Weight Training for Cyclists

It's pretty well accepted that a properly designed weight training program can improve performance in just about any sport, but cycling is one of the few activities where some still express doubts. Unless you're already putting in professional-level hours on your bike, more cycling may be the most effective way to improve performance. Combine this with the fact that increases in body weight (a common side effect of weight training) will typically decrease cycling performance and you can see why doubters still exist. With that said, weight training will improve cycling performance if you follow a well-structured program that creates the right sport-specific training stimulus.

An effective weight training routine for cycling should consider the following:
  • About 14% of the energy required in a typical cycling race comes from anaerobic metabolism, and weight training is a great way to improve the performance of those energy systems (especially important for sprinting and climbing).
  • Explosive leg exercises can improve leg power, acceleration speed and sprint performance.
  • Include methods that maximize leg-strength increases with minimal muscle gain.
  • Use sets that last 60-90 seconds with minimal rest periods to make the legs efficient at dealing with lactic acid. This will allow more work to be done at a higher intensity.
  • Increase core stability to minimize risk of lower-extremity injuries and maximize cycling efficiency.

Here is a sample training plan that applies these guidelines:
A. Squats:4 x 3-5, 180 seconds*
B1. Split Lunge Jump: 3 x as many as possible in 30 seconds, 15 seconds
B2. Split Squats: 3 x as many as possible in 45 seconds, 90 seconds
C. Front Squats: 3 x 50, 45 seconds**
D. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 25, 45 seconds
E1. Front Plank: 3 x 60-second hold, 0 seconds
E2. Side Plank: 3 x 60-second hold/side, 0 seconds
E3. Hanging Leg Raise: 3 x 15, 60 seconds
Perform this routine twice a week with 2-3 days of rest between sessions. Use this to supplement your existing cycling workouts (i.e., don't reduce the time spent on your bike to do this program). If you bike and weight train on the same day, try to separate the workouts by at least six hours and avoid intense sprinting and hill climbing on these days.
*Each exercise is listed next to a given letter. If exercises are grouped together under the same letter (e.g., A1, A2 or B1, B2, etc.) they should be performed as a superset. When performing a superset, you will do the A1 exercise for the given number of repetitions, rest the stated amount of time, perform the A2 exercise for the given number of repetitions, rest the stated amount of time and repeat for the given number of sets. For example, you will be performing a superset of split lunge jumps and split squats. To do this, you will perform as many split lunge jumps as possible in 30 seconds, rest 15 seconds, perform as many split squats as possible in 45 seconds, rest 90 seconds and repeat three times.
*The information on each line is listed as follows: Exercise name: sets x repetitions, rest period
** Fun fact: Elite-level cyclists will typically perform 50-60 repetitions of a squat exercise using 50% of their one-rep max. (Begin with a weight well below this, but you can consider yourself elite if you ever reach that level!)
  • Benjamin Fernandez-Garcia et al. 2000: Intensity of Exercise During Road Race Pro-Cycling Competition. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise; Vol. 32
  • Carl D. Paton et al. 2005: Combing Explosive and High-Resistance Training Improves Performance in Competitive Cyclists. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; Vol. 19
  • John P. Abt et al. 2007: Relationships Between Cycling Mechanics and Core Stability. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; Vol. 21
  • Massimo Testa, MD. 1999: Training Techniques for Cyclists; pp 49
  • James Marshall, 2008: Strength Training for Cycling at All Levels. Peak Performance Newsletter