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The Best Strength Exercises for Cyclists

What are the best strength exercises for cyclists?

  • Planks with variation: core strength helps maximize efficiency on the bike.
  • Lunges: fire up the main muscle movers in cycling, including your glutes, quads, calves and hamstrings.
  • Leglifts: Target your hip flexors and abdominal stabilizer muscles for a smoother pedal stroke.
  • Burpees: require full-body explosive power.
  • Other weighted exersises to try include renegade rows, kettlebell swings, single-leg deadlifts, and front squats.

When you think about the best strength and conditioning exercises for cycling, you first examine what’s needed. Cycling happens one leg at a time, is predominately aerobic and requires repeated force production. Cycling also requires a strong core for handling your bike, climbing and overall endurance. There are many exercises that can address these needs but there are a few, especially when combined, which will target the entire body in a cycling specific way. Body weight exercises can be done anywhere, from your home, gym or office, while exercises incorporating weights are best done in a gym setting with proper footwear, form and spotters if needed.

The primary focus when it comes to strength exercises for cyclists is to train in a similar motion to cycling with lower and upper body, while increasing overall core strength and muscular endurance. The main goal with strength training is to create a stronger support system for your prime movers while on the bike. The aerobically stronger you’re assistance muscles and core, the less fatigue you will experience late in a race, additionally, the more potential you will have for increasing power.

The exercises below are performed with kettlebells and dumbbells. An Olympic bar or dumbbells can be substituted for the front squats and single leg deadlifts. For weight guidelines, if you cannot complete the minimum number of reps and sets or your form is lacking, then lighten the weight, even if that means using zero weights. When you can complete the minimum number of reps and sets for two consecutive workouts easily, challenge yourself by adding light weight if zero weight is being used or increasing the current weight lifted. Upper body weight increases of 2-10lbs and 5-15lbs for lower body is a general rule of thumb.

Body Weight Exercises

Planks with Variation

Planks are one of the simplest exercises in the book and one of the most effective at increasing core strength. Planks can be done anywhere and can be used year round. Planks target your shoulders, abdomen, and lower back. Lifting one leg can add a degree of difficulty to each set and further target the lower back. Start with hold times of 30-60 seconds per round and progress to 60-90 second hold times as you go through offseason training.

Lunges are very cycling specific since they are worked one leg at a time, targeting your quadriceps, hips and hamstrings. It is highly advised to start without weight in order to practice good form. Two common mistakes with lunges are letting the knee extend beyond the leading foot and flexing the torso forward/ jerking it back during the forward and backward movement phases. Focus on higher rep ranges of 15-30 reps per set, with the goal of 3-5 sets.

Leg Lifts

Leg lifts target the abdominals, and hip flexors. A simple variation includes placing hands overhead to target the upper abdominals. Perform 15-25 reps per set with a goal of 3-5 sets.

Burpee

The burpee is a great full body exercise. The movement involves all the major joints, and is intended to be performed with an explosive movement. Some variations can include adding pushups and a standing jump at the end. Focus on fast repetitions in the 10-20 rep range, completing 3-5 sets.

Weighted Exercises

Renegade Rows

Renegade rows are a full body workout that target similar muscles as the plank, with the addition of the upper back and arms. Rows will help build great endurance within your upper body. To add a level of difficulty, add a push up between reps. Perform 15-30 reps per set, taking 30-90 second rest between sets, with a goal of 3-5 sets.

Kettlebell Swings

When speaking about power endurance, Kettlebell swings are the first exercise that comes to mind. Proper technique is important, so start with lighter weight and progress from there. Keep your core strong, back straight and thrust from your hips and lower body, propelling your arms and weight to swing forward. Kettlebell swings will target your quads, hamstrings and hips.

Perform swings with an explosive movement and hold onto the kettlebell tightly! Begin in the 15-25 rep range with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets and 3-5 sets as a goal. Stop the set as soon as your form gets sloppy.

Single Leg Deadlifts

Single leg deadlifts target the hamstrings and hips. Incorporating single leg exercises help correct muscle imbalances since each leg is forced to support the load independently. It is highly advised to start with light weight (20-40lbs) working 8-10 reps per set. Spend a few weeks to get the muscle to adapt to greater loads, and then start incorporating slightly more weight. Work with a straight or slightly flexed back, slightly bent knee and strong core. Perform each rep with a slow steady movement.

Front Squats

Squats should be a staple in the offseason training regimen. Front squats work the hips, quadriceps and hamstrings and are great to use through your max strength and muscle endurance phases. Always start with light weight, building a base with higher reps (15-30) before incorporating heavy weight and always use a spotter to judge form and help with safety when lifting greater loads.

Using these 8 exercises will help you build the type of strength you can use when you’re on the bike. They require little in the way of equipment, and some can be done at home with no equipment. Taking the time to build strength in your shoulders, core and legs will help you ride longer and stronger all year.

7 Leg Exercises to Improve Your Cycling

Whether you’re cycling indoors or outside, having strong legs can help you pedal efficiently and with power. The stronger you are, the less energy it takes to keep those wheels spinning, which is helpful on everything from long stretches of flat road to intense, uphill sprints. However, while cycling is one of the best low-impact cardio workouts you can do, it’s not the best way to build up your leg muscles.

To learn more about which exercises can really target your legs and improve your cycling, we turned to Aaptiv trainer John Thornhill and personal trainer Matthew Martin. As avid cyclists, they understand the importance of keeping your legs strong, even if that means hopping off the bike and picking up some weights.

From tried-and-true powerlifting favorites to easygoing bodyweight moves, there’s no shortage of ways to train your legs. If you’re a cyclist looking to enhance your riding or you just want to add some leg exercises into your workout that will help you conquer your next spin class, we’ve got you covered.

Squat to Overhead Press

“Squats are one of the best full-body exercises you can do,” Thornhill says. Here, he adds a dumbbell press to the squat for a total-body challenge.

Grab a set of light dumbbells and stand tall, with the weights resting on your shoulders. Keeping your chest open and core locked in, hinge your hips back and bend your knees until your hamstrings are parallel to the ground. As you return to starting position, drive through your heels and engage your glutes, pressing the dumbbells overhead. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps. As you get stronger, add more weight.

Deadlifts

“Cycling is a quad-dominant workout, so it’s important to strengthen other muscles in your legs to achieve well-rounded strength and, as a result, become a better cyclist,” Thornhill says.

Grab dumbbells or a barbell. Stand tall with the weight resting on your thighs. With a flat back and a slight knee bend, send your hips back and hinge forward, bringing the weight down just below your knees. As you rise back up to starting position, focus on engaging your glutes and hamstrings. Do three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

Thornhill likes performing hamstring curls on a stability ball to work the back of the legs. To keep the ball steady, you must engage your core, too.

While cycling is one of the best low-impact cardio workouts you can do, the best way to build up your leg muscles is with bodyweight moves.

Lie on the ground with your feet on a ball. Keep your head and shoulders on the floor, and send your hips up, squeezing your glutes and inner thighs. Then bend your knees and curl the ball inward, making a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Slowly extend your legs back to starting position. Do two sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Bulgarian Squats

“As someone who cycles nearly every day, I personally have a love-hate relationship with these,” Thornhill says. “They burn so good! But I know they are necessary to add to my routine, so I add them into my leg days.”

You’ll need light dumbbells and either a bench or box. Grab the dumbbells and rest them at your side, standing tall. Stagger your feet in a lunge position, with your right leg in front and the top of your left foot resting on the bench. Keeping your weight in your right leg, bend your left knee down until your right hamstring is parallel to the ground. Try to keep your right knee from going over your toes. Return to the standing position. Do two sets of 10 to 12 reps per leg.

Step-Ups

“The simple step-up can be done with or without weight,” Martin says. “But to get the most benefit, try using moderate-weight dumbbells and really focus on driving your raised foot down through the step.”

