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Five Misconceptions About Strength Training for Cycling Performance

While cycling is a fantastic cardiovascular workout, incorporating strength training into your routine can provide a whole host of benefits that will have you conquering hills and sprinting like never before. 

Plus, whether you're an everyday cyclist or a competitive rider, adding some muscle-building exercises to your regimen can supercharge your fitness level, help prevent injury, and enhance your overall performance on the bike. 

For example, we add strength training to all of our clients’ training plans. As we transition to cyclocross, we’re adding more explosive work like kettlebell swings or box jumps.

Keep reading until the end when we dispel five misconceptions about strength training for cycling!

Discover how incorporating strength training into your cycling routine can enhance your performance, improve overall fitness, and elevate your cycling experience. Unleash the power within and take your cycling to new heights with our expert tips and insights.

Why should everyday cyclists do strength training?

Strength training is not just for bodybuilders or professional athletes. 

It has numerous benefits that can greatly enhance the performance and overall fitness of everyday cyclists:

  • Strength training for cyclists helps to improve cycling power and endurance. By strengthening the muscles used in cycling, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, riders can generate more force with each pedal stroke. This can lead to increased speed and efficiency on the bike.
  • Strength training can help prevent injuries. Cycling is a repetitive motion sport that can place stress on certain muscles while neglecting others. By incorporating exercises that target these neglected muscle groups into their routine, cyclists can correct imbalances and reduce their risk of injury.
  • Strength training improves core stability and balance. Having a strong core not only enhances riding posture but also allows for better control over the bike during challenging terrain or sudden changes in direction.
  • Strength training increases bone density which is important for long-term health and prevention of osteoporosis.
  • Incorporating strength training into your routine can have a positive impact on body composition. Building lean muscle mass through resistance exercises increases metabolism, leading to improved fat-burning potential even during rest periods.
  • Strength training enhances overall functional movement patterns which can directly translate into enhanced cycling technique and efficiency on the bike.

What are different types of strength training for cyclists

When it comes to strength training for cyclists, there are various types of exercises that can be incorporated into your routine. 

These workouts target different muscle groups and help improve overall cycling performance and fitness.

  1. One type of strength training is resistance training, which involves using weights or resistance bands to challenge your muscles. This can include exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, pull-ups, and bench presses. Resistance training helps build full-body strength and power, essential for generating more force on the pedals.
  2. Another type of strength training is core stability exercises. A strong core provides better balance and stability while riding, resulting in improved bike handling skills. Planks, Russian twists, and bicycle crunches are examples of effective core exercises for cyclists.
  3. In addition to these traditional forms of strength training, plyometric exercises can also benefit cyclists by improving explosiveness and power output. Box jumps,
    power cleans, and medicine ball throws are examples of plyometric movements that can be incorporated into your routine. I’d also include kettlebell swings as a plyometric or force workout.
  4. Yoga can be a strength training workout using isometric poses to build strength, particularly around joints. 

How should I implement strength training into my cycling routine?

Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • First, consider the frequency of your strength training sessions. Aim for 2-3 days per week, allowing adequate rest days in between for recovery. This will ensure that you're giving your muscles enough time to repair and grow stronger. The number of days a week depends on the time of year for your training.
  • Next, think about the timing of your strength training workouts. Schedule them on endurance days to minimize the training stress. Alternatively, I often schedule them after interval sessions or on double days to make one day really hard. The amount of weight you lift doesn’t matter; it only matters that you stress the joints. 
  • When it comes to exercises, focus on compound movements that target multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, and rows are all excellent choices for cyclists. Don't forget core exercises as well – planks and Russian twists can significantly improve stability and power transfer on the bike.
  • As for intensity, aim for moderate to high levels with challenging weights or resistance bands. Start with lower reps (8-12) and gradually increase the weight as you build strength over time.
  • Start with a kettlebell or dumbbell Goblet Squat with the weight in front of your collar bones, a bench chest press with dumbbells, and rows with dumbbells, along with some core work. 
  • Start slowly with the weight and gradually add weight as you get stronger. For racing like cyclocross, consider adding some box jumps or plyometrics once you have a strong enough foundation. 
  • Make sure you eat enough to fuel your strength training.
  • Make sure you get your recovery time in. 

What are some common misconceptions about strength training for cyclists?

Misconception #1: "Strength training will make me bulky and slow."

One of the biggest misconceptions about strength training is that it will lead to bulky muscles, which can hinder cycling performance. You’ll never get big and bulky if you’re riding your bike a lot!  When done correctly, strength training for cyclists focuses on building lean muscle mass and improving the overall power-to-weight ratio. If you are doing a lot of endurance riding, your physiology will limit how much size you’ll gain!

Misconception #2: "Strength training is only necessary for professional cyclists."

Many everyday cyclists believe that strength training is only beneficial for professional athletes. However, incorporating regular strength sessions into your routine can benefit all levels of riders. It helps improve endurance, power output, injury prevention, and overall cycling efficiency.

Misconception #3: "I don't have enough time to incorporate strength training."

It's a common misconception that adding strength workouts means spending hours in the gym. In reality, even just two or three short sessions per week can make a significant difference in your cycling performance. Focus on compound exercises targeting major muscle groups like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and core exercises. I typically only am in the gym for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the time of the year.

Misconception #4: "Cycling alone is enough to build leg muscles."

While cycling does provide an excellent cardiovascular workout and strengthens certain leg muscles used during pedaling movements; it doesn't target all areas equally or build optimal muscle balance throughout the body. Incorporating targeted strength exercises helps address any muscular imbalances and enhances overall performance.

Misconception #5: "Strength training increases my risk of injury."

On the contrary, properly executed strength training routines help reduce the risk of injuries by strengthening stabilizer muscles around vulnerable joints such as knees and shoulders. By improving joint stability and correcting muscle imbalances through targeted exercises like single-leg squats or lateral band walks, you'll enhance your durability on the bike.

What does the research say about strength training for cycling?

Numerous studies have been conducted to explore the effects of strength training on cycling performance, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. 

Research shows that incorporating strength training into a cyclist's routine can lead to significant improvements in power output, endurance, speed, and overall performance.

One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that cyclists who added resistance training to their regimen experienced a 13 percent increase in maximal power output compared to those who only did traditional cycling workouts. 

Another study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise discovered that cyclists who incorporated resistance training saw improvements not only in their muscular strength but also in their cycling economy.

Furthermore, research has shown that strength training helps reduce the risk of injury by strengthening muscles and improving stability around joints. This is particularly important for road cyclists who may encounter uneven terrain or sudden changes in conditions during their rides.

Three things everyday cyclists should know about strength training:

  1. Dedicate a short amount of time two to three times a week for strength training. 
  2. Focus on compound movements like deadlifts, pushups, and front squats to maximize full-body strength.
  3. Make sure you’re doing core strength and stability work.

Need more?

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Paul Warloski is a:

  • USA Cycling Level 2 Coach
  • RRCA Running Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
  • RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
  • Certified Personal Trainer
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