Strength Training For Cyclists At Home: What You Need; How To Do It

Cycling is, in my humble opinion, one of the best forms of exercise there is. Improving cardiovascular fitness, increasing the strength of your leg muscles and glutes, improving balance and coordination, decreasing stress levels and reducing anxiety. Not to mention the benefits you get from being out in the fresh air for a few hours.

But are you missing a trick if you just focus on cycling as your only form of exercise? Possibly, yes.

…are you missing a trick if you just focus on cycling as your only form of exercise?

Possibly, yes.

As a rule, cyclists are not famed for being well-endowed with muscles in the upper body region. Legs like tree trunks, certainly. But, sadly, arms like saplings. And it’s not just our arms that are a touch on the puny side, we may also suffer from skinny shoulders, weak abs and under-developed lower back muscles. It’s tempting to think that these muscles aren’t as important as the ones that we use to push the pedals with. But, think how difficult it would be to cycle without your core muscles, or lift up your bike without strong shoulders.

There are also times when cycling is off the agenda and we need an alternative way of keeping bike fit. In the winter, the roads might be slippery with ice, and the trails might be closed due to heavy snow. Injury and illness can also keep us off the roads – particularly those that affect our balance, vision, or immune system.

Even when the conditions outside are perfect, there are plenty of reasons why cycling shouldn’t be the only type of workout that you do regularly. If you’re wondering how to get strong legs for cycling, then it may be time to take a look at combining cycling and weight training to get the best physique and optimum performance that you’re looking for.

In this article, we’re going to look at strength training for cyclists at home and how to create the ideal workout program for a cyclist. We’ll look at key areas such as leg exercises for cyclists, upper body workouts for cyclists, and functional strength training for cyclists. We’ll discuss how to make a gym at home and the equipment that you need. Along the way, we’ll look at some pro-level tips and tricks to get the best at-home weight training workout for optimum cycling strength training.

First a health warning – I’m a passionate cyclist but I’m not a medical professional. Always get checked out by your doctor before you start out on any new fitness program, like the ones I’ll be discussing here. If you’re in any doubt about your ability to do something – don’t.


SMART CHOICE

  • Your go-to strength kit

  • Used for a wide variety of exercises

  • Compact and easy to store

  • Full range of weights

  • Rubber coated for durability

  • Easy grip design

  • A full commercial gym in your home

  • Safe exercising

  • The ultimate strength kit

  • Bang-for-your-buck kit

  • Versatile

  • Beware the 'kettlebell swing'...!


What is strength training and how can you benefit from it?

At a basic level, strength training is about performing exercises against some form of resistance. That’s not the same form of resistance that you might feel when you’re slumped on the couch, bag of chips in hand, watching your favorite TV show, whilst it’s raining outside and the dog is looking for a walk. No, this is about lifting a weight against gravity or some other type of physical impedance (such as rubber resistance bands). The weight can be you (when you’re performing bodyweight exercises, such as press ups) or it could be a heavy object, such as a barbell.

There are a wide range of different movements that you can perform to build strength. Some of these will target specific body parts – for example, curls with a barbell will help build your biceps. Some will work more generally across a far broader range of muscles, such as squats or deadlifts.

Strength training has a huge number of benefits for cyclists. It can help keep your fitness levels up when you can’t go out cycling – possibly as a result of illness or weather conditions. It can also help you to regain your bike fitness as part of a rehabilitation program. It can be used to get stronger legs for cycling (even professional cyclists lift weights!) Plus, it can give a healthy dose of upper body strength training for cyclists with powerful legs but skinny torsos.


How to create your perfect strength training program

We know that off bike strength training for cyclists is a valuable part of a solid exercise program. So, how do you build a basic strength training workout that has a broad range of exercises for cyclists? One that targets all your major muscle groups to improve power and increase strength? One that builds a solid amount of leg muscle for cycling (giving us those pro cyclist legs that we’ve always dreamed of)? And one that also gives us biceps that stretch the arms of our T-shirts and ripped abs that look awesome when we take that shirt off?

We need a gym workout for cyclists and this is how you create one that’s perfect for you.