With dumbbells in your hands, stand in front of a box or bench—something about 12 inches high. Bring one foot up to the top of the box and press through the platform, raising yourself up until both feet are on the box. Squeeze your glutes at the top, then slowly step down. Do 10 to 12 reps, then alternate leading legs.

Resistance-Band Side Steps

Many cyclists battle tight hips and sore knees. According to Martin, that’s because biking primarily builds your quads and hamstrings. So if you neglect nearby muscles such as the hip flexors, adductors, and abductors, you may experience discomfort or muscle imbalances.

Loop a resistance band around your ankles, choosing one that pulls taut when your feet are about hip-width apart. Step out with your right foot, then let your left foot follow. Take 10 steps to your right, then switch legs and side step back to your starting position.

Side Lunges

“The side lunge will open up and strengthen your inner legs,” Martin says. He mentions that it’s a great countermove to the side steps above and can be done as a bodyweight move or while holding a kettlebell at chest height.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step out wide to your left, bending your knee and dropping your hips until your left thigh is parallel to the ground. Drive through your left heel, pushing back to the starting position. Alternate sides, aiming for 10 reps on each leg.

Leg Exercises for Cycling: The Glutes

Your glutes are important muscles for cycling, these leg exercises for cycling will help turn your glutes into buns of steel!

When sports physio Mike Aunger isn’t looking after the starts at Chelsea Football club or treating patients at his busy London physio practice Technique Physiotherapy he spends his spare time helping you to ride better.

Over to you Mike.

We recently talked about cycling stretches that help to prevent over use injuries, focusing on the quadriceps because of their importance in cycling as the power houses. Although this is true it is not the complete picture. There is another muscle group that help deliver power at the top of the pedal stroke and having good activation and strength through this region is vital to ensure you maintain good power through out the push phase of your pedal stroke.

The gluteus muscles are vital and improving the size of your rump steaks will not only get you admiration from passers by, but will help to shave seconds off both sprint and distance times. So here are 3 leg exercises for cycling that can help to improve performance on and off the road.

As a general rule, if you suffer from knee or lower back problems, you should consult a physiotherapist before starting these exercises. Feel free to contact the Technique Physiotherapy team at any stage if you have questions.

Leg Exercises for Cycling: Single Leg Press

Aim to get the starting position above 90 degrees at both the hips and knee. The closer your bum is to the plate the more you will need to use your glutes to activate the movement. Aim for sets of 4 sets 6-8, by the final 1-2 reps in the set you should be getting some serious fatigue and trouble to complete the rep.

Leg Exercises for Cycling: Single Leg Sit to Stand

Stand up from the chair using one leg only. Aim to do 3 sets of 6-8 reps.

Leg Exercises for Cycling: Bulgarian Split Squat

With or without weight this exercise really helps to develop all round leg strength, but the lower you go the more you will hit your glutes. Aim to do 3 sets of 10-15 reps (without weight) and for those with experience at lifting free weights try with a 15-20kg bar bell (3 sets of 8-10 reps).

About The Author

If you are looking for more leg exercises for cycling or any help with physiotherapy or sports medicine contact the Technique Physiotherapy team and sign up for the monthly Brevet Newsletter for your next tip from the Technique Physiotherapy team.

Hill Training in the Swiss Alps

If you’d like to put these new leg exercises for cycling to the test then why not book a training block in the Swiss Alps?

As well as featuring classic Alpine climbs all of our fully supported cycling holidays feature local Swiss sportives to get you race fit.

Sportive Training Plan

Are you in training for a sportive? Use our free 12 week Sportive Training Plan to get you in the best possible shape for your sportive challenge. Simply fill the form below and we’ll send you your free training plan:

Image Credits: Images from Technique Physiotherapy and Sportive Training Plan

5 Most Useful Cross-Training Sports for Cycling

There are so many reasons to cross-train. It’s a great injury prevention tool. It’s great for conditioning your core, upper body, and increasing balance, endurance, and power. It gives your body time to properly recover. And it will keep things interesting. Let’s look at 5 sports that go well with cycling.

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Cross-country skiing

This is the ideal cross-training sport for winter months. It will keep your leg and butt muscles in shape when you can’t do any cycling. And not only that, the use of ski poles activates your upper body and core which is very useful for injury prevention, overall health, and the ability to get into a comfy riding position.

Swimming

Swimming is great at building cardio, strength, and lung capacity and it’s a zero impact activity. It’s great for staying in shape when recovering from a cycling injury or during easy rest weeks. Swimming also builds a strong core and helps you increase mobility in your shoulders and hip flexors. If you are new to swimming, get a few lessons with a coach, learning proper technique will make you enjoy it a lot more!

Yoga or Pilates

Cycling can make you very tight, especially those long weekend rides. This, combined with a lot of time sitting hunched over in front of a PC, can cause back aches and other issues. That’s where Yoga or Pilates come in. They help you loosen up tight spots, combat imbalances, and maintain full range of motion in all of your joints. Plus they teach you better breathing patterns and that comes in handy on the bike as well.

Strength training

Strength training consistently comes up in studies as the most effective injury prevention tool. And what could be more important than being healthy and injury free all year round to enjoy as much cycling as possible. It’s worth it, you should do some form of strength work every week. If you have a good workout plan it will improve your power on the bike without gaining any excess muscle. So, get a coach if you’re a beginner.

Stair climbing or hill running

This is a great activity because it’s very similar to cycling. You use the same muscle groups for climbing stairs or running hills as you do while climbing on a bike. So why do it? It’s something you always have available. For example if you travel a lot and can’t always take your bike with you, there will always be some stairs to conquer!

If you use heart rate to monitor your intensity on the bike, you can do the same with running. You will probably find that your running training zones will be different to those on the bike, usually 10-15 beats higher, primarily because it is a weight bearing high impact activity.

As with team and racquet sports, monitor your recovery from running carefully. Especially if you are new to it, you may find it takes more out of you than you expected. Listen to your body and, if necessary, factor in some additional recovery time.

Swimming is an excellent cross training activity for cyclists. As your bodyweight is supported by water, it is zero impact and this makes it an excellent recovery session. You can still work your heart and lungs hard, get a great training effect and hit your upper body but your legs have to do a minimal amount of work. The passing of the water over your muscles also has a therapeutic effect and this will further enhance recovery. There may also be a cold plunge pool or the possibility of some relaxing recovery time in the hydrotherapy pool or jacuzzi once you have finished your swim.

The Best Cross-Training Exercise for Serious Cyclists

Cycling is a great activity for recreation and sport. It doesn’t require much equipment and you can get a good cardiovascular workout, develop strength by going up hills, become more adept at balancing, and improve reaction time – as well as changing your mental and visual focus from near to far field.

But in a wider context of overall fitness, cycling does have drawbacks. It puts you in a restricted zone of movement constrained by the bicycle. And if you spend all day sitting in an office, then sitting on the cycle puts you in a similar position again. It also can be hard to get your cycling training in if you’re on the road for work.

So here’s my simple solution that will still help you in your cycling goals, but also in your goals to be a healthy and well-rounded human being. (And it’s simple enough you can do it almost anywhere.)

Get Moving

Activities in everyday life can require a much greater range of movement than cycling. So while you may become a fit and powerful cyclist over a relatively narrow range of motion, you may get lulled into a false sense of security when trying to perform other tasks.

In the worst case this might result in an injury as you lift the groceries out of the car, play with younger members of the family, join a friend in a racquet sport, or reach out to lift a heavy item when doing house chores. Such a simple injury can then impact your ability to cycle while you wait to recover.

This brings us back to the key topic of specificity. In order to get better at cycling, you need to do activities that resemble cycling. However, the ability to be resilient as a person means taking up sports for general fitness or having a good all-round level of robustness over a wide range of motion. And if you are an avid cyclist, doing a different activity from time to time can also help prevent feeling stale from high levels of training and can restore motivation.

On top of all that, some of the people I work with travel frequently with their jobs and have concerns about maintaining their cycling fitness while they are away from home and their bike. Hotels don’t always have the gym facilities these people would like and time spent channel flicking in the hotel room could be spent more usefully with some simple exercise.

