Strength training for cyclists conflicting protocols

Barry Ross strength training for Olympic teams recommends 2-3 reps of 2-3 sets at a heavy ~95% 1 rep max. 10 reps totals to keep you fresh for your full time sport and never lift to failure. Perform 2-3x a week. Usually just 2-3 compound exercise deadlift big focus then pull ups and bench press with some ‘torture twists’ This is from the 4 hour body Tim Ferris.
Just listened to dialed health podcast and the general advise is 3 sets 8-12 as won’t be enough sets to overall in his programs to get super fatigued or gain body builder amounts of muscle for gain muscular endurance. Any takers which method is best? Confused now as doing the 3x3 of deadlift bench press pull ups and twisted plank 3x a week.

Heavy weights is the way to go for cycling performance as far as I know, and I assume an olympic coach would know. 8-12 reps sounds very much like classical bodybuilding style training. Keep in mind that strength training, just like bike training, will need to be periodized. You might want a period of training with 8-12 reps for muscle gain without massive amounts of fatigue and then go into a period of basic strength building with heavier weights and reps in the range of 3-6 and then finally into really heavy work with =< 3 reps.

As I’ve said on this forum many times I don’t recommend heavy deadlifts for cyclists ever…and really the marginal utility of the deadlift does not outweigh deadlift risk of injury for a cyclist. And this is from a guy (me) who loves to deadlift.

Here is a strength protocol that worked very well in a peer-reviewed paper that used as subjects trained cyclists:

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I was doing 2 sets of 5 reps DL then same for squats every week, heavy. It was prob like 85% 1RM.

I now do 4 sets of 5 reps DL one week and squat the other.

This definitely had a big impact on my short term power up to 3mins but mostly noticeable on my 1 min power.

I’d be a bit hesitant to try 95% of 1RM bc I think I’d get hurt. Who knows but I routinely do 80-90% with no issues (and yes it feels very heavy)

Note: I just like to lift and be strong. It’s nice that it helps some aspects of cycling but I’m not just doing it to be a better cyclist. I’d lift much more if I wasn’t cycling so much


I usually do 2 days a week, And stick between 3-4 sets 6-12 reps depending the time of year. Also, those days i do a deadlift, squat, bench, pull up, shoulder press or rows. Most the time I’m usually around 70-80%, just to send a signal to build some muscle. Also a little core maybe 3x a week for like 10 minutes max each time. I might do too much but it works for me and I also like feeling strong, I do it for more of a health/ longevity approach. I think there’s always conflicting protocols for endurance athletes.


Is that the Rønnestad paper? If not do you have a title or link?



No expert in this regard, but would there be different approaches at different stages in the season and with respect to your cycling/strength goals? I’ve heard different recommendations for base/offseason strength training versus during a race build, and can I imagine how you prioritize each and what you’re actually trying to achieve with the strength work might factor in as well.


Some will go with blanket, over-generalized statements (“this is always best”), meanwhile some will cherry pick from the literature. Unfortunately, the answer will always be “it depends” for questions like these.

However, if I were to personally recommend an approach that is generally best for strength-training when biking is the priority (whether it be prioritizing races or training sessions), it would be lower-volume, higher intensity (meaning higher loads, %RM, etc) training.

Low volume with moderate-to-high intensity loads limits muscular fatigue (although it can accrue neural fatigue), all the while actually directly targeting a specific adaptation: building strength through inter- or intra-muscular coordination, increased motor unit recruitment, and rate coding (in lay terms, improving the Central Nervous System’s [CNS] ability to call on the muscles to overcome a load). Think light-weight Olympic Weightlifters who can Clean and Jerk 400 lbs at 140 lbs Body Weight. It isn’t that they have a ton of muscle mass; they just have tremendous relative strength and power thanks in large part to a fantastic CNS. The neural fatigue experienced is probably only a major concern if you are trying to peak for an event or have an all-out sprint session in close proximity to your heaviest strength sessions.

Higher volume work is typically reserved for periods of time when either technical skills or sport-specific training are less of a focus, as muscular fatigue is accumulated at a much higher rate with higher-repetition work (in the world I work, for example, we don’t program high volume work very often in-season for our baseball players). What’s more is that, not only can it negatively impact training sessions on the bike due to DOMS, depleted energy stores, and muscular fatigue (which is okay when the bike isn’t the priority, mind you!), but if you are also in a caloric deficit (or netting neutral on caloric intake and expenditure), then you are not going to gain any muscle mass (which is one usual goal of higher-volume strength training), and the value of muscular endurance training (which could also be a target of higher-volume strength training) will really be nothing compared to doing it on the bike. And, there are not many gains to be made in terms of the CNS either unless you are moving heavier loads (thus lower repetitions) or doing everything explosively.

