Continued – Will Strength Training Lead to Increased Muscle Mass?

May 16, 2012

-Only if you want it to.

By Coach Kaehler

Is it possible to improve speed and power through strength training without increasing body mass? Many endurance athletes and coaches think not, and tend to shy away from such programs  such programs fearing the extra weight will slow them down.  For gravity-dependent endurance sports like running and cycling a significant increase in body mass can lead to a decrease in training and racing performance. Lightweight rowers face similar effects on their performance if lean muscle mass increases.   Otherwise, however, most of these fears are unfounded.

So where do they come from?  Here in the United States, the fear that lifting weights will bulk you up, a condition known as hypertrophy, has been influenced by the bodybuilding community, whose training methods are designed to maximize weight gain  The bodybuilding community has adopted specific training methods that are designed to maximize weight gain.  These should be avoided if your goals do not include increasing muscle mass.   Good endurance strength training programs tend to focus on increasing sports specific strength and power with minimal changes to body mass.

Bodybuilders want to increase muscle mass and shape without any consideration of functional strength or increasing sports specific power.  Their training programs tend to focus on body-part isolation and employ higher repetitions (12-20 reps) with moderate to heavy weights.   The movements are slow, especially during the negative work phase when the weight is lowered.   Apart from brief warm-ups, there are no aerobic components to these programs.    Body builders also consume supplements designed to rapidly increase muscle mass.  These methods allow bodybuilders to quickly increase the size and shape of their trained muscles, but they may negatively affect your performance by developing muscles you won’t be using on the water.

Weight training programs for endurance sports should focus on increasing sport specific strength and power with little or no changes to overall body mass.    The majority of an athlete’s weekly training time is devoted to aerobic training.  This significantly reduces the chances that strength training will translate into bulk.  In addition, explosive strength training movements like Olympic lifts–  power cleans, snatches and the clean and jerk– as well as plyometric movements like box jumps have not been shown to bulk athlete up.  For both of these methods, the body must recruit large muscle groups to complete the desired movement.

Research has shown that changes in strength and power from Olympic lifts tend to come from improvements in the neural efficiency of the trained muscle groups and that no muscle hypertrophy occurs.  For rowing, the power clean is the most explosive and functional lift and is often referred to as  the vertical rowing stroke.   The power clean and other similar multi-joint exercises are excellent at building an explosive rowing stroke.   For experienced rowers who have not been properly trained or are not interested in using  Olympic lifts in their program, squat presses (thrusters) , front squats, push presses, and box jumps (up only) offer  alternatives  that keep  movements functional  and explosive.  Be  sure to keep the weights light enough so you can perform these movements quickly.  And always make sure to get professional instruction if you have not received training in proper lifting technique.

If you are adding a strength training program or looking to refine your current program and want to avoid bulking up, consider the following:  make sure the majority of your training is aerobic in nature; limit the  number  of different exercises you use in a session to five or so; choose multi-joint exercises such as squats, power cleans, pull-ups, dead lifts over single joint exercises such as bicep curls or knee extensions; try to mimic the rowing motion when possible by setting your body in a similar position; and avoid slow negative work when using heavier weights especially with moderate volume (12-20 reps).  Functional, explosive multi-joint strength training exercises can help increase your strength and power without increasing your body weight.

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5 Responses to “Continued – Will Strength Training Lead to Increased Muscle Mass?”

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