Strength training workout for cyclists

13th April 2016

Think strength training will slow you down? Think again. Nuffield Health Personal Trainer Haydn Ward provides a guide to strength training for cyclists.

Cycling is usually seen as an endurance event, and as such, in preparation, people generally train using endurance methods (light weights, high reps and long duration workouts). Although this will help improve endurance to a degree, your performance can be improved with the introduction of strength training.

Sessions based around strength will have a cross over to both your power production and your endurance as the efficiency of your muscle fibres improve. Cycling requires force placed through the legs to drive the bike, therefore the greater force you can generate through the legs, the greater the distance covered per revolution. This means you can travel further using less effort, allowing you to save energy for later in the race.

Myth: Strength training will make me too heavy to cycle

A big fear most people have is that strength training will make them bigger, and the heavier the frame, the more weight you need to work – thus making it harder to cycle. This is true with typical bodybuilding training, however strength training works by activating the fast twitch fibres, which generally get stronger, not bigger.

Try the 5×5 method

One of the tried and tested methods of strength training is called ‘5×5’, named like this because you will do five sets of five reps at your target weight.

This is a good beginner’s strength program as it’s simple and progressive (builds in intensity as you get stronger, week by week). You just need to do two sessions per week, spaced out throughout the week (for example a Monday and a Thursday).

On your strength days try to do no other exercise and follow the next day with a lighter endurance-based cycle workout. Your legs will thank you.

How it works

Each session will be an all over body workout and they’re broken down as session A and session B:

Session A: barbell back squat, bent over barbell row, and bench press.
Session B: deadlift, chin ups and military press.

For each exercise, you will perform two warm up sets of eight reps with a lighter weight, to ensure the muscles and the movement are ready. Then you will perform five sets of five reps with your target weight for the session. Aim to have three minutes between sets; during these rest periods, you can foam roll or just catch your breath.

If you’re new to weights, start with an empty Olympic bar (20kgs) for all the exercises (and bodyweight rows instead of chin ups). But, if you have experience with these exercises, you can start each individual exercise with your eight to ten rep max weight.

Your workout will look like this:

Session A

 Exercise  Then rest  And repeat
 Barbell back squat 8 reps (low weight)  1 min  Once
 Barbell back squat 5 reps (target weight)  3 mins  Four times
 Bent over barbell row 8 reps (low weight)  1 min  Once
 Bent over barbell row 5 reps (target weight)  3 mins  Four times
 Benchpress 8 reps (low weight)  1 min  Once
 Benchpress 5 reps (target weight)  3 mins  Four times

Session B

 Exercise  Then rest  And repeat
 Deadlift 8 reps (low weight)  1 min  Once
 Deadlift 5 reps (target weight)  3 mins  Four times
 Chinup 8 reps (low weight)  1 min  Once
 Chinup 5 reps (target weight)  3 mins  Four times
 Military press 8 reps (low weight)  1 min  Once
 Military press 5 reps (target weight)  3 mins  Four times

If you manage to complete all five sets with five reps at your target weight, increase the weight by 2.5kg in the next session and do everything the same. Only increase the weight once you can complete the 5×5. It is best practise to keep a training diary to track not only the weight but also the progression.

As all these exercises are compound exercises, the core will get plenty of activation throughout the session. However, if you feel you need to do more, I would add two planks at the end of the session, holding them for as long as possible, with 45-60 seconds rest in between.

Implementing the 5×5 program will give improvements in your power output and general endurance, which means you will be faster, and be able to work for longer in your cycle events.

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