The massive benefits of strength training for cyclists have become one of the biking community’s worst-kept secrets.
The pros have been doing it for decades, and the rest of the cycling community is finally cottoning on to what is arguably the most effective way to boost cycling performance and prevent injuries – without actually getting in the saddle!
However, many riders are missing out on unlocking the full potential of strength training for cyclists by following generic bodybuilding programs, instead of optimizing their training to be cycling specific.
To help you get the most out of your strength workouts, we’ll be walking you through:
- Why Strength Training For Cyclists Is Essential
- How To Structure Strength Training For Cyclists
- The 9 Best Cycling-Specific Strength Exercises: Calisthenics And Weight Training For Cyclists
Ready to revolutionize your cycling?
Why Strength Training For Cyclists Is Essential
Every serious cyclist should add strength training to their exercise regime.
While some of the benefits of strength training for cyclists may seem obvious – developing your leg muscles will help increase your peak power output, for example – there’s more to these performance boosts than meets the eye.
Two recent scientific studies from the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science In Sports and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research have found that strength training also generates significant improvements to cycling economy – around 17%.
Over the course of a race, this creates a huge advantage.
Strength training doesn’t only develop your muscles – it also strengthens your tendons, ligaments, and even bones, helping with your cycling form while providing a vital extra layer of protection for cyclists’ joints.
So, not only will strength training drive you further and faster when you ride, it also conditions your body to be better prepared for the specific stresses and pressures of cycling to help prevent injuries.
How To Structure Strength Training For Cyclists
Structuring strength training for cyclists is a balancing act.
You need to put in enough work to feel the benefits, but if you get carried away pumping weights twice a day you’ll end up fatigued and burned out before you ever even get in the saddle!
For most cyclists, two strength training sessions per week strikes the right balance.
Don’t be put off if you can’t find the time to add that much training to your schedule – you’ll still feel the benefits if you can only manage one strength training session each week. As with just about any training plan, some is always better than none!
When planning the strength training sessions themselves, a good rule of thumb is to aim for 6 different exercises, each with 3 sets of 8 reps. This will probably take around an hour to complete, and you can vary this pattern for different exercises.
For cyclists uninitiated to gym-speak: a rep (short for repetition) is one complete action of your chosen exercise – one full push-up, for example. A set is a group of reps done one-after-another without a pause.
So, if you were doing push-ups, 3 sets of 8 reps would be 24 push-ups, split into three groups with a rest in between.
The reason for the relatively low number of reps is because cyclists should aim to lift heavy. Not only will this increase your explosive power while sprinting, but heavier lifting has also been linked to a more pronounced effect on cycling economy.
Aim for a weight that’s around 75% of your max for any given exercise. This delivers that heavy-lifting benefit, but helps reduce your recovery time and the risk of injuring yourself by pushing your body too hard.
The 9 Best Cycling-Specific Strength Exercises: Calisthenics And Weight Training For Cyclists
It might come as a surprise that these exercises will work your upper body just as much as your legs!
This may seem counter-intuitive, but there’s a very good reason for it.
Any form of strength training which is designed to improve performance in a particular sport should balance and dovetail with the effects on your body from doing the sport itself. Think of strength training for sports as building a support framework for your other muscles to operate at their peak.
For cyclists, this means working on our core, shoulders, neck, and hips just as much as our legs.
Focusing on these areas will bring massive rewards on the bike through improved control, posture, and form, all of which enable more efficient activation of the muscles which are more obviously involved in cycling performance.
Calisthenics For Cyclists: The 5 Best Exercises
Calisthenics are strength exercises that rely only on your own body weight.
Calisthenics are a great option for cyclists looking to build strength as they can be done from home with minimal equipment, making them extra convenient for a post-ride workout.
They also help develop aerobic and muscular endurance, adding to their appeal for cyclists.
Here are our 5 favorite calisthenics exercises that are especially well-suited for cyclists!
#1: Spiderman Push-Ups
Spiderman Push-Ups give you the shoulder and core workout of a regular push-up, but also help develop hip flexibility and control. The extra balance required activates more of the minor muscles in your core than in a regular push-up as well.
#2: McGill Curl-Ups
The McGill Curl-Up only requires a very small movement, but it works all the sides of your abdominal section at once. This will help keep your hips, abdomen, and ribcage working as a unit while you ride.
For cyclists with high blood pressure, it’s best to leave the McGill Curl-Up out of your workout due to the internal pressure it creates.
#3: Vertical Leg Lifts
Vertical Leg Lifts target your legs, abdominals, and your lower back. They particularly work your abdominal stabilizer muscles and hip flexors, which will help keep your pedal stroke smooth.
Burpees are a staple of calisthenics regimes as they provide a full-body workout in a single exercise. They’re especially well-suited to cyclists as they help develop the explosive power needed for sprinting or sharp bursts of acceleration, while also working on our aerobic endurance.
#5: Pull-Ups (And Variations)
A great calisthenics routine for cyclists should involve a balance of pushing, overhead pressing, and pulling exercises. Pull-Ups work your back muscles and shoulder stabilizers, which will benefit your control in the saddle.
Throwing in pull-up variations (changing your grip, chin-ups, ‘around the world’ pull-ups) will help add balance to your workout as you alter the specific muscles worked.
Weight Training For Cyclists: The 4 Best Exercises
As great as calisthenics are, they can’t replicate all the massive benefits of heavy weight training for cyclists. You should mix up your calisthenics workouts with heavy weight exercises to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit from both.
Here are 4 of our favorite weight training exercises for cyclists.
#1: Military Press
The Military Press works just about every muscle in your body above your waist. In addition to your shoulders, neck, and triceps, you’ll be activating a range of core muscles including your transverse abdominals, obliques, and spinal stabilizers – all of which is great news for cyclists!
#2: Barbell Row
Barbell Rows are well-suited to cyclists because they activate many of the same muscles as using your bike’s handlebars. They particularly work your shoulders, back, and arms, but you’ll also use your hamstrings and core to stabilize yourself.
Take extra care to perfect your form, however – barbell rows carry a high risk of lower back injury when done poorly.
Squats provide a highly effective leg workout, targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings, buttock muscles, calves, groin, and hip flexors. They’re ideal for building explosive power and endurance in a cyclist’s key muscles.
Because squats target many of the same muscles we work hardest while cycling, they can be great for compensating for a week with missed or lighter training rides. On the flip side, they’re also best avoided in the build-up to a big race to prevent fatigue!
#4: Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell Swings are great for cyclists because they balance the demands on your upper and lower body. They’re also a moderate to high-intensity exercise, making them a useful tool in metabolic conditioning workouts to help build lean muscle mass – ideal for cyclists.
Using fat-handle kettlebells will be more demanding on your forearms, which will help to develop your grip strength and the ease of your control of the handlebars while riding out of the saddle.
Get Started With Your Strength Training
Now you know how to plan a great strength training workout for cyclists, it’s time to get out and unlock the benefits to your own riding game by working up a sweat for yourself!
It’s never too early or too late for a cyclist to add strength training to their routine. The best time to start strength training for cyclists is always now!