Incorporating strength training into your cycling routine will make you a more powerful and faster cyclist. Cycling requires a strong lower body for powerful pedaling and a strong upper body and core for handling and stability on the bike. Strength training for cyclists does not involve bulking up or long hours lifting weights in the gym. It only takes a few hours a week spent targeting the muscles used while riding to improve your performance. You can train at the gym or from the comfort of your home with or without weights with 10 of the best exercises for cyclists from the Hincapie trainer. We’ll walk you through stability and strength training exercises that help you level up your cycling power.
What is strength training for cyclists?
The best cyclists are the fastest because they produce the most power per pedal stroke. In cycling, power is the amount of force applied to the pedals. The more force you exert, the faster you pedal. Targeting your cadence can improve your technique and agility, but cadence is unique to each cyclist depending on his power-to-weight ratio. You need to get stronger to become a faster cyclist.
You can increase your cycling power on or off the bike, but combining weight or bodyweight exercises with cycling is an efficient and effective way to bolster your acceleration, climbing, and endurance. Strength training can give that extra oomph to your performance. The end goal is not to lift heavier weights but to cycle faster with greater control. The best strength training for cyclists targets the muscles used in the saddle with low-intensity and low-volume sets of bilateral and unilateral exercises, with a few minutes of rest between each set.
Why is strength training important for cycling?
Strength training is a proven way to make us better cyclists. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t bother with it. The purpose of strength training is not to turn a cyclist into a bodybuilder. Increasing muscle mass actually makes cyclists slower. A more muscular cyclist has to produce more power on a climb than a light but powerful cyclist. A cyclist should focus on muscle contractions rather than mass to train muscles to fire quickly when extra power is needed after reaching VO2 max. We focus on increasing power so we can maintain speed while exerting more energy on a climb or against headwinds.
The best types of strength training exercises for cyclists
The best exercises for cyclists increase power and mobility in the saddle by strengthening muscles in the legs, hips, glutes, core, and arms required for pedaling, handling, and stability. For more powerful pedal strokes, choose exercises that improve hip and knee extension and flexion using the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Exercise your upper body and core to improve your riding position and handling of the bike.
Low-volume and high-recovery weight and bodyweight exercises make cyclists fitter and more powerful. 1–3 weekly strength training sessions consisting of three sets of 10 reps with 3 minutes of recovery between sets is enough to improve cycling performance. When you first begin strength training, use bodyweight only and gradually add weight as you see improvements. Adding resistance band exercises can improve your riding posture and mobility.
Benefits of strength training for cyclists
Increasing cycling power and speed is one of the greatest benefits of strength training for cyclists, but there are many other additional perks that come with incorporating strength exercises into your week.
1. Get stronger, faster.
Cycling itself will make you stronger, but strength training makes you stronger faster and without adding mileage. It would take you much longer to get the same results from cycling that you’d get from a couple of hours of strength training each week.
2. Cycle more efficiently.
Becoming stronger means you’re more efficient at activating muscles and transferring power in pedal strokes. This is essential for sprinting or maintaining your pace while climbing.
3. Improve your endurance.
Pedaling more efficiently means you can give more energy for longer without feeling fatigued. This means you’re able to go farther faster.
4. Prevent injury.
Increasing your strength doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt, but it does give you greater control over your bike and helps you become more attuned to your body, which may lower your chances of injury.
5. Become a well-rounded cyclist.
Not only do you work the muscles essential to cycling when you strength train, but you also consequently strengthen muscles that aren’t used for cycling. This helps you become a fitter person on the whole.
10 best strength training exercises for cyclists
Our official team chiropractor, Dr. David Jolson who specializes in the treatment and prevention of treatment of musculoskeletal injuries at Upstate Spine & Sport, provided 10 of the best strength training exercises to strengthen the muscles and joints cyclists use frequently and prevent injuries from cycling. These exercises include controlled articular rotations (CARs) for maintaining joint health, breaking the ECSS (extension/compression stabilization strategy) to strengthen the core, and other conditioning exercises to help you become a stronger cyclists.
1. Ankle CARs
Reps: 5–10 circles each way, per ankle
Pace: Slow and controlled
2. Knee CARs
Reps: 5–10 circles each way, per knee
Pace: Slow and controlled
3. Hip CARs
Reps: 5–10 per hip
4. Hip Flexor
Reps: 2x 10–15 on each side
Reps: 1 set of 15
Pace: Slow movements
6. Dead Bug
The goal: Keep everything flat on the table and try not to arch the back. Once you have mastered the beginning steps, add arm weights.
7. ITY Formation Scapular Stability
Reps: 1 set of 3×10 in each direction, per arm
Note: Can be done with or without weights.
8. Breaking the ECSS
The goal: While holding this posterior tilt position, breath 360 degrees into your abdominal wall.
9. Hip Uprighting
10. Bear Position
Reps: Hold for 30 seconds 5–10 times
The goal: Don’t round the back–keep it nice and flat.
How often should a cyclist focus on strength training?
During the offseason, when you aren’t rigorously training for an event, try to incorporate strength exercises into your week 2–3 times. During the season, reduce it to 1–2 days of strength training. Do your best not to stop strength training during the season even though your cycling intensity picks up. If you cut out strength training from your routine, you risk losing all the progress you made during the offseason.
It may feel like a struggle to squeeze strength training into your cycling plan, especially if you’re a high-volume cyclist. But your strength training should not be a huge time commitment–a couple of hours a week is plenty. And remember, strength training is only beneficial as long as it enhances your crying performance. Here are a few tips to incorporate strength training while keeping cycling as the priority.
- You should not sacrifice rest to focus on strength training. Like strength, rest is essential to your performance, and you should have at least 1 rest day a week.
- During a recovery week after an event or intense training, scale back on your strength training too. And take it easy while strength training. Your rides should be high-intensity, not your strength exercises.
- Don’t wear yourself out strength training or your cycling performance the next day or for the next few days will suffer.
- If you double up on strength and cycling in a day, make sure it’s on an easier ride day.
- Get roughly 6 hours of rest in between cycling and a strength workout if you double up.
- If you’re running short on time, you could cut 20–30 minutes off of a ride and add in a strength workout. This could maximize the power gains you get from the day’s training since 20 minutes of strength exercises may result in greater power gains than 20 minutes of cycling.
- Cycle first and then strength train so that most energy is devoted to your ride.
- Always use proper form during strength exercises, even if this means using low or no weights to avoid injury.
Strength training is a great way to improve power, but it’s not the only way. You should also focus on increasing your FTP while cycling. Learn how to improve your FTP on the bike or use these 3 indoor cycling exercises to become a faster and stronger cyclist.
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