Strength Training for Cyclists: Part 2

strength training for cyclists

Strength Training for Cyclists: How you Should Lift

In Part 1 of this series I took a look at some of the reasons why strength training for cyclists is an important part of their training schedule, particularly in the off season.  In this post, I will go over some exercises that cyclists should be doing to improve their riding and their overall health.  Remember, there is more to life then cycling.

Since you are weight training to improve your cycling, you are going to need to know what muscles are the most important for on bike performance.  So first we need to know what is going on in the pedal stroke.

Many people think that you use the quadriceps (muscles on front of thigh) to push the pedal down and the hamstrings (back of thigh) to pull the pedal up.  But this simple view of the pedal stroke is false.  In fact, you want to produce power from your hips not the knee joint.  You flex the hip to push the leg through the bottom of the pedal stroke rather than pull with your hamstring.

Image from bikejames.com.  Great resource for mountain bike strength training.

The above image is based on EMG readings that show what is really going on during the pedal stroke.  As you can see most muscles are firing on the down stroke and there is very little activity on the upstroke.  It could be argued that these results occurred because the test subject(s) was not pulling with his hamstrings on the upstroke.  But is that really the best way to pedal?

It is unnatural to use the hamstring to pull up on the pedal in the upstroke which is why it feels uncomfortable and takes a lot of practice to make “pedaling circles” feel natural.  Returning to the image above, you can see the biceps femoris (red), which is one of the muscles that make up the hamstrings, is active through the down stroke that is because the hamstring does not create power at the knee but at the hip.  The hamstring was made to powerfully extend the hip while less powerfully flex the knee.

So now that we know what is going on in the pedal stroke, what is the best way to train in order to improve your on bike performance?

What you really want to do is to train your legs to produce a powerful down stroke using the hips as the primary power source, not the knee joint.  This means that you want to avoid kneecentric exercises like leg curls and leg extensions, there is no point to isolating the knee joint.  Your best bet is multijoint exercises that work the hip flexors since the pedal stroke is a multijoint movement powered by the hips.  Some good exercises are squats, deadlifts, and leg presses.

It is also a good idea to include some unilateral movements in your routine.  Unilateral movements work a single leg at a time instead of both.  These are great because they can help reduce muscle imbalances and they often require you to balance on one leg which strengthens the muscles and ligaments surrounding the knee joint improving knee stability.  Some good exercise are lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and step up.

Here is an example of a leg workout that I have incorporated into my training routine.  The goal of this routine is to build max strength.

  1. Squats: 5+ sets of increasing weight concluded with a set of 3-5 repetitions of max weight
  2. Bulgarian Split Squats: 3 sets of 6-10 reps
  3. Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  4. Ab Circuit: complete circuit of 4 exercises, 10-20 reps of each

I do this workout on Fridays and it is my second leg workout of the week.  On Tuesdays complete a similar workout but switch out the squats for box jumps (5-8 sets of 1-3 reps), great way to build that explosive power.

There you have it, some suggestions of exercises you should be doing in the gym.  Do not forget that there is more to life than cycling so throw in some exercises for your upper body, do not just focus on your legs.

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