A long-winded explanation that could probably more easily be laid out in a few dot points:
1, It depends on what adaptations you are chasing with your strength-training, and whether or not the bike or the weight room is the priority in the given season/time of year
2. Low volume, moderate-to-high intensity work improves strength through Central Nervous System adaptations, with limited muscular fatigue
3. High volume, low-to-moderate intensity work typically yields increased hypertrophy and/or muscular endurance, but these are conditionally related to caloric intake and may not be all that relevant to a cyclist since body weight if a huge factor, and muscular endurance is trained on the bike (exception being Upper-Body work for MTB’ers)


Completely agree with you on this although I am not an expert. Deadlifts can be replaced with lower risk exercises easily.

Have injured myself with the deadlift a few times because (or what I have assumed to be a helping factor for this) of the stress from the actual cycling training combined with the fact I have to sit a lot at work. E.g. muscle tension in exactly the wrong places when doing heavy deadlifts.

Nah. Most people who deadlift for a little while injure themselves while deadlifting. It’s kind of like running in that regard. You just have the nuts to admit it! :smiley:

One thing that the literature really reinforced in my mind is that a lifting program that is very much without guile produces very good adaptation. Fairly isolated movements that I wouldn’t have picked as good lifts seem to be pretty effective.

Just the same, I’m a big fan of snatches, cleans, deadlifts, overhead presses…but not because I’m convinced they have some marginal utility for cycling. I just like to do the lifts! But if you think doing those lifts heavy on a regular basis is likely to give you some cycling advantage vs more basis less injury prone lifts, you’re probably wrong.

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Or am too old to care :grin:

Like lifting a lot as well, especially squats and deadlifts. For a normal person like me though, I think the benefits of truly heavy lifts clearly are smaller than the risks associated.

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One of my favourite papers to ponder! Wish it went into a lot more detail!

Yes, for sure! I spent a lot of time looking at LIT/HIT/MIT pulses in that paper…it’s tough to figure anything out for sure. Seems like they were kind of training individual ‘energy systems’ using a recovery period that applied to each. So it might take a different period or time to recover from a LIT pulse than a HIT pulse. It’s not as simple as do a LIT block followed by a HIT block followed by a MIT block etc, etc.

It’s also possible they were using some unreported metrics to guide distribution of training intensity. Who knows.

Interesting paper though.

I think it is heavily influenced by the block training research they were doing. The classic example is to do 5x vo2 in one week, then 1x vo2 for the following 3 weeks. I assume that with something like LIT the de training takes longer so these blocks can be much further apart and the maintenance periods last longer - during these periods you can then train MIT and HIT.

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First step, ignore Tim Ferris. Second step, well that is all I got.

General rule: Never trust anyone who sells supplements or got rich selling supplements (in Tim’s case).


Thoughts on squat depth – e.g. does it really matter for cyclists vs the A2G bros?

IMO there is no point in not squatting unless you go as deep as you can. Why not develop your muscles in the full range of motion?

I imagine having developed the muscle in the full range of motion will be helpful in general, tho we don’t really go through it in a seated cycling position. It’s gotta be helpful for sprinting at least

Typically when researchers ask cyclists to squat they are asking for a 1/4 squat. So well above parallel (three red lights). Generally with very positive results. If there is positive utility to going all the way to legal depth I haven’t seen any data to support it.

But if somebody was in my garage squatting like that we’d have to make sure the garage door was DOWN so the neighbors wouldn’t see.


First method is best, if I had to pick between the two. By far.

Read this post.

Deeper grows muscle best. Great for body composition change, general strength, and very long-term athlete development.

Shallower (like to parallel, or to 90 degrees, or 120 degrees at the knee), is more sport specific. In-season, full-depth squats should probably be eliminated, unless you’re training through races. They create more fatigue, and distal muscle belly growth that is unnecessary for race performance.

Here are some videos on how to do various depth of squats.
High Bar Quarter Squat
High Bar Third Squat
High Bar Half Squat
High Bar Parallel Squat
High Bar Squat

From off-season to in-season: move general to specific. ie… from the bottom, up, in the above list.