Your Resistance Training Program Only Needs 5 Exercises

All cyclists will benefit from adding a resistance training program to their overall training plans. But you don't need to spend much more than an hour in the gym for each session. And there are certain exercises that as cyclists, you can avoid - they simply waste your time (like leg extensions, hamstring curls, and calf raises to name just a few).

A High Five For Multi-Joint Success

You need to concentrate mainly on multi-joint exercises, and only 1 exercise from the following 5 categories during any gym session:

  1. Lower body (squats, lunges, step-ups)
  2. Upper body pulling (inclined pull-up, full pull-up, dumbell rows, bent-over rows)
  3. Upper body pushing (push-ups, dips, seated or standing press, dumbell press, inclined press)
  4. Low back (bird-dogs, prone cobras, back extensions, good mornings, stiff-legged deadlifts [good for glutes & hamstrings too] )
  5. Core (crunches, front planks, side planks)

Embrace The Iron - But Not The Machines

It is better to NOT use machines, as these tend to isolate your muscles too much. In cycling, we never work our muscles in such isolation. That's why these multi-joint, free-weight exercises are the superior resistance movements for your training.

Keep the reps lower. 1 - 6 reps to build your strength. 8 - 12 for a little muscle growth. If you keep your rest intervals on the long side (like up to 2 minutes) you won't experience the mammoth muscle growth (technically called "hypertrophy") of a bodybuilder.

15+ reps would develop your muscular endurance, but really for a cyclist save that kind of work for your bike.

That's it. Combine these with your on-bike work and you'll be far faster than your less well-informed competitors who think weight-work will only add unnecessary mass to your body.

Some Final Points To Consider

It is wise when you begin a program, though, to mind the following points:
  • Use a trainer, at least in the beginning, to ensure you are lifting with the proper techniques. Sloppy form will equal sloppy results, and often lead to injury as well.
  • Warm up before lifting with 5 to 10 minutes of light aerobic work. Using a spin bike, or riding to the gym is a great way to add a bit of specificity to what is otherwise non-specific activity.
  • Log the weights you are lifting, and aim to lift progressively more week-by-week as you work through your program.
  • When lifting heavy weights, especially when squatting, either use a smart, strong spotter(s) or at least use a weight cage with proper safety stops that can hold the weight if you need to bail out.
  • Proper weightlifting shoes are a plus, but not a must. A mostly leather cross-trainer works quite well, better than a shoe made specifically for running.
  • If you're younger than 18, it is usually better to stick with bodyweight resistance training. You will likely be in the peak of your growing years, which already puts many stresses on muscles, ligaments and tendons trying to keep up with the massive growth spurts of your bones. Heavy weight training is more likely to lead to injuries than increased strength. Wait until your growth has stabilized - then start reaching for the iron plates.
  • If you're a Masters (30+) cyclist, you will really benefit by lifting all year long, and most important, don't skip in-season Maintenance lifting.
In a future post I'll talk a bit more about periodizing your lifting to complement your riding.

Photo "Weightlifting Mouse" by: jeffmcneill


  1. Good advice Kevin.

    I followed pretty much the same set of weight exercises as you suggest and it did me wonders in the off season. I was always bad at getting cardio in over the winter so the add strength compensated in the early season. Though the biggest advantage I found was the greater endurance/comfort I had on my TT setup. I think it was the work on my core muscles that saved me a lot of back pain during and after 40 km TTs. Which generally translates into faster times.

  2. After my second off-season of resistance training, I had one of my best seasons ever. That was the year I won a bronze medal at the Canadian National Time Trial Championships.

    Cyclists really need to give the resistance training an honest effort. As you and I both seem to know from experience, it can really make a difference.

    Thanks for the comment Chris. I hope you're finding time to hit the gym this winter - though I don't think you really have winter where you live now!