How Strength Training for Cyclists Leads To Better Performance
Toolbox: With the summer getting into full swing, many of us are looking forward to enjoying some of our top cycling form of the year, whether to stand on the top of a podium, or to finish an annual group ride stronger than last year. With a little bit of effort with some specific strength training for cyclists, we can push your performances just a little bit more. Here’s how!
Maintain Your Gains
For many of us, when the temperatures go up, and the days get longer, it means stopping our off-bike trainings for more time out on the road. While this may seem like the most logical thing to do, stopping strength training can actually lead to a dulling of the saw and sapping precious watts from our on-bike performances.
In fact, by continuing a more focused strength training routine we can even improve performance on the bike. While this study was performed on well-trained females (something we don’t see too often), the results should be similar for males as well.
Now the keyword in this study, is HEAVY resistance training. This is important on a number of levels of which we’ll do a quick run through:
The ability to move HEAVY weights (and keep in mind heavy is all relative to the athlete), involves inter and intramuscular coordination, which means the individual is able to use more of their available muscle to perform a movement.
The ability to create proximal stiffness, to produce distal movement is a key tenet in results we desire from strength training. Heavy lifting – when done properly, can help us to maximize this ability.
“None of the athletes had performed systematic strength training for the last 12 months leading up to the study.”
This is incredibly important, as this means that, even if you haven’t done any strength training up until this point of the year, there are still plenty of gains quickly within your grasp.
“Each strength training session consisted of four leg exercises: half squat in a smith machine, leg press with one leg at a time, standing one‐legged hip flexion, and ankle plantar flexion. Three sets were performed per exercise.”
The biggest thing to note here, is that each of these exercises would be considered pretty safe for the vast majority of the population – no heavy deadlifts or full squats (which we heard from Dr. Stuart McGill in this episode of “The Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete” podcast is a leading cause of injury for cyclists),
There is less loss of lean muscle mass in the legs for the E+S group. This is significant, as many of us tend to think that “getting lighter” towards our target part of the season is a good thing, but in fact, we can lose lean muscle mass, leading to loss of watts, and frustration out on the road wondering “what happened?”
While there are many more points we could pull out here, I’d like to stick with these, as they really drive home that strength training, when done properly, can be an incredibly valuable asset to you.
Get Started: Simple Strength Workout
The main thing here is to stay healthy, and to execute each of these moves with GREAT technique, keeping you midsection BRACED, a good neutral spine, and only go through the range of motion you can do with great technique. So while I’m emphasizing heavy weights, never sacrifice form for numbers.
Start with 3 sets of 8 repetitions, performing this routine 2-3 days a week, depending on your ability to recover and ADAPT to the strength training.
The first 2-3 weeks should be done with a weight that is lighter than you think you need, as we want to keep you from getting injured, and continue to ride STRONGER on your bike.
This workout should not take longer than 35 minutes from start to finish.
A1. Chin Tuck, Head lift – Getting the deep abdominals fired up is really important, as it can help fend off back and hip pain on the bike. This is one exercise that is MUCH tougher than it looks, but has massive rewards when done correctly. Try starting off at 3 sets of 3-4 repetitions, but make sure to do it properly.
A2. Bird-Dog Variations – The devil (and massive rewards) are in the details here, so be sure to take your time and get these correct! Range of motion does NOT matter as much as keeping your spine neutral, midsection appropriately braced, and getting the movement from your glutes and shoulders ONLY.
Start with 2-3 sets of 3-5 repetitions, stopping your sets when your form gets the slightest bit sloppy.
B1. Landmine Deadlift – The landmine hinge pattern is an awesome way to learn how to deadlift, as the bar positioning gives you immediate and pointed feedback as to how well you’re performing the movement. It’s quickly becoming an athlete favorite, and is often used this time of year in my Monthly Strength Training for Cycling program, and I know you’ll enjoy it too!
B2. Crocodile Breathing – Learning how to breathe 360 degrees. This is often overlooked, but really important. Aim for 3 sets of 5-6 breaths, getting good, full breaths.
C1. Landmine Squat – While we already get a lot of squatting motion in our sport, we do want to work on learning how to produce force with our legs, while keeping our midsection appropriately braced. The setup of the landmine really calls out your squatting flaws, and can really help you work on your mobility, and posture on the bike.
C2. Yoga Plex- This is one of my favorite post-ride exercises (as you can tell in the video), as it helps open the hips, chest, and fire up the midsection and muscles of the back. While this exercise may not be for everyone as shown, you can easily modify it by going through less of a lunge, and simply bringing the arm as high overhead as you can, without hinging in the back and keeping the abs engaged. Start with 3 sets of 5 each side, alternating sides as shown, working your way up to 3 sets of 10 each side.
C3. Side planks- Side planks are an incredibly valuable tool, when done properly. Pay attention to the details, and aim to keep your spine in a straight line, not letting gravity pull you out of line. If you can’t hinge up to the end position, aim to hold the braced position with your hip on the floor, for the same amount of working time.
Start off with 3 sets of 15 seconds, and work your way up to 3 sets of 30 seconds each side.
Start small, and be smart. The best training program is the one that you do consistently, and recover AND ADAPT from quickly. Although the study we cited earlier in the post used higher effort weights (10 rep maximum) for the athletes in the study, you can see similar results with submaximal effort, especially if you are a beginner in strength training.
Until next time, remember to Train Smarter, Not Harder, because it IS all about YOU!
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Menachem Brodie is a USA Cycling Expert Level coach, SICI certified bike fitter, and NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. For the last 10 years he has been working with athletes from around the world to get fitter, faster, and stronger through strength training and in-sport training plans. He has presented on Strength Training for Cyclists & Triathletes internationally, and is the author of 2 authoritative online courses: