Can an endurance athlete build/maintain a meaningful strength foundation/base and be fit?

I know there are a few threads about adding in an odd weights session here, but I am keen to pose the question: Can an endurance athlete be strong?

I’ll give some context to my question: I’m in midlife (ahem) and have always ridden or run rather than hit the gym. Now I have injuries, posture issues, strength imbalances and I’m not making any progress on the bike (which, in fairness, isn’t surprising).

So, I’m bought into the idea that I need to prioritise strength and mobility work - I need to fix myself and I actually need to gain some muscle weight to fight off sarcopenia (I am of that age). But how? Do I give up riding? How do you all structure your weeks to balance riding, gym work, mobility work, and then family/work/life etc?

I can’t do two sessions per day as I work long hours. I guess I can train six days - maybe a 3 ride and 3 gym mix. But I’ll get tired. How do you all do it? Or is it a binary choice: Strong and good physique v aerobic fitness on a bike?

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Strength training does not need to take long time or involve gym – just do some functional exercises (pushups, pullups, situps etc etc). Every morning, 20min is not too much :thinking:

Pushups are especially useful for cyclist. It develops triceps and core that you need to keep aero position on hoods for long time.

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start slow. I turned sixty this year, a couple years ago I was struggling to combine TR and strength work. Then I tried the previous version of this plan Weight Lifting For Cycling 💥 New – FasCat Coaching and it all came together. There is a lot of low-intensity but still potent (for me) endurance riding, along with some sprinting, to complement the lifting.

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Start with giving priority to your weakness and add the other components gradually. Most cyclists won’t build enough muscle mass for their older years and most gym people don’t develop the cardiac adaptations when it’s possible, before 55.

You have to asses your profile and work a ton. Prepare to dedicate 10-15 hrs a week.

Hey…it’s MEEEEEEE!!!

I feel your struggle. I’ve found these classes:

60 min classes are really only about 40 min of actual work time. When you sign up, they set up a zoom to help you get the best use out of their program and they preach “less is more”. (60 min classes are a bit more educational than the 30 so it’s where even they say you should start.)

Totally worth the free trial. I could share a code that would give me a free month if you sign up, but I won’t because I’m happy to pay full price for this program. One bell. Simple movements. Good results.

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Targeting 8-12 hours/week, and so far only hitting about 9 hours/week if you include the core/strength maintenance work, I’ve seen very good results. Lots of endurance riding. Added an inch to my legs without any specific strength work, I attribute that to 2 years of 5+ hours/week endurance riding. Far more durable, higher VO2max, higher FTP, resting HR dropped 12bpm, versus when I was doing higher intensity on TR plans at 5-6 hours/week. This is my seventh year training and I was a desk jockey for 30+ years.

Your mileage may vary.

I would suggest looking at the big five lifts, unilateral movements are great to get a stronger body. If you don’t have access to a gym you could always get some resistant bands or Invest in a suspension trainer. Those require minimal space and even 1 day a week of lifting you would probably see a difference on and off the bike.
If you do have access to a gym, the big five lifts are squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull up and shoulder presses. Focus on your form and higher reps at first then gradually increase the weight.
Without getting in the weeds too much; I would also find a good core workout routine you could easily do whenever you have a chance. With the Internet these days you could easily find a core routine that is no more than 15 minutes, if you’re very time crunched.

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One thing you could try is to periodise your strength training like you do with your cycling. That’s what I did last winter and am just starting doing again now. Joe Friel lays it all out quite well in his books, The Cyclists Training Bible and Fast over Fifty, basically, as you resume training, strength is given much more priority over the bike, then as you work through the strength phases, the intensity and amount of sessions decreases as your bike training starts to ramp up.

At the moment, I’m doing three gym sessions a week, three bike , which only one or two are intervals (and even then only an hour long) , the longer bike sessions are outdoors and very much endurance. In the next few weeks the gym sessions will drop to two a week and the bike up to four , although some weeks I may keep it at three but do a longer long ride if that makes sense so I can have an extra recovery day.

Eventually, according to Friel, you will switch the strength work to maintenance, which can be done only once a week (although I’m sure you could still manage a few bodyweight exercises through the week) and you’ll be full on on your bike, with amount of sessions and intensity.

I’ve found incorporating strength work, even if it means dropping a bike session here and there to be very beneficial. Another book I’d recommend is Finish Strong, Resistance Training For Endurance Athletes, it has a full season of templates you can use to plan your season.

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Dialed Health. It’s wonderful if you like a schedule with progressions, how-to videos, thoughtful workout design. Highly recommended.

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I’m 61 and while regular cardio work is likely to keep me alive for a while so I keep riding but, having overall strength and being flexible are what are going to make life enjoyable for the next 20 years. Once you hit a certain age, being able to do something like Turkish Get Ups is going to be way more significant to your quality of life than hanging on to an extra 20 watts on your FTP.

For the past year and a half I have gotten really disciplined about doing a morning stretching and core routine every day that takes about 10 minutes. The focus is on stretching and I consider it my warmup for the day but it has helped improve my core strength. In addition 3 days a week I have been doing a primarily kettlebell based strength workout that takes about 25 minutes. This is primarily high rep/lower weight sets with some functional stuff mixed in (eg Turkish Get Ups, etc). I mix it up a lot so over time I’m doing a pretty wide range of exercises.

