While reviewing a paper titled “The Best Lifestyle Changes in Retirement for Fat Loss and Muscle Maintenance” I came across an incredible graphic.
The data in this graph comes from a paper titled “Skeletal muscle mass and distribution in 468 men and women aged 18-88 yr” .
On the X (horizontal) axis we have age; on the Y (vertical) axis, we have muscle mass in kilograms. Green dots represent men, and purple represents women.
Let’s take a second look at the graph through the eyes of a cyclist. I see two periods. Period one is between 18-35 and period two is after 40.
In the first period of life, muscle is free. In the second period of life, muscle must be earned.
This portrait of muscle loss isn’t likely a surprise; the older you get, the more muscle you used to have.
If you have an effective plan to offset muscle loss heading into the second period of life it likely includes strength training and more protein .
The protein part is relatively straightforward, but what does it mean to “strength train”?
If you’re a cyclist under 35, “strength training” means whatever you want it to mean:
What is Strength Training?
- Body weight training? Sounds great.
- Kettlebells? Yeah, whatever.
- Yoga or other “mobility” work? Sure if you want to.
It’s not that bodyweight training, kettlebells, or “mobility” work are particularly effective at improving strength or building muscle , it’s just that being young allows you to train ineffectively while still maintaining some strength and muscle.
If you’re pushing 40 (or happen to be young and bright), and want to execute an effective strength training plan, the science is unambiguous on the best way to train.
Bodyweight work, “core” training, or kettlebells are unlikely to improve your cycling performance and are less likely to help you build or maintain muscle as you age [4, 5].
Strength Training Goals
Before we identify what an effective strength training plan looks like, let’s specify what we want to achieve through strength training:
- Build lean muscle (crucial for the 40+ crowd)
- Improve maximal strength (crucial for the 40+ crowd)
- Stimulate bone growth
- Improve “functional” range of motion
- Improve balance
Muscle and maximal strength are the most obvious; why would we want our strength training to stimulate bone growth?
Check out the graph below. Look familiar? On the X (horizontal) axis, we have age, on the Y (vertical) axis we have bone mass. The top line represents men and the bottom line represents women .
Like muscle mass, bone mineral density drops off as we approach our mid-30s. Keep in mind this data is representative of the general population, for cyclists the picture is worse.
I adapted the graph below from a study comparing rates of bone loss over seven years in masters cyclists with a control group of nonathlete peers .
In short, cyclists begin the seven years with less bone mass and then lose more than their “nonathlete” peers over the seven years.
Even at moderate training volumes, cyclists are susceptible to osteopenia and osteoporosis . Strength training is an obvious solution .
What about range of motion (ROM) and balance? If you’re young, you’ve likely never considered these primary health attributes.
If you’re older or have worked with older populations, you understand ROM and balance can be the difference between putting on your pants or relying on someone else to do it for you .
All Strength Training Plans Aren’t Equal
We’ve laid out the specific attributes of an effective strength training plan. Let’s examine why some “strength training” plans are better than others.
I’ve graded each strength training modality for its ability to deliver on a specific fitness attribute.
|Lean Muscle||Maximal Strength||Bone Growth||Functional ROM||Balance|
This table demonstrates why the consensus position of strength and conditioning professionals continues to be that “ground-based, free-weight exercises” like heavy squats and deadlifts (barbell training) provide the most robust foundation for an effective strength training plan .
In other words, if you’re “strength training”, you should incorporate movements most likely to develop strength alongside other essential attributes specific to a cyclist’s needs. If you’re not, you need a new plan.
*Check out our Strength Training for Cycling Guide offering a detailed, evidence-based rationale for an effective cycling strength training plan.
- Curtis, E., et al., Determinants of Muscle and Bone Aging. J Cell Physiol, 2015. 230(11): p. 2618-25.
- Liao, C.D., et al., The Role of Muscle Mass Gain Following Protein Supplementation Plus Exercise Therapy in Older Adults with Sarcopenia and Frailty Risks: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression Analysis of Randomized Trials. Nutrients, 2019. 11(8).
- Haff, G. and N.T. Triplett, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Fourth edition ed. 2021, Champaign, US: Human Kinetics Champaign, US.
- Suchomel, T.J., et al., The Importance of Muscular Strength: Training Considerations. Sports Medicine, 2018. 48: p. 765-785.
- Fragala, M.S., et al., Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement From the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2019. 33(8): p. 2019-2052.
- Janssen, I., et al., Skeletal muscle mass and distribution in 468 men and women aged 18–88 yr.Journal of Applied Physiology, 2000. 89(1): p. 81-88.
- Nichols, J.F. and M.J. Rauh, Longitudinal Changes in Bone Mineral Density in Male Master Cyclists and Nonathletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2011. 25(3): p. 727-734.
- Mojock, C.D., et al., Comparisons of Bone Mineral Density Between Recreational and Trained Male Road Cyclists. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 2015.
- Mathis, S.L. and J.L. Caputo, Resistance Training Is Associated With Higher Lumbar Spine and Hip Bone Mineral Density in Competitive Male Cyclists. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2018. 32(1): p. 274-279.
- Bray, N.W., et al., Exercise prescription to reverse frailty. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 2016. 41(10): p. 1112-1116.