1. Set Strength Training Goals
As an endurance athlete, there are plenty of reasons to add strength training to your routine. Whether it’s to enhance performance, improve quality of life, or battle bone and muscle mass loss, most cyclists would do well to integrate some form of resistance training. Let’s be clear though, this kind of exercise is quite different from bodybuilding.
Setting cycling-specific strength goals is a great way to get started. To help, we’ve created strength training benchmarks as starting goals to strive for. Coach Chad developed these benchmarks with three types of cyclists in mind based on different cycling disciplines. You can use the Strength Training Calculator by entering your weight and gender. The calculator will provide you with a list of exercises and goals based on your rider type.
2. Start With Bodyweight Exercises
You don’t have to wait until the off-season to begin strength training and to reap the benefits. Whenever you do start, it’s best to do so slowly. If you’re new to resistance training, start with bodyweight exercises. This will help you hone in on your form and will prepare your joints for additional weight later. Aim to do these two or three times a week.
As a bonus, you’ll need little to no equipment for these exercises. Check out the video above for five exercises that you can do at home. When you become accustomed to these exercises, you can integrate low force, high-velocity movements like jump squats or box jumps. As your progress, you can begin adding lightly weighted, unilateral movements like lunges, split squats, and single-leg deadlifts.
3. Transition to High Weight and Low Reps
Once you’re accustomed to bodyweight exercises, you can begin focusing on building strength, which means using weights. A cyclist’s strength training program is different than a bodybuilder’s. You’ll want to avoid lifting to failure with high repetitions. That’s a recipe for hypertrophy, muscle growth, and increased mass. Using heavy weights and low reps is the way to build strength without increasing muscle mass. But you have to work your way up to using heavier weights.
Again, start slow and use a weight that’s easily manageable with good form. Once you are ready, you can increase the weight. A good middle ground is three sets of five repetitions of bilateral exercises like the back squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press. Give yourself 3-4 minutes between sets to recover.
4. Separate Your Workouts
Combining cycling and strength workouts on the same day means that one is going to affect the other. Generally, we recommend prioritizing your cycling training by doing it first. Then with as much time a possible in between, complete your strength training. This will help protect the quality of your endurance training. The exception to this is if you’re new to strength training. If you’re a beginner lifting first can help you avoid fatigue driven mistakes in form.
Another reason to separate your workouts is that endurance and resistance training produce different cellular signals. Not only do these have competing goals, but they also inhibit one another. So you don’t want both signals active simultaneously, so try to separate your workouts by at least six hours.
5. Don’t Forget Your Core
Riding your bike is more than a lower body exercise. Core strength plays a massive role in power production, pedaling efficiency, and bike positioning. Additionally, a well-developed core can help stave off lower back pain, injury, and improve bike handling over rough terrain. While the compound lifts we recommend in the Strength Training Benchmarks will help develop the posterior chain and torso, spending some time with core-specific exercises will serve you well.
It can seem like an overwhelming time crunch when considering adding core work on top of cycling and strength training. The good news is that it doesn’t take much time to see the benefits. Our recommendation is to include core exercises twice a week. For more on our favorite core exercises, check out 5 Core Exercises for Cyclists to Improve Efficiency and Strength.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.