Strength Training for Cycling Part 1:
What is Strength Training FOR Cycling?
A growing number of cyclists are hitting the weights these days, as cycling coaches, magazines, and pro’s have been touting the improvements they’ve seen by adding some weights to their winter training.
But what If I told you that what the vast majority of cyclists and coaches are doing as “strength training for cycling” barely scratches the surface of the massive performance gains you COULD see… if you understand how to do strength training FOR cycling properly.
Would you believe me that you could see far better results and look, feel, ride, and be far stronger on (and off) the bike if you change how you think about strength training for cycling, and especially HOW you do it?
Today, you get the inside scoop on how strength training FOR cycling is very different than what most of us have come to mind.
What is Commonly Thought of as Strength Training for Cycling, is NOT Strength Training for Cycling
For many riders and coaches alike, strength training for cycling means:
- Hamstring curls
- Deadlifts (usually from the floor….)
- And planks ….lots and lots of planks!
(You can read my thoughts on planks for cyclists and triathletes in my July 21, 2020 PEZCyclingNews Toolbox article)
And in fact, if you simply google “strength training for cycling” you’ll find a number of articles touting back squats, lunges, box step ups, planks, some deadlifts, and some type of hamstring exercise as being “strength training for cyclists”.
However, this is NOT strength training FOR cycling!
This mistake is actually really easy to make, and understand, as strength training, in particular strength training to improve cycling PERFORMANCE not just general physical preparation, is still not widely understood or practiced in the cycling world.
Simply doing strength exercises that look similar to cycling does NOT make them “sport specific”.
Why is it that strength training for cyclists to improve PERFORMANCE is misunderstood?
Yes, the strength training exercises that these articles and blogs show look a lot like cycling and target the main muscles we use in cycling, but they do not address the common issues, aka “energy leaks” and challenges that we as cyclists face:
- Tight hip flexors
- Extremely poor mid back strength
- Loss of shoulder blade mobility and proper function
- Loss of range of motion at the shoulder
- Loss of range of motion at the hips
- Poor posture
- Poor breathing patterns
- Inability to fire your glutes properly
- Hamstring and quadriceps dominance over the rest of the leg muscles
- Poor ability to maintain balance
The list goes on, but you get the idea.
THOSE exercises that many site as “strength training for cycling” are actually strength training to COPY the movements of cycling.
VERY different from strength training FOR cycling!
Strength training FOR cycling, is strength training done with the focus being to improve YOU and your postures, positions, breathing patterns, and abilities, so that your body isn’t negatively impacted by the hundreds of hours you put in out on the bike.
When you change your strength training to be done in a way that is FOR cycling, you can expect to see improvements in:
- Recovery time
- Adaptations to efforts on the bike
- Better Cycling Economy (Use of energy used to move you down the road faster)
- Improved breathing patterns & oxygen utilization
- Improved bike handling
- Longer time to fatigue (due to muscle being better able to do their jobs)
After all, nobody wants to have their halloween costume dictated to them each year because Quasimodo is the most obvious choice due to your poor posture…
What IS Strength training FOR Cycling?
Strength training FOR cycling allows you to use an intelligently designed strength training program to help improve your postures and positions by focusing on building better movements, better coordination, and your ability to create and maintain your core’s ability (that is ALL the muscles in between your neck, elbows, and knees) to produce proximal stiffness, and allow work to be done from the hip and shoulder, while not bending from the spine, or wiggling around.
THIS is REAL strength training FOR cycling, as instead of making you stronger like a machine through only the “cycling specific” movements, we’re building YOU to be more resilient, able to keep great posture and breathing patterns, and to keep your body in great working order!
Positive side effects from strength training FOR cycling include, but are not limited to:
- Slowing down “Aging” as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine which is the “Loss of range of motion at a joint”….which means for many cyclists, they have hips, shoulders, and upper backs of those who are 15-20 years older than your chronological age!
- Improved RECOVERY, via better breathing patterns
- Improved ability to deal with stress due to hormonal changes via strength training & improved breathing patterns
- Improved joint health
- Improved movement patterns
But it takes a better understanding of what exactly we want and need to build strength for cycling performance.
How is Strength Training for Cycling PERFORMANCE different?
Before we jump into the differences between a general physical preparation program and a performance program, we have to first acknowledge there is nothing wrong about going through a general physical preparation program.
