Strength training should be applied progressively, adding weight as your ability increases. It also requires rest and periodization to be most effective. It’s also good to keep in mind that you’re going to strength train as a cyclist, not a bodybuilder. Your goals won’t be to build muscles for aesthetic purposes but improving power and strength endurance in key areas.
As a general rule, it’s best to start simple and light. If you can’t complete an exercise with good form with your own body weight, don’t add any external weight. That’s why we will provide you with a set of body-weight exercises you should start with. When you get stronger, you can start adding weights to some of those or progress to exercises with weights.
Low volume and high recovery
High volume and lots of reps with heavy weights is a formula for big muscles. As a cyclist, you want to focus on strength rather than muscle growth. This means you can get away with a lower volume of strength training. You should also include longer rests in between sets, aim for at least 3 minutes to let your muscles recover.
Keep it up all year round
We all know that the off-season is the perfect time for strength training. It’s true that you should try to improve in strength during the winter months. But the mistake that many make is that they stop with strength training as soon as it gets nice out. Strength maintenance is equally as important as strength building.
Make sure to continue strength training all year round with at least 1-2 sessions per week and ramp up to 2-3 sessions in the off-season.
Plan your strength training strategically
It’s best to do strength workouts on the same day as an easier ride, rather than on a rest day. Like cycling, strength training produces fatigue, and that requires recovery. Try to space your ride and your strength workout as far apart within a day as you can. This allows your body some recovery in between and you will be able to maintain the desired quality of work. For beginners, it’s usually better to do strength training first and to ride later in the day.
Always remember that strength training is supplemental to your bicycle workouts. Each week’s most important rides should still be your overall training priority.
The advantage of bodyweight exercises is that you can do them almost anywhere and anytime. You can maintain your strength while on vacation, when taking a break at work, with no access to a gym or if you live in a small apartment with no fitness equipment. Here is a list of the best bodyweight strength exercises for cyclists we will go over.
- Single-leg bridges
Core strength helps maximize efficiency on the bike and planks are one of the most effective exercises at increasing core strength. They target your shoulders, abdomen, and lower back. And there are so many variations you can do. You can do side planks, plank rows, spiderman plank, or you can try alternating lifting one leg or one arm at a time to increase intensity. Start with hold times of 30-60 seconds per round and progress to 60-90 second hold times as you go through offseason training.
Single-leg movements are usually preferable to bilateral ones, as they mimic the unilateral nature of pedalling on a bicycle. Single-leg exercises also activate more coordination and core stability and quickly reveal any differences in leg strength that need to be addressed.
Lunges are a great example of a single-leg movement. They target your quadriceps, hips and hamstrings. Two common mistakes with lunges are letting the knee extend beyond the leading foot and flexing the torso forward or jerking it back during the forward and backward movement phases. For bodyweight lunges, focus on higher rep ranges of 15-30 reps per set, with the goal of 3-5 sets. If you want to cover the side-to-side range of motion too, try lateral lunges too.
Another great single-leg movement for cyclists is the single-leg bridge. It targets your hamstrings and glutes, which can be weak in quad- and hip-flexor-dominant cyclists. The hamstrings play a key role in the pull portion of your pedal stroke and (while often forgotten) make a huge difference in your pedalling efficiency.
To do this exercise well, lie face up on a mat, legs bent with heels close to your butt, feet on the floor, and arms resting at sides. Raise one leg straight up towards the ceiling, keeping both knees in line. Engage glutes and lift hips up towards the ceiling to form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Pause. Lower back down and repeat for a full set. Switch legs.
The burpee is a great full-body exercise that will help you develop explosive power. It’s intended to be a dynamic movement that involves all the major joints and muscle groups. To do the exercise right, start standing with your arms at your sides. Squat down, placing hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Kick your legs back into a high plank position as you drop your chest and hips to the floor at the same time. Push back up to a high plank, then bring legs back in toward the hands in a deep squat position. Extend legs and jump, raising arms overhead.
This exercise targets your entire back to counteract the stretching and weakening effect of all the time cyclists spend sitting in the hunched-forward position. With a lot of us cycling enthusiasts having sedentary jobs, this exercise becomes twice as important as it helps combat the negative impact of sitting on your whole posterior chain.
To do this exercise, lie face down on a mat, arms extended out straight overhead, legs straight and feet about hip-width apart. Engage your glutes and back to slowly lift your feet, chest, and hands a few centimetres off the floor. Lift the right arm and the left leg higher. Then lift the left arm and the right leg higher. Continue to alternate. Try to get to 5 sets of 60 seconds.
Weighted exercises require some equipment, you need to have access to kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells or simply something heavy that’s easy to manipulate. The advantage is that they can help you set the resistance more precisely compared to bodyweight movements.
- Single-leg deadlifts
- Kettlebell swings
- Front squats
- Turkish get-ups
- Dumbbell lunges
Single-leg deadlifts are yet another great single-leg movement for cyclists. They target the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and lower back for powerful pedalling in and out of the saddle. This exercise can help you correct muscle imbalances since each leg is forced to support the load independently. It is highly advised to start learning the movement without any weight or with a very low weight of less than 10 kg. Work your way up to 8-10 reps with the right form before adding any more weight. Check out the following video if you’re not sure about the proper technique.
The kettlebell swing is another movement that builds on the classic deadlift. It’s a great choice for building power endurance. Swings target your quads, hamstrings and hips. They should be performed as an explosive movement. Begin in the 15-25 rep range with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets and 3-5 sets as a goal. Proper technique is essential, make sure to stop as soon as your form gets sloppy. Check out the following video to study the proper technique as a beginner.
The squat is another really important basic lower body movement just like the deadlift. It should be a regular part of your strength training, no matter whether you’re just doing bodyweight squats or barbell squats. The front squats are beginner friendly and they target the hips, quadriceps and hamstrings. Always start with light weight and higher reps (15-30) before transitioning to heavier weight. It’s essential to learn the proper technique with this movement also, otherwise, you can do more harm than good. Go over proper technique and common mistakes in the following video.
This is a great weighted exercise that combines a lot of the previously mentioned movements into one. It includes elements of the plank, lunge, and deep squat, as well as adding some upper body strength. It also focuses on single-hand and single-leg elements and core stability. If you’re ever short on time, this exercise will give you the most bang for your buck. Check out the following video to learn the whole movement correctly.
Dumbbell lunges are the natural next step to bodyweight lunges. It’s important to master the basic lunge without weights before attempting this variation. When you decide to implement it, you gain a great way to make your glutes, hamstrings, and quads work even harder. The extra weight can come in a form of an overhead dumbbell, racked kettlebell or even a sandbag over your shoulder. It’s a great way to stress-test your balance and coordination.
Weight training for cyclists in a nutshell
This list of exercises is enough to hit all the crucial muscle groups in a way that translates to cycling really well. Remember, you don’t need to do all of them in every session. Choose a few that cover your legs, core, and upper body every time you do a weight training session. Start with small weights, take good rests in between sets, and plan your strength training strategically so it doesn’t interfere with your cycling. No more walking through gyms wondering what exercise to do next. Now you know what to do for strength as a cyclist.