Strength training for cyclists conflicting protocols

My theory for you to shoot down.

  1. Per Brennus, Low reps, high weight, safe lifts are where a cyclist wants to end up for performance gainz.
  2. Contra (?) Brennus, medium weight, medium reps, less safe (at heavy weight) lifts are good to build up to the heavy weights and for all round fitness, posture etc. (reps much lower than to failure, though)

Basically, learn to lift properly at manageable weights, and then do more specific, heavy stuff but with safe lifts, to improve cycling performance.

*Limited lifting experience, aka I do not know what I’m talking about


FWIW - Big fan of Mike and James’ You Tube videos. Am way behind as tend to listen while riding and indoor riding is a winter thing.

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Well yes he is master marketer but the book uses Barry Ross and pavel tsatouline as examples not his own advice. It’s not far off what the trainer road blog says too apart from a little less reps to maintain freshness for your sport. I was just very surprised when I listen to the dialed health podcast say the highway rep range but he also has a good explanation for why. (Not enough lifts and sets to achieve body building muscle anyway)

Touching on the deadlift and squat topics together in one fell swoop…

Personal recommendation here would be to keep all “tools” in the “tool-box” (both in terms of exercise selection and variation [which includes range of motion]) and work to find what is best for you over time, rather than what is best for a cyclist right now.

One condition (a principle to live by, really) to get out of the way: if you do too much, too soon, too fast — or any combination of these approaches — you will likely get substantially hurt.

However, if you incrementally and conservatively learn an exercise and load it appropriately, you can feel pretty safe at least dabbling with just about any movement. Now, any exercise can be counterproductive and lead to some minor issues (pain/discomfort/etc) if it is the wrong fit for the individual, even when the dosing is “right”. But, this takes time to learn about yourself as an athlete.

For example, I am a strength coach by trade and have been strength-training for 10-15 years. Now, approaching 30 years old, I am finding that axial-loading (loading on the spine) on the shoulders with my posture in combination with the bike leads to back pain; Back Squats crush my SI joints on the bike (because I am compressing on a significantly arched/lordodic lower back and anteriorly/forward tilted pelvis); Front Squats crush my upper back on the bike (because the front load exaggerates the kyphosis of my T-Spine).

I could spend hours treating the symptoms through recovery modalities, or I could just choose a better fit for me — Zercher Squats and Single-Leg variations of the Squat and Deadlift — in order to avoid the symptoms altogether. It just took some time to learn about myself, my body, and my response to training to figure this out. Granted, I do this for a living, so the learning curve wasn’t as steep. But, seeking out resources as you go through the training process is a great way to support this kind of learning!

In terms of Range of Motion, I would similarly encourage anyone to take stock of where you are as a cyclist and strength-trainee. Are you a novice lifter with < 1 year of structured strength-training experience? If so, there is a TON of value to performing quality, full-range reps of Squats and other movements, and a lot of the adaptations can still carry to cycling at that point. Are you a recreational cyclist like me? I would think a similar approach could be justified, but hell, so could experimenting with different ranges of motion — why not, we are just rec’ athletes! If you are an elite athlete or somebody with much more lifting experience, concerning yourself with “transfer of training” becomes more important. Transfer of strength and power gains in the weight room tend to come from focusing on joint angles, planes of motion, and velocities that match the demands of the sport. A partial squat could potentially be more beneficial in this regard. But again, I would definitely encourage doing a self-inventory of what your priorities are and where you can get the most value from your time spent “under the bar”.

Hope this helps!


You hit on my main criticism of Farris. He is a master marketer. Meaning it doesn’t matter the efficacy of what he is selling just whether he can sell it. That doesn’t mean he is necessarily wrong (he is obviously very intelligent), but I am not going to put him in the trusted source camp either.

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He’s right. But it is enough volume (set x reps ≅ volume) to create substantially more fatigue than necessary.

