Strength Training For Cyclists (The Only Workout You’ll Need)

When it comes to cycling, you’re going to need three things: endurance, power and speed. 

Not only that, but training can quite easily eat hours out of your weekly schedule making it one of the most demanding sports for training time and dedication.  

Cycling is also unique in that it’s not just about how you work. It’s about how you work best with your bike. So, there are a lot of elements to bring together – and strength is a key factor. 

Strength isn’t just going to help you power up hills or pedal faster. Strength is also going to help you maintain good posture and avoid injury.  

Becky Hair is a cyclist, triathlete and physiotherapist. She has been cycling since she started university in 2009 and has loved it ever since. 

In 2013, she started competing, and is now an Ambassador for Specialized, running regular cycling groups.  

We managed to grab five minutes with Becky to find out about the types of training cyclists should be focusing on. And also, what they can do to build muscle and improve.  

Strength workout for cyclists 

Here, Becky goes through some of her best exercises you can do to make sure you stay strong and be at your best while on the bike.  

In the workout, Becky goes through the following exercises: 

  1. Walking lunges with dumbbells
  2. Front squats
  3. Deadlifts
  4. Split squats
  5. Russian twists
  6. Plank with side twist
  7. Cycling leg crunches

As you can see, it’s very lower body and core heavy, which is ideal for helping you get more power while on the bike, as well as improve your posture.

So, when did you first start cycling Becky? 

I got my dad’s old road bike when I started uni in 2009. It was a lovely blue bike, I used it every day to ride across the town moor to Newcastle University.  

I had no idea how to maintain it and remember taking it home after the first semester and my dad was so upset because I hadn't even pumped up the tyres! I think this is why I've tried so hard to empower women to look after their own bikes. We don't need men to do it for us!

And when did you start competing? 

I got into triathlon at Birmingham university whilst studying for my MSc Physiotherapy, this was in 2013.  

Before cycling, I was a swimmer as a kid, albeit not a very good one. I never made counties or nationals but I certainly loved to compete! 

What type of cycling do you do? 

All road cycling at the moment – but watch this space – I am going to try out Cyclocross racing this season! 

As with all aspects of my sport, I tend to keep the distances short. I get a bit bored if I'm out for over two hours! But it does also depend if I have good company.

My races this year have been 'crit' races – these are about 45-60mins long, on a purpose-built tarmac outside track/circuit. The idea is that the group rides as a bunch.  

So, you get 30 women smashing it around the course at 22mph, and then the last 5 mins or so is where the laps count and people will start to get very tactical here to line themselves up in a good position for the finish line! 

It's brilliant, there are sprints and surges all through the race, and it means you have to be very on the ball all the time! 

Mirafit ambassador Becky Hair doing a push up on a plyo box

What are the common types of injuries cyclists are prone to? 

As a physio, I see a lot of cyclists with a tight lower back, also tight hip flexors, and hamstring tightness. A lot of these are biomechanical in nature and tend to be because of a poor fitting bike. So, I do a lot of discussions around that, and massage helps if they are cyclists used to riding ridiculous distances!  

Other injuries are sometimes due to falls - things like shoulder rehab following a broken collar bone is quite a regular thing. 

Also, neural tightness in the upper body – often from set up of the bike and holding on too tight. So, there ends up being lots of neck tightness, numbness and sensation changes in the arms, and sometimes wrist injuries like carpal tunnel issues (from wrist over extension).  

Sometimes new cyclists lack the ability to engage the vastus medialis muscle (the inside of the quad muscle at the top of the leg) and consequently, they get tight IT bands and patellae tendinopathies. So, there's a lot to be said about building up the cycling and doing strength work at the same time. 

How can strengthening help with this? 

General core work will help with technical skills on the bike. And single leg strengthening work will help tonnes too.  

Additionally, weightlifting for power will obviously also mean you can drive more through each pedal turn, which means you can go faster!  

What are the key muscles that cyclists need to focus on? 

Glutes and hamstrings – basically a good balance of leg muscles! And a strong core to help with the technical bits. 

Does your style of training change depending on what type of racing you do? 

Yes, definitely. I've done lots of work this year to build strength on the bike so I can keep up when the pace changes in a race. So, I build sprints into my rides.  

It's also important to link it directly to the race you're doing – knowing the course and practising similar things in training.  

In terms of strength work I keep this fairly similar, but if I'm racing hard my legs will be toast the next day. So, I often have to drop the weight a bit to keep up good form. Don't be scared to do this, it's about adapting and letting your body get the most of each of your sessions.  

Do cyclists need to do strength training at the gym to be at their peak performance? 

The gym comes in handy for lifting heavy weights, or things like the leg press. But you can mimic some of these with single leg work and a squat rack in the garage.  

What strength exercises are good for cyclists to do? 

Back, legs and piriformis (near your glutes). 

Is stretching important too?  

Yes. However, I would say you need to think of the reason why you are stretching.  

Are you aiming to increase your range of movement because of a lack of ability to engage the muscle? If so, try longer stretches, or Yoga (Yin Yoga for example), or something like Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF).  

If it's after a session to flush yourself out, then you'll be more warmed up, so you can be more dynamic.

If it's before a session, then trying linking it with joint mobility work and make it specific to the session you're about to do.  

For example, static stretching has its place, but I wouldn't do it before a session. Probably afterwards to help you maintain a good range of movement. 

Are there any supplementary exercises which can help with cycling? 

Yes, lots! Yoga and Pilates are great for your core. But don't treat it like a sweaty workout, just use it to engage and challenge yourself. 

Lots of work can be done to engage your glutes, to improve form and basic strength with resistance bands too. 

If you would like to read more, check out Becky’s Best Lower Body Workout For Injury Prevention

And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @MirafitOfficial.