IF this is your first time doing strength training for cycling, OR if you have not been doing any real strength training (picking up heavy things at LEAST 1x a week in a structured and progressive fashion) for the last 4-6 months. In these cases, a general physical preparation program will be the basis you have to go through, in order to work your way up to a strength training for cycling PERFORMANCE program…. Although, we still would NOT simply copy “cycling specific movements” in your strength training program!
What we would do, is use a more intelligent strength training FOR cycling program, that will do a far better job of laying the foundations for performances on the bike, and a better quality of life (i.e. unlimited options for halloween costumes, and no more achy backs, hips, shoulders, or knees).
This kind of strength training is VERY different from what many think of is a “normal” strength training program to help your cycling.
How is strength training for cycling performance different?
Instead of just trying to do movements that resemble cycling, the program instead addresses at least 4 major areas at once:
- Improve posture & breathing patterns
- Improve maximum strength
- Improve core strength & the ability to produce proximal stiffness for distal motion (“Core strength”- being everything between the neck, knees, and elbows)
- Improve power production
These 4 areas are each intertwined with one another, and when done properly, feed-forward into one another, allowing for a program to have huge positive impacts on the rider’s ability, in a relatively short amount of time.
This is where we make a quantum leap in the program’s effectiveness, and help you become a truly better and more athletic athlete.
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What is strength training for cycling performance?
So far we’ve talked about why what many coaches and riders are doing is NOT strength training for cycling, but rather is strength training for copying cycling movements, or just a general physical preparation program.
While there is nothing wrong with a general physical preparation program, and it IS something we need to go through, it’s far from being worthy of the title of “strength training for cycling”.
We’ve also talked a little about understanding how this kind of strength training, general physical preparation and just copying common positions and movements of cycling, is leaving 90-95% of the possible benefits you want and need from your strength training for your riding, on the table.
For those of you who have been consistent in your strength training to this point, here’s what you’ll need to do:
Take a look and assess yourself & your movement patterns
- Can you keep good posture (straight spine, move from the hips and shoulders)?
- Are you able to keep good posture while you’re moving?
- Are the correct muscles working as they need to for a given exercise and movement? (this doesn’t just include the main muscles, but ties into the supporting muscles being able to work properly while keeping good technique)?
- Can you fire your main muscle by themselves, or do other muscles fire instead?
For cyclists (and triathletes), good places to start are:
Prone glute activation
Can you fire each of your glutes by themselves, or do the quads or TFL (small muscle on the front outside of your hip) take over?
Are you able to keep the shoulders, upper back, and legs relaxed while you breathe in this position?
Can you keep good posture and spinal stability while moving ONLY from the shoulder and hip?
Can you perform a pushup with GREAT technique and stiffness, or are you flopping around with your hips sagging down, elbows out to the side, or butt to the ceiling?
Most cyclists cannot do a proper pushup, as we saw with the GCN Pushup challenge in 2019, where I was called on to help teach Hank how to do a proper push up on the GCN show.
Single Leg Deadlift
Can you perform a single leg deadlift with great technique and form, moving only from the hip?
Film yourself from the same angles as you see in the videos, and tell me:
Can you perform these as demonstrated, or do you find when you look at the video, that your body is doing something completely different than what you THINK it is?
You may be surprised as to how little you can keep your ribs + pelvis locked together with a solid braced midsection and how poorly your movement from the hips and shoulders are….and how you can’t seem to get your head into a neutral posture/position without arching or rounding your back.
THIS IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STRENGTH TRAINING FOR CYCLING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING FOR CYCLING PERFORMANCE.
Give these exercises a try, and leave a comment down below about what you found that surprised you (for good or bad!). Or, you can email me Brodie@HumanVortexTraining.com.
Now before we go, there is one important thing to note:
Just because you have “extra time” or “are very motivated” doesn’t mean that adding strength training to the mix is always going to be the right answer.
The correct answer will ALWAYS be “It depends!”.
Take a listen to episode 51 of my podcast The Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete to hear how to decide what to do with “an extra 10 minutes each day” to help you get more out of your strength training for cycling, or your on-bike workouts.
If you’d like to learn more about strength training for cycling (and triathlon), make sure to subscribe to the HVTraining Newsletter to get notified when part 2 of this article goes live, and to get the highest quality strength training for cycling content in the world, including:
The Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast
And sign up for the HVT newsletter to get in on our strength training for cycling performance challenges and special programs that we run throughout the year.
Remember: Train Smarter, NOT Harder, because it is all about YOU!