My Favorite Way to Cross-Train

So, to solve all these problems, here is one of my favorite cross-training activities for cyclists. All you need to do is pack some outdoor shoes and suitable sportswear and then find a steep section of ground for some hill sprints.

Me nearing the end of a thirty-second hill sprint.

Hill sprints will raise your heart rate, work your upper body and core, develop proprioception and general motor skills, provide some impact for improved bone density, help assist a more upright posture, and develop explosive power in your legs to help with cycling.

I’m fortunate to have a hill near me that takes approximately thirty seconds at full sprint to get to the top. Thirty-second intervals are one of the formats a 1999 study found beneficial (this was a topic of a previous article of mine entitled Do Your Intervals Count?)

The hills where I do my sprints.

Taking the longer path back down the hill gives me time to recover before the next thirty-second sprint. The jog to and from the hill make a good warm up and cool down, too. I prefer the trails to the road where possible as the air has less traffic pollution and the irregularity of the ground helps with more general proprioception and balance. It only takes a few minutes to perform each interval and together with the warm up and cool down you can get a great workout in 45 minutes total.

What the Science Says

In 1999, a study published in Sports Medicine looked at the effects of cross training between cycling, running, and swimming. The study concluded there was some transfer of training effects to improve VO2 max even though the training might be considered non-specific. Running had a more beneficial transfer than swimming. Sport-specific training, as expected, had the most benefit.

“As usual, if you are not used to running, then ease into the exercise gently. Running requires a far higher level of resilience to impact than cycling and if you start too aggressively you may injure yourself.”

So, if you are feeling in need of a change from cycle training to help with motivation, wish to develop a more balanced level of overall fitness than cycling on its own can provide, or find yourself away from home on business, I recommend some hill sprints.

As usual, if you are not used to running, then ease into the exercise gently. Running requires a far higher level of resilience to impact than cycling and if you start too aggressively you may injure yourself.

I like to include a couple of sessions per week (at least one) in my own routine in addition to cycle training and any other activities, bearing in mind that many of the same muscle groups are being used. Also, a hill running session may be more agreeable to you than missing training due to bad weather.

Further Reading:

  • Cyclist’s Syndrome: What You Don’t Know Might Hurt You
  • Why Heavy Lifting Is the Best Winter Activity for Cyclists
  • Power to the Pedal: Be a More Efficient Cyclist
  • New on Breaking Muscle Today

1. H Tanaka, Effects of cross-training. Transfer of training effects on VO2max between cycling, running and swimming. Sports Medicine, 12/1994 330-9.
2. NK Stepto, “Effects of different interval-training programs on cycling time-trial performance,” Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, 1999 May;31(5):736-41.

Photo 1 courtesy of .

The Only 4 Strength Workouts You Really Need for Cycling

What kind of strength and conditioning exercises do you need for cycling? Cycling is basically about repeated force production, one leg at a time. But it’s not just legs, you also need a strong core for handling your bike, climbing and overall endurance. Let’s look at 4 exercises that cover all of those needs.

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Lunges

Lunges are a great exercise because you do them one leg at a time just like riding a bike. They target your quadriceps, hips, and hamstrings. You should start without weight to get comfortable with good form. Once you have it down, you can take dumbbells or kettlebells in your hands for added weight. Aim for 15-30 reps per set to keep the intensity aerobic. Check out this video to see how it’s done.

Planks

Planks are one of the best exercises for core strength that you can do virtually anywhere at any time. They will work your abs, lower back, and shoulders. First work your way up to a 1 minute continuous plank with proper technique and then start adding variations. You can try lifting legs one at a time or doing side planks to increase difficulty and work different aspects of your core. If you’re unsure about technique or want inspiration, check out this plank routine. Can you finish those 3 minutes without taking a break?

Squats

Squats are a great off-season exercise they work the glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings. They will help you improve max strength as well as endurance. It’s essential to learn proper technique with light weights because half-assed squats can do more harm than good. As you get used to squatting the right way, you can start doing less reps with higher weights or progress to single-legged squats. There’s a lot of info on squats out there if you’re unsure about how to do them properly, check out this video.

Single leg deadlifts

Deadlift is also one of those basic exercises that everyone should do in the off-season. The single leg variant of this exercise is great for cycling because it targets the hips and hamstrings and helps correct muscle imbalances since each leg has to support the load independently. This variation is not about max strength, start with very little weight and focus on proper technique. That alone will bring benefits. Each rep should be slow with a slightly bent knee, straight or slightly arched back, and activated core.

How to get stronger legs for cycling

While cardiovascular fitness is a must for high-level cycling, improved leg strength can help with a more balanced physique.

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Try these four exercises to build thighs, quads and calves of steel that German track cyclist Robert Förstemann would approve of.

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1. Squat jumps

Squat jumps are one of the best ways to boost your explosive power Hero Images / Getty

Doing squats is beneficial for cyclists because it helps to keep the hamstrings balanced by working them in a different way to the pedalling action.

As a cyclist you should aim to squat down fairly low, so that your thighs are roughly parallel with the ground — an angle your legs will be used to through pedalling.

From the squat position, jump up as high as you can, as hard as you can, but keeping your hands as close to your hips as you can so you don’t create artificial momentum.

Repeat this 15 times in sets of four, doing them quickly and powerfully to build up strength.

2. Lunges

Lunges are an excellent all-round exercise for improving leg strength Klaus Vedfelt / Getty

Lunging engages your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles so they are an excellent all-round exercise for improving leg strength. They also help iron out any minor imbalances in thigh strength.

Start by standing with one leg slightly in front of the other, then step forward with your right leg so the bend at the knee is 90 degrees.

Keep the weight towards your heels and then bring your body back to a standing position, pushing off the front leg, before repeating on the opposite leg. Repeat this 16 times.

3. One-legged pedalling

One-legged pedalling can strengthen your hip flexors

Start pedalling and then unclip your left foot, holding it clear of the rotation. Pedal for two minutes before switching legs and repeat for three sets.

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To start with you will probably find your movements a bit jerky on the upstroke due to weak hip flexors, but the more you do this exercise, the stronger your hip flexors will become and you will soon find yourself pulling on the upstroke as well as pushing on the downstroke.

4. Calf raises

Calf raises are an effective exercise that can be done anywhere Courtesy

Your calves are constantly being flexed and abducted while cycling, so carrying out toe raises on rest days mimics the action this muscle makes on a bike, building its strength further.

Stand on a flat surface with your feet shoulder width apart and raise yourself up onto your toes in a slow, easy motion, then lower yourself back down equally as slowly. Repeat 20 times and do this for three sets.

If you’re feeling keen, you can increase the intensity of this exercise by combining it with a squat, which will work both your thighs and your quads simultaneously.

How To Strength Train For Cycling

Want to improve your cycling performance, either on its own or for a triathlon? Step one is simple: Put in your time on the bike. There’s no way around it. Cyclists simply have to improve their aerobic and anaerobic systems by following a strict endurance-training program. I’ll spare you a lengthy discussion of the SAID Principle—that is, specific adaptation to imposed demand—but suffice it to say, to get better at cycling, you have to cycle.

So does the story end there? Only if you want to hit your head against the same performance ceiling over and over again. As an increasing number of recreational and competitive cyclists are discovering, training for strength allows you to use your existing muscle more efficiently, tap into power you didn’t have before, and perform better in the crucial late stages of your races and time trials.

This style of work is known as concurrent training, but the version backed by the latest science isn’t the same old lightweight rep-assault you may have been doing for years. Change the way you approach your workouts, and you’ll create a whole new idea of what you can achieve on the bike!

“As an increasing number of recreational and competitive cyclists are discovering, training for strength allows you to use your existing muscle more efficiently, tap into power you didn’t have before, and perform better in the crucial late stages of your races and time trials.”

