Leg strength vs. arm strength

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  • #6575

    Hi. I am following the ice and mixed program, and I recently wrote a (long) description of my experience with the first part of the program. I’m still at it, it’s great, and I’m getting stronger, and learning a lot.

    I have a question about leg strength vs. arm strength. Something that I have noticed is that my legs seem to build strength much more easily than my arms and upper body, and that my legs also maintain this strength much longer (I’m not doing leg strength training right now, so this is from memory). If this is actually true, my question is first, why, and second, how can one build and maintain upper body strength most effectively?

    Part of an answer might be related to the difference in the distribution of fast twitch/slow twitch muscle fibres in in the lower/upper body as you mentioned in a recent post. Presumably these fibres respond to training stimuli in different ways.

    Another part of an answer, in my case, might be related to fact that I have an long background in bicycle road racing–my legs have just cycled through millions of repetitions at all intensity levels. I am sure that I have a deep base of capillaries, extensive nerve connections, strong tendons, and so on, in my legs vs, my arms. I wonder if someone with, for example, a swimming background, which stressed the upper body more than the lower body, might experience the opposite (easier to gain and maintain strength in the arms vs. the legs).

    That leads me to another thought: if we take the general idea of establishing a high volume low-intensity training base, and apply that to strength training, what would that look like for upper body and arm strength? Many repetitions of low intensity movements? Lots of milage climbing really easy terrain? The “arm equivalent” of cycling several thousand miles in an easy gear? I wonder how strength training would function after this kind of preparation? This might not make sense at all, but I wonder if, taking a really long term view of strength training, one approach might be to start in such a way.

    I guess I could distill this into a simple question; instead of starting an upper body strength training program by doing sets of 5 pulls ups, for example, would it make more sense to start by doing sets of twenty or thirty pull ups with an assist from a rubber band or similar device?

    For now, I am going to follow and finish the ice and mixed program, but I wonder if, during a transition period, or in another year, I might switch to some kind of high volume low intensity upper body work, to build that base.

    Ok, thanks, and keep up the amazing work,


  • Inactive
    Anonymous on #6659


    What you did in your youth will be with you the rest of your life. During childhood and adolescence when our body’s are growing fast, the muscles and nervous system is very plastic and adapt very quickly to any sort of stimulus. Sit on the couch watching TV and eating junk during those years and you will have missed a crucial developmental window that will never be completely reversible. In your case, you bike raced during at least part of those critical years when you were young enough and for long enough to cause a great deal of structural adaptations to occur in your body. Read the section in TftNA where we discuss Structural vs Functional adaptations and you will understand this better.

    Those adaptations you made long ago are still there in your legs where as they never happened to the same extent in your arms. I see this all the time with adults who were runners, XC skier, or cyclists vs swimmers in their youth.

    I was a swimmer during those crucial years. My arms/shoulders just don’t get tired even when I don’t train them. Whereas I have had weak legs despite training them hard for climbing, running and even ski race internationally during the past 40 years. Maybe its just me but I don’t thinks so as I talk to lats of folks with similar experiences.

    As Eddy B said: Train your weaknesses and race your strengths. Your arms will probably never come up to the same levels of strength or endurance as your legs. You can try all those methods you propose (I have) but I doubt any of them will really make a huge difference.


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