If you've been a reader of my blog for a while now, you'll know how much emphasis I place on strength and conditioning. Something that I want to dive into, is the science of what happens to your body when you go through a training programme. We will explore this over a series of blog posts, starting this week with the strength element to training.

Covered in this blog:

  • What happens to your body when you undergo a structured strength and conditioning routine
    • What are type 2 muscle fibres  
    • What are type 1 muscle fibres
    • How muscle fibres act in training
  • What other benefits are there of strength training
    • Connective tissue
  • Is strength training safe for young athletes

S&C training is great for your body, but only when completed correctly

What happens to your body when you undergo a structured strength and conditioning routine

Strength and conditioning generally includes both a mixture of gym-based weight work, and bodyweight exercises like stability work and plyometrics, as well as some on the bike conditioning too.

The short story of this is that it will make you faster on the bike, but what about the more in-depth effects of these? Let's start with strength training; covering just what happens to your body when you undergo this style of training.

Strength

When you train with weights, you are essentially damaging your body; then when you recover, it rebuilds. If your body undergoes heavy weight training, you will tear muscle fibres while lifting heavy, and, during recovery, these will then be rebuilt stronger, and thicker; creating a growth in type 2 muscle fibres.

What are type 2 muscle fibres

Type 2 muscle fibres (also known as fast twitch) are fast, powerful, and strong. They are thicker than type 1 (more on this later) fibres and are used by the body to jump higher, lift heavier and produce a high amount of load over a short period of time.

You may think this is counter productive to the endurance element of cycling, but your body has another muscle fibre known as the type 1 muscle fibre.

What are type 1 muscle fibres

The type 1 muscle fibre is the endurance fibre; smaller and less thick than type 2 fibres. These fibres cannot produce as much force, but they last longer until fatiguing. This means you will be using these for your endurance, and will be working on these constantly, and subconsciously, while you are on the bike.

How muscle fibres act in training 

The human body is naturally higher in one or the other depending on your genetics, but you can develop and grow both types of fibre. As cyclists, will primarily have a high amount of slow twitch fibre vs fast twitch. It makes sense to build and develop fast twitch fibres in the gym so you can have more power when it is needed. Think about when climbs get steeper and you run out of gears, you need power. During a sprint, you also need power.

When your body undergoes heavy lifting, you develop your type 2 muscle fibres, these are larger, produce more force over less time than type 1 and come in handy for certain elements of cycling. But what other benefits are there?

Disease prevention is just one of many benefits of S&C training

Other benefits of strength training

Research also suggests that heavy weight training can improve bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis (brittle bone disease), which is a condition where you bones become so frail that even the slightest knock or jerky movement can create a crack in the bone. Also, even without this disease present for cyclists, creating a reduced risk of fractures and breakages can be beneficial, should the worst happen.

Add to that the reduced risk of developing osteoarthritis, as you grow older, and an improvement to your postural muscles, your body will become significantly healthier, with increased longevity.

There is also significant research that suggests stronger body's take much less time to recover from serious injury than untrained body's.

Let us take a common MTB injury here as an example; the collarbone.

The NHS (National Health Service, UK) suggests that a broken collarbone can take 6-8 weeks to heal in an adult. However, it has been known for people to be able to move it and return to some element of exercise with it in 5-6 weeks due to the strength of their body and connective tissue.

Connective tissue

Tendons hold muscle to bone, and ligaments hold bone to bone. When the body is put through a strength session in the gym it will develop this connective tissue by synthesising protein at a higher rate. Ultimately, more collagen fibres to your ligaments and tendons, and more osteocytes (bone cells) to your skeleton. This results in the connective tissue in your body being more resilient to stress placed on it from impact, and sport.

While this can reduce the recovery time in broken bones. It can also decrease the risk of injuries associated with connective tissue.

Essentially building your body into a stronger, faster, more efficient, and more resilient machine.

When conducted correctly, S&C training is perfectly safe for young adults

Is strength training safe for young athletes

It used to be the case that strength training was deemed unsafe for young athletes, due to issues with growth plates causing stumped bone growth. However, many factors were overlooked when coming up with this outcome.

A pre-pubescent athlete will not be as strong as an adult and, as such, would not train in the same way, with the same amount of stress/load on the body. Secondly, pre-pubescent athletes generally take part in a wide range of sport before they decide to focus on just one, so their body is being conditioned in all manner of ways due to the variety in their life. If you look at your kids, and your own childhood, how many sports did you take part in?

You can see from your list that are a wide range of movements and demands on the body. In essence, your body was being trained from all angles, and put under varied stress.

If you then factor in the stress placed on the human body during some of the sports, for example, football and rugby are violent on the human body from an impact perspective and squash is a fast-paced sport, the stress placed on the human body in sport is often less controlled and more dangerous to a pre-pubescent that controlled training sessions are.

If the sessions are conducted by a qualified youth strength and conditioning coach, there is no reason why pre-pubescent’s and young adults cannot take part in gym based strength and conditioning training. Remember, strength can also come from body weight exercises like press ups, climbing trees, climbing frames, squatting to pick things up and moving things about etc.

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