Build Endurance on the Bike, Strength in the Gym

As someone who has experience in both strength training and endurance training, I’m not going to insult you with a stereotype of “the endurance athlete” versus “the strength athlete,” as if the two are entirely different species. Both are athletes, and they’re also people, which means they encompass every body type, personality, training style, and lifestyle.

However, just like any other type of athlete, cyclists who get serious about their craft are prone to following the prevailing training style they see modeled around them. And when it comes to strength training, that model has been this:

“I’m an endurance athlete, therefore I should stay in the endurance rep range: 10 reps and above per set, with light weights and short rest periods. After all, I don’t want to add weight in the form of muscle or induce too much leg fatigue.”

Sound familiar? Even if that’s not you, you’ve no doubt heard someone use this line of reasoning to describe their approach to training. Let me be the first to say that this approach is no longer valid. It’s time to outgrow it the way you outgrew toe clips and steel frames.

Ask any bodybuilder—you’re on Bodybuilding.com, after all—and they’ll tell you that the best way to add muscle is with moderate weights, high reps, and short breaks. In other words, exactly the same way endurance athletes have been taught to train to avoid building muscle.

It’s time for a change. Here’s what you need to know:

  • You can significantly increase your strength without adding large amounts of muscle.
  • Increasing your strength can improve your endurance, power production, and resilience to injury.
  • The best way to build strength is by training for absolute strength. This means heavier weights, low repetitions, and longer rests.

This is the recipe for building powerful muscles that will help you perform better: Train for endurance on the bike, and train for strength with free weights in the gym. Here’s the how and why.

Rep Ranges For Athletes

For Hypertrophy 8-12 reps per set and higher

  • Lighter weights, shorter rest periods
  • Greater sensation of burn and/or pump, often by working to failure
  • Common among bodybuilders
  • Common (mistakenly) among endurance athletes trying to avoid excess muscle growth

For Strength 1-5 reps per set

  • Longer rest periods, heavier weights
  • No lifting to failure or for burn/pump
  • Common among Olympic lifters and powerlifters
  • Best for endurance athletes seeking to build strength without adding muscle

How does strength help endurance?

The strength-building mechanisms that help cycling performance are largely neurological. This means they have to come from teaching your body to better use the muscle it has, rather than from adding lots of new muscle.

This has the potential to benefit you in a number of ways. For instance, endurance training typically relies largely on the recruitment of slow-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers have great stamina as it is, but researchers have concluded that strength training improves the maximum strength of these fibers, which further increases the time it takes to work them to exhaustion. This allows you to reserve your fast-twitch fibers for later in a race or time trial.1

Heavy strength training develops fast-twitch fibers far more effectively than light high-rep training. This is where things really get interesting. A 16-week experiment performed with top-level cyclists found an increase in type IIA fast-twitch muscle fibers relative to more easily exhausted type IIX muscle fibers following combining heavy strength training and endurance training.2 Type IIA are more fatigue-resistant than type-IIX, yet still capable of producing high levels of strength and power. They’re the ones that can give you an extra gear when everyone around you is exhausted.

Additionally, combined strength and endurance training has been shown to increase concentrations of fast energy-yielding substrates—e.g., phosphocreatine and glycogen—and lower concentrations of lactate at the end of a 30-minute bout of cycling at 72 percent of VO2-max:3 In other words, more energy and less discomfort.

Lastly, strength training improves how quickly you can produce force, what is known as the rate of force development. Bump this up, and you’ll reduce the time you need to reach certain velocities, as well as decrease the intensity required to perform your endurance work.1

“Bump this up, and you’ll reduce the time you need to reach certain velocities, as well as decrease the intensity required to perform your endurance work.”

What about fatigue?

This is a fair concern. Whether because of the prevalence of intense bodybuilding-style workouts in gyms, or just because strength training looks tough, endurance athletes are rightfully concerned about heavy weight training impairing their performance. Research has shown, however, that it’s all about the approach you take.

Back in 1999, researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario found that adding maximal strength training to a cyclist’s endurance-training program had no negative physiological effects on endurance parameters, such as maximum oxygen consumption or lactate threshold.3 On the contrary, it has been shown to lead to an improvement in cycling economy, particularly in less-trained cyclists.4 Cycling economy is the oxygen consumption required to maintain a submaximal cycling intensity.

Ask any strength coach who paid attention during their certification exams, and they’ll remember at least the Tweet-length version of that idea: Stronger muscles are more efficient muscles. The slightly longer version: As maximum strength increases, the amount of activated muscle fiber required to produce the same submaximal force decreases.5 You’ll do the same work, but with less effort.

While some research attempts to cast doubt on strength training’s benefits for cyclists, these studies’ methodologies are often to blame: the volume is too low, the program is too short, or not enough time is left for recovery. All of these issues can be addressed with smart programming.

Program Design Recommendations

Put all of these studies together, and a picture emerges of a cyclist who trains strategically for strength. He or she takes longer to exhaust, and has lower levels of lactate during intense stretches of work. This cyclist can also produce more force more quickly when the need arises. If that sounds like the recipe for a faster, more satisfying race or time trial, you’re right.

So when is this person training? Good question. You have a couple of options.

Winter/Off-Season

This is the most common time for cyclists to devote time to strength, and with good reason. The “Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology” found that devoting five weeks to maximal strength training (3-5 sets of 3-5 reps, 3 times per week) helped cyclists maintain their pedaling cadence over the course of two hours.6

During the Cycling Season

The flaw with some lackluster studies into concurrent training is that the strength component is simply added to an endurance program, without making any changes in the latter.7 This is a recipe for exhaustion and impaired performance. Consider taking a cue from a review study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” in 2009, which concluded that replacing a portion of a cyclist’s endurance training with maximal resistance training is likely to yield better time-trial performance and increase maximal power.8 The takeaway: You can have it all—but not all at the same time!

In my experience, most cyclists can benefit from maximal strength training 1-3 times per week, depending on the time of year. The program should focus on improving strength and power output, and consist of free-weight and bodyweight exercises. These will have more athletic transferability to cycling than using exercise machines will.

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Barbell Back Squat

Focus on multijoint movements and avoid isolation-type exercises. This isn’t the time to try to “bring up” your calves! Stick mainly to sets of no more than 5 repetitions on big-ticket movements like the squat, with 3-minute rest breaks between sets. During these, you can either rest or perform mobility work or noncompeting strength work—such as ab work after lunges. Perform the concentric phase (the up phase) of heavy lifts as fast as possible, even if the weight moves slowly. Do not go for “the burn” or to failure on any movement. Feel strong and in control at the end of every set.

Here’s an example of what such a strength session could look like. Bear in mind, this doesn’t have to be your workout, but it’s an example of a full-body strength routine that would give an endurance athlete a lot of bang for their buck.

Full-Body Strength Workout 1 Circuit: 4 rounds, 60 seconds rest between rounds 4 sets, 4 reps+ 3 more exercises

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For optimal results, replace a portion of your endurance-training volume with a strength-training session like this. You can strength train in place of easy endurance-training days, or after hard endurance workouts. If performing a strength session after a hard endurance session, perform immediately afterward, or separate the sessions by at least six hours.

If you’re struggling to recover between workouts, you’re probably doing too much. Cut back on exertion, make sure you’re eating and resting enough, and give your body the space it needs. Building strength requires listening to your body, but once you get the hang of it, the rewards are significant!

  1. Rønnestad BR, Mujika I. Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Aug 5.
  2. Aagaard P, et al. Effects of resistance training on endurance capacity and muscle fiber composition in young top-level cyclists. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 Dec;21(6):e298-307.
  3. Goreham, C, et al. High-resistance training and muscle metabolism during prolonged exercise. Am J Physiol. 1999 Mar;276(3 Pt 1):E489-96.
  4. Sunde, A, et al. Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Aug;24(8):2157-65.
  5. Ploutz LL, et al. Effect of resistance training on muscle use during exercise. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1994 Apr;76(4):1675 81.
  6. Hausswirth C, et al. Endurance and strength training effects on physiological and muscular parameters during prolonged cycling. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2010 Apr;20(2):330-9.
  7. Levin GT, et al. Effect of concurrent resistance and endurance training on physiologic and performance parameters of well-trained endurance cyclists. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Nov;23(8):2280-6.
  8. Yamamoto LM, et al. The effects of resistance training on road cycling performance among highly trained cyclists: a systematic review. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Feb;24(2):560-6.

