Weight Training for Cyclists

My family has more cyclists per capita than anyone in Minnesota.  I have more uncles, aunts and cousins who are cycling enthusiasts than I can count on both hands.   So I thought I’d kick off the ‘weight-training’ category of this blog with a little advice on weight training for cyclists.

Why Bother?


As with any sport the way to most efficiently get better is to do the activity itself.  Want to be a better racquetball player, play racquetball.  Want to be a better cyclist, then cycle.  So why bother with cross-training?

Injury Prevention

Most sports, to a greater of lesser degree, create physical imbalances.  These imbalances can lead to reduced performance and injury.  Swimmers, for instance, commonly develop something called pectoralis minor syndrome (which can cause poor posture and sometimes extreme nerve pain).

Cyclists can develop problems such as knee joint misalignment due to repetive stress. Another problem documented in cyclists, and other non-weight bearing athletes (water polo players, fishermen and bingo enthusiasts for instance) is a loss of bone density. Many cyclists also experience lower back pain from the combination of the inclined position and weak core strength.

Weight training and weight bearing exercise can address each of these issues.

  • Knee joint stress can be reduced by proper conditioning of the hamstring and quadriceps
  • Nearly any form of free-weight training strengthens bones as well as muscles
  • Lower back pain can be addressed through strengthening the core.  (technically not weight training, I understand, but necessary nonetheless)

These are long term problems that weight training can help to alleviate.  There is another way that weight training can help cyclists.  Some injuries happen in the blink of an eye, the swerve or a car, or that unexpected obstacle that sends you flying over your handlebars.

Crashes happen to even the most careful cyclists.   If your body is strong and balanced throughout you’ll be much more resilient when you do find yourself a-tangle in the weeds.

All right, now that we’ve got the sensible stuff taken care of lets talk about what many of you wild childs are really interested in… how to go insanely fast on a bike.


This is the definition of power as excerpted from the Oxford dictionary of Sports Science and Medicine:

Technically defined as the rate at which energy is expended or work is done… The amount of power generated by a person, therefore, depends on two important components: speed and strength. Power is the key component for most athletic activities. A powerful athlete has to be able to transform physical energy into force at a fast rate.

What weight-training does is allow you a controlled environment to practice explosivity without having to worry about dodging traffic.  It also allows you to isolate specific muscle groups for sprinting and hill climbing speed.

Tip: Isolate power development by using progressively higher weights with fewer repetitions.

Muscular Endurance

My kinesiology professor in grad school taught me that there are two kinds of endurance: cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance.  In order to sustain high intensity activity you have to work on both types.  If your muscles bonk, even Lance Armstrong’s lungs aren’t going to get you up that hill.

Weight training is not very good at developing cardiovascular endurance (you probably get plenty of that anyway if you are a cyclist).  What it can do is provide a laboratory to really push the capacity of your muscles to sustain output over a longer periods of time.

Tip:  Isolate muscular endurance with lighter weights and higher repetitions.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that a little cross-training can go a long way.  Read on to discover that it doesn’t need to detract from your on bike time at all!

How to Integrate Weight Training  into your Cycling Regimen


Like I said earlier the best way to get better at sport is to the sport.  80 to 90% of your training time should be on bike.  But a little bit of cross training with weights can go a long way.

Off Season

3 times a week is fine.  No need to schedule 2 hour workouts.  It’s often best to work for shorter more intense time periods.  Have a certain number of exercises you need to get through in a given time period, rather than a certain number of hours to fill up.  Focus on quality over quantity.  Even a 20 minute workout with the right mindset can produce better results than lolly-gagging through an hour long workout.

On Season

2 times a week should suffice.  If you are using periodization in your training then use your lighter days for your weight training time.  Again 20 minutes is fine and focus on quality over quantity.  Whatever you do don’t overtrain to the degree that you don’t have energy on the bike.


Sample Workouts


Preliminary notes: Adjust to your fitness level.  Focus on symmetrical exercises at first but then work towards asymmetrical exercise (do one legged squats instead of two legged squats)  Push heavier weight during off season. Also consider adding a power/plyometric workout cycle to help increase power during cycling.  

It is beyond the scope of this article to give complete descriptions of each of these exercises.   Leave a comment if you are unfamiliar with any of these exercises and I’ll devote an entire article to it.

Workout #1: Lower Body Focus

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls (single and double leg)
  • Hip adduction/abduction
  • Calf-Raises

Core Module

  • Plank (3 minute goal)
  • Cobra(3 minute goal)
  • Hard Roll(Exercise from Functional Movement Systems)


Workout #2:  Upper Body Focus

  • Pushups or dumbbell bench press (avoid traditional bench press as we want to work your body assymetrically just as you would on the bike)
  • Overhead shoulder press
  • Bent Over Row
  • Pull-downs/Pull Ups
  • Up right rows (particularly beneficial for the cyclist)

Core Module