Decide your goals

You might just be looking to getting stronger legs for cycling and aren’t worried about your upper body muscles. Maybe you’re a sprinter and are looking for specific weight training that will improve your power in the closing stages of a cycling race. Possibly you’re looking for strength training for a MTB race. You might be looking for gym exercises for cycling hills. Whatever you’re looking to achieve it will have a bearing the exercises you build in to your program and on your set-rep-rest protocol. Simply put, this protocol is to do with whether you’re after strength (in which case you’d do a low number of reps, with a high number of sets, and a fairly long rest between sets). Or whether you’re looking to build muscle, in which case you’d swap this around and have higher reps, fewer sets, and a short rest period between sets.

Pick your schedule

How many times a week would you like to train? Be realistic here and be mindful of all the other commitments in your life – including the days when you want to cycle. Cycling and weight training on the same day are certainly possible but, if you’ve done a big leg workout in the morning, you’re unlikely to be able to hit a PB time on the bike in the afternoon. And, if you are, then you probably haven’t really tried in your morning workout.

In terms of frequency, strength training 2 or 3 times a week is likely to be better for you than 7 times a week. For strength training, as with cycling, you benefit from rest time as it gives your muscles time to recover and grow. Equally, 2-3 times per week is likely to be better than once a week or once a fortnight, but whatever training you can fit into your schedule will give you a benefit.

Go Big, then go smaller, then Go Home

In terms of the gym workouts for cyclists, the specific movements that they comprise fall into two main groups. There are ‘big’ exercises that engage many muscle groups in your body (such as squats, which have a huge benefit to cyclists) and smaller ‘isolation’ movements which might only work one or a few muscles (for example, calf raises). As a general rule, you should do the ‘big’ exercises first in a workout (after you’ve properly warmed up) before progressing to the isolation exercises.

Choose your moves

There are a LOT, like an awful lot of different strength training exercises that you can do. Try them out and see which ones you like (and which ones your body responds best to). Mix and match them together to create the best solution for you. There’s a great beginner strength program here for cyclists that you can use as a start point.

Some of the best exercises include:

Deadlifts and squats (often performed with a barbell and weights) plus kettlebell swings. These are great ‘big’ movements that work lots of different muscles
Burpees (often with an added press-up for maximum ‘fun’!) These are fantastic for building explosive power in your legs
Lunges and leg lifts to build all the key cycling leg muscles
Plank, which is a timed exercise that strengthens the core muscles (the abs and lower back muscles)
Bench press, bicep curls, shoulder press and one-armed rows to improve upper body strength

Keep it interesting

Doing the same workout program week after week can get boring, but it will also become less effective as your body gets used to the same movements. Try and change it up every 6-8 weeks by switching out some of the exercises for new ones, or adjusting the set-rep-rest protocol.


What gear you need

When you’re setting up the ultimate home gym there’s no need to spend tens of thousands of dollars. A few key pieces, such as a barbell, a set of plates, and a kettlebell, will get you going. As you progress, you’ll likely want to do a wider range of exercises in your gym and so investing in an all-in-one strength training machine and/or exercise bike can really pay dividends for your workouts.

Keep in mind too that having a home gym can be more convenient and (much!) better value than a commercial gym membership. No more trips into town to pump some iron – particularly as we’re all “working from home” these days – just a short walk to your garage or spare room. And, with gym fees hitting $500 a year or more, it won’t be long before your home gym has paid itself off multiple times.

Let’s take a look at the equipment you’ll need to get your gym set up.

Barbell
The barbell is your go-to piece of gym equipment due to its sheer versatility. Along with your weight plates, the bar will likely be the primary tool you’ll use in your strength training program.

I used to think that a fully-loaded barbell was only every useful for one specific weight-training movement – the bench press, for building pectoral muscles. You quickly realize, however, that a barbell can be used for exercises that work virtually all of the muscles in the body. Squats, deadlifts, rows, curls, shoulder press, etc.

Make sure you choose a barbell that has a sleeve diameter (the ends of the bar that you slide the plates onto) which matches the hole diameter on your chosen weight plates. My recommendation is to go with a 2”/50.4mm sleeve diameter. This is the standard that you’ll find in commercial gyms and will give the range of weight-loading-capacity you need to see you through the length of your weight-training journey.

Weights plates
Along with the weight of the barbell (typically around 44lbs/20kg), the weights plates are the resistance that you’ll be pushing and pulling against as you do your training. Different movements will require different amounts of resistance before you feel the effects, so it’s worth getting a set of plates that you can combine together into different total weights.