Written by Taylor Thomas of Thomas Endurance Coaching

Most every cyclist is aware of the importance of cross-training or at least has been exposed to how cross-training regularly may benefit their riding. However, despite this fact, many cyclists struggle to integrate it properly into their training strategy or are quick to cut it out in favor of more saddle time. Understanding the ins and outs of cross-training and how to make the most of your time off of the bike can help to accelerate your fitness and compliment your goals on the bike.

Who Needs Cross-Training?

The simple truth is that every cyclist should be cross-training to some extent. Every athlete has different needs when it comes to supplemental exercise. Who you are as a rider, and what your goals are, can and should dictate the approach to cross-training. For many, the goal is to improve cycling specific strength, while others may need to focus on injury prevention, flexibility, or range of motion. For most, cross-training evolves as the season progresses and the overall volume of bike time ebbs and flows. Identifying who you are as an athlete, what your goals are, and what types of training are going to benefit you the most are the first steps. Cross-training should be individualized in such a way that it aligns both with your training approach specific to the bike, as well as any overarching goals that you may have as an athlete. Treat cross-training sessions the same way you would your bike workouts, making sure they’re designed specifically for you and the macro goals of each training period.

How Should You Cross-Train?

Cross-training should be treated as an integral component of your approach to proper preparation. Cross-training will have maximum impact when it carries the same weight as your bike focused sessions. One of the best ways to get the most out of your time off of the bike is to apply the same metrics-based approach that you do when riding. Tracking heart rate, duration, heart rate Training Stress Score (hrTSS) and Intensity Factor (IF) for cross-training sessions allows for them to be accurately factored into your overall training load, and understand how they impact both fitness and fatigue. Understanding how these sessions influence both fitness and fatigue helps you keep your finger on the pulse of critical training metrics, as well as knowing when and what to do for each cross-training effort. Much in the same way that you look for gains from a cycling perspective, you can and should look for improvements in your other activities. Tracking heart rate over time helps you see aerobic gains, or other physiological adaptations, that you otherwise may have not picked up on. Whether it’s a lower heart rate at a given running pace, or a higher threshold during a strength workout, tracking heart rate based metrics over time will help to ascribe meaning and purpose to these supplemental sessions.

When to Cross-Train

There’s never a bad time to integrate cross-training, but as cyclists, there are times when these sessions should look different or serve a different purpose. Ultimately the goal is to use whatever macro periodization plan is in place for bike specific training to guide the structure and purpose of your cross-training work. In the offseason and early base periods, typically the focus should be on strength and power building. This can be accomplished through heavy strength work, or supplemental intervals in another discipline, to build explosive power. As the focus begins to shift in the later base and early build periods, this often signifies a corresponding shift in cross-training focus. As volume and intensity increase on the bike, the need for injury proofing takes a higher precedence than strength building. Maintaining strength, as well as a range of motion and flexibility, are a great focus during the height of bike-focused specificity. Again, be critical in your approach to cross-training and make sure that the approach compliments your goals on the bike.

What to Do

Many athletes struggle with the question of, “What type of cross-training is best?”. In the end, there are many different sports that one can engage in during your time not training specifically on the bike. Rather than thinking about it in terms of sports and trying to decide between things like running, strength training, swimming, yoga, or any of the other options, think about cross-training by asking yourself what is going to make you a more successful cyclist. What can you be doing to help you more confidently and successfully reach your goals? If there’s a need for muscular strength or increased power, strength training may be the answer. However, if injury prevention is a top priority then swimming, yoga, or pilates may be the highest and best use of your time. To be a better cyclist, specificity is the answer. Training on the bike is a top priority but after that, thinking about where and how you contribute to your bike specific strength will allow for a much more methodical and effective approach to cross-training.

Why Cross-Train

Cross-training serves a variety of purposes depending on the athlete. First and foremost it should be a way to bolster any weaknesses you have in your bike specific training. Cross-training should always be a compliment to your primary focus. Specifically, it’s a way to build robustness as an athlete. Cycling is a low-impact sport that does not encourage a large range of motion. Due to this fact, it’s helpful to engage in other sports to strengthen areas that may become weak due to the limitations of cycling. Things like bone density, core strength, and weak hips and hamstrings can become problem areas if 100% of your training time is spent riding. Shifting a small amount of focus to being an all-around athlete will pay dividends when it comes to comfort, power, and strength on the bike.

While cross-training has become commonplace for most cyclists, many still struggle with how to properly integrate it into their overall training strategy. Knowing how and when to properly make the most of supplemental work is the key to building a stronger cyclist. Rather than juggling a variety of different sports, think specifically about what it is you can be doing to strengthen your weaknesses on the bike. Look at cross-training as an integral part of your approach to training and treat it with the same importance as bike sessions. Apply the same metrics-based approach that you do when training on the bike, and understand how cross-training factors into both fitness and fatigue. A methodical and critical approach to cross-training will yield better results both on and off of the bike.

Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, race promoter, and team organizer. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in all disciplines of both running and cycling. Browse their pre-built training plans on TrainingPeaks, or for more information on personal coaching and custom training plans visit www.thomasendurancecoaching.com. Follow TEC at @endurance_coach.

When runners consider cross training, myriad options come up—ranging from a variety of non-impact exercises to strength training. Not all options are created equal, however. When selecting the type of cross training, you need to consider how specific the work is to running—does it work similar muscles and systems—as well as the reason for cross training—what does it offer that running doesn’t, e.g., less impact.

With this in mind, cycling makes for one of the best cross training options. Here are six reasons why:

1) Mimics Movement

In respect to muscle activation, the position and movement of the body while cross training should mimic running form as closely as possible.

Cycling out of the saddle, with the body as vertical as possible, mimics the posture of running. This is especially true in regard to the foot strike position beneath the body.

While not a bike per se, the ElliptiGO is a great exercise option that also places the body in a vertical position with the ‘foot strike’ occurring beneath the rider. Plus, the ElliptiGO has the additional advantage of requiring greater hip extension—the leg driving behind the torso similar to good running form—than a traditional bike.

photo: courtesy ElliptiGO

2) Strengthens Calf Muscles

Running places a lot of stress on the calf muscles—especially running with a midfoot strike. When landing with a midfoot strike, the soleus (deep calf muscle) is most affected.

When cycling, the balls of the feet are placed on the center of pedal. Therefore, the contact point of the foot on the pedal is the same as the foot contact point with the road when running with a midfoot strike. This means that when pedaling—especially standing up, out of the saddle—the calves must activate to stabilize the foot on the pedal.

Strengthening the calves results in the stiffening of the calf/Achilles complex, which acts as a large source of energy while running as one of the body’s natural spring systems.

photo:

3) Strengthens Shin Muscles

The shin muscle (tibialis anterior) activates to pull the pedal upwards during the upstroke of the pedal stroke while in a seated position. This is most often the case when riding up a hill. To engage the tibialis anterior, the foot must stay horizontal during the upstroke and you must have some sort of cage, strap or clipless pedals to be able to pull up.

Since this activation during the pedaling motion strengthens the tibialis anterior, it may help to prevent muscular-based shin splints while running.

4) Engages the Core

A strong core is important for proper running form, as well as for decreasing the chance of injury due to mechanical compensations when other muscles have to engage to keep you upright, balanced and moving forward. To improve your core while on the bike, you need to ensure that you are using proper cycling form to engage the core, both in and out of the saddle.

Photo: Coen van den Broek on Unsplash

—Uphill Seated Cycling Form

Cyclists with a weak or unengaged core often exhibit excessive side-to-side (tilt and rotation) movement of the upper body when riding uphill. Conversely, if your core is engaged, there should be little to no upper body movement.