(and for muscle-growth-prone folks, it actually is enough to create pretty serious hypertrophy)


Agreed, and also have to consider your baseline — “enough” volume is all relative. A low training age with even a modicum of strength work will lead to improvement. Not to mention that almost anything can work with a novice lifter: 5x5s, 1x20s, 3x8s, 5/3/1… When you go from nothing to something, strength, motor control, muscle mass, etc will all improve, even if it isn’t the “right” loading parameters.

On the other hand, when you are somebody like myself who is used to strength-training for 3-5 hours per week, and then you move to 60-90 mins per week, it is not realistic to expect to maintain muscle mass and strength for very long. I used to Dumbbell Bench Press 110’s for 6+ reps and RDL 350 lbs, all at ~150 lbs body weight — I got my CNS to be as strong as my frail body could handle. But, now? 90’s x5 and 300 lbs, respectively, are challenging! But I am a much more proficient MTB’er these days.


That’s good advice, thanks!

Do you think that bc you’re an experienced lifter, and because of that you’re likely lifting very heavy weight, the heavy weight may be causing your spine issues and not necessarily the particular movements.

So for myself, I’m doing 4x5 and on my top set for squat I’ll do 1.35x body weight and with DL 1.75x body weight. That’s a lot for me tho I have only been continuously lifting for 9mo (I used to lift years ago so have some muscle memory still). But I know with progression over time, maybe I’ll be much higher in ‘weight lifted / body weight’.

I know these numbers are not very high at all for strength athletes. These would be like part of their warming up perhaps.

So I’m thinking there must be some threshold where the ‘weight lifted / body weight’ might put yourself in a compromising position (risk of spinal compression) but if you purposefully stayed below it you might continue to be fine.

What are you thoughts on that?

Wow, I think this is information I really needed to read.
I am just over two months out from Ironman Arizona, and have been lifting regularly for years. At the beginning of the year and again July - Mid August I was doing 5*5 and trying to get to parallel for my squats. After that, I lowered weight, and went up to 12 reps still trying to get to parallel. From what I understand I shouldn’t be going so low now, is this correct?
And weight/reps I should be probably back in the 5-6 rep range?!
In general I have been lifting heavy much longer than I’ve been cycling and training for triathlons.

That’s interesting, I didn’t know that. But a quarter squat is barely a squat! Wouldn’t dare it in the gym, :slight_smile:

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Team full ROM here :muscle:


(The following post contains a link which I earn revenue from)

Correct. And you should be reducing volume, rather than increasing it, as your race approaches. Reps per set should reduce as you approach race date.

As race approaches, less is more. Less ROM, fewer sets, fewer reps, maybe fewer days per week. Weight can increase. Velocity of movement should increase, or at least intent to move at higher velocities should be ever-present.

Endurance Sport Lifting Templates are handy if you’re ever looking for reusable training programming that sort of takes care of the “how many reps, sets, and at what loads?” type questions. They offer categories of exercises from which you select an exercise, and then it outputs the programming, which adjusts as you go, based on your inputs.

Related FYI, on velocity of movement:

The intent to move the weight fast in the upwards phase of every movement is critical in strength gain, assuming technique is safe and stable (ie…not cognitive and variable rep after rep because you’re still learning). You can enhance your rate of strength gain substantially by always moving the up (“concentric” / “muscle shortening”) phase of the movement with intent towards maximum velocity.

Even if velocity of the weight is slow, the goal should be to move it as fast as physically possible.

The down phase (controlled lowering of the weight / “eccentric” / “muscle lengthening” against a load) should almost always be performed in a controlled manner. Once that phase is complete though, FIRE that weight up.


This is a hugely underappreciated post.

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Yeah I personally don’t see the reasoning behind going full ROM at some time of the season then half repping. Why wouldn’t you just lift lighter weights but still train full ROM rather than similar weights but half two them?
Need to hit the full ROM to develop the rump

Full ROM during the base/off season for some hypertrophy, joint health, and general physical strength. Then transitioning to higher weight, higher velocity, and reduced time during build and race season for more sport specific application and reduced fatigue.