Look for plates that are rubber-coated as these are quieter to use on hard floors and will tend to be more resistant to rust if you’re planning to use them outside or in the garage. I also like to use a tri-grip style of plate, like these, for a couple reasons. One, it makes them easier to lift and shift, and, two, it increases their versatility as you can then easily use the plates by themselves to carry out other exercises. An example being the ‘russian twist’ a truly horrible abs exercise that works core, shoulders and hips. Effective but will make you want to cry whilst performing it.

Bench
A very useful piece of equipment is the weight bench. In a commercial gym you’ll see this being employed be many folks to sit on (often in front of a mirror) and post on their Instagram about how hard they’re working out.

This is not, as you might realize, what it’s really for.

The bench, which can either be flat or FID (standing for Flat Incline Decline) is used for many exercises, some of which (such as the chest press) can only be done with a bench.

Kettlebell
Another versatile piece of gym kit, the kettlebell is essentially an iron ball with a thick handle on top. They come in a range of different weights and you can also buy adjustable ones which you can vary the weight on. Great for arm exercises (like shoulder press), handy for front squats. But the deadliest use for them is the kettlebell swing. A movement that requires solid form, not too heavy a weight, and a lot of focus, but has the capability to deliver a massive boost in explosive power to your major leg muscles. Like the Russian twist exercise mentioned previously, this also has the capacity to make you cry.

Bands
Much of the most useful gym equipment comes in usefully compact packages, which is handy for storage between workouts if your gym is a multi-functional space. Probably the most compact are exercise bands. These are essentially very large elastic bands and they have a range of uses for many different exercises. You can use them by themselves to add extra resistance to bodyweight exercises (such as squats). You can also use them to make other exercises easier so that you’re able to complete them – an example being an assisted chin up, where you hang one end of the band from the top of your chin up rack, then put your foot in the other end in order to ‘take some of the strain’.

Not only are these bands compact but they’re also super-portable so you can take them with you for training away from your home gym.

Rack
A power rack is incredibly useful in a home gym for a range of different exercises, some of which (such as squats) can only realistically be done with a rack. They can be combined with a range of optional extras, such as chin up bars, dip handles, and band pegs and are a tool that is well worth purchasing.

They also allow many exercises to be performed much more safely as they can incorporate a range of spotter bars, which catch the barbell if you drop it before it lands on your face. There are many, many exercises that I wouldn’t even dream of doing outside of a power rack for that reason.

All-in-one strength station

If budget (and space) allows then I’d recommend diving a little deeper and getting an all-in-one strength station.

At their heart, these are essentially a power rack. But they’re a power rack that has been given a large dose of extra functionality.

All-in-one stations are, as the name suggests, almost the entire contents of a commercial gym wrapped up and condensed into a home gym sized package. You can do squats in them, sure, but there’s so much more that you can do too. Various pull downs and pull ups, plus chin ups and dips. Literally any muscle group you need to work can be worked out on this machine. And it even stores your weights plates when you’re not needing them. Neat, tidy, and very useful.

Studio cycle
A powerful off-season training technique for cyclists is to combine a stationary bike workout with weights training.

It can also be useful for cyclists who are building back from injury and aren’t yet confident enough to hit the roads or trails. Or who are suffering from balance problems – possibly due to illness or age – that makes outdoor riding not an option for the time being.

An indoor bike can be used as a standalone training machine or you can combine it with apps like Peloton to get a more spin class high-octane experience. You can use it as a warm-up exercise before you do your strength training. Or you can use it for bike-only training days outside of your strength training days.

Rubber flooring
With all home gym setups, I’d recommend adding in rubber matting. These are incredibly cost-effective and will protect your flooring from knocks and bumps. They’ll also help to reduce noise levels, which can keep neighbors on your side and young children sound asleep.

SMART CHOICE

  • Your go-to strength kit

  • Used for a wide variety of exercises

  • Compact and easy to store

  • Full range of weights

  • Rubber coated for durability

  • Easy grip design

  • A full commercial gym in your home

  • Safe exercising

  • The ultimate strength kit

  • Bang-for-your-buck kit

  • Versatile

  • Beware the 'kettlebell swing'...!