There’s no question that we (and pretty much everybody, really) should be doing some form of strength training. This time of year, we all get eager to tackle new fitness goals as the weather often has us spending less time on our bikes and more time inside at home or at the gym. But with age, muscle mass dwindles and bones weaken. Resistance training helps slow that process, making you more powerful and structurally sound—that’s why strength training for cyclists is so important.
Though masters and women benefit most, research on young elite male riders found that their performance numbers also rise when they get out of the saddle and hit the squat rack as part of their regular training. That’s why even climbing specialists like Joe Dombrowski swear by strength training.
But we also know that the weight room in the gym can be crazy intimidating. You may enter it with the best of intentions but feel totally stumped when you’re standing in front of the mirror holding a set of weights (been there). That’s why we pulled together the only 10 strength training exercises for cyclists that you need to know. These moves target your primary movers (your legs) and help strengthen the muscles that support your body on and off the bike (your core).
How to use this list: Below are 10 strength training exercises for cyclists demonstrated by a personal trainer, Kenny Santucci. Master the proper form first, then add weight. For form tips, check out the video above with , a certified personal trainer in New York City. Modify each move as needed.
You don’t have to do all 10 moves in every workout, just be sure to hit your upper body, lower body, and core if you select 4 to 6 moves. You will need a set of dumbbells, an exercise mat, and a step.
To keep things fresh and continually challenge your muscles, mix up your sets and reps from session to session.
- Session 1: Lift heavy (3 to 4 sets of 3 to 6 reps with 3 to 5 minutes of rest between sets)
- Session 2: Lift light (2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps with 1 to 2 minutes of rest between sets)
- Session 3: Lift moderate (2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps, 1 to 2 minutes of rest between sets) Bodyweight moves are done in higher rep ranges, since there’s no external weight.
To reap the greatest rewards, you should strength train year-round, hitting all your major muscle groups once to three times a week (more often during the off-season when you’re not riding as much; less frequently when you’re riding lots).
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Start standing with dumbbells at your sides. Keeping your eyes forward, chest lifted, and back flat, hinge at the hips and lower the weights toward the floor as you rotate palms to face you, allowing your knees to bend slightly. Keep the weight close to shins and lower until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Contracting your glutes, push hips forward to return to the starting position. Repeat.
Why it’s essential: It works your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and lower back for powerful pedaling in and out of the saddle.
Side Step-Up With Leg Lift
Hold dumbbells at your sides (or put your hands on hips if performing this exercise without weight). Stand to the right of a box or step. Place left foot on step and press through heel and straighten left leg to lift your body up while lifting the right leg up to the side as high as comfortably possible. Return to the starting position. Complete one set and then switch sides.
Why it’s essential: Working one leg at a time develops balanced strength (most of us have one side that is stronger). This move also targets your outer glutes so you’re more stable in the saddle and less prone to side-to-side rocking, which can cause back and knee pain.
Lie faceup on a mat, legs bent with heels close to butt, feet on floor, and arms resting at sides. Raise one leg straight up toward ceiling, keeping both knees in line. Engage glutes and lift hips up toward ceiling to form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Pause. Lower back down and repeat for a full set. Switch legs.
Why it’s essential: This exercise hones in on the glutes, which can be weak in quad- and hip-flexor-dominant cyclists.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out a little. Clasp hands together in front of chest. Send hips back and bend knees to squat down until your butt drops below knee level. Press through heels and straighten legs to return to starting position. Repeat.
Why it’s essential: Impact helps build bones. Research on people with mild knee osteoarthritis shows that impact moves like air squats also can protect your knees by thickening the cartilage and making them stronger.
Start sitting on the floor with knees bent, heels on floor, holding a dumbbell in both hands at chest, shoulders relaxed. With a straight back, lean back from the hips until you feel your abs engage. Keeping heels on the floor and arms close to body, twist from the waist to the left. Twist back to the center. Then twist to the right. Return to the starting position to complete one rep. Continue alternating sides.
Why it’s essential: This exercise strengthens your obliques (side torso), which are the muscles that rotate your trunk, or in the case of cycling, minimize that rotation as your legs pedal up and down. When they’re weak, you are susceptible to too much twisting, which can cause aches and fatigue as well as wasted watts.
Lie facedown on mat, arms extended out straight overhead, legs straight and feet about hip-width apart. Engage your glutes and back to slowly lift your feet, chest, and hands about six inches off the floor. Lift right arm and left leg higher. Then lift left arm and right leg higher. Continue to alternate.
Why it’s essential: This exercise targets your entire back to counteract the stretching and weakening effect of all the time cyclists spend sitting in hunched forward position (whether over your handlebar, steering wheel, keyboard, or phone).
Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair or bench. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on either side of your hips. Slide your hips off the chair, legs bent or extended out in front of you (the straighter your legs, the harder it is). Straighten your arms, but maintain a microbend in elbows—don’t lock them out. Bend your elbows and lower hips toward the floor until your arms are bent 90 degrees. Press through palms to straighten your arms, return to start, and repeat.
Why it’s essential: Your triceps help prop you up on your handlebar. They can get pretty sore on long rides unless you take steps to keep them strong.
Push-Up to Renegade Row
Start in a high plank position with wrists under shoulders, hands on two dumbbells. Position your feet shoulder-width apart (the further apart they are, the easier the move). Bend elbows to perform a push-up. Then, keeping your back straight and hips level, pull the right dumbbell up to right ribs. Return dumbbell back to floor. Pull left dumbbell up to left ribs. Return dumbbell back to floor. That’s one rep. Continue to repeat.
Why it’s essential: This exercise builds core and upper back strength, which helps you maintain good posture on and off the bike. This move also improves your ability to transfer the power you generate from pulling on your bars into your legs to push the pedals, especially when climbing hills.
Lateral Lunge With Overhead Press
Stand with feet hip-width apart, dumbbells racked at shoulders. Lunge left by taking a big step to the left and sending hips back and bending left knee. Press back to the starting position, then press the weights overhead. Repeat lunging to the right. Continue to alternate.
Why it’s essential: This exercise covers two motions many cyclists miss: lateral (side to side) and overhead motion, both of which you need for general life function.
Start standing with your arms at your sides. Squat down, placing hands on floor, shoulder-width apart. Jump legs back into high plank position as you drop chest and hips to floor at the same time. Push back up to a high plank, then jump legs back in toward hands in a deep squat position. Extend legs and jump, raising arms overhead. Repeat.
Why it’s essential: This is a great go-to move to strengthen nearly every muscle, get the benefits of a little impact, and get your heart rate up when time is tight.
Charlee Atkins wears New Balance Reclaim Hybrid set: and .
Images: ; Video: David Monk, Josh Wolff