Why All Cyclists Should Be Strengthening

With Winter’s chill already greeting us as we head out the door for a ride, it’s no surprise that as a collective we are racking up fewer kilometres outside. Cycling is a very enjoyable sport in the Summer, and during Winter I always like to pick a few big climbs to train for, as well as the odd race or two to enter. The other thing that I begin to ramp up is time spent off the bike (yes, you read that right) in the gym- as this is the key to a successful Summer of cycling.

Regardless of cycling goals or ability, one thing that every cyclist should be doing is strengthening off the bike, targeting legs, core and even arms (again yes, you did read that right). Incorporating 90 minutes of strength training per week has remarkable benefits to cycling. I’ve condensed the evidence into a couple of paragraphs as to why time spent off the bike strengthening is going to make you a faster, fitter and stronger bike rider…

With cycling being such a data-rich sport, we are fortunately able to identify several key metrics that are synonymous with strong cycling; these being VO2 Max, Exercise Economy (or the efficiency of our body’s cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems when exercising), Anaerobic Capacity (the ability to produce high power without oxygen consumption), lactate threshold (the point where lactic acid builds up in the muscles faster than we can clear it), maximum sprint speed and power, and resistance to fatigue.

The latest evidence has found that strengthening improves all of these metrics (except VO2 Max), which means that time off the bike is going to improve your cycling performance. In addition to cycling performance, strengthening is going to increase tissue resilience- which in turn will decrease the chance of sustaining an injury. Strength training also adds variety to our training blocks, which is important to maintain motivation levels and avoid burning out mentally.

A great case in point for the benefits of strengthening is looking towards the World Tour, where typically climbing specialists sacrifice as much muscle mass as possible to improve their climbing. A couple of years ago, one of the pros riding for EF Pro Cycling spent more time off the bike strengthening and came into the race season with almost 2kg of extra muscle. Not only was he able to complete the entire season illness and injury free, but his climbing actually improved despite being almost 2kg heavier.

So what does this mean for all of us?

Does this mean we should be substituting all riding for weight training?

Will being able to squat my bodyweight add 50 watts to my FTP?

Like all things, the answer is balance. One or two sessions of strengthening per week is a great way to compliment the work already being done on the bike, but it will not replace it. It is important to understand that the benefits of strength training are not always immediate and consistency is VERY important.

Using a strengthening coach is the best way to get started. They will be able to help guide you through the appropriate exercises, as well as manage your training load so that you aren’t burning out. At O-health Sam Hargreave has been superb at co-ordinating my training load since January to make sure that I’m getting the most out of every session. Not only have I improved in leaps and bounds during that time on the bike, but I have remained uninjured through my knees, lower back and shoulders.

So whilst the weather is cool and the days are shorter- consider adding some variety to the indoor training sessions with some strengthening. The latest evidence indicates that it will reduce the impact of injuries on your cycling, and will make you a stronger, fitter and faster cyclist.

If you are struggling to find the motivation on your own, call us on 6021 2777 or book online with our strength and conditioning coach Sam. He can create a strength cycling program for you and trust me, he will make sure you do it. His motivation for your best results are just as high as yours!


-Tom Duck