Podcast, Strength training

Maximum Overload: A Strength-based Cycling Program with Jacques Devore | EP#62

 September 28, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Maximum Overload: A Strength-based Cycling Program with Jacques Devore | EP#62

Maximum Overload is a radical strength-based program for improved cycling speed and endurance in less time. Jaques Devore, the man behind the program and author of "Maximum Overload for Cyclists" describes the program and its performance benefits.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • What Maximum Overload entails on a program, workout, and exercise level
  • How it benefits Maximum Sustainable Power (MSP), and reduces slowing down late in races
  • How professional cyclist David Zabriskie used the program to increase his cycling power by 15% even while losing body weight
  • Self-assessments for the Maximum Overload program
  • Performance enhanced eating


About Jacques Devore

01:56 -

Background of the Maximum Overload program

03:25 -

  • What wins in most endurance sports (cycling specifically) is not the person who has the best sprint, but the ability to hold power at the highest percentage of one’s maximum power the longest.
  • Most of the programs out there for cyclists and endurance athletes are really like taking a strength program for a soccer or football player and trying to adapt it to an endurance athlete.
  • This gap is discussed in the book. Most of endurance coaches didn’t do a lot of weight lifting and most weightlifting coaches didn’t do a lot of endurance training. I’ve been fortunate to do both.
  • I started as a wrestler and spent a lot of time in the gym. Then I became a cyclist later in life and said, “If sustaining maximum power is what wins a bike race, why don’t we spend more time figuring out how to improve that”.
  • That was what the epiphany was for me. "How can I create a program that allows a cyclist to keep holding power for longer periods of time?"

Overview of the program

06:10 -

1. Self-assessment

  • It starts with a self-assessment where you have to ask yourself what are your limitations, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • This is an important part of the program where you can clear up a lot of problems very quickly, but a lot of people don’t like to spend time on this because it’s not the glamour part.
  • Everyone wants to get to the walking lunges, the big heavy deadlifts, etc. because they will make the legs stronger. But, if you have a T-spine mobility problem, hip mobility issues, etc., then you might hurt yourself on those heavy lifts.
  • There are different tests to go through to see how you squat and move. Then I will give some exercises to clear up issues from the test.

2. Increasing force production

  • The exercises included in this phase are single-leg presses, deadlifts, straight bar deadlifts, squats, etc.
  • The problem with a lot of cyclists is that most of them have poor upper body strength. This is why deadlifts are great because if a cyclist gets a problem, he can just drop the weight. He doesn’t need to worry about putting a heavy weight on his back where he may not have the strength to be able to handle it. Using dumbbells with this lowers the risk for injuries.
  • During this period, you are also trying to establish your absolute power output (APO). This is the most amount weight that you can carry with dumbbells in a 12 step walking lunge while retaining momentum through all steps. This establishes your baseline level of power.

3. Integration into mini-sets

  • In a couple of research studies from Stanford exercise physiologists, they studied power lifters in their weight lifting sessions. They found that if they cooled their hands with a vacuum and ice cold water that they will be able to get bigger overloads in a workout and they got stronger.
  • In other words, if you don’t heat the muscle that much you could you do more efforts. This is why we do mini-sets.
  • What we do in the walking lunge set is we’re doing a maximum output of power with a small amount of rest so that the muscle will stay cooler, not heated up and over-fatigued.
  • This allows you to hold more time at that maximum power. This also allows the body to make an adaptation by spending so much time at maximum on that power curve.
  • The body has to adapt by recruiting more muscle in order to accomplish that goal that you keep asking it to do.
  • So you’re performing at maximum over and over again by having a gap between the time that you get fatigued and the next set.

How long is the force production phase before starting with the mini-sets?

12:05 -

  • A lot of this depends on the assessment.
  • A person who is a weight lifter and who is always in the gym has a good baseline of strength. This person is going to progress with force production a lot faster than someone who has not stepped inside a gym.
  • There is something called proprioception which is the choreography of muscles to execute a particular movement. This is why it feels kind of weird when you first do a lift.
  • It’s like learning to ride a bike and be comfortable with it, it takes a little bit of time. It’s the same with weight lifting.
  • Typically, it takes 3-6 weeks where you’re going to get close to this season's max lift that you’re going to get.

The principle of mini-sets

14:44 -

  • What we are trying to accomplish in the mini-set is time under tension as it is called in the strength industry. It’s the time you can spend on a particular load.
  • What we’re trying to do is not on the strength side of the equation but spend as much time as we possibly can at your absolute power output (APO).
  • For example, you’re doing a bicep curl with 25 pounds and the most that you can do is 10 reps in a row. So the total amount of weight that you lifted was 10 x 25 pounds or 250 total pounds.
  • What would happen if I did 3 reps in a row, rested for 5 seconds, did 3 reps in a row, rested for 5 seconds, 3 reps in a row and rested for 5 seconds. You’re going to get 12-15 reps total in that set. Now I’ve increased the total output from 250 pounds to 300-400 pounds total amount lifted.
  • By having those little rests, it allowed you to get a much bigger overload. This is the principle behind the mini sets.

