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Effects of Cycling Training at Imposed Low Cadences: A Systematic Review

Ernst A. Hansen and Bent R. Rønnestad

The present article reviews effects of training at low imposed cadences in cycling. The authors performed a systematic literature search of MEDLINE and SPORTDiscus up to April 2016 to identify potentially relevant articles. Based on the titles and abstracts of the identified articles, a subset of articles was selected for evaluation. These articles constituted original-research articles on adaptation to training at different imposed cadences in cycling. Seven articles were selected for evaluation. With regard to the terminology in the present article, low cadences are those below the freely chosen cadence. The rate of 80 rpm can, eg, be considered a low cadence if effort is maximal. On the other hand, the cadence has to be lower than 80 rpm (eg, 40–70 rpm) to be considered low if cycling is performed at low power output. The reason is that the choice of cadence depends on power output. In conclusion, there is presently no strong evidence for a benefit of training at low cadences. It can tentatively be recommended to consider including training bouts of cycling at low cadence at moderate to maximal intensity. The reason for the restrained recommendation is that some of the selected studies indicate no clear performance-enhancing effect of training at low cadence or even indicate a superior effect from training at freely chosen cadence. Furthermore, the selected studies are considerably dissimilar with respect to, eg, participant characteristics and to the applied training regimens.

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A Scientific Approach to Improve Physiological Capacity of an Elite Cyclist

Bent R. Rønnestad and Joar Hansen

Previous studies in endurance athletes have indicated that block periodization (BP) can be a good alternative to the more traditional organization of training despite the fact that the total volume and intensity of the training are similar. However, these studies usually last only 4–12 wk. The aim of the present single-case study was to investigate the consequences of 58 wk with systematic BP of low-intensity training (LIT), moderate-intensity training (MIT), and high-intensity interval training (HIT) including incorporation of heavy strength training. It is important that a maintenance stimulus on the nonprioritized training modalities was added in the different training blocks. Performance-related variables were tested regularly during the intervention. The studied cyclist started with a maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) of 73.8 mL · kg−1 · min−1, peak aerobic power (Wmax) of 6.14 W/kg, and a power output at 3 mmol/L blood lactate concentration (Power3la-) of 3.6 W/kg. Total training volume during the 58-wk intervention was 678 h, of which 452 h were LIT (67%), 124 h were MIT (18%), 69 h were HIT (10%), and 34 h were heavy strength training (5%). The weekly training volume had a large range depending on the focus of the training block. After the intervention the cyclist’s VO2max was 87 mL · kg−1 · min−1, Wmax was 7.35 W/kg, and Power3la- was 4.9 W/kg. This single case indicates that the present training program can be a good alternative to the more traditional organization of long-term training of endurance athletes. However, a general recommendation cannot be given based on this single-case study.

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Increasing Oxygen Uptake in Well-Trained Cross-Country Skiers During Work Intervals With a Fast Start

Bent R. Rønnestad, Tue Rømer, and Joar Hansen

Purpose: Accumulated time at a high percentage of peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) is important for improving performance in endurance athletes. The present study compared the acute effect of a roller-ski skating session containing work intervals with a fast start followed by decreasing speed (DEC) with a traditional session where the work intervals had a constant speed (similar to the mean speed of DEC; TRAD) on physiological responses, rating of perceived exertion, and leg press peak power. Methods: A total of 11 well-trained cross-country skiers performed DEC and TRAD in a randomized order (5 × 5-min work intervals, 3-min relief). Each 5-minute work interval in the DEC protocol started with 1.5 minutes at 100% of maximal aerobic speed followed by 3.5 minutes at 85% of maximal aerobic speed, whereas the TRAD protocol had a constant speed at 90% of maximal aerobic speed. Results: DEC induced a higher VO2 than TRAD, measured as both peak and average of all work intervals during the session (98.2% [2.1%] vs 95.4% [3.1%] VO2peak, respectively, and 87.6% [1.9%] vs 86.1% [3.2%] VO2peak, respectively) with a lower mean rating of perceived exertion after DEC than TRAD (16.1 [1.0] vs 16.5 [0.7], respectively) (all P < .05). There were no differences between sessions for mean heart rate, blood lactate concentration, or leg press peak power. Conclusion: DEC induced a higher mean VO2 and a lower rating of perceived exertion than TRAD, despite similar mean speed, indicating that DEC can be a good strategy for interval sessions aiming to accumulate more time at a high percentage of VO2peak.