This routine has not interfered with my cycling much but has really lead to some significant over all fitness improvements.

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I’m 51. I’m also of the view that strength training is of increased importance to me. However, gym work does take me away from the bike and if I’m trying to progress at the gym (i.e. lifting more weight and bulking up), it has had an effect on my riding by needing to schedule a bit more recovery at times.

I’ve just have had to get used to the fact that if I deem the gym work important, I’m just not going to ride as much as my peers and may see much slower progression than if totally dedicated to the endurance side of the equation. I’ve come to terms with it as I’m looking at the long term risk/benefits and my riding is not geared toward competitive endeavors (just like to challenge myself to stay with the fast group rides as much as possible, and to see individual progression).

I try to not overly complicate it: My typical week includes two intensity sessions on the bike (T & Th) and then endurance Z1/Z2 type rides during the weekends. If I’m aiming to ride both Sat and Sun, I’ll likely just do two weight training sessions during the week. If I ride just one of the weekend days, I swap in a third gym day if I feel fresh and recovered. My gym sessions are total body sessions and I stick to a strict one hour time limit, so as to not waste too much time resting unnecessarily between sets or socializing. I get in hit the timer on my watch and when it hits 1hr I’m out of there. Rinse and repeat. Good luck finding your groove.

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So I take you started at 53. The great Benjamin Levine has done some of the best work regarding cardio adaptations of exercise. His research highlights the need to start before 55 (give or take) to create heart adaptations that won’t happen no matter what in later years.

I’m curious to test his finding with your case. Have you had your VO2max tested?

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My answer would be yes. I powerlifted for a few years before riding.

These days I am riding 8-12h/wk on the bike for pretty much the whole year, with occasional blocks of 1-2 where I’m doing 20-30h/wk.

I typically lift weights once or twice a week when I’m doing base training for a few months. Then pretty much never for the rest of the year. Last year my work sets were 3x8x205lb back squats and 3x5x285lb deadlifts @170lb. Was doing 3 x 10 pullups with 25lb extra weight.

Didn’t do any for months until last week. Weigh 165lb right now and did 3x8x105 back squats and 3x5x185 deadlift with no difficulty (as a starting point so really not trying to lift heavy). Can still do 3x10 pullups with no added weight.

It does not take much to build a reasonable base of muscular strength. When I was powerlifting with a >400lb deadlift, I was in the gym for 3-4h a week only.

Lift weights once or twice a week, and be consistent, and strength will come to you.

For stretching… I am really bad at this and need to make it a habit. However, it comes quickly. Do 15-10min of targeted stretching or yoga or something every day, and you will see big improvements even within a month.

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Monday - upper body weight workout (bench, powerclean, military press, bent over rows, curls, pullups); 30 minute walk/run keeping heartrate zone 2

Tuesday - hard bike ride 1.5 hours includes VO2max and Anaerobic efforts

Wednesday - 30 minute run

Thursday - zone 2 bike ride 1.5 hours

Friday - upper body weight workout

Saturday - long bike ride 3 hours (group ride…could be hard, moderate or easy depending on who shows)

Sunday - rest or easy bike ride if feeling good

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@stonerider : This is similar to my plan. I also used to run on Wednesdays, but for whatever reason running (even at a very slow pace) really increases my need for recovery. I noticed I needed two sessions during the week to get my body used to the physical effort of running, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice a gym or bike day. If my body reacted better to running just once a week, my plan would look very similar.

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Not tested. Three different models/equations put it currently at 46 relative and around 4.3L/min absolute. The relative number should hit 50 or 51 if I hit my weight loss target this winter. VO2max has been slowly going up, it appears metabolic fitness has been the limiter.

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You can ride and lift but you’ll probably need to be more selective about the riding.

I’ve been lifting heavy (starting strength, specifically, discussed in other threads) 3x per week and it affects threshold/vo2 type efforts more than endurance. Intending on dropping that down once I’m happy with my level of strength. I’m still trying to figure that part out but I have a ways to go anyhow.

Thanks!. Wonder what you mean by metabolic fitness….According to Levine, the main factor is stroke volume which in turn is mostly dependent on size of the heart and it’s compliance.

Well I believe, without specific evidence, that all the low-intensity training has made my heart more elastic and have a stronger rebound, and that has increased stroke volume. But my top end always seemed to blow up spectacularly early, because of my legs. But I have no real evidence to support that. I’m pretty connected mind-body so those are merely feelings.

Can only tell you that doing boat loads (for me, about 7-8 hours/week average) of low intensity has driven my ftp up by 20-30W, driven up entire power curve under 5 minutes without any real vo2max training, raised power at lower aerobic threshold by 50W, added an inch to my upper legs, allowed my HRV to return to normal, and dropped resting heart rate 12 bpm and still dropping. :man_shrugging: and it took 2 years. I’m patient.

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4 to 8 hours a week of lifting for the basic program sounds like a lot of lifting? That’s at least 4 days a week?