Gym work is a key component of the training plans of all members of the Great Britain Cycling Team. With significant health benefits and injury prevention along with performance gains it’s arguable that strength training is even more important for amateur riders. EIS strength and conditioning coaches Scott Pearson and Joe Hewitt explain the key exercises that you can use to improve all aspects of your cycling performance.
Why should I go to the gym and not just ride my bike?
Strength work will make you faster on the bike but it will also deliver a host of other benefits. It will slow and even reverse the loss of muscle mass associated with ageing, improving strength, health and facilitating weight control. It will improve bone health, specifically bone density, which is an issue even for Grand Tour riders. Finally, by being more robust and resilient, you will be less likely to injure yourself lifting the kids out of the car, carrying shopping or working in the garden. Less time laid up with an injury means more time out on your bike.
How often should I do strength training?
In order to make progress, you should do a minimum of two session per week, allowing at least 48 hours between sessions. You can increase this to three sessions per week, working Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for a really effective strength block. One session per week would allow you to maintain strength. You can alter the amount of strength work depending on the time of year. The winter can be a really good time to work on strength, you could then reduce this to two sessions in the spring as training intensity increases and then one during the summer for maintenance.
Beginner strength exercises
Four key exercises that should be in the routine of all cyclists looking to begin strength training. They focus on the key cycling muscles around the knees and hips but also provide training for the upper body and postural muscles. They will build a cycling specific strength foundation which will allow you to progress on to more advanced exercises.
Sets and reps
Start with sets of 6-8 reps as you get used to the exercises but then start to progress them up to 15-20 reps. Once you hit this higher rep range, increase the weight and reduce the reps back down, keep this cycle going as you progress. Look to perform three sets of each exercise. Rest for 1-2 minutes between sets. For the plank and side plank, work using time. Start with three sets of 30 seconds and see if you can build up to a minute.
Primarily working the quadriceps but also recruiting the hamstrings, glutes and postural muscles of the trunk.
- Hold kettle bell close to your chest
- Imagine you’re sitting down onto a chair
- Keep tall, don’t collapse forwards
- Drive your knees out
Above: Goblet squat start position
Above: Goblet squat end position
Focussing on similar muscles to the Goblet Squat but adding some lateral movement. This will challenge your balance and show any strength or movement imbalances you may have between your left and right sides.
- Alternate between left and right
- Imagine sitting on a chair
- Work slowly, in control and see how close you can get the kettle bell to the floor.
Above: Lateral squat start position
Above: Lateral squat end position
Stiff Leg Deadlift
Develops the strength of your hamstrings and lower back.
- Work through your hips, minimise knee bend
- Keep your back straight
- Push weight onto heels and push your bum backwards
Above: Stiff leg deadlift start position
Above: Stiff leg deadlift end position
Working on functional trunk strength which will complement all the other exercises and help you to maintain a strong position on the bike.
- Push your weight onto your forearms
- Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles
- Engage your trunk muscles
Cycling, specifically road and track, is a predominately a forward and back straight line activity. This can lead to weak trunk muscles, especially the obliques which can make you more prone to injuries off the bike. Working on your obliques using a side plank can also improve climbing out of the saddle and sprinting performance.
- Choose the variation that suits your ability
- Maintain a straight line from your shoulder to your ankles
- Leaning arm directly below your shoulder
Above: Side plank
Above: Side plank progression