To test your core engagement, ride in the seated position up a moderately steep hill but do not grip the bars—rather, place your palms on the bar while keeping your fingers loose. This lack of support from your hands/arms will place a greater emphasis on your core. Riding uphill using this form while focusing on not bending or rotating your upper body from side-to-side will increase your core strength.

Photo:

—Out of the Saddle Form

Most amateur cyclists do not have proper form when riding out of the saddle. They keep the bike in a vertical position and move their body and hips up and over the bike (think: spin bike). The proper form, however, is to tilt the bike side-to-side and maintain a near motionless and upright torso position. From a performance standpoint, this allows the hips to stay in the same plane and minimizes a dead spot in the pedal stroke. From a muscle-building perspective, riding out of saddle with good form places an emphasis on the core to tilt the bike laterally, as well as to keep the body stationary and centered over the bike.

5) Builds the Aerobic Engine

A lot of running injuries come from overuse. Whether you’re talking about a long run or cumulative mileage, the greater the time on your feet, the greater the chance for injury. The most common reason for this is fatigue, leading to the breakdown of running form.

Cycling, with the focus on endurance riding, allows a runner to get a great aerobic workout with virtually no impact on the body. As an added benefit, when going up a hill, a cyclist can shift gears to reduce or maintain their effort—an option that isn’t available to runners!

Photo:

6) Boosts Anaerobic Systems

Cycling is just as applicable to high-intensity interval-based training as it is long steady distance. Whether done outdoors or indoors on a stationary bike, doing intervals on a bike is a great way to replicate the intensity of a running workout, but without the impact. Note, while they strengthen heart, lungs and overall muscle tone, cycling intervals will not improve the specific running muscles and neuro-muscular pathways, so cycling workouts should be used in addition to, not in lieu of, running intervals whenever possible.

Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company that offers running and triathlon coach certifications.

We are in the month of May, and May happens to be the National Bike Month. Therefore, and for that occasion, I decided today to write something up about some of the many benefits of cycling for runners.

Therfore, I encourage you to give cycling a try—especially after you get acquainted with the many benefits that cycling has to offer runners, and how simple it is to start biking.

I hope you’ll find them useful and simple enough.

Cycling as Cross Training

I am a runner, and I run a lot.

But that does not mean that I shouldn’t be doing other things, especially when I know that they are beneficial to both my running and fitness level.

As you already know if you have been on my blog before, I’m big on cross-training. In fact, after a quick glance at my Cross-training page on my blog, you’ll notice that I have more posts in there than in any other category.

That tells you how much I value cross training. Therefore, today I decided to share with you a post on one of my least-practiced sports, cycling.

The fact is, cycling is, hands down, one of the best cross-training exercises that match running.

I’m not a pro cyclist

Before I get into the workouts, I would like for the record to clearly state that I’m not as quite as qualified to write about cycling as I am to write about running. The fact is, I’m not that good of biker, and I don’t do it that often.

Yes, I love cycling, but I wish I could do more of it.

I used to bike much more often in the past, but these days it’s a rarity.

It doesn’t happen that often.

I usually bike when I’m injured. When I’m tired from running. Or whenever running is not an option.

Therefore, the workouts I’m sharing with you today are not some advanced or complicated routines. They are a just some of the simple and straightforward workouts I do every now and then.

I just want to share with you what I do when it comes to biking. Nothing advanced here. If you like some of the advanced stuff, then this is not the blog post for you.

The Benefits of Cycling for Runners

I do believe in the power of cycling—whether you want to go all serious about it (I’m not), or just do it every now and then (which is my thing)—cycling has all sorts of health benefits—physical and mental.

Here are some of the main reasons to help convince you to hop on the bike:

Perfect for cross-training. Cycling, by far, is the ideal high-intensity low-impact cross training activity there is. In fact, I believe that cycling is the ideal example of a high-intensity alternative cross training exercise that can complement, or even replace, running.

Targets all major running muscles. Cycling builds strength and power in major leg muscles, such as the glutes, calves, and quads—key running muscles.

Low impact. Cycling targets these muscles in non-load bearing manner so there is minimal impact on the body and joints, so there is pounding as there is in running.

Also, cycling strengthens the weaker muscles, therefore, as a runner, it can help you fix muscle imbalances and prevent of all sorts of overuse injuries.

Improves leg turnover. A high cycling cadence—of roughly 90 revolutions per minutes or more—is an ideal way to boost leg turnover for runners. And as you already know, increasing your leg turnover is one of the fastest and best ways to help you increase speed and improve race times.

Cycling offers many workouts. Just like running, you can do all sorts of workouts on your bike, including interval sessions, tempo rides, hill rides and long steady ride workouts to build endurance.

The fact is, the best cycling workouts for runners are those routines that mimic standard and classic run workouts, just like the ones I’m sharing with you below.

Great for recovery. Or should I say, active recovery, any sort of low-intensity low-impact exercise after a hard workout.

According to the current theory, active recovery can boost blood flow, soothe muscle soreness, reduce joint stiffness, flush out toxins and help you back to hitting the pavement sooner than if you were not engaged in any form of physical activity.

Cycling has less impact than running so you can recover faster from the workouts.

How to start Biking

Cycling is not meant to replace all of your running workouts—unless you are recovering and rehabilitating an injury, of course.

You need to find a way to wave cycling into your training program without throwing your training program out of balance.

For that, I strongly recommend that you get started biking by replacing one or two of your weekly easy runs with a 60 to 90-minute bike workout.

Things you will need

Unlike running, cycling is more of an equipment-centric sport that requires a few essentials. Nonetheless, I don’t think that one needs a horde of fancy gear to get started.

However, I don’t think you should be investing a fortune in biking gear to reap the benefits of cycling (and spinning).

Therefore, if you are thinking about becoming a casual biker—just like me—then I believe an entry-level road bike is enough—for now anyway, you may choose to upgrade for a more advanced ride in the future.

Some of the essential items you’ll need to include a bike, helmet, glasses, bike shorts, pedal shoes, cycling gloves, multi-tool, spare tube, an inflation device, and working brakes.

Other basics you might consider getting include a BPA-free water bottle (stay hydrated—a cardinal rule), a bike computer (helps you keep track of top speed, distance, time, etc) and a road ID (this can be a total lifesaver in the off chance of an accidence, God forbid).

Nevertheless, all things being equal, the bike must fit whether it’s mountain bike, a road bike, a hybrid, or triathlon bike.

In fact, the bike must fit, or it’s a no deal. If you don’t have a bike yet, check this quick YouTube video on how to pick the right fitting bike.

Be safe, please

And please be safe on the road. Keep an eye on intersections, red light, traffic, oncoming cars, other people, you know, common sense safety principles still apply here.

The Spinning Option

And the good news is, if you decide to do indoor biking workouts, then you’ll barely need anything, any gear.

Most gyms have them, and they are not that expensive. Not only that, some spin bikes come with their own pre-programmed workout routines, helping a lot.

All you need for an awesome spinning session is an iPod with a good playlist and (maybe) a training buddy to help you ward off the boredom of spinning in place.

The Best Cycling Workouts for Runners

Without further ado, here is a list of biking workouts you might consider adding into your training program. Your choice of a session and the number of times you do it a week depends, of course, on your current fitness level and goals.

Nonetheless, I suggest that you do at least one of the sessions below twice a week, choose another for a third hard day.

As you get fitter on the bike, add one or two of the more challenging routines. And please, be sure to allow for one day of rest between hard workouts.

1. The Road Bike Workout

If you are just starting out, then you will need just to get out there and get a feel for what’s like to bike by riding a few miles.

Fartlek is a Swedish term that means “speed play.” When this training method was first incepted and conceptualized in the 20’s and 30’s, it was mainly used by runners, but soon it spread to other sports—and nowadays a fartlek bike workout is an integral part of most training programs.

I love this workout. It mimics the type of fartlek workout we do in the running world—mainly exercising on feel, and following no specific training pattern and plan.

You can perform this workout on flat section or hills, just make sure you are biking on feel and picking up the pace every now and then.

The Workout

10 minutes easy biking to warm up and get ready.

5 minutes moderate biking

2 minutes sprint

4 minutes moderate

1-minute sprint

5 minutes moderate

3 minutes sprint

10 minutes easy cool down.

Of course, there is no magic formula for the perfect fartlek biking workout. Hence, feel free to let your creativity carry you forward, and remember to have fun. It’s called “speed play” for a reason, you know.

2. Endurance Ride Workout

The endurance workout is one of my favorite biking workouts—especially on days when I don’t feel like doing something intense but still get a sweat going.

During this workout, you should be feeling tension and workload in your legs. However, perform this workout at a conversational pace—meaning you can still carry on a conversation without much huffing and puffing.

The main goal of this session is to build endurance and allow you to go the distance without showing signs of fatigue or slowing down.

Start, like usual, with a 10-minute easy-paced pedaling to get you warmed and ready.

Next, aim to keep up a steady cadence for the upcoming 45 to 60 minutes, shooting for an effort level of 6 to 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, and exercising at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

As a beginner, you might need to opt for a low cadence—something in the range of 60 to 70 rpm for your first few endurance sessions. And as you get stronger and fitter, aim to work it up gradually up to more than an hour by gradually increasing your time each week.

Last up, finish the ride with a 5-minute slow spinning cool down at an easy pace.

3. Speed Intervals

Intervals are a crucial part of any cycling training program. These powerful sessions can help you increase aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and power, burn mad calories, and they are perfect for the time-crunched runner who is balancing a hectic life schedule with training.

You can perform this workout indoor, or outdoor—although I prefer doing it indoor because that way I can have more control over pace and intervals length and duration.

Start with a 10-minute easy-paced pedaling to get you warmed and set.

Next, perform at least six to eight one-minute fast-pedal intervals near top speed—nothing less than 90 percent of your max—then slow down and recover with a one-minute easy pace spin with minimal resistance.

After the last interval, slow down and ride at a neutral pace for 5 minutes to cool down.

4. Tabata Intervals

Tabata intervals are the brainchild of the Japanese exercise physiologist Izumi Tabata, and this awesome and rigorous interval type of a workout consists of alternating between 20-second of high-intensity burst of work with 10-second of recovery.

To make the most out of this workout, you need to push your max and be gasping for breath by the end of the first few intervals—otherwise, you are not pushing hard enough.

The Tabata interval set is considered by many as the best cycling fitness builder ever incepted.

Not only that, the Tabata protocol workouts are perfect if you are short on time and looking to get the most out of every minute you spend on a bike.

These Tabata intervals increase cardiovascular fitness and shed crazy amounts of calories like nothing else.

For a timer to keep track of your sprint and rest periods, feel free to down this Tabata-timer app.

Begin the workout with a 10-minute easy ride as a warm-up of easy spinning.

Next, up the intensity by either boosting gear ratio or tension, then sprint for 20 seconds as fast as possible. Then, slow down and recover with a 10-second of easy spinning.

Repeat the on and off pattern for eight times to complete one round. Pedal easy for one to two minutes, then aim to do at least two to three more rounds.

5. Climbing Intervals

This session is going to help you build the strength and power needed to tackles the hills with ease, and will also totally challenge your muscular strength and endurance and power on the bike.

You have two options here: you can either opt for a moderate to steep hill. The ideal hill should take you at least two to five minutes to climb, has a steady grade of 7 to 10 percent with no stop signs or traffic lights. Once you reach the top of the hill, turn around and recover as you ride back down to starting point.

Or hop on a stationary bike with a riser block under the front wheel to simulate a hill by raising the bike’s front wheel.

Start with a 10-minute warm-up of easy pedaling.

Next, ride the uphill, aiming for an effort of 7 to 8 for at least 5 minutes, and aiming for 70 to 80 RPM.

Then, coast or recover downhill, and repeat for 25 to 30 minutes. Repeat the cycle for the duration of your session, then end the workout with a 5-minute easy pedaling cool-down.

For more challenge, feel free to stand and attack for 15 to 20 pedal strokes a time at the fastest pace possible.

6. The Recovery Ride

A recovery ride serves the same purpose as a recovery run: helps you recover following an intense workout. As a result, you shouldn’t be skipping them.

Do this easy workout on a flat course after a hard session to help you recover and increase your cycling mileage.

The recovery is going to help you to increase your biking mileage while also allowing your body to recover by spending some time at a lower-intensity training zone.

This is easy and straightforward: Ride as easy as you can possibly ride for 30 to 45 minutes. In fact, go as embarrassingly slow as possible, and do it deliberately.

Keep spinning easy, and don’t let your training buddy ruin this for you—regardless of how much they pressure you into speeding things up.

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Question: I have a big upper body from genetics and years of weight raining. I’ve lost 40 pounds since I began riding, and I’ve quit the weight room for good — I want to climb better! But local coaches tell me that I should still do upper-body resistance work to help my cycling. Why? I don’t pedal with my arms. — Andrew V.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies: There are three good reasons why you and every roadie should be doing upper-body weight training.

  • First, you lean on the handlebar for long periods while riding. To avoid sore triceps and shoulders, pushups, dips or bench presses are effective.
  • Second, when you sprint or climb, you pull on the bar harder than when you’re riding on the flats. So your pulling muscles need to be kept strong with exercises such as pull ups and rows.
  • Third, you need to work on the core muscles of the abs and low back. They’re crucial to any kind of strength — on the bike or in the weight room — because they provide the foundation that arm and leg muscles work from. They’re especially important for stabilizing your trunk on the saddle during pedaling.

That said, you should not do upper-body weight exercises like a body builder or strength athlete. Instead, use relatively light weights and high reps.

You’re a cyclist now, not a lifter, so you don’t need to spend much time in the weight room. A couple of sets each of four or five exercises, twice a week, will give you plenty of strength to ride well without adding muscle mass.

For more details, see my eBook Off-Season Training for Roadies. It has practical and effective weight training programs for cyclists.

Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.

The Unconventional Guide to Strength Training for Cyclists

Who should do strength training for cyclists?

Elite amateurs or pros spending 25+ hours a week on a bike probably won’t get much benefit from strength training for cyclists. But for the rest of us, it makes us more useful humans and keeps muscle imbalances and injury at bay. Done the right way, it brings improved bike control on technical trails and greater confidence and stability when cornering on the road bike to name two things it can do. It may even improve power output overall.

Why is strength training for cyclists important?

Strength training for cyclists reduces risk of injury

Stronger, more flexible muscles and connective tissues (tendons) are less likely to be injured from over-use, impacts (crashes), and the strains of daily life. If you have weaker muscles you are more likely to incur injuries. Even from relatively innocuous everyday activities like lifting the shopping out of the trunk on a Tuesday night.

These can be devastating. I hate the long slow path to rehabilitation, and I’m sure you do too. I’d rather be out riding my bike.

The better your general strength is, the better coordinated and more stable your movement patterns are, and the more likely you are to stay injury-free.

Strength training wards off age-related muscle loss

The sad fact is we naturally lose muscle mass as we get older and hormone levels drop. Weight training helps reduce and can even reverse these losses. Good muscle strength and mass improves your ability to keep it as you get older.

Weight training keeps your metabolism high

Muscle burns energy faster than other body tissue types. Greater muscle mass – a bigger engine – helps you to keep your weight under control.

Prevents muscle imbalances

Cyclists can have underdeveloped core and upper body strength, and long hours in the bike can lead to postural problems such as rolled-forward shoulders. You are especially likely to be in this category if your bike fit is sub-optimal. Strong outer (lateral) quads can lead to knee tracking issues if the medial quads are underdeveloped. I battle with overdeveloped quads and underdeveloped glutes caused by my previous desk job, which contributes to ITB issues I need to continue to manage. An appropriate program of strength training for cyclists is able to address these issues and reduce the likelihood of injury.

