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Long climbs of modest grades are the ideal terrain for Muscular Endurance
There are really two types of research available on virtually any topic related to cycling performance or physiology. There”™s the research regarding what people are doing or what they think about a topic. These are people from many different perspectives; coaches, authors, bloggers, and we know that last category can include as many levels of proficiency that exist. A google search with the key terms will deliver plenty of results.
Then there is research regarding what the “Science” says. This research is found in medical and educational journals. Most often you must be a member of one of the governing bodies such as the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine). While you might get some of the highlights in Google searches, the full studies are usually only able to be read by those who are members to the organization and have paid for access to said journals.
While you can simply use the free resources available, there is a distinct risk of basing your own work or conclusions on opinions or popular trends instead of hard science. However, that being said, this is part of the rationale for why Evidence Based Medicine is the only approach that makes sense for coming to conclusions that you will use for your own training or for that of your students. At the end of the day, EBC will be your own personal “proof in the pudding” as they say.
Muscular Endurance — Some Of The Science
I like to start with the science perspective — university, medical community, etc. I like to read the journals that the professional researchers read to get a solid foundation before I begin to let Mr. Google tell me he (and all of his many followers) think.
The first place I started was a position statement by the ACSM:
“Muscular strength and endurance are developed by the progressive overload principle, i.e., by increasing more than normal the resistance to movement or frequency and duration of activity. Muscular strength is best developed by using heavier weights (that require maximum or near maximum tension development) with few repetitions, and muscular endurance is best developed by using lighter weights with a greater number of repetitions (1).”
While this is clearly directed towards weight training, the application to cycling is also pretty obvious — the additional weight is represented by heavier gears (or steeper hills) and the greater number of repititions is represented by increasing cadence ranges.
In another article from the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise it says:
“…the extent of neuromuscular fatigue during pedaling exercise varies among different cadences and minimal fatigue is obtained at a considerably higher cadence (2).”
So from the above two statements we see the standard stress and adaptation principle being referenced and that there are cadence levels that result in lower muscular fatigue. Therefore this allows us to infer that there are cadence levels that encounter greater muscular fatigue, and hence it will be those levels that will promote the “progressive overload” we will need to force the adaptation or improvements in our muscular performance — either strength or endurance.
Muscular Endurance — Some Of The Practice
Here it is super easy to find out what so many coaches and instructors are doing to work on Muscular Endurance (ME). We see cadence guidelines that range between 65 RPM and 85 RPM across may different coaches, where the sweet spot is probably 70 to 80 RPM. However, when it comes to intensity or heart rate, there is considerable variation. The range typically starts at a low of T1 or Low Zone 3 (based on a 5 zone system with bottom of zone 5 your High Threshold), and goes to High zone 4. If we also throw out the lowest low and the highest high, we have an intensity level “sweet spot” that puts us between the middle of Zone 3 and the middle of Zone 4.
So in summary, the science confirms that we can create or promote the improvements in muscular endurance by specifying training rides within a cadence range of 70 to 80 RPM while working at an intensity level of Mid Zone 3 to Mid Zone 4.
The next question to look at is duration of the training, the amount of recovery between ME drills, and the number of ME workouts in a given week. Also, this begs the question if we workout at the low ends of both Cadence and Heart rate, would it take longer to see the training effects than if we worked at the high ends of both. In other words, if we do two weeks of 80 rpm (actually the higher RPM represents lower muscle fatigue) and mid Zone 3 work, will this produce less of an improvement than working at 70 rpm while in mid Zone 4.
If that would be true, then we can use this information to prescribe varying levels of ME work based on the fitness level or the time frame a coach and student are working with. Even more interesting would be the possibility of creating a numeric scale that we could use to “measure” the amount of ME work a student has been doing over a given period of time.
The next post will discuss how we can set up a study to do just that.
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