What's Cool In Road Cycling

Transfering Strength Training to Cycling Power

Bring power from gym to the bike with speed squats

TOOLBOX: With April in full-swing many of us are eyeing the weather, anxious to head out into the great outdoors rather than staring at a computer screen or wall as we ride. With this excitement comes the expectations that all of our time and work on strength training this winter will show immediate returns on the bike.


But many miss the critical key to transferring strength training to on-bike performances. While last month we talked about plyometric progressions, which are of course a part of that transfer, there’s a bit more to the picture. Let’s make you stronger where it matters!

Moving towards greater transference

Transference in the strength training for performance world is a key tenet, which must always be kept in mind and driven towards. However, in order to get the greatest transference, we first need to lay the foundation of a better-moving human body.

This is where “the basics”, or what we call the “Fundamental 5+1” human movements of Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Press, and Rotary stability, must be learned to the point of mastery, and then strength layered on top. We layer this strength until we’ve built quality movement patterns with a margin of strength and resiliency for the muscles and tissues needed in sport.

Unfortunately many get stuck in this step, thinking that more gym strength will help them perform better. For our sport of cycling, as well as pretty much every single other sport that is not Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting, or CrossFit, simply driving for more strength often gives you quickly diminishing returns on time, energy, and effort invested.

This is where shifting our focus towards power with control comes into play.

Speed Squats

By changing our focus in our strength training from lifting heavy stuff (after the appropriate lead time) to moving (MUCH) lighter weights with great control and speed, we turn up the level of transference to our sports of cycling.

Speed squats can be a great tool to accomplish this, especially if you’ve been doing squats regularly through your base period strength program. If you’ve not been doing squats consistently through your base period strength program, you’ll want to select whatever “squat” movement you’ve been loading consistently.


Start off by ESTIMATING your 1 repetition maximum, based on whatever a “heavy” set of your squat has been over the last 2-3 weeks, using this calculator.

Then multiply your ESTIMATED 1 repetition max by .20 to calculate 20% of your ESTIMATED one repetition max.

Then multiply your ESTIMATED 1 repetition max by .30 to calculate 30% of your ESTIMATED one repetition max.

Start with the LOWER 20% number, and use that for your first set of speed squats.


Speed Squat Sample Video
(For this sample video I am performing front squats, as that is the squatting variation that I’ve been training for the last 5+ years consistently.)


DO NOT GO HEAVIER THAN 30%! Doing so loses the exact transference we are after!

Note that there is complete control through the entire movement. There is no bouncing, and the bar stays on a relatively straight line from top of the squat through the bottom.

The hips should come to full standing position without locking the knees or hips.

Each repetition should flow from one into the next, smoothly, and seamlessly.

The spine stays neutral throughout, with no rounding forward, or arching back- all movement occurs from the hips.

The goal is as fast as you can, through the full range, with GREAT speed, for 2-3 repetitions.

If your “great technique” range of motion for the squat is a quarter or half squat, then use only that range for this exercise.


  • Begin with 5 sets of 2 repetitions, with a full 3-5 minutes rest in between.
  • Work up to 6 sets of 3 repetitions.
  • Main focus is speed with great control and technique.

Programming Speed Squats

Speed squats should be put into your earlier-in-the-week strength day, after your dynamic warmup. Best practices would start off with a light warmup set of 8-10 repetitions focusing on great technique and keeping the bar path in a straight line.

Some find it helpful to do a single set of 6-8 repetitions with a medium-light weight to help them dial in their “feel” of the movement for the day.

While resting between speed squat sets, you can perform some light breathing exercise, or a dynamic stretch. However if you choose to do so, these should be gentle, and not place any strain on the body. We need your nervous system to be able to fire at 100% for these sets.

I’ll often program speed squats on one day of the week, with loaded squats or a squat pattern on the second day.

More is not better – Highest Quality is better. 

One day a week of speed squats is a perfect dosing.



Adding plyometrics and progressing through them is one part of gaining better transference of your strength training to your riding, but sprinkling speed squats (done with great technique and proper rest between sets) is like the “Miracle-Gro” for your on-bike gains. Give these a shot, but do make sure that you’re getting ample protein (minimum 1.6 g/kg) and appropriate amounts of healthy fats in your daily diet, and regularly sleeping 7-9 hours/ night, as these are very neurologically challenging and it’s not uncommon to see a little bit of soreness the day after.

If you’d like to learn more about strength training for performance vs. strength training for general fitness, join me at my Master class on June 27, 2023 at the Science in Cycling conference in Bilbao, Spain, go to: science-cycling.org/masterclass.

If you’d like to learn more about the ins-and outs of how to build strength training programs for cycling performance, sign up for the free Human Vortex Training Newsletter where I share more insights, tips, and many interesting conversations are started.

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