Weight-bearing exercise improves bone density

Maintaining stronger bones is particularly important as we age. Some research claims that a steady diet of non-weight-bearing endurance-only exercise can lead to osteoporisis. For cyclists, this is a serious concern, especially when it comes to managing the potential consequences of crashes and falls. Broken bones suck.

Potential for cycling performance gain

Stronger muscles improve the ability to exert force on the pedals and subsequently improve power output.

It can also improve cycling economy. As maximal strength increases, the amount of muscle fibre needed to produce a particular amount of sub-maximal force decreases, allowing you to do the same amount of work with less effort according to studies like this: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23914932.

What does the science say?

The science as we have seen in an earlier article shows mixed results. However, those studies showing no performance gain or performance loss generally added maximal strength training over the top of an existing high endurance training load.

In contrast, those studies showing a performance gain generally fitted in strength training for cyclists with a lower or moderate endurance training load, allowing for more recovery.

Why do some coaches think strength training for cyclists sucks?

Some coaches are concerned that weight training for cyclists will add to muscle bulk, destroying their charges’ power-to-weight ratios. Many have the belief the time devoted to strength training is better spent developing the rider’s aerobic engine.

The impact of fatigue from weights sessions definitely can get in the way of completing high intensity aerobic sessions to the appropriate level of quality. There are plenty of examples of this reported (eg http://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/strength-training-for-cyclists-is-it-worth-it-125222)

I think they are wrong. The strength building approach that helps cycling performance is largely about improving muscle recruitment. In other words, it is about getting the brain firing more of your existing muscle fibre, rather than adding new muscle.

Where weights training is criticised as being ineffective I believe the cause is not the weight training itself but using the wrong strategy at the wrong point in time. Doing their maximal strength training earlier before the target event would have controlled fatigue. Following it with different routines to convert raw strength into useful power production, and then maintain it, would have managed fatigue and yielded better results.

What is “Periodization”?

Varying your training loads according to where you are in relation to your main target events for the season is called “periodization”. The philosophy was pioneered by Hans Selye and further developed by by Soviet exercise physiologist Leo Matveyev and Romanian sport scientist Tudor M Bompa, and has since permeated Western sports science.

Periodization acknowledges that peak condition and steady high loads are psychologically and physiologically difficult to sustain all year round. The quantity of high intensity, quality training efforts is limited to when it has the greatest benefit for the athlete’s highest priority events. Scheduling training sessions is done carefully to balance and maintain the frequently conflicting abilities for a particular sport such as endurance and speed, thereby reducing the risk of injury and burnout while maximising performance when it counts most.

Applied to a cycling training program

You will first build a base foundation of endurance and efficiency. You will move on to replacing some sessions with higher intensity and more difficult speed and power training sessions in the build phase as the target event approaches. Overall volume winds back a little to account for the increased training stress from these sessions to avoid dipping into overtraining. Your program will include appropriate recovery during each of the training cycles to take best advantage of the body’s adaptation response. These are inserted not just between major workouts within the week, but an easier week is scheduled every 3-4 weeks (depending on age) to flush out accumulated fatigue, after which you will usually find you have stepped up a level in your fitness as you start the next training block. A brief annual break is also scheduled to recharge the mind.

Why is periodization relevant to strength training for cyclists?

The purpose of periodizing strength training for cyclists is to ensure the benefits are gained without disrupting key on-the-bike sessions through fatigue. This is especially important during the build and peak periods that develop speed and power. During these phases, the priority given to weight training is reduced to maintenance levels.

Training for maximal strength is most likely to have a lasting performance benefit when included earlier in the program. The endurance load is lower and less intense, which allows for better recovery.

Simply adding strength training on top of your existing bike endurance training, or adding the wrong type at the wrong point in the season can set you back. You may end up sacrificing the quality of your on-the-bike workouts through being too sore, or having “dead legs”. This can lead to erosion of your fitness, or doing too much and heading for overtraining.

Periodization of strength training for cyclists has 4 parts

  1. Preparing your muscles and connective tissues for strength training

    • Also called the “Anatomical Adaptation” phase.
    • Weights should be set for 20-30 reps per set with 2-5 sets per session and 60-90 seconds recovery between sets.
    • Slow speed.
    • 2-3 times per week, 8-12 sessions total (typically 4 weeks).
  2. Training for maximum strength

    • Lift heavy loads. Gradually increase weights and reduce the number of repetitions.
    • Be careful to avoid injury – choose loads conservatively to begin with, and for the first set of each workout.
    • Low reps per set (3-6) and 2-6 sets per session with 2-4 minutes between sets to allow full recovery.
    • Continue other exercises per the preparation/AA guidelines.
    • Typically completed at the start of the first Base training period.
    • 2-3 times per week, 8-12 sessions total (typically 4 weeks).
  3. Converting newly-acquired strength into power

    • Typically started in the middle and completed in the second half of the base training period
    • Power endurance

      • Convert raw strength into the ability to quickly produce high power output, such as needed for an attack, long sprint, or a pinch climb.
      • Weights should be set for 2-3 sets per session of 8-15 reps with 3-5 minutes recovery between sets.
      • Continue other exercises per the preparation/AA guidelines.
      • Speed of lift is fast but keep it controlled. Do not “throw” the weight.
      • 1-2 times per week for 3-6 weeks depending how much you need to develop this ability.
    • Muscular endurance

      • Extend the ability to manage fatigue at high load levels.
      • Do prime mover exercises at 30-50% of 1RM and 1-3 sets of 40-60 reps per set with 1-2 minutes recovery between sets.
      • Continue other exercises per the preparation/AA guidelines.
      • Keep speed of lift moderate.
      • Once weekly for 4-8 weeks.
  4. Strength maintenance.

    • Use this phase to retain strength base set up in the strength training phase, while on-the-bike efforts develop power and muscular endurance
    • Only the last set of each prime mover exercise loads the muscles: 60-80% of 1RM and 2-3 sets of 6-12 reps. First 1-2 sets are a warm-up.
    • 1-2 minutes recovery between sets
    • Continue other exercises per the preparation/AA guidelines
    • Keep speed of lift moderate
    • Maintained through build and race phases
    • Perform once weekly, indefinitely except for taper week prior to “A” priority events.

Beginners should use machines to start strength their strength training program

What are “prime mover” exericises?

Prime mover exercises move the bike forward and help with bike control. For cyclists these include hip extension, seated row and upright row. Seated row helps the lower back and arms. The upright row works the upper back and shoulder strength for bike control. This improves injury protection in a crash and your ability to loft the front wheel over obstacles. These are particularly helpful if you’re a mountain biker or CX racer.

Compound movement exercises involving multiple joints that copy the movements of riding a bike are best. You will gain the most benefit from using free weights because they also train control and stability. Newcomers to weights should start with machines. Only remedial exercises addressing personal weaknesses such as medial quads, hamstrings or calves should be performed as isolation exercises. You are not bodybuilding.

What other cycling strength training exercises should I do?

Abs with twist to work the core, an upper body choice (pushups, chest press, lats), and one remedial or personal weakness exercise (hamstrings, knee extension, or heel raise) should also be included. You should continue to follow the Anatomical Adaptation period guidelines for these exercises.

Keep number of exercises to the least possible

If a little is good, more is better, right? Wrong. Quality is more important than quantity. Adding more exercises may broaden your strength abilities but fail to give you enough depth. A lot of programs give you a lot of exercises, intent on giving you everything you need to ensure you are well-rounded.

Most of us struggle to get enough time on the bike during the week as it is. Life gets in the way, so focus your gym time on those exercises which will have the greatest positive impact. The above regime is stripped down to the basics and is the one I use myself. If it takes longer than an hour you are probably trying to do too much.

What’s your opinion?

Do you think weights help or hinder? Has weight training helped you, and how has it done so? If not, why do you think this happened? Could you have done things differently? Share your experience and ask questions in the comments below.

Sources:
The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible – Joe Friel – VeloPress
Rønnestad BR, Mujika I. Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Aug 5

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