Many cyclists are interested in using a strength training program in the offseason to build on-the-bike strength and eventually power. Additionally, cyclists that are concerned with bone loss from a cycling-only program use strength training as a weight-bearing activity to compliment cycling.
A great question is how should strength training be integrated into a cycling program to get the most benefit?
The Minimum Exercises
- Hip extension (pick one: squat, leg press, hip sled, step-up or other similar exercises)
- Bent-arm lat pull down
- Chest press or push ups
- Seated row
- Core body work for both abdominals and back
Optional Additional Exercises
(Depends on your personal weaknesses, racing limiters, time and energy)
- Hip extension (Select a different exercise than No. 1 above. Consider doing single-leg squats to be sure each leg is equally strong.)
- Hamstring curl
- Knee extension
- Heel raise
- Additional core body work or balance exercises
Strength Training Phases
Warm-up before strength training with 10 to 30 minutes of easy spinning on the bike, or with one or two sets of each exercise at a very, very light weight. The warm-up set is in addition to the assignments in each category described.
Depending on the cyclist and his or her particular goals, I will use two to four of the strength training phases.
After the warm-up, complete 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions (reps) of exercises 1 through 5. Exercises 6 through 12 are optional.
This is the phase used to prepare the body for further weight training. In this phase, getting the proper technique perfected is critical. Begin with very light weights for all exercises the first session or two. Be sure to control the weight in both directions, up and down. After a few sessions, you can increase the weights so that the exercises feel light to moderately heavy.
During this phase cyclists are typically lifting weights one to three days per week. Depending on the rider profile, rides are either completely aerobic or may include low-end threshold training. For this phase, and all others, the total number of stressful or key workouts per week should total between two and four. In the first week or two of strength training, each strength session counts as one stressful workout.
The strength sessions in this phase should no longer be stressful after a couple of weeks -- even if you're bumping up the weights a small amount.
Do this phase for four to eight weeks.
After the warm-up complete 4 to 6 sets of one or two hip extension exercises. Most of the time, hip extension exercises are the only ones I have cyclists do in a maximum strength (MS) format. Begin with a light weight and 15 reps for set 1. Increase weight and complete 10 reps. Increase weight and complete 8 reps. Increase weight again and complete 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 6 reps -- most of the time I suggest cyclists aim for 6 reps.
If you are inexperienced at strength training or do not have access to a spotter, avoid heavy weights for a free-weight squat exercise and choose a machine-based exercise instead.
If you have a particular weakness you'd like to work on, you can follow the MS format covered in the previous paragraph for your target exercise. Otherwise, do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps for all of your other exercises.
During this phase, it is best to strength train at least two days per week to get the most benefit. If you decide to add a third day, you can make it MS -- or -- go back to anatomical adaptation phase for one day, keeping the load lighter and emphasizing good form.
Because the MS phase makes legs feel heavy and tired, all MS sessions count as one of the stressful workouts for the week. With strength training taking up so much energy, most cyclists can only complete one more key workout each week. That session is either tempo intervals or a long ride with a range of intensities -- light on the high-end intensities.
Do this phase four to six weeks or some eight to 12 sessions.