Endurance training is terrific for your cardiometabolic health in many ways, with lower blood pressure and lower blood lipid levels reported in a number of studies compared to aged matched controls. However, research has also identified that masters-age athletes involved in non-weight-bearing endurance sports such as cycling and swimming have lower bone mineral density compared with other athletes and even inactive controls!
Lower bone density may lead to an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. Consequently, some form of resistance training and weight-bearing activity is recommended for those with low(ish) bone density to help restore bone strength. Road cyclists are you listening??
Endurance cyclists typically add in either sprint training or some form of resistance training for performance reasons - mainly to add firepower to their attacks and sprint finishes. Sprint and resistance training may also improve bone density. A win-win you say? Well – maybe. As mentioned earlier, endurance athletes generally have better cardiometabolic health than their sprint/resistance counterparts, however for many, adding in sprint and resistance training may require a reduction in endurance training. So does (or will) this affect your cardiometabolic health?
A recent study (1) conducted in Queensland, Australia took 27 male endurance cyclists (mean age 54 years) with no background of resistance training and all of good health. All participants were involved in competitive cycling and trained a minimum of 8 hours on the bike each week.
Ten (10) of the participants were allocated to a resistance and track sprint-cycling group (RTC), seven (7) to an endurance and track-sprint group (ETC), and the remainder (10) to a control endurance cycling group (CTRL).
All groups completed 12 weeks of training in their groups. If you’re interested in the specifics of what each group did you can read the full research paper here.
The following tests were conducted pre and post intervention:
- Stature and body mass
- DEXA scanning – trunk fat mass & lower limb lean mass
- Blood measures – fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides
- Resting blood pressure
Results: trunk fat mass decreased in all groups, but more so in the RTC and ETC groups (% change: CTRL -2.2%; RTC -5.1%, & ETC -10.4%). Maybe they all trained a little harder and ate a little less as they knew they were being studied, but the body composition changes in the resistance/sprint groups are notable.
Lower limb lean mass (generally the amount of muscle in your legs) was significantly increased in the RTC and ETC groups, i.e. these masters athletes bulked up in their legs in the 12-week intervention period.
No differences were noted for any blood measure across time in all groups. Put another way, glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels remained the same from pre test to post test. There were no differences also between the groups for these measures.
There were no significant differences in blood pressure readings between groups and over time, and although the ETC had a better VO2peak at baseline, no improvement or deterioration was noted in this measure in the groups over the intervention period.
The study by Delvecchio and colleagues adds some valuable evidence to the effects of endurance, sprint, and resistance training in middle-aged and older cyclists. The study has some limitations – subject numbers are small, the groups weren’t randomized, and it would have been great for the researchers to include a bone mineral density scan, a leg strength test, and a cycling time trial as part of their suite of measurements. But cost and time are always a factor.
In summary, endurance cycling is good for your health and adding some resistance and sprint training to your regime has no deleterious health effects. In fact, adding some resistance and sprint training will reduce your waistline and improve leg muscle bulk, and will likely improve bone density and cycling performance.
- Delvecchio, Luke, et al. "Effect of concurrent resistance and sprint training on body composition and cardiometabolic health indicators in masters cyclists." Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation 12.5 (2016): 442.