Successful performance in off-road cycling demands a combination of muscular endurance, strength and power.
While a sport like mountain bike racing requires mostly muscular endurance, strength is needed to climb short, steep hills, power your way through streams and sprint at the end of the race.
Because of these requirements, weight training should be considered as a part of your yearly training program.
It has only been within the last few years that researchers and coaches have begun to investigate these issues. Several recently published studies and books have shown that strength training can increase leg strength and time to exhaustion without seeing an increase in maximal oxygen consumption. There is also evidence that increased strength will reduce the incidence of injury in endurance athletes.
The initial study on the compatibility of weight training and aerobic conditioning surprised a few people. Hickson and colleagues from the University of Illinois at Chicago studied the impact of adding heavy resistance training to increase leg strength in eight running- and cycling-trained subjects who already had been training for several years. Strength training was performed for three days per week for 10 weeks, while all subjects continued their normal endurance training.
After the 10 weeks of training, the athletes' one-repetition maximum (maximal amount of weight that can be lifted in one repetition) strength for all exercises performed was increased. In the squat, one repetition maximum increased 43 percent (230 pounds to 318 pounds).
There was a small increase in maximal oxygen consumption from 3.40 to 3.54 liters per minute. But when expressed in milliliters per minute per kilogram of body weight, there was no change after 10 weeks of weight training. However, time to exhaustion while riding at 100 percent of peak oxygen consumption was increased by 47 percent from four minutes, 18 seconds to six minutes, 17 seconds.
The increase in time to exhaustion would be an advantage during off-road efforts going hard over steep climbs, or extended efforts, and when you are going above your anaerobic threshold. This data does not demonstrate any negative performance effects of adding heavy-resistance training to ongoing endurance training programs. The authors conclude that certain types of endurance performance, particularly that requiring fast-twitch fiber recruitment, can be improved by strength-training supplementation.
A group of researchers from the University of Maryland completed a study investigating the effects of strength training on lactate threshold and endurance performance. Eighteen healthy males were randomly assigned to either a strength-training group for 12 weeks of training or to a control group that served as controls. Despite no changes in maximal oxygen consumption after 12 weeks, there was a 33 percent increase in cycling time to exhaustion at 75 percent of peak oxygen consumption after training in the strength-trained group.
There also were significant reductions in plasma lactate concentrations at all relative exercise intensities between 55 percent to 75 percent of peak oxygen consumption. The improved endurance performance was associated with a 12 percent increase in lactate threshold after the 12 weeks of resistance training.