Weight Training Advice and Studies for Cycling

Good day folks.

I’ve been wanting to start strength training for some time.

The problem is I am injured (three back surgeries including fusion at L4/L5). When I deadlift my sciatica comes back. Also, my knees have a lot of crepitus and also hurt when I add too much weight to them. Even deep unweighted squats hurt my knees, at the inside of my kneecap.

So I am kind of at a loss of what I can do in the gym without hurting myself. I know cycling specific lifting means heavy weight, since we do the endurance stuff on the bike. But when I try to add weight I run the risk of hurting myself. I am 43 years old and retiring from the Army after 24 years.

So any advice to someone in a similar situation, as far as what to do in the gym?

I starting cycling again because of my back injuries. I used to run quite a lot but can’t do that anymore. I have always loved bikes so here I am. I have gotten pretty strong on the bike and the goal is to get as strong as possible. I race gravel and mtb.

Second questions: Are any of you familiar with studies on weight training for cyclists? Specifically what one can expect to gain on average with weight training?

Single leg deadlift might be a good option. It can be effective with very little weight. I get back and hamstring problems caused by misfiring glutes (side effect of the desk job). Sometimes I’ll do them unweighted, seems to help getting everything firing again. I don’t think I’ve ever used more than maybe a 20kg kettle bell when doing it weighted. The knee didn’t need to bend very much when carrying them out either.

Bridges are also very good.


This is a good read:


This Pez Cycling article


Discusses a Ronnestad study. There have been various threads talking about later Ronnestad studies, including one that used 4 exercises to deliver cycling gains.

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Here is the one:

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Thanks fellas. I’ll dig into this reading tonight!

It’s not cycling specific in the slightest, but if you are interested in the safest and most efficient movements then check out Doug Brignole. The “Brig-20” are all isolation movements but are designed to avoid the risk of injury caused by deadlifts and squats and bench press. I was constantly getting niggles from weight lifting that completely disappeared when I switched.


If you are trying to lift heavier there are a couple of options that might be useful.

For deadlifting you can use a platform to raise the bar off the ground. You’ll get nearly all the benefit of the lift, while reducing the risk of injury - less likelihood of rounding your back and putting pressure on your lower back. You could try using a sumo stance as well, it will help you get lower, but that might put too much pressure on your knees.

For squatting you could try front squat instead of back squat. You won’t be able to lift as much weight but it encourages you to keep your back straight - again avoiding rounding. You don’t need to go too deep, you could try half squats rather than full squats - you’ll still get plenty strong. Taking a wider stance could also make it easier,. My physio used to have me perform them with an exercise band to make sure my glutes were working properly.

Best of luck with the training.

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If you have issues with deadlifts and squats I suggest you stay away from them and focus on upper body work like rows and presses. It is not necessary to do these as you can reach most of your potential by riding instead. Cycling is primarily an aerobic sport and the heart is the engine, not the legs. You may not max out your sprinting abilities but having a well conditioned upper body and a high aerobic capacity will get you a very long way, risking further injuries does not.

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@ varmstrong: and core, core, core – that’ll help lots with the gravel/mtb riding. You don’t have to lift heavy to get cycling-specific results [unless you want to be a sprinter…].

See the Human Vortex Training website – it’s weight training specifically aimed at cyclists / triathletes. There’s a book [pdf], podcasts and videos of every move.

Like @ WindWarrior, I also think that Scientific Triathlon is pretty sound in general, though I have not used Mikael’s strength training guide.


Yes, this is my problem back wise. Rounding it and lifting when its in this weakened position. Sounds like you have dealt with something similar.

You bring up good points, I can modify the workouts to not cause pain but still get most of the benefits. I dont have to do them “exact”. Thanks!

I have thought about this as well, but its good to read it, so thanks. Maybe I can still gain a lot of the whole body benefits of lifting but don’t even risk causing injury to those weak areas since I am getting a lot of training on the bike already. Good point, thank you.

I hear you, but man, reading those studies that @WindWarrior posted (thanks!) makes it seem that there are a lot of gains to be had. 7% increase? Thats huge! If I could gain 7% to my FTP I would be at 4.7 w/kg. Yes, not as strong as some people, but still pretty damn strong on a bike! But maybe I have to get those gains somewhere else because i’m not sure if my body can take what I am asking from it.

But here is another thought: even though recommended is to life heavy, theres no reason why I dont start off lifting light and getting there slowly. Maybe that will help me toughen those areas up before adding weight?