How to perform walking lunge mini-sets

16:53 -

  • The first thing to do is to set the baseline.
  • From the bicep example, the baseline was 25 pounds for 10 reps.
  • We’re going to do the same exact thing with the walking lunges. After doing a couple of sets, you find out that you can keep your speed up in 12 reps with 20 pounds in each hand.
  • Now what we will do is expand the amount of time.
  • So the first set I do is 12 reps, then rest for 10-15 seconds.
  • Then go back at the other direction with another 12 reps. This is about 30 seconds of time now.
  • Turn around and go back again. Now we’re at about 45 seconds.
    Go back again for the 4th set.
  • So now you’ve done 48 reps of explosive power. If you have done them in a row, you probably would have gotten 15-20 reps only. But you’ve got 48 reps of overload in a minute.
  • The rest, the number of reps, and the amount of time is dictated by the speed of your reps. If you see that you’re grunting and groaning, and barely coming out of a hole, stop, because you’re no longer producing maximum power. You’re doing a sub maximum effort.
  • We don’t want sub maximum efforts. We want maximum efforts on these. The break gives you the ability to hit maximum again.
  • As you get better, you'll go from that one minute to up to even 6 minutes of these mini-sets.

What do you do after the walking-lunge mini-set?

21:11 -

  • After the 1 minute, stop and you do a full recovery which is usually about 4-6 minutes. You can then do some core work.
  • You can also throw in other exercises that are called finishers. A lot of them are in the book.
  • Then, you can do your 2nd one-minute set. If you still feel pretty good and fresh, take another full recovery.
  • Then you can do your 3rd one-minute set. If you can do 3 one-minute sets, then it will be good to start adding one more mini-set to each walking lunge set, 15-30 seconds at a time. For example, you did 4 runs back and forth. Now you can do another 12 reps set and be clean with it by having a good form and integrity in the lunge.
  • If you’re a track racer or sprinter, then you may go heavier for shorter. If you’re more of a long-distance climber, try less sets with longer durations.

Examples of finisher workouts between sets

23:15 -

  • A lot of them are core work.
  • You could do an ab wheel. I use an ab dolly which is a little more sophisticated.
  • You can put a towel on the floor with your knees and slide out.
  • You can do rotational stability exercises. Bird dog is a great one.
  • You can do mobility exercises for your upper body. Band poses for your shoulders are great.
  • You can do planks, dumbbell rows in between, and anything that doesn’t tax your legs.
  • The caveat is that you just don’t want to tire yourself out.

Have you seen any benefits of this in the cycling of triathletes that you’ve worked with?

25:31 -

  • One of the triathletes who is a good cyclist as well saw the biggest benefit of this in his running, especially on inclines, because triathletes have a tendency to shuffle.
  • They’re quad dominant because they’re biking, they don’t use a lot of the legs during the swim - more upper body.
  • Then the runs are so long and they are steady state runs. You’re not getting a lot of hip extension that a sprinter would get unless you go uphill.
  • Then you need to start using more hips if the road starts to rise up. Then you can’t shuffle as much, you have to drive through. So that’s where he found that in his runs that helped a lot.

Application in swimming

26:43 -

  • If swimming is your weakness, you can apply the same principles with an upper body pulling exercise and you can improve your pulling power tremendously.
  • You would do the mini-sets the same exact way with doing some band work or whatever you use for your swim power work.
  • I have swimming specific athletes that improved dramatically using the same exact protocol, you just change the exercises.

Performance enhanced eating

27:39 -

  • You want a lower inflammation. Training and exercise is a controlled form of inflammation. Then your body responds by healing so it can adapt to the overload and the inflammation so that the next time you don’t get as much.
  • You would want to create an environment that is anti-inflammatory because your real enemy is time. So you need to speed up recovery. This means eating and sleeping.
  • Eat real food. Have as much colour as possible in your diet.
  • Organic protein sources wherever possible, tons of colour, reduce starches and grains because grains are inflammatory to most of the population.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

What are good carbohydrate sources for triathletes that would keep that inflammation low?

29:18 -

  • Any carbohydrate rich vegetables like Brussels sprouts, yams, potatoes, and fruits in moderation with great timing.
  • Start utilizing fat as a greater fuel source as opposed to carbohydrates. It gets you better performance. Create an environment where you’re lower on the carbs by training in a low glycogen state and racing in a higher glycogen state because then, you’re body gets very fat adapted.

Rapid-fire questions

30:17 -

Favourite book, blog, or resource related to triathlon, strength training, or in your field of expertise:

Favorite piece of gear or equipment:

  • Hex trap bar for lower body lifts
  • Power meter for cycling

Person in weightlifting, cycling, or endurance sports that you look up to:

  • Mark Sisson
  • Dave Scott

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Jacques Devore

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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