Ep. 211: How to gain muscle mass AND get faster?

I loved the latest episode (Does Strength Training Help or Hurt Endurance Sports Performance? with Dr. Bent Ronnestad), like all before that!

In episode 211, where you discuss the benefits of strength training for cycling, the assumption is that cyclists do not want to gain (more than negligible) muscle mass. That probably holds true for the majority, but there may be exceptions, e.g. (road) sprinters or puncheurs, as well as people with a broader fitness aim where cycling strength is a (major) component.

What does science tell us about gaining (full body) muscle mass AND getting faster/building endurance? How to minimise endurance work interfering with muscle gains? And vice versa? How to train concurrently for that? Are alternating blocks during base phase the way to go, etc? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Most likely, the result will be a bit of a compromise, but is possible to get like 80/80% of potential gains? Which would be more than 100/0%… Working on both aspects fits in (my idea of) working on general fitness/athleticism.

Personally, I’m interested from the point of view of a recreational 46yr old rider that tries to train polarised, with around 9-10 hours of riding and some strength training on top.

I want to get faster/stronger on the bike by increasing power numbers in the various power zones/energy systems, but I am not worried about gaining a few kg’s in muscle mass. First of all I live in a flat area. And when I go on holiday and ride in the mountains, I’m looking for epic routes and am less concerned about optimal speed/time. And I may want to shed a few kg’s, but that is more of a healthy diet thing… :beer::pizza::chocolate_bar::relaxed: Working on some full body muscle mass seems healthy and can be helpful for other things I enjoy, like windsurfing, climbing, etc.



That is a good question. On these type of forums there is generally an assumption that a cyclist does not want to put muscle on but they might well wish to bulk up slightly whilst still training at the same level.

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I think that if you are an ectomorph as in tall and skinny, there’s an argument for strength training. If you don’t easily put much muscle on, and your muscles are as aerobically fit as they can be, do you reach a plateau in your cycling power? Power being a combination of your pedal force and cadence.

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Thanks for your question.

Interestingly almost universally research supports the notion that there is no significant weight gain when strength training is added to an endurance training program. These studies do not control for body type and as such we can expect a mix of ecto, endo, and meso-morph profiles.

Why is this?

  1. The activation of AMPK with endurance training tends to limit muscle hypertrophy changes
  2. The recommendation is typically to lift heavy weights with relatively low repetitions. Maximum hypertrophy gains are associated with increased volume of lifting / localized muscle fatigue.
  3. Total weight lifting sessions / exercises / volume per muscle group for endurance athletes is much lower than that recommended for those looking to increase muscle size and strength primarily.

With all that said, yes, some people will gain a little weight, others almost no weight at all. This is likely associated with body type. What’s also associated with body type is your strength as a rider.

Someone who is naturally mesomorphic, more likely to gain muscle mass, will gravitate toward sprints and not long climbs. The additional strength will likely help these riders on shorter, punchier climbs even when any increase in muscle mass is taken into account (Think the larger 1-day classics rider).

Those whom have body types that gravitate toward success on the climbs, Ectomorphs, will likely not put on much muscle mass but can see increases in strength, musculotendon stiffness, etc that will benefit performance.

Endomorph, with a higher body fat to muscle mass ratio, will likely benefit from any strength gains they can find.


On the diet side, you might check your protein intake. You need enough protein to support muscle development.

Consider supplementing with creatine. Effectiveness may vary widely depending on one’s diet. I’m an older male who doesn’t eat much meat, and a maintenance daily dose of creatine seems to have helped build and maintain muscle mass.
A good reference is here: Group A | Australian Institute of Sport

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Thanks, Rob & Angstrom! Essentially, you indicate that:

  • Endurance training (by way of AMPK) interferes with/blocks muscle gains;
  • Different body types will be more or less prone to gain muscle mass;
  • Nutrition, in particular sufficient protein intake, will help with gaining/maintaining muscle mass.

These are of course relevant points to take into account. Taking these as a starting point, what would you suggest, based on available science, if someone’s goal would be to gain a few kg’s of muscle mass AND improve endurance/riding as much as possible over the course of a full annual training plan?

  • How much volume of endurance work can be done before the AMPK really starts to interfere with muscle mass/strength gains?
  • Is there a (significant) difference in AMPK activation when doing only sub LT1 work or higher intensity riding too?
  • Does it make sense to alternate between blocks that emphasize strength or endurance work to avoid interference as much as possible? How long should such blocks be? Maybe in particular doing a hypertrophyblock during the early base phase.
  • How to maintain endurance and muscle gains best during the ‘opposite ‘ blocks?

