Strength Training for Cyclists - What is it really?

When talking about strength for cyclists , I like to break it down into three components:

a) Pedalling Strength

b) Full Body Strength

c) "Off the Bike" Strength

a) Pedalling Strength

Probably the most obvious one and most addressed when training any form of cycling strength. Simply put the ability to transfer more force into the pedal, thereby being faster. This can be subdivided into two elements, muscular endurance or the capacity to repeatedly put more power into the pedal, basically getting less tired when doing the same effort.

And on the other extreme is maximal force, which is the ability to put the highest possible power down, if needed repeatedly and for longer than if untrained. This is most relevant for sprinters, track cyclists, MTB and CX riders.

I like to integrate training these two throughout a training cycle, mainly with single leg exercises (e.g. lunges, single leg deadlifts, split squats) and following a structured plan.

b) Full Body Strength

Probably self explanatory, but sometimes overlooked and even feared, especially by road cyclists afraid of putting on muscle that might make them slower climbers.

Working on your full body strength isn't as much about maximal strength or growing more muscle, but more about muscular endurance.

Full body tension (not tightness!) is another element I try to develop , what I mean is that when needed, each muscle is ready and strong enough to engage and support the primary muscles working.

Muscles forming the core are a good example, having an enduring and responsive core can assist in preventing back pain on long rides as well as keeping the upper body steady during standing climbs and powerful sprints.

c) "Off the bike" Strength

Cycling is a quite linear movement, as in there is little or no lateral movement, same as twisting (except in crashes!). Therefore if you only train cycling or exercises that closely mimic cycling's movements, you are at risk of developing muscular imbalances, movement restrictions, tightness and limited joint range of motion.

Since as humans we do move in all sorts of directions, the above limitations can result in injury or niggling pain when you need to move or perform outside of your referred sport. There are enough stories of eager dads trying to show off at school athletics and ending up with a pulled hamstring or even a torn ACL from kicking the soccer ball with their kids!

This is why, when I train athletes, weekend warriors or in my training packages I make sure I address all these components of strength, tailored for individual's needs or specific events they want to go well.

Want more? Check out my strength and conditioning training plans here.

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