Effects of alternating unilateral versus bilateral strength training on sprint and endurance cycling performance in trained endurance athletes: a three-armed randomized controlled pilot trial

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Adequate strength performance and training concepts are considered crucial issues within endurance sports. Thereby, strength training exercises reflecting similar mechanical specificity to the sports-specific movements have been reported to elicit higher sports performance gains [1,2,3]. For example, a superior transfer effect to improve unilateral jump performance was found for unilateral strength and plyometric compared to bilateral training [4]. However, there is a lack of research regarding the potential for modifying exercise modality in strength training to improve endurance performance. Thus, we comparatively investigated the effects of strength training exercises with alternating unilateral execution and their transfer effects to sprint and endurance cycling performance.

20 trained endurance athletes were either assigned (strata: age, sex, VO2max and training volume) to an alternating unilateral [UL; n = 7, VO2max = 55ml/kg] or simultaneous bilateral [BL; n = 7, VO2max = 58ml/kg] training group, which completed 10 weeks of volume-load matched heavy strength training (leg press, -extension and -curls; 4 x 4-10 RM) in addition to usual endurance training. A third group [CON; n = 6, VO2max = 60ml/kg] simply continued their usual training program.
Before and after the intervention period, power output at lactate thresholds (WLT1 and WLT2), cycling economy (CE), peak and mean power output (PPO and MPO), time to PPO (TTP), and acceleration index (AI: PPO/TTP) during 15s-sprint test, as well as maximal aerobic power output (Wmax), maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and time to exhaustion (Tlim) at 105% of WLT2 were determined. Furthermore, measurements of maximal uni- and bilateral leg strength were carried out during voluntary isometric contraction.

Maximal strength indices notably increased in both the BL and UL training group (~31%, < .05), but not in CON. Tlim improved in both intervention groups (UL: 67%, BL: 43%, < .05), whilst no significant change was found for CON. Significant deteriorations in sprint abilities were detected for CON (PPO: -6%, TTP: 25% and AI: -15%, p < .05). PPO and MPO (5% and 3%, respectively, < .05) in BL significantly improved after training period, while no significant changes occurred in UL [3% (p=.18) and 4% (= .06) for PPO and MPO, respectively]. Meaningful but statistically insignificant improvements in favour of UL were observed for TTP and AI [-12% (Cohen’s d: 0.5) and 20% (Cohen’s d: 0.5), respectively].

This pilot trial underpins benefits of maximal strength training independent of its training modality for time trial performance and underlines risks of decreases in muscular power by performing long-term submaximal endurance training only. The tendency towards favourable effects of the unilateral strength training compared to bilateral training mode to acceleration within sprint testing needs to be confirmed in future research in both endurance and sprint cyclists in larger samples and over longer time frames.

1. Appleby et al. (2019) 2. Stone et al. (2007) 3. Wilson (1996) 4. McCurdy et al. (2005)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBook of Abstracts - 25th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science (ECSS 2020) : 25th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science : 28th-30th October 2020
EditorsFlemming Dela, Erich Müller, Elias K. Tsolakidis
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationKöln
PublisherEuropean College of Sport Science
Publication date2020
ISBN (Print)978-3-9818414-3-5, 978-3-9818414-2-8
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventAnnual Congress of the European College of Sport Science - Online
Duration: 28.10.202030.10.2020
Conference number: 25

ID: 5490730

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