Cycling Camano Island | home
Strength training for cyclists
"This is why I train, lift those tons of weights and do those workouts on the track."
-Marty Nothstein after winning gold medals in the Match Sprint, Keirin and Olympic Sprint at the 1999 National Championships.
Marty Nothstein takes the Olympic Gold Medal in the Match Sprint.
There are many different ideas and myths about strength training, especially for endurance athletes. At one time it was thought to be detrimental to performance. That belief is slowly changing. A study using elite cross country runners stated:
"Subjects that included the greater percentage of strength and power training made the greatest improvements in performance including their 5 km running time. Performing strength/power training improved the subjects muscular force production and running technique allowing them to run faster without improving their aerobic endurance."
Many programs don't account for different physiology's or even gender. To achieve the greatest benefit from strength training you must adapt your program to suit your physiology, abilities, goals, equipment and time. Experiment with different exercises, routines, volume and recovery to discover what works best for you.
If you are new to resistance training, I would advise you seek someone more experienced and/or read some of the books available describing the techniques and exercises listed here. BEGIN SLOWLY!
Resistance training will enhance your conditioning and performance but specificity (riding your bike) is critical to meeting your cycling goals.
Warmup: To reduce the chance of injury and maximize the benefit always do a warmup prior to working out.
Weight / Resistance: Muscle fibers are recruited based upon need. In order to benefit from a strength training program the principles of overload and progression must be incorporated. Enough resistance must be used to cause momentary muscle failure (loss of form) and the routine must be designed to progressively challenge the athlete.
If you are just beginning, use enough weight to do at least 12 reps with good form. If you can do 25 or more repetitions, increase the resistance.
Variations: When doing multiple sets of a single exercise change the weight, grip, stance, motion or tempo to avoid imbalances. This is especially important when exercising the legs and back as they are very large muscle groups. Doing multiple exercises will ensure working the entire muscle group, mitigating the possibility of imbalances that could lead to injury.
Periodization and Phasing: It isn't possible to train hard / heavy every time if you are working out consistently. Doing so will lead to burnout and/or injury. By adjusting the volume and intensity of your program you will be able to better achieve the "peaks" for important cycling events. Set specific goals and adjust your resistance training to compliment those goals.
Recovery: Recovery is different for everyone. It is determined by your physiology, rest and nutritional intake.
As a general rule, athletes with predominately slow twitch muscle fiber (endurance athletes) tend to recover more quickly than athletes with predominately fast twitch muscle fibers (explosive sport athletes). Slow twitchers tend to benefit from 4-8 sets of 15-20 reps per body part with 2-3 days of recovery before repeating the session. Fast twitchers tend to benefit from 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps with 4-5 days of recovery between sessions.
Chances are you are somewhere in the middle (60% of the population) and benefit from doing 4-6 sets of 10-12 reps with 3-4 days of recovery.
Frequency: Optimal frequency is difficult to achieve. Scheduling a strength training session to a specific day of the week might not maximize training time. Recovery, on bike training, goals and other factors must be considered. Monitoring waking heart rate, enthusiasm, appetite, sleep and training progress to refine training frequency and intensity. Don't be afraid to make adjustments to find the balance.
"Train the body you have, not the one you wish you had."
Cool Down & Stretching: An easy spin on the stationary bike and some stretching will speed recovery.
Choose the exercises that best fit your ability and equipment. Exercise Descriptions can be found here.
Beginners- Do 2-4 sets of 12-25 reps per body part, 2-3 times per week
Intermediate- Do 3-8 sets of 8-16 reps per body part, 2-3 times per week.
Advanced- Adapt frequency and volume that most benefits your physiology and goals.
Abs - This is a core muscle group that is important for comfort and transfer of power between your upper and lower body muscle groups.
-Crunches* and variations
-Hanging Leg Lifts
-Low Cable Knee Pulls.
Quadriceps - The power source …
-Squats, machine and free weight.*
-One Legged Platform Squats
Hamstrings - Don't neglect these, they contribute to a smooth pedal stroke and help keep your knees healthy. An imbalance will increase the chance of injury. Your hammys should be roughly equal in strength to your quads.
-Stiff Legged Deadlifts
Calves - Power transfer to your pedals.
-Toe Raises. Do multiple variations, seated, standing, toes in, toes out ..
Back - On a bike (unless you ride recumbent) your legs need something to push against and your back is the main stabilizer. If you consistently get back pain while riding it is likely that your back is under-conditioned. Strong legs are of little use if you wreck your back. Balanced strength is critical.
-Low Cable Rows*
-Bent over Rows with barbell or dumbell
-High Cable pull-downs
-Incline Bench Press
-Decline Bench Press
-Peck Deck / Dumbell Flys
-Pull Overs (believed by some to increase chest cavity size)
-Bent over raises w/ Dumbells or Low Cable* (Important exercise to balance the deltoid)
-Side and Front Lateral Raises
-Rotator lifts and twists with dumbell
-Curls with barbell, dumbells or low cable*
-Lying triceps Extension ("nose crushers")
-French Press ("skull crushers")
-Close grip pushups or bench press
-Reverse grip bench press or pushdowns
Once your technique and strength have developed, you may want to try other methods to spark new gains and add variety.
Drop Sets - Begin with a weight you can do 12-20 reps with good form, upon completing set immediately reduce the weight and complete another set without recovery. Continue to reduce the weight until you are using almost no weight at all. This works the muscle very deeply.
Negatives - Perform an exercise to failure, upon completion of the last rep lower the weight very slowly, have your spotter give you just enough aid to complete 2-4 additional reps lowering slowly after each completed rep.
Plyometrics - Beyond the scope of this page but an excellent method to improve explosive power.