Great question.


If you reduce load, then you cease to be training for strength, and are now training for power.

This is indeed a shift you’d like to make when moving towards the season, but by the time an athlete makes that shift in training, they should be pulling out all the stops to eliminate fatigue caused from lifting. One of the best ways to do that is to reduce ROM. You can still get 100% of the gains in strength and power in the necessary ROM for sport performance, but limit fatigue.

100% correct. If glute growth is the goal, full ROM is the way to go.

But, glute growth (or any muscle growth) should not be the goal going into one’s season or immediately pre-race. Instead of muscle growth, the focus should be sport-specific strength and power, alongside fatigue- and soreness-reduction.

As @ryan_faer has mentioned, what is appropriate for very well muscled or very strong folks, might not be optimal for someone with little weight training history.

Generally speaking:
Folks with less lifting experience should retain full ROM movements longer in their lifting program than folks who have lots of lifting experience.

Folks with combined goals (ie. get stronger and more muscular & compete in triathlon or cycling) should generally retain full ROM movements longer in their training lead-up to primary races, by comparison to athletes whose primary purpose of lifting is just to enhance their endurance sport performance who should move to partial ROM and reduced volume earlier in the season.


I’m sorry I don’t mean to derail the thread, but those templates look awesome. Would they be useful for a strength training newbie with t-rex arms like me?

I have a buddy who’s a rower and can guide me with help on technique, but I need guidance for sure. I like the idea of a plan akin to a TR one that tells me what to lift and when!

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Well, given that they were built by someone with t-rex arms, yes, yes they would. Hit me with any questions. Heads up: only the advanced ones include Olympic weightlifting movements or their derivatives. Beginner & intermediate do not. Just mentioning that here since t-rex arms are a somewhat frequent discussion among Oly WL’ers.

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Yeah I think you could definitely consider the absolute magnitude of the loads. Overall, loads are relative for the musculature (in other words, as you get stronger, you are capable of handing more weight in large part because the tissue tolerance increases).

However, an analogy we often use with our athletes in explaining workload/fitness capacity… we are trying to build a bigger ‘cup’ (fitness) so that we can hold more liquid (workload). To do this safely, we have to continually and progressively fill the cup, but also make sure we don’t overfill it. In theory, if you are stronger and can handle heavier loads (your cup is bigger), then your chance of overflowing the cup (exceeding your capacity) with the same load as somebody who has a smaller cup is much less. However, as the larger cup fills up more, it has the potential to make a much bigger mess if the cup were to crack and break since it will have more liquid (in an absolute sense, even if they are filled relatively the same). So, in theory, having a significant break in technique or being in bad posture can lead to much more magnified issues under heavier loads (especially for the passive structure like bones, ligaments, and cartilage).

It is like an F1 driver vs. a student driver. The F1 driver is more capable, thus is able to drive at higher speeds while still being “under control”. The student driver will be driving at lower speeds with the same relative comfortability. However, if they both make a mistake, the results for the student driver on a driving course could be significant, but the results for the F1 driver in a race could be catastrophic (since the latter is driver nearly 10x as fast)

All totally theoretical, but plausible nonetheless I would say!


Great thoughts here. One additional consideration would be the variability of movement to avoid focal loads. If all you do in your sport is repetitively move through a certain ROM, then replicating that motion in the rest of your training (i.e. strength-training) year-round limits the variability of movement and loading, thus potentially predisposing you further to chronic injuries.

Again, it is all about what individual needs, the training status of the athlete, as well as their goals. Partial ROM (especially with angular velocities similar to the sport) transfer well to sport, but come at a cost; full ROM also does wonders for overall fitness and movement, but too comes at its own cost. It is about finding the right blend of movements, loads, speeds, variability, etc etc etc…. Strength-training for sport is a massive puzzle! That is why, for recreational athletes and amateurs, I would usually encourage an approach that is rooted in the basics in the early goings (as we typically know what outputs are yielded by the inputs), while sprinkling in some experimentation over time.

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