate was also higher after SS than HS.
  • Creatine kinase was higher with HS compared to SS at both 21 and 45 h post-training. Myoglobin was higher with HS at 5, 30, and 60 min with HS, but no differences were seen at 21 and 45 h.
  • Human growth hormone values were higher with SS than with HS at 5, 30, and 60 min post-training.
  • Perceived effort was higher immediately post-exercise with SS (18.5 on 6-20 scale) compared to HS (15.9), but this perceived effort was similar at 30 min and 1 h post-exercise.
  • Perceived soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS) was similar at 21 h but remained high at 45 h with HS.
  • However, despite the DOMS, countermovement jump performance at 23 and 47 h post-, and cycling sprint power at 23 h post-, were similar with either HS or SS training.

Power to the People

What should we take away from this study? Scientifically, the confounding factor to the design was that more work was done in the SS. This could explain both the higher RPE and also the higher lactate values.

But despite the greater work performed with the bike sprints, resistance training still ended up with higher levels of muscle damage and muscle soreness. This is as we would expect, given the greater eccentric contractions.

Even though this higher muscle damage did not impact the actual power performance at 23 and 47 hours, remember that the performance was on “one-off” tests of jump and sprint performance. It is likely that the higher muscle soreness may reduce an individual’s motivation to train or reduce their subsequent training load, and that can have negative overall effects on training progression.

How would I use this knowledge? I would follow Toolbox contributor Menachem Brodie’s advice, which is resistance training for most cyclists is NOT about big weights. Rather, the emphasis should be on proper movements and individualized resistance work to build your strong foundation. Then, couple that with on-bike sprint and power training to maximize specificity.

Ride fast and have fun!

Kristoffersen M, Sandbakk Ø, Tønnessen E, et al (2018) Power Production and Biochemical Markers of Metabolic Stress and Muscle Damage Following a Single Bout of Short-Sprint and Heavy Strength Exercise in Well-Trained Cyclists. Front Physiol 9:. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.00155

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