The Science Behind the Sport with Kate Luckin



The Science Behind the Sport with Kate Luckin 


We're very happy to introduce our newest contributor, Kate Luckin, who will be writing articles for Camino on the latest training topics for endurance athletes and providing you with the latest research in sports science. Kate has a double degree in Physiotherapy and Sport and Exercise Science and lectures at the University of Notre Dame, Fremantle in WA, where she is currently completing her research in strength training in long distance triathletes for performance improvements and injury prevention. Kate has recently launched her new business, The Endurance Movement, which offers endurance athletes strength and conditioning classes and programmes, as well as physiological testing services. This first article discusses the performance benefits of incorporating strength training into a training regime for performance improvements.


As cyclists and endurance athletes, we are always looking for “free speed” and ways to improve our performance using the latest technology, equipment and training techniques. Yet one commonly overlooked method of significantly improving performance is the inclusion of strength training into your routine. Research in high level cyclists demonstrates that completing strength training twice a week on top of normal endurance training significantly improves cycling performance. The improvements in performance are measured through several different means, with the main measures being increased peak power output, increased time to exhaustion, faster time trial performances and improvements in overall strength. Arguably, the single biggest reason to incorporate strength training is the improvement in cycling economy, which is one of the most accurate indicators of performance amongst endurance athletes.

So what is economy and why is it important? Our bodies require oxygen to function and perform. The more economical we are, the further or faster we can go off the same amount of oxygen. The economy of an athlete (especially high level athletes) is now often regarded as a more accurate indicator of performance than their VO2max value. The inclusion of strength training is crucial for improving exercise economy.

Cyclists may have reservations when it comes to completing strength training, such as the concern of adding muscle and weight or simply not having the time to incorporate it. However, research shows that an increase in body weight does not occur from strength training when completed alongside endurance training. Better yet, some studies showed a decrease in skinfolds, meaning overall body fat percentage decreased after completing strength training. Whilst endurance cyclists naturally spend large amounts of time cycling, given the benefits of strength training it should be a part of every athlete's training programme.


Whilst all of this is great, it's important to know what type of strength training to complete as strength programmes can vary in terms of sets, repetitions, weights and of course the types of exercises completed. Studies have compared a variation of strength exercises, but those which demonstrated significant improvements in performance all included maximal, heavy strength training. This means completing exercises of 3 – 5 sets and 1 – 6 repetitions per set. The term “maximal” or “heavy” strength training means that the weights should be as heavy as possible for the number of sets and repetitions completed. Of course it is vital to ensure you have correct technique and slowly progress your way up to heavy weights. The time this takes will depend largely on your gym background and experience. Strength exercises for cyclists should be sports specific and replicate the movements the body completes during cycling. Some of my favorite exercises and those commonly used in research with positive results include squats (at half range to avoid potential hip issues), deadlifts, calf raises and single-leg leg presses.

If you are unsure how to start your strength programme, an experienced strength and conditioning coach or physiotherapist can design a programme to suit your individual needs and goals. Strength training also has the major benefit of reducing injuries, but we'll discuss that in more depth in a future article.



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