Harvey Newton on Strength Training


This is from the January 19, 2012 edition of RoadBikeRider. Just some additional reasons why strength training is important for cyclists and other endurance athletes especially in the Master age groups.

Weight Training and the Master Cyclist: Coach Harvey Newton weighs in on the need for older cyclists to accept sarcopenia and adopt resistance training.

The world of cycling continues to debate the efficacy of off-bike resistance training as part of the total package needed for optimal performance on two wheels. There are numerous studies that show significant improvement in subjects exposed to sound resistance training, without a significant gain in body weight or muscle mass, or in changes to VO2 (meaning the improvement comes from the resistance training). There are other studies that show no connection between these two quite dissimilar training methodologies.

But the debate simply does not extend beyond the ranks of younger cyclists, according to Coach Harvey Newton. Sarcopenia, the reduction of muscle size and strength as a result of the aging process, is a reality for master cyclists. This is particularly true in those muscle areas not normally stressed by cycling, i.e., the trunk and upper extremities. As noted in the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (Human Kinetics), “…resistance training may be one of the most beneficial modes of training for older populations who need to enhance musculoskeletal strength, muscle mass, bone mineral density, and strength-related performances.”

Newton, (www.newton-sports.com) former national and Olympic Team coach for USA Weightlifting, raced extensively through the 1980s. As a long-time advisor to USA Cycling on strength training and the creator of RBR’s Strength Training for Cyclists DVD training program, Newton maintains a simple message: “Both male and female cyclists, especially those in the master age groups, stand to benefit greatly from a sensible weight training program.

“But, many cyclists fall prey to three common errors: 1) choosing ineffective exercises, 2) using improper exercise technique, and 3) failing to continue lifting weights throughout the entire season,” Newton says. “Endurance athletes must learn that simply lifting weights is not strength training. To truly gain the strength and power benefits available through a solid, periodized training program, cyclists must adhere to training protocols well beyond those proposed in popular newsstand periodicals.”

He points out several recent studies that support his career-long message that resistance training is effective for cyclists and that everyone, especially masters, should include resistance training as a lifestyle choice -- and a health-maintenance choice.

• The June 2011 online version of the European Journal of Applied Physiology reported a study by Louis, et al. It compared performances of nine master (mean age = 51.5 yrs.) to eight younger (mean age = 25.6 yrs.) athletes. Even with ineffective exercise selection and a protocol that would leave strength professionals running for the exits, they concluded, “The addition of a strength training program for the knee extensor muscles to endurance-only training induced a significant improvement in strength and cycling efficiency in master athletes. This enhancement in muscle performance alleviated all the age-related differences in strength and efficiency (between the two age groups).”

• The February 2011 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise included a submission entitled, “Influence of Resistance Exercise on Lean Body Mass in Aging Adults: A Meta-Analysis.” Looking at 49 qualified studies, it was concluded that an average of 20.5 weeks of resistance training produced a significant main effect equal to 1.1 kg (2.3 lb) gain in lean body mass. This compares with the anticipated 0.18 kg annual decline of LBM that occurs in a sedentary lifestyle beyond age 50.

This review also concluded that “single-set and/or fixed-volume resistance exercise programs may no longer be considered sufficient for individuals seeking progressive adaptations in lean body mass.” In conclusion, “higher dosages result in greater adaptive response, and that aging individuals should consider starting a regimen of resistance exercise as early as possible to optimize results.”

• Another recent study (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol. 25, Number 3, March 2011) noted that the high percentage of male master cyclists with low bone mineral density, when combined with the likelihood of fractures resulting from crashes, warrants greater attention. They specifically suggested, “Coaches and health professionals interacting with cyclists need to promote alternative exercise such as weight training, plyometrics, and other high-impact activity to complement cycling training to help minimize bone loss in this population.”

“I know the studies on both sides of the argument,” Newton says. “It seems odd to me that cyclists argue so much more strongly against resistance training than do athletes in other, comparable endurance sports. But master cyclists (age 50+) really owe it to themselves to accept the scientific evidence and adopt resistance training to help stave off what is the inevitable loss of muscle mass and bone density that aging brings.

“Scientifically sound strength training makes sense to me, especially for the aging cyclist (Newton is 63), and convincing masters cyclists of this should not be an uphill battle.”

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