Strength Training Terminology and other Basic Essentials for the Virtual Cyclist

Make the best virtual cycling training plan decisions with a solid understanding of these strength exercise basics.

Concentric vs. Eccentric Exercise

Concentric contraction occurs when the total length of the muscle shortens as it produces tension. For example, the upward phase of a biceps curl is a concentric contraction.

In a concentric contraction, the force generated by the muscle is less than the muscle’s maximum, and the muscle begins to shorten.

Eccentric contraction occurs when the total length of the muscle increases as it produces tension. For example, the lowering phase of a biceps curl constitutes an eccentric contraction.

In an eccentric contraction, the external force on the muscle is greater than the force that the muscle can generate; thus the muscle is forced to lengthen due to the high external load.

Is the Pedal Stroke Eccentric or Concentric?

Cycling primarily involves concentric contraction when the muscles of your legs shorten as you pedal. Although there is some eccentric work performed as the knee is stabilized by other muscle groups.

Implications For the Virtual Cyclist

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that when “eccentric exercise was performed by athletes at higher intensities than concentric training, total strength and eccentric strength increased significantly. 

Eccentric training performed at high intensities was shown to be more effective in promoting increases in muscle mass.  The superiority of eccentric training to increase muscle strength and mass appears to be related to the higher loads developed during eccentric contractions.”(2)

When eccentric cycling, you utilize a bike that contains a motor, which moves the pedals for you. The objective is to slow the pedals down, and this opposing force produces an eccentric contraction of your leg muscles.

In a 2019 study examining the effect of eccentric cycling on amateur cyclists, the authors showed that eccentric cycling did not improve any physiological measurements or cycling performance tests, encompassing short sprints and a 20-min time trial test. On the contrary, eccentric cycling appeared to have limiting or detrimental effects on cycling performance.

Open-Chain vs. Closed-Chain Kinetic Exercise

During an open-chain kinetic exercise, the limb or body part is allowed to move freely through space. For example, during an open-chain lower-extremity exercise such as knee extension, the quadriceps contracts to raise the lower leg.

During a closed-chain kinetic exercise, the terminal joint is stationary, prohibiting free motion of the limb or body part. An example would be leg squats, where your feet are positioned firmly on the floor while you move your body through space.

Is the Pedal Stroke Open Kinetic Chain or Closed Kinetic Chain?

Cycling is predominantly an open-chain exercise because as you press on the pedal, it moves away from you.

Implications For the Virtual Cyclist

In a recent study examining the effect of weight training on the thigh muscles using closed vs. open kinetic chain exercises, the researchers monitored training by measuring leg squat and vertical jump tests.  

Significant improvements were seen in both groups in the barbell squat 3-repetition maximum test. The closed kinetic chain group improved 23 kg (31%), which was significantly more than the 12 kg (13%) seen in the open kinetic chain group. 

The closed kinetic chain group improved significantly in the vertical jump test, 5 cm (10%), while no significant changes were seen in the open kinetic chain group.

Conclusion: Knowledge is Watts

When making decisions on optimizing the efficiency of our training and weighing the benefits of adding strength training to our plan, there is a tremendous amount of information to consider.  

Knowing the definition of the terms used to describe the specifics of varied exercise options increases the confidence that you will make the proper decision.

Cyclists have many eccentricities, but not putting in the time and effort to avoid being the weak link is not one of them!  Don’t be closed-minded to the potential benefits that adding strength training can open to you.

Check out this Zom article for tips on how to add Functional Strength Training to your plan!


  1. Concentric Muscle Contraction – an overview ….
  2. Roig M, O’Brien K, Kirk G,. et al. The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009;43:556-568.
  3. “Eccentric cycling does not improve cycling performance in … – PLOS.” 2 Jan. 2019, Accessed 11 Jun. 2021.
  4. “Weight training of the thigh muscles using closed vs. open kinetic ….” Accessed 11 Jun. 2021.
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Jonathan Roden
Jonathan Roden
1 year ago

Great Article, have definately learnt more for reading it


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