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Training Center: Is it too late for plyometrics?

Pros and cons of plyometrics

Dear BCSM,
Can you explain the benefits and drawbacks of plyometric training? I’ve been advised to start a plyometric program for this season, but I’m not really sure where to start and whether such a program should be used at this point in the season. My first race is in April; is that too soon? Would such a program be more effective in the off season? Thanks!
— Scott

There is a great deal of research (both scientific and anecdotal) on the benefits (or lack-there-of) of strength training for endurance cycling performance.

Plyometric training is a form of explosive strength training. The quick contractions necessary to jump and land exert a similar effect on the body to high resistance, low-repetition weight lifting. The primary effect of explosive and high resistance strength training is to increase the amount of force generated when a muscle contracts.

In the case of cyclists (or runners or XC skiers), increased force production by leg muscles allows an individual to produce more power per contraction; this will improve endurance performance in events from 30 seconds or less to 3+ hours in length. Explosive strength training does not result in muscle hypertrophy; instead gains are made through increased neuromuscular recruitment; more fibers are called to action by a single neural impulse.

Plyometric (or high resistance) strength training is a valuable undertaking in the off season. In order to safely perform explosive or maximal strength training you must first establish a base of strength training to ensure that your body can tolerate the forces it will experience with plyometrics. Establishing this base alone can take 4-6 weeks.

With only a few weeks until the start of your race season, I would not recommend entering into a plyometric training program at this time. Unless you are truly focusing on cyclocross and doing early season road races purely for fun and to gain fitness, it is too late to safely see benefits from plyometric training. Adding plyometric training will only take away from your racing and recovery this road season.

Most studies show that it takes 6-9 weeks to have any noticeable gains in muscle force production through plyometric training. You could incorporate some general core and lower body strengthening activities now, but I would hold off on high intensity plyometric training at this point.

For a great review of literature on strength training and endurance performance, check out Aagaard and Andersen’s 2010 article “Effects of strength training on endurance capacity in top-level endurance athletes.”
— Adam St. Pierre

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Adam St. Pierre, MS, is an exercise physiologist, a coach and a gait biomechanist at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. He trains runners, cyclists, skiers, and triathletes.

Boulder Center for Sports Medicine was founded by Andrew Pruitt, EdD, PA-C, in 1998. For the past 12 years BCSM has been providing athletes from around the world with the highest possible level of care. BCSM offers a wide range of services, including Orthopedic Clinics, Physical Therapy, Expert 3D Bike Fitting, Running Gait Analysis, Coaching & Training, Nutrition Services, Performance Testing, and more. For more information, visit www.bch.org/sportsmedicine, or call (303) 544-5700.

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