I have used creatin during my athletics years quite some time ago. It’s a good supplement, but I’m not sure it helps avoiding the AMPK interference? I know it tends to result in a slight increase in mass when you start using it, because you retain some more fluid.


Would love to hear your thoughts!

Unfortunately I do not think that you can do both. Treating each equally will limit improvements in both. The more you focus on improvement in one domain, the more you need to accept reduced improvement in the other.

If you want to build muscle, focus on that. A win would be maintaining your current endurance performance.
If you want to improve endurance performance, add in strength training to augments it. A win would be any increase in muscle mass in addition to your endurance improvement.

Agree on that. The questin is how much endurance (i believe belor lt1) is enough for mantain endurance., probably see small decrease (heart changes) . But a test regulary could keep eyes on that , to try some periodization on that

Question for @trevor
You keep an eye out for 5 researchers, one of them is Ronnestad. I am guessing another is Stephen Seiler.

Who are the other 3 or 4?. San Milan maybe. Or perhaps the couple from Australia - Louise Burke and John Hawley.

Hi @John_Hallas,

Sorry I missed this post. All three of those are definitely in my list. The other ones include Shona Halson, John Hawley, Alejandro Lucia, Louise Burke, and Paul Laurson.

I could come up with a bunch more, but that’s my starting list.

Thanks for asking!



Laursen? - HIIT Science and Athletica

@Phil, Laursen is correct

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Recent podcast interview with Paul on Artificial Intelligence in endurance sports.

In the past year, I have added quite a bit of overall muscle mass, and my endurance cycling, particularly in the past few months with Ryan’s help, has improved a lot.

I am older, so for extra recovery I lift weights once a week for the upper body (heavy, to failure on all sets, not many of them) and the same way once a week for the legs. I also do core exercises.

I don’t mix riding days with weight training days. Muscle gain is noticeable, upper and lower body, and my endurance rides are around 25 watts higher than last year at the same HR.

I noticed it takes me around 3 days to fully recover on the bike from the very hard weekly legs weight sessions.

I also, as suggested, take in quite a bit of protein, 3 times a day. But uphill speed takes a hit with the extra weight.

In case this helps.

As with nutrition where the advice is to eat whole foods, I advice to use your whole brain instead of AI :slight_smile:

Numbers are great to track and objective but cannot yet replace your own feel on what the impact of a training was and what should be today’s workout.

Hey man! Could I ask what your on bike training looked like to get those improvements?

DanGreen Yes, credit goes to Ryan, as well as to Trevor.

I had two coaches before but was not seeing improvement. I had been doing 4 x 8s for a couple of years based on Sieler’s research. I kept hearing Trevor talk up the 5x5s on a number of podcasts.

So I started doing 5x5s, and around the same time did an INSCYD test and consultation with Ryan.

That was the key.

I went over my training schedule with Ryan, and he looked at the numbers and what I was doing… My other coaches had me doing too much. I am 64 yrs old, and was not letting my recovery kick in enough. And I don’t have too much time to be on the bike.

So Ryan had me do the 5x5s on Monday. On Tuesday I do heavy leg lifting. He suggested to allow myself to recuperate, so not to ride until Friday. That eliminated Wed trainer intervals and Thursday long endurance rides.

But, he said, since I would be doing less riding, that endurance riding was not enough with such few hours, and added 4 x 10s tempo with 1 minute rest in between at the start of my Friday 3-4 hr endurance rides.

On Sundays, I ride around 3 hours, endurance only (zone 1 of 3).

That was it. I started that in March. Since then, my VO2 max per my Garmin went up 4 points. I ride in a hilly place, my Normalized Power on endurance rides for the same HR has gone up around 20 watts.

Yesterday I did the 4 x 10s at the beginning of my Friday 3 1/2 hour endurance ride. While keeping my HR in the usual tempo range, my power was the highest that it has even been, around 30 watts higher than when I started the 4 x 10s 4 months ago. My normalized power for HR at the end of the ride was the best it has ever been. I started riding around 6 years ago.

Friel’s book Fast after 50 is one I that have read twice. He emphasizes weight lifting as one gets older, intervals, and the need for recuperation. He ends the book, if I remember correctly, by saying “Train hard, recover harder.” Ryan applied these principles to my training. Likely others can handle a lot more stress on their body and recover better than me. Ryan found what worked for me.