Strength training for cyclists: the 5 exercises every rider should do


Professional cyclists now do regular strength training. And with a few simple exercises, you can quickly boost your own cycling performance

For decades cyclists have avoided gym training in the same way they avoid potholes and patches of ice on the road. But a new generation of professional riders is embracing gym training in an attempt to improve their strength, power, balance and durability.

Over the winter, many of the stars of the Tour de France can be found strengthening their bodies with gym work ready for another season of hard training and racing. And it is a winning habit which all amateur cyclists can benefit from too.

“Strength training can have multiple benefits for cyclists, such as improving sprint performance, improving muscular strength, reducing body fat, improving lean muscle mass and increasing bone mineral density,” explains Bianca Broadbent, a cycling physiotherapist at Fit Your Bike ( based at the High Performance Centre within the University of Birmingham.

With a small amount of effort, you can achieve big gains in your performance. Here Broadbent shares her top five strength exercises all cyclists should try.

Bulgarian split squats

Why should I do them?

Squats are an excellent strength exercise for cyclists, but Bulgarian split squats are a much more cycling-specific, single-leg version which will boost your strength, balance and power on the bike. “This should be a key exercise for any cyclist,” explains Broadbent.

Cycling involves asymmetrical movement patterns, with one leg moving up and one leg moving down as you pedal. So your ability to create force in each individual leg is crucial if you want to create an efficient power output on the bike.

This single-leg exercise will build strength in each leg, for a much more functional and cycling-specific squat. “By targeting the quads and glutes of each leg, this exercise will help with your pedalling efficiency and power,” adds Broadbent.

And there is more: this exercise will also engage your core muscles to help enhance your balance and stability when climbing steep hills or riding out of the saddle.

How do I do them?

Start with your back foot resting on a chair or ledge, and your front leg a couple of stride lengths in front of the chair or ledge. “You can place your foot further forward to reduce the load through your knee, if required,” suggests Broadbent.

“Keeping your body positioned upright, let your forward leg bend slowly, so you are carefully controlling the downward movement. When you have gone as low as you feel comfortable with, push back up again.” You can progress this exercise over time by holding a weight plate or some dumbbells in your hands.

Key areas targeted: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, soleus, hamstrings

Romanian deadlifts

Why should I do them?

Romanian deadlifts will strengthen your back muscles, hips, core and legs to pump up your power and improve your stability on the bike. By encouraging lots of key cycling muscles – like the glutes and hamstrings – to work together in unison, this exercise helps to develop your power and pedalling efficiency.

And by strengthening your core muscles, it will reduce the unwelcome energy wastage caused by weak core muscles which can make you fidget and shift as you pedal.

“By working the hamstrings, gluteus maximus and extensors, this exercise will also help you to sustain the strong posture required to hold a more aero riding position and to apply greater force through the pedals,” says Broadbent. The result is a better climbing and sprinting performance – and stronger back muscles to reduce aches on long rides.

How do I do them?

Select a barbell, a weight plate or a kettlebell and start by picking up the weight from the floor. “Keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, lean forwards, as if “hinging” at your hips, and keep your knees “soft,” so they are not locked tight,” says Broadbent.

“Let the weight travel back to the floor as low as you can, without allowing your back to round. Then push forcefully through your legs to bring the weight back to the vertical.”

Key areas targeted: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, extensors, hips, spine, core

Curtsy lunges

Why should I do them?

Lunges are another fantastic exercise for cyclists, but curtsy lunges are an intelligent upgrade which are better suited to the unique demands of cycling. Unlike normal lunges, curtsy lunges encourage you to move one leg across your body, thereby helping to work those hard-to-reach inner thigh muscles and the all-important gluteus medius, which is essential for smooth cycling form.

“The gluteus medius is an important muscle for cyclists, as it helps to counter lateral (sideways) forces that can reduce your pedalling efficiency,” explains Broadbent. “It is a muscle which also really helps you to concentrate force straight through the pedals – which is exactly where you need it.”

You will be rewarded with a stronger and more powerful pedalling action.

How do I do them?

“Start by just using your bodyweight as the load, until you feel comfortable adding extra weights,” suggests Broadbent. With your feet shoulder-width apart, take your left leg and step it behind you, and to the right.

Lower yourself down as if to “curtsy” and then return to your starting position. “Try to keep your body reasonably upright through this process,” says Broadbent. Then repeat on the opposite side.

Key areas targeted: Gluteus medius, quads, gluteus maximus


Why should I do them?

A lot of cyclists neglect their upper-body strength but this is a big mistake. Road cyclists need a strong upper-body to stabilise their position on the bike and to provide a solid support base so that their legs can work at maximum efficiency.

“Upper-limb strength is really important to help with force generation in the lower limbs,” insists Broadbent. Strengthening your arms, shoulders and back will also help to reduce any aches and pains during long training rides.

How do I do them?

If you are strong enough, you can do them on a pull-up bar. But you can also use a suspension trainer. “Pull back on the suspension trainer so it is tight and there is no slack,” says Broadbent.

“Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Now let your arms straighten and pull your body up so your elbows are bent. The closer you are to a standing position, the easier it will be. To make it more difficult, walk your feet away.”

Key areas targeted: Latissimus dorsi, deltoids, trapezius, abdominals, biceps, back muscles

5.    Push-ups

Why should I do them?

This is another simple but powerful exercise which is easy for cyclists to do at home. And it will really help to complete your full-body winter conditioning programme.

“Cyclists aren’t renowned for their upper-body strength, but force generation in the lower limbs can be optimised by improving force generation in the upper body,” explains Broadbent. As well as strengthening your arms and chest, push-ups will also boost your balance and control to help you navigate steep descents and tight corners.

How do I do them?

“If you can’t perform a full push-up, then a suspension trainer is an easy way to modify this exercise at home,” explains Broadbent. “It will take some of the weight away, but it will also increase the instabilities and imbalances when you do the push-up, which will help to improve your core strength and shoulder stability.”

Fix the suspension trainer in place. Hold the two handles and walk your feet away so that your body is in a position that feels comfortable. “Again, the more upright, the less load there will be,” says Broadbent. Place your hands shoulder-width apart, then allow your elbows to bend and lower your body into position. Now push through your arms so they straighten.

Key areas targeted: Triceps, pectorals, core, obliques, shoulder stabilisers

by Mark Bailey