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Adding Vibration During Varied-Intensity Work Intervals Increases Time Spent Near Maximal Oxygen Uptake in Well-Trained Cyclists

Sébastien Duc, Tomas Urianstad, and Bent R. Rønnestad

Purpose: Previous research suggests that the percentage of maximal oxygen uptake attained and the time it is sustained close to maximal oxygen uptake (eg, >90%) can serve as a good criterion to judge the effectiveness of a training stimulus. The aim of this study was to investigate the acute effects of adding vibration during varied high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions on physiological and neuromuscular responses. Methods: Twelve well-trained cyclists completed a counterbalanced crossover protocol, wherein 2 identical varied HIIT cycling sessions were performed with and without intermittent vibration to the lower-intensity workloads of the work intervals (6 × 5-min work intervals and 2.5-min active recovery). Each 5-minute work interval consisted of 3 blocks of 40 seconds performed at 100% of maximal aerobic power interspersed with 60-second workload performed at a lower power output, equal to the lactate threshold plus 20% of the difference between lactate threshold and maximal aerobic power. Oxygen uptake and electromyographic activity of lower and upper limbs were recorded during all 5-minute work intervals. Results: Adding vibration induced a longer time ≥90% maximal oxygen uptake (11.14 [7.63] vs 8.82 [6.90] min, d = 0.64, P = .048) and an increase in electromyographic activity of lower and upper limbs during the lower-intensity workloads by 20% (16%) and 34% (43%) (d = 1.09 and 0.83; P = .03 and .015), respectively. Conclusion: Adding vibration during a varied HIIT session increases the physiological demand of the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems, indicating that this approach can be used to optimize the training stimulus of well-trained cyclists.

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The Effect of Whole-Body Vibration on Subsequent Sprint Performance in Well-Trained Cyclists

Bent R. Rønnestad, Gunnar Slettaløkken Falch, and Stian Ellefsen

Postactivation-potentiation exercise with added whole-body vibration (WBV) has been suggested as a potential way to acutely improve sprint performance. In cycling, there are many competitions and situations where sprinting abilities are important.


To investigate the effect of adding WBV to warm-up procedures on subsequent cycle sprint performance.


Eleven well-trained cyclists participated in the study. All cyclists performed a familiarization session before 2 separate test sessions in randomized order. Each session included a standardized warm-up followed by 1 of the following preconditioning exercises: 30 s of half-squats without WBV or 30 s of half-squats with WBV at 40 Hz. A 15-s Wingate sprint was performed 1 min after the preconditioning exercise.


Performing preconditioning exercise with WBV at 40 Hz resulted in superior peak power output compared with preconditioning exercise without WBV (1413 ± 257 W vs 1353 ± 213 W, P = .04) and a tendency toward superior mean power output during a 15-second all-out sprint (850 ± 119 W vs 828 ± 101 W, P = .08). Effect sizes showed a moderate practical effect of WBV vs no WBV on both peak and mean power output.


Preconditioning exercise performed with WBV at 40 Hz seems to have a positive effect on cycling sprint performance in young well-trained cyclists. This suggests that athletes can incorporate body-loaded squats with WBV in preparations to specific sprint training to improve the quality of the sprint training and also to improve sprint performance in relevant competitions.

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Effects of Increased Muscle Strength and Muscle Mass on Endurance-Cycling Performance

Iñigo Mujika, Bent R. Rønnestad, and David T. Martin

Despite early and ongoing debate among athletes, coaches, and sport scientists, it is likely that resistance training for endurance cyclists can be tolerated, promotes desired adaptations that support training, and can directly improve performance. Lower-body heavy strength training performed in addition to endurance-cycling training can improve both short- and long-term endurance performance. Strength-maintenance training is essential to retain strength gains during the competition season. Competitive female cyclists with greater lower-body lean mass (LBLM) tend to have ~4–9% higher maximum mean power per kg LBLM over 1 s to 10 min. Such relationships enable optimal body composition to be modeled. Resistance training off the bike may be particularly useful for modifying LBLM, whereas more cycling-specific training strategies like eccentric cycling and single-leg cycling with a counterweight have not been thoughtfully investigated in well-trained cyclists. Potential mechanisms for improved endurance include postponed activation of less efficient type II muscle fibers, conversion of type IIX fibers into more fatigue-resistant IIa fibers, and increased muscle mass and rate of force development.

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Impairment of Performance Variables After In-Season Strength-Training Cessation in Elite Cyclists

Bent R. Rønnestad, Joar Hansen, Ivana Hollan, Matt Spencer, and Stian Ellefsen

The current study investigated the effects of 8 wk of strength-training cessation after 25 wk of strength training on strength- and cycling-performance characteristics. Elite cyclists were randomly assigned to either 25 wk of endurance training combined with heavy strength training (EXP, n = 7, maximal oxygen uptake [V̇O2max] 77 ± 6 mL . kg-1 . min-1; 3 × 4–10 RM, 1 to 2 d/wk) or to endurance training only (CON, n = 7, V̇O2max 73 ± 5 mL . kg-1 . min-1). Thereafter, both groups performed endurance training only for 8 wk, coinciding with the initial part of the competition season. Data were assessed for practical significance using magnitude-based inferences. During the 25-wk preparatory period, EXP had a larger positive impact on maximal isometric half-squat force, squat jump (SJ), maximal aerobic power (Wmax), power output at 4 mmol/L [La], and mean power in 30-s Wingate test than did CON (ES = 0.46-0.74). Conversely, during the 8-wk competition period EXP had a reduction in SJ, Wmax, and mean power in the 30-s Wingate test compared with CON (ES = 0.49-0.84). The present findings suggest rapid decline of adaptations on termination of strength training during the first 8 wk of the competition period in elite cyclists.