From what I understand the primary benefit from weight training for legs is fatigue resistance as FTP is dependent of ones aerobic abilities. Forces during the pedal motion are usually quite manageable and not a limiter of FTP.


Personally I stay away from squats and deadlifts when I’m focusing on cycling as my legs are fried for 4-5 days after a good session. I just can’t manage that kind of fatigue. I’m fast twitch inclined and I think a slow twitched athlete could benefit more from lifting but as the forces are comparably low during cycling I’m not totally sold.

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Yeah, I have issues with compression, protrusions and bulging with L4 & L5. Nothing near as serious as you’ve experienced though. I used to get very bad back spasms every few months. But I think I’ve only had maybe one episode in the last 8 or 9 years.

I put a lot of that down to strength training and swimming (great for the core). A physio did try to push me towards a surgical solution at one stage but my GP vetoed it straight off thankfully.

If you’re considering trying squatting and deadlifting again, (a lot here seem very wary, and may be right) I’d try to get some proper guidance on form from a physio or strength coach instead of just experimenting with variations, which is probably risky. I got very good instruction from a friend involved in strength sports and from another physio.

I usually do the first few sessions completely unloaded, or with extremely light weights, just to get used to the movement again, and to make sure my form is right. I take my time with the progressions and I don’t lift when I’m tired - recipe for disaster for me.

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So fatigue resistance is amazing though, if it really does this, right? So maybe your FTP doesn’t change, but if it means I can hold 330 watts for 45 minutes instead of 30 minutes, then that is huge!

But agree with you regarding the studies. They have their place and are super useful but everything has to be taken in the context of “how can I apply this within my own training to get faster. And by applying this, am I losing out on training other things that could potentially outweigh this benefit?”

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Luckily my core is pretty strong. I can hold a plank for 3:30+ minutes.

But I think you’re correct regarding the movement. And maybe, like cycling, there will be some niggles and weird stuff going on but this may make my health overall better once I get through that. Thanks.

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I think so. In my first year progressive overload squats then maintenance I was doing a ramp test after squats in the morning. I hit my limit which felt just as it always did, then I just felt a second wind and took it to another level. Leapt
20W beyond my usual peak FTP. Unfortunately a month later I fell apart, and I haven’t been able to repeat it since.

I totally agree.

You could also think about if it is more beneficial to increase FTP or TTE to be able to hold a given power longer…and you can increase TTE by lifting weights and/or increase volume! Endless possibilities :joy:

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Its not my core, but my shoulders that give out doing planks. I can do an ab roller from the standing position to fully stretched out on the floor and back again. I suspect my core is OK.

Same issue as @varmstrong here. Lots of back pain during the last years ( Not even deadlifting, but picking some moderate load from the ground, even got one jumping/landing over an obstacle)
Needless to say I’m very reluctant to lift heavy. So I use single leg variation. The single leg deadlift works really well for me. It’s a fraction of the load of a true deadlift, but I got hamstrings and glutes on fires (lasted a few days at the beginning).
For quads I did not find anything that really works them with single legs variation. Lunges, Bulgarian split squat., and so on. I hit balance issues way before I hit my quads.
So for now, instead of focusing on heavy for quads, I try to get into loaded stretch. I like the video from KneesOverToesGuys. He’s focusing on getting some strength at the top end of ROM. The load is light (assisted body weight at first), but there is quite some tension. But this is more rehab/prehab stuff.

Lastly, I just happen to hit the gym yesterday (I never go do the gym, do not have a membership. I just had some free time during my holidays, and went there so get some exercise).
I tried for the first time of my life a leg press machine. I tuned the machine to get a good ROM, warmed up and then I loaded the stuff like crazy. 5 reps, 3 reps. And lastly a one rep that I failed. I gave everything during like 2 or 3 seconds, like I never did before. On that last rep the weight barely move. I felt like roaring while pushing :grin:
It felt so safe.
Now I know what it feels like really push heavy with the legs. But there is now way that I will ever do that with weight on my back. Never.
I’m sure I’m missing something, but I don’t think I will ever find a way to replicate this safely at home.


Careful with the leg press brother! I know a lot of people use them successfully, but for me, that was the cause of my initial disc herniation back in 2012! Doing too much weight without the proper form on the leg press. Legs had the strength, back did not, something went pop!

You aren’t the first person to mention the kneesovertoes guy. I’ll check that out, thanks!