Strength training workout for cyclists

Hayden Ward Hayden Ward Senior Wellbeing Personal Trainer
Think strength training will slow you down? Think again. Personal Trainer Haydn Ward provides a guide to strength training for cyclists.

Cycling is usually seen as an endurance event, and as such, in preparation, people generally train using endurance methods (light weights, high reps and long duration workouts). Although this will help improve endurance to a degree, your performance can be improved with the introduction of strength training.

Sessions based around strength will have a cross over to both your power production and your endurance as the efficiency of your muscle fibres improve. Cycling requires force placed through the legs to drive the bike, therefore the greater force you can generate through the legs, the greater the distance covered per revolution. This means you can travel further using less effort, allowing you to save energy for later in the race.

Myth: Strength training will make me too heavy to cycle

A big fear most people have is that strength training will make them bigger, and the heavier the frame, the more weight you need to work - thus making it harder to cycle. This is true with typical bodybuilding training, however strength training works by activating the fast twitch fibres, which generally get stronger, not bigger.

Try the 5x5 method

One of the tried and tested methods of strength training is called ‘5x5’, named like this because you will do five sets of five reps at your target weight.

This is a good beginner’s strength program as it’s simple and progressive (builds in intensity as you get stronger, week by week). You just need to do two sessions per week, spaced out throughout the week (for example a Monday and a Thursday).

On your strength days try to do no other exercise and follow the next day with a lighter endurance-based cycle workout. Your legs will thank you.

How it works

Each session will be an all over body workout and they’re broken down as session A and session B:

Session A: barbell back squat, bent over barbell row, and bench press.
Session B: deadlift, chin ups and military press.

For each exercise, you will perform two warm up sets of eight reps with a lighter weight, to ensure the muscles and the movement are ready. Then you will perform five sets of five reps with your target weight for the session. Aim to have three minutes between sets; during these rest periods, you can foam roll or just catch your breath.

If you’re new to weights, start with an empty Olympic bar (20kgs) for all the exercises (and bodyweight rows instead of chin ups). But, if you have experience with these exercises, you can start each individual exercise with your eight to ten rep max weight.

Your workout will look like this:

Session A

Exercise Then rest And repeat
Barbell back squat 8 reps (low weight) 1 min Once
Barbell back squat 5 reps (target weight) 3 mins Four times
Bent over barbell row 8 reps (low weight) 1 min Once
Bent over barbell row 5 reps (target weight) 3 mins Four times
Benchpress 8 reps (low weight) 1 min Once
Benchpress 5 reps (target weight) 3 mins Four times

Session B

Exercise Then rest And repeat
Deadlift 8 reps (low weight) 1 min Once
Deadlift 5 reps (target weight) 3 mins Four times
Chinup 8 reps (low weight) 1 min Once
Chinup 5 reps (target weight) 3 mins Four times
Military press 8 reps (low weight) 1 min Once
Military press 5 reps (target weight) 3 mins Four times

If you manage to complete all five sets with five reps at your target weight, increase the weight by 2.5kg in the next session and do everything the same. Only increase the weight once you can complete the 5x5. It is best practise to keep a training diary to track not only the weight but also the progression.

As all these exercises are compound exercises, the core will get plenty of activation throughout the session. However, if you feel you need to do more, I would add two planks at the end of the session, holding them for as long as possible, with 45-60 seconds rest in between.

Implementing the 5x5 program will give improvements in your power output and general endurance, which means you will be faster, and be able to work for longer in your cycle events.

Last updated Thursday 12 July 2018

First published on Friday 8 April 2016