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Case Report: Heat Suit Training May Increase Hemoglobin Mass in Elite Athletes

Bent R. Rønnestad, Joar Hansen, Thomas C. Bonne, and Carsten Lundby

Purpose: The present case report aimed to investigate the effects of exercise training in temperate ambient conditions while wearing a heat suit on hemoglobin mass (Hbmass). Methods: As part of their training regimens, 5 national-team members of endurance sports (3 males) performed ∼5 weekly heat suit exercise training sessions each lasting 50 minutes for a duration of ∼8 weeks. Two other male athletes acted as controls. After the initial 8-week period, 3 of the athletes continued for 2 to 4 months with ∼3 weekly heat sessions in an attempt to maintain acquired adaptations at a lower cost. Hbmass was assessed in duplicate before and after intervention and maintenance period based on automated carbon monoxide rebreathing. Results: Heat suit exercise training increased rectal temperature to a median value of 38.7°C (range 38.6°C–39.0°C), and during the initial ∼8 weeks of heat suit training, there was a median increase of 5% (range 1.4%–12.9%) in Hbmass, while the changes in the 2 control athletes were a decrease of 1.7% and an increase of 3.2%, respectively. Furthermore, during the maintenance period, the 3 athletes who continued with a reduced number of heat suit sessions experienced a change of 0.7%, 2.8%, and −1.1%, indicating that it is possible to maintain initial increases in Hbmass despite reducing the weekly number of heat suit sessions. Conclusions: The present case report illustrates that heat suit exercise training acutely raises rectal temperature and that following 8 weeks of such training Hbmass may increase in elite endurance athletes.

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Cyclists’ Improvement of Pedaling Efficacy and Performance After Heavy Strength Training

Ernst A. Hansen, Bent R. Rønnestad, Geir Vegge, and Truls Raastad

The authors tested whether heavy strength training, including hip-flexion exercise, would reduce the extent of the phase in the crank revolution where negative or retarding crank torque occurs. Negative torque normally occurs in the upstroke phase when the leg is lifted by flexing the hip. Eighteen well-trained cyclists either performed 12 wk of heavy strength training in addition to their usual endurance training (E+S; n = 10) or merely continued their usual endurance training during the intervention period (E; n = 8). The strength training consisted of 4 lower body exercises (3 × 4–10 repetition maximum) performed twice a week. E+S enhanced cycling performance by 7%, which was more than in E (P = .02). Performance was determined as average power output in a 5-min all-out trial performed subsequent to 185 min of submaximal cycling. The performance enhancement, which has been reported previously, was here shown to be accompanied by improved pedaling efficacy during the all-out cycling. Thus, E+S shortened the phase where negative crank torque occurs by ~16°, corresponding to ~14%, which was more than in E (P = .002). In conclusion, adding heavy strength training to usual endurance training in well-trained cyclists improves pedaling efficacy during 5-min all-out cycling performed after 185 min of cycling.

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Improvement of Ice Hockey Players’ On-Ice Sprint With Combined Plyometric and Strength Training

Torstein E. Dæhlin, Ole C. Haugen, Simen Haugerud, Ivana Hollan, Truls Raastad, and Bent R. Rønnestad


Combined plyometric and strength training has previously been suggested as a strategy to improve skating performance in ice hockey players. However, the effects of combined plyometric and strength training have not previously been compared with the effects of strength training only.


To compare the effects of combined plyometric and strength training on ice hockey players’ skating sprint performance with those of strength training only.


Eighteen participants were randomly assigned to 2 groups that completed 5 strength-training sessions/wk for 8 wk. One group included plyometric exercises at the start of 3 sessions/wk (PLY+ST), and the other group included core exercises in the same sessions (ST). Tests of 10- and 35-m skating sprints, horizontal jumping, 1-repetition-maximum (1 RM) squat, skating multistage aerobic test (SMAT), maximal oxygen consumption, repeated cycle sprints, and body composition were performed before and after the intervention.


The participants increased their 1RM squat, lean mass, and body mass (P < .05), with no difference between the groups. Furthermore, they improved their 3×broad jump, repeated cycle sprint, and SMAT performance (P < .05), with no difference between the groups. PLY+ST gained a larger improvement in 10-m on-ice sprint performance than ST (P < .025).


Combining plyometric and strength training for 8 wk was superior to strength training alone at improving 10-m on-ice sprint performance in high-level ice hockey players.