Leg strength training in the gym and cycling performance

Keen to know who here does some gym work on their legs as well as their cycling program? What do you do? How many times a week? What have been the benefits that you have found in terms of injury prevention and performance?

I hadn’t really given weight training alongside a cycling program much thought until I stumbled across Dylan Johnson’s YouTube video on strength training and how it makes you a faster cyclist.

Keen to know more about the experience and outcomes of combining strength training and TR plans!

A couple of years ago when I wasn’t riding much I started hitting the squat rack in the gym and noticed a huge benefit in my cycling. It didn’t make any sense, but I felt fitter and smoother on the bike.

When I started Trainerroad I really struggled to incorporate leg workouts into the program without ruining a week of workouts (upper body stuff was not an issue). However after watching Dylan Johnson’s video it all became a lot clearer and I’ve now managed to incorporate 2 leg workouts a week without affecting my training much. I did have to completely redesign my training plan though, this was due to struggling with the intensity of the sweetspot plans also. For leg workouts I focus on squats and deadlifts, with front squats and trap-bar deadlifts as alternates.

The plan which worked for me in base phase was:
Monday: rest
Tuesday: Endurance ride, (1.0 - 1.5 hrs). Upperbody workout
Wednesday: Longer endurance ride (1.5- 2.0 hrs) progressing to a tempo ride as I built strength. Upperbody workout
Thursday: Sweetspot ride (1.0- 1.5 hrs) steady progression week to week. Leg workout, squats, deadlifts, abs
Friday: Rest
Saturday: Endurance ride (1.0- 1.5 hrs)
Sunday: Outside ride for enjoyment, initially long and slow, increasing to tempo zone as I progressed. Some hard efforts thrown in also. Leg workout, front squats, trap-bar deadlifts, abs

The endurance rides following the rest day after squats were initially very difficult, but they were the only workout I could get through 2 days after a squat session. They got much easier very quickly, I’ve now increased them to an easy tempo workout. The midweek sweetspot workout and squat session were both in the evening, it’s not ideal, but better than not doing it. At first my legs did not like it, but they got used to it. The first couple of weeks were just conditioning, then I was able to add more volume and intensity. I think a key aspect is to do leg workouts twice a week, that way your legs get conditioned to it more quickly, and you don’t have to work as hard each time, so not as much soreness.

I’m now moving into build phase, so I’m trying to figure my way through that at the moment. I’ll keep the same structure but increase the intensity of the workouts and see how I go.

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I have a similar experience.

Combining leg strength training and bike workouts was a struggle at first. I can lift relatively heavy, and was tempted to do so at first. But that came at the expense of the bike workouts in the day(s) following the leg workout - sore legs, any intensity on the bike would make my legs burn.

I then went with a much lighter and progressive approach - 3x strength training per week, low loads - combined with not much intensity in the bike. I slowly increased load and eventually reduced to 2x a week while upping the volume and intensity on the bike. Usually do my bike workouts at the end of the day, and strength workouts morning after to maximize recovery window.
Now I’m down do 1x per week just for maintenance, since I find that if I stop lifting altogether I have to go through it all over again :slight_smile:

Sounds like a good approach! Have you found that it has impacted your performance on the bike in any way? As in, improved FTP etc?

Interesting to hear some of you lifting twice a week. Most lifters do leg day once a week. This is a total guess based on my lifting experience, but one intense lifting session per week followed by either a rest day or zone 2 endurance day seems appropriate. I’d guess one day a week is sufficient for cycling purposes. Two sounds really difficult unless you lower the intensity of each session. Is two days of lifting normal for cyclists?

Can’t really quantify in terms of x% better due to lifting, but I feel stronger overall and seem to be able to push harder and recover better in the bike workouts that are SS or above.

In the end, it’s always going to be a bit personal. 2x per week during base works for me - I do 2-3 basic heavy/explosive movements (squats, deadlift,…) and one more for weighted stability/balance if I’m feeling up to it. I do other body strength exercises in each session. So while it’s 2x per week, it’s never a huge volume of leg work per session - definitely don’t overload them as much as I would normally do on a typical leg day at the gym, as that would kill my legs for the bike for a few days.
I find this is what seems to work better for me as far as keeping the balance I need to have to still do some productive bike work.

Triathlete here, rather than cyclist. I also do 2 sets per week. Most of my S&C plan was developed with a physio after I had repeated glute/hamstring/back issues. Involved lots of heavy lifting. I’ve been pretty poor doing it over the last year. Mostly because I was having trouble with fatigue and completing workouts once I got a couple of weeks into it.

I’d been adding core and upper body strength to the program my Physio had devised. It ended up being way too much. So I cut it in half and do it over 2 days now. Session 1 is deadlift, single leg squat, single leg bridges, upper body pushes and some core work. Session 2 is squats with bands, single leg deadlifts, core work and pull ups. Each usually take 45-50 mins. I don’t have access to heavy weights with the Covid restrictions. The max load I have is 45kg at the min. But that has probably been beneficial this time - I’ve had to slow the progression down. Even at that the first 4 weeks of trying to integrate it into my training plan I was just bone tired in a way I just don’t get from endurance training. I’m 8 weeks in now and seeing real improvements - so it was worth the struggle.

The first session of the week I do on the same day as my hard run. I find that it doesn’t affect my running in the same way as my cycling. I’ve a rest (or active recovery) day the following day and then my hard bike workout the day later that. The other one coincides with an easy endurance/recovery spin. This time the day before a long run. Again doesn’t affect the run in the same way. And if I’m a bit tired on the run, no harm - you kind of have to get used to that anyway for races :grin:.

Sorry for the length. There’s some great advice over on the Strength Training Forum, there’s a bit of reading to get through it though :sweat_smile:.

I agree with pamoreira on this one, I couldn’t quantify the gains from lifting, but I definitely feel better for it. In terms of FTP, I’m at about the same as I was last time I finished SSB2, but got there with much less intensity, so I feel like I’ve got more room to go up now. I changed my entire approach though, so it’s impossible to say how much is due to lifting.