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Important strength training concepts for cycling

What to train off the bike to see success on two wheels.

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Strength training can be a vital part of any cyclist’s training routine. With busy schedules and limited training time, you want to make the most of every minute. It can be challenging to know what things to target and what exercises to do to get the most bang for your buck in the gym.

Here are some basic guiding principles to help you make your gym workout cycling-specific.

Single-leg exercises

On the bike, while your legs form a coordinated effort, they are actually working separately to push and pull on their respective pedals. For that reason, it can be really advantageous for cyclists to do single-leg exercises in the gym.

Also read: Base training basics

Single-leg exercises also help to highlight and engage smaller muscle groups and identify imbalances. With double-leg exercises often time we’re able to over-compensate for imbalances, but with single-leg exercises, it’s harder to hide those differences. If you have a double-sided power meter and are able to see power discrepancies when you ride, the gym is a great place to work on that and help to have those right and left-sided powers match more over time.

Some single-legged exercises to try could include single-leg Romanian deadlifts, single-leg step-ups, single-leg squats, and single-leg Bulgarian split squats.

Hanna Finchamp demonstrating a pistol squat
Hanna demonstrates a pistol squat. (Photo: Hannah Otto (Finchamp))

Balance exercises

Every time you ride on two wheels there is some element of balance involved. Think back to when you first learned to ride a bike and you’ll remember just how challenging it was to stay upright. To really take your gym workouts to the next level, add some level of balance or instability to your exercises. This way you will work on your balance and core strength with every exercise you do.

Some exercises that require an extra element of balance or instability include lunging onto the round side of a Bosu ball, completing a push-up with a TRX, squats on the flat side of a Bosu ball, and other single-leg exercises.

Lateral exercises

As cyclists, we spend most of our time moving in the sagittal plane (going forward) so the muscles that help us go from side to side (in the lateral plane) are often weak. Improving these muscle groups will not only make you stronger on the bike, but they can help you avoid injury as well. If you notice that your knees cave in toward your frame with each pedal stroke, these exercises are especially targeted at you, but most all cyclists can benefit from them.

Try exercises such as monster walks with a band, glute bridges, fire hydrants, hip abductor machines, and side step-ups.

Power exercises

Power exercises are exercises in which you aim to produce the most force possible in the shortest amount of time. Please note that when performing power exercises you should always use caution and good form.

Power exercises can help to improve neuromuscular connections and muscle fiber synchronization which will be very beneficial to cyclists. In the simplest terms, this means that when your brain tells your muscles to sprint more of the muscle fibers will respond in an effort to perform that action, which will ultimately create a stronger sprint. Power can be beneficial for sprinting, peak power outputs, and any time you are producing maximum force to try to get up and over a hill or obstacles if you’re riding off-road.

Some power exercises that you can try include jump squats, box jumps, split squat jumps, lateral cone hops, or even just squatting where you go down slowly then emphasize the concentric phase of the movement by pushing up as quickly and as powerfully as possible.

Multi-joint exercises

Whenever we’re on the bike, we are always using more than one muscle group at a time. Our quads and glutes are often firing together to give you the strongest pedal stroke possible. This means that multi-joint exercises in the gym are going to be the most sport-specific type of exercise for the bike. Multi-joint exercises are exercises that are using more than one muscle group, through the bending and straightening of more than one joint.

Some simple multi-joint exercises include squats, lunges, step-ups, leg pushes, and push-ups.

Functional exercises

Functional exercises are exercises that most closely mimic daily activities. I like to view these exercises as exercises that require coordination. These exercises transfer nicely to skills on the bike that require both coordination and strength such as pulling up on the bars and pushing down on the pedals in sprinting or powering through a difficult rock garden climb on the mountain bike.

Some great functional exercises include Turkish Get-Ups, Woman Makers, and Kettlebell Swings.

Core exercises

You probably already know that core exercises are important because everyone talks about them – but are you actually doing core exercises? Core workouts can be challenging and uncomfortable and they are all too easy to skip. Don’t fall into the trap of taking the easy way out. Core strength may be the most important element of all in your strength training. A strong core will allow you to actually use the strength that you have and allow that strength to transfer into the pedals. With a weak core, much of the power you have may dissipate into wiggles on the bike, lack of balance or coordination, or simply having to use more energy to stay upright.

Core is everything other than your extremities, so make sure to work your hips, back, and shoulders in your core routine as well. Try exercises such as planks, Russian twists, leg lifts, hollow holds, supermans, and glute bridges.

Make a plan

If you want to use your time in the gym as efficiently as possible, make a plan and write it down. Try to include a couple of exercises that satisfy each of the principles outlined in this article and you’re sure to know that you’re making progress toward being a faster, stronger, more well-rounded cyclist.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.