Is it possible for an amateur to change their rider phenotype?

So I maybe using a slightly wrong term in “phenotype”, as I understand it’s perhaps a genetic thing that defines what kind of rider you are or what you are best at.

However, over the years there have been a few pro riders who have switched from different disciplines or changed their event focus with success. I am thinking perhaps Bradley Wiggins being a track rider and then slimming down to become a Grand Tour contender. Geraint Thomas probably another, track then classics and super domestique to Grand Tour contender again. There have been sprinters who have become competitive in the mountains and probably a lot of others.

Since I got seriously into training for road racing about 9 years ago, I have lost no more than a few kg’s to become a fairly slim build but perhaps neither climber nor sprinter. TR advocates the training more than any attempt to combine it with weight loss. I’m not especially interested in weight loss, I’d start to look ill, but what about the other way? What if I went for a strength training/body building focus with the aim to improve my sprint and short power?

So in summary I know we can train specific things depending on event needs but my question is can an amateur change the type of rider he/she is as drastically as a pro might? Or are pros that gifted that often they can turn their hand to any riding style?

These two were both pursuiters mainly which is almost purely a VO2max exercise. Being a GT contender as a relative diesel is not outside the realms of almost direct cross over (imo at least)

You’re probably not going to find a pro that can excel at a grand tour as well as a match sprint if I had to guess.

Being a climber / GC rider vs a sprinter in a grand tour is different but it’s not that different compared to short disciplines (ie, kilo, match sprint, etc). Both of them have to ride for however many hours before anything notable happens in the race before their specialty even matters.

As far as amateurs, within reason I’d expect they could change, too. You get good at what you practice for the most part. Though amateurs are probably more likely to have traits that don’t lend themselves to aspects of road cycling. Using myself as an example, I have fairly wide shoulders regardless of how much training I do (or don’t). Either from genetics or from swimming competitively as a kid. They’re not especially helpful for any aspect of road cycling, however, and probably the biggest detriment towards climbing.

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Google “wiggins jiffy bag”. Pros have had access to unnatural ways of slimming down to very low percentages of body fat.

Ok, so possibly bad exanples aside :person_facepalming::rofl:… Any amateurs out there who have drastically changed their training focus to achieve dramatic performance improvements in an event they never thought they would be suitable for?

@AJS914 Yeah, well aware of the debatable practices alleged to have gone on at Sky and including Wiggins, Dr Freeman etc, so I suppose the question then becomes do we think it is possible to do it clean???

They didn’t change their “type” though. A body composition change (however achieved) isn’t the same thing.

I’ve seen athletes change their abilities with a change in focus. It’s highly unlikely they changed their type though and more just found something they were more naturally inclined towards.

A mate of mine has changed his sprint power from ~1000W to ~1500W with the addition of specific training. He’s a massive motor though.

You wouldn’t, for example, be able to get Wiggins to compete with the fastest sprinters, or even Michael Matthews to contend in the big mountains.

If you are talking about getting down to 10% body fat or whatever they are at when they are super skinny, I honestly don’t know.

But I know I couldn’t. I’m not able to go around starving all the time. You read the stories about elite athletes going to bed hungry. I couldn’t do it myself.

I’ve vote for hitting the gym and doing some anaerobic capacity workout to try and improve your sprint.

I suspect a large proportion of amateur cyclists are also neither, and that’s ok. Even in pro cycling, there are plenty of riders who don’t fit in to either of these categories. Maybe you’re a rouleur :slight_smile: I also think you could categorise yourself differently, depending on the context. For example, my sprint might be my strong suit, because it’s at a higher level than my long vo2 max efforts or threshold, but that doesnt mean I’d be a sprinter when I turn up at my local race and compare myself to other “sprinters”.

I think it’s probably easier for an amateur because we’re much further away from our genetic potential, and therefore genetics is less of a limiter. Once you’re pushing that limit, I imagine genetics has a much stronger say in what areas you can progress and which you can’t.


@mailman you’re right, I do mean body composition! :slight_smile: I just always too simplistically associate the term “composition” with the two polar opposites of someone carrying a lot of excess fat Vs someone very lean, with no accounting for size/amount of muscle mass :person_facepalming::person_facepalming::rofl:

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Does your “phenotype” matter, if you’re an amateur? Just do the events and type of riding that seem fun to you. If it’s climbing hills, do that, even if you’re a bit chunky. If you like sprints, do that, even if you’re small and tiny. You’re not putting food on the table with it, so you don’t have to worry if you’re making the best out of your body shape.

Obviously, training will have an impact - if you lift weights and eat enough, you’ll put on muscle. (The difficult bit for most people is to put on muscle and keep the weight down.)

For me personally, there’s way too much emphasis on climbing hills and being skinny in cycling, as if everybody was a GC contender in a GT. There’s lots of other forms of cycling (and racing) that don’t require you to be a sub 60kg lightweight.


this winter/spring instead of doing the SS LV plans + Z2 I did the new POL MV plan and compared to my best season have increased my power at 144bpm (mid Z2) by 17 Watts although My FTP is 40 Watts lower than it was at the same time in my best season. Maybe not as drastic as some examples of Pros “changing their type” but not insignificant to me as it means I’ll go faster on long steady endurance rides.

Quite. Unless you’re wanting to be at the pointy end of things in niche disciplines, being a generalist is surely the way to go …

… and then you can flex your training to what interests you, either building on your strengths or addressing your weaknesses. Next year, maybe try something else, and your training will shift because you’ll likely have different strengths and weaknesses in your new discipline.

Approach things with curiosity etc etc

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Check out Ryan Hall. Dude ran Boston under 2:05. Now he’s huge and jacked. You can do a lot with enough time and energy.

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You would become better at short power - go for it, see what happens. That’s the joy of being an amateur, try something and if you fail nobody dies.

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So I’m racing a lot of crits at the moment and comparatively there are some big guys in there. Now there are lots of ways to be competitive but I was wondering about changing my next off season training more drastically than just adding a bit more anaerobic and/or VO2 or short duration power on the bike.

The more I think about it, perhaps my question should be whether anyone has made dramatic changes to their training rather than just tweaking year on year and whether these changes in training have resulted in dramatic changes in fitness profile. Or whether is just the usual effects where some parts of your power profile drop and some increase.

Firstly, the scientific literature suggests that while we all have different genetics and predispositions toward certain events and/or durations within sport, they don’t necessarily predict your performance. With specific training, muscle fiber type ratios can be swayed (Muscle Fiber Type Transitions with Exercise Training: Shifting Perspectives - PMC), Vo2 max can be trained (VO2max Trainability and High Intensity Interval Training in Humans: A Meta-Analysis - PMC), and although some individuals respond far better to training than others, the notion that there are non-responders to training seems to be a myth ( This is good news. It all means that with training, we can improve our performance in desired areas. Sprint training will improve your sprint capabilities, and long sweet spot intervals will improve lactate buffering.

However, while training can improve our own performance, it does not guarantee you’ll be better than everyone else. You may raise your Vo2 max from 50 to 70, but someone with different genetics may start out at 75 with no training. Some people work for years to get their sprint power from 800 watts to 1,300 watts, but other athletes may still be able to do 1,400 watts off the couch. Everyone can become better at all aspects of endurance training and racing, but if your genetics are not already swayed toward being a world tour sprinter, you’re not becoming a world tour sprinter. Everyone can improve their w/kg, but far from everyone can have a 6 w/kg FTP. Some people respond better to training than others (Individual differences in response to regular physical activity - PubMed), and that’s one of the biggest factors separating pros from amateurs.

To answer your initial question - yes, you can change your rider “phenotype”. You can sway it any way you want with training. However, if you’re not a genetically gifted sprinter, you won’t become the best sprinter in town. The same goes for climbing, TT’s, FTP, and everything else. If you want to maximise your performance as a cyclist regardless of type (i.e. climber, sprinter, time trialist etc.), you need to find out what you’re naturally good at and work specifically on that. Maybe, however, you just really like sprinting. In that case, train your sprint. It will improve with time. You’ll become a much better sprinter than you were before, and hopefully, that enriches your cycling experience. Just keep in mind that if you’re not genetically gifted in sprinting specifically, some dude may still roll up to his first crit and outsprint you. That’s genetics.

Personally, I can’t sprint to save my life. I could train for the 100m dash all my life, and a Justin Gatlin from a separate universe who never trained sprinting a day in his life would still absolutely destroy me.

I suspect it’s this for 95% of folks. The exceptions, I guess would be, say, an Ironman athlete who came to cycling after being a runner and has literally never really sprinted on a bike. They might try a crit for fun and discover that they have really good short power. Obvs, they could then shift focus and develop that and get really good at improving that short power and repeatability.

More commonly, I guess, is that most people have already tried a range of disciplines, and there’s a significant overlap between what people are good at and what they choose to do.

IMO 99% of amateurs don’t have the experience to know what type of rider they truly are. The other 1% don’t ride enough to distill any distinction one way or the other. FWIW my WKO+5 changes my phenotype about every day that ends in “Y” depending on what system I trained or neglected.

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