I am an endurance cyclist, currently specialising in 25 mile and 10 mile time trials. Opinions seem to vary a lot regarding the utility of strength training for endurance cyclists. Some coaches say it is a waste of time, as the maximal forces encountered in a time trial are actually very low, and there is little research evidence to demonstrate performance improvements in well-trained cyclists.
Others say that there is some scope for strength training, with some suggesting that high-rep work is the way to go and others favouring a lower-rep approach.
I have quite a big upper body for a cyclist (I'm not exactly huge though at 6'1" and 75kg) and recognise that losing upper body mass will improve my aerodynamics and therefore my performance. On the other hand, I would ideally like to maintain a somewhat aesthetically pleasing upper body.
I suppose my questions are:
Do you feel that strength training is beneficial for endurance cyclists, and what sort of approach do you favour?
Is there an approach to training the upper body that will allow some atrophy to take place while maintaining some strength and definition?
I'm going to chime in here because I'm a strength coach for various endurance athletes and have quite an opinion on the matter.
Let's give you cancer. You'll lose muscle mass and strength. Now go try to ride a bike. Doesn't work well does it? It is your legs that produce the muscular force needed to crank those pedals. Your heart and lungs can provide all the oxygenated blood to the working muscles that it wants, but if the muscles cannot forcefully contract good luck moving forward.
Here is some research to chew on (running and cycling):
Endurance athletes are hard nuts to crack due to years and years and eons of dogma.
Why would you want upper body atrophy? You think your upper body doesn't get tired during a ride? You don't think upper body strength relates to lower body strength? Read enough of this site and others and you'll know that your upper body strength can effect your lower body strength and vice versa.
With all endurance athletes the problem with resistance training is time and balance with other training. The more endurance work you do the less strength work you have energy for. You can't train more than your ability to recover. So I'm going to give you the same guidelines I give my top level runners:
General Conditioning: Off-Season Twice a week total body. 4-6 compound exercises. 1 warm-up set, 1 work set of 10-15 reps
General Strength: Pre-Season Once or Twice a week depending on your cycling volume. 4-6 compound exercises. 1 warm-up set, 1 work set of 4-6 reps.
Specific Strength & Power: In-Season Once a week combined plyo and strength session lasting no more than 30-45 minutes. 15 minutes of plyos. Rest 5 minutes. Then into a short strength session, 4-5 "functional" compound movements (may include O-Lift variations). 1 warmup set, 1 work set of 3-5 reps. By "functional" I mean single limb variations or even "speed" lifts and compound movement patterns (speed squat followed by deep squat as example...or split box jump followed by Dumbbell Step up)
Anyway, this is just an example and your program would be different based on your own needs assessment.