Resistance training for cyclists

A little lifting this winter will make you faster next spring

In the winter, our riding opportunities dwindle like the fading daylight. But that doesn’t mean you have to lose fitness. All cyclists can benefit from an organised and deliberate winter gym programme. Adding resistance training to your winter routine will help you begin your next cycling season ahead of the game.


Follow these tips with some resistance training over the winter to start next season healthier, stronger and better equipped to avoid injury.

Start slowly

Let your muscles adapt slowly to the new work load. Use lighter weights and don’t push it. If you haven’t lifted in a while, you will be establishing efficient neuro-muscular pathways as well as strengthening muscle. This period also helps to minimise the risk of injury by signaling the tendons and ligaments and well as musculature attachment areas to become more robust.

Synchronising your lifting with your riding

This will ensure that you hit the appropriate workout with the appropriate intensity. Training is about intensity. If you’re too strung out between the gym and the bike you won’t be able to execute useful workouts on the bike or in the gym. They won’t be of sufficient intensity to stimulate physiological change.

Lift with a purpose

An organised, periodised program will take into consideration multiple energy systems. Just being strong isn’t enough. That new strength has to be translated into something usable on the bike: the ability to produce power for extended periods and more explosive efforts. If you can leg press a Volkswagen once, that’s fabulous, but it’s not very useful on the bike.

Plan with next season in mind

An appropriately timed lift program will  address all the appropriate energy systems and then conclude at the same time you are beginning your intensive riding. The periods will also be of sufficient length to properly stimulate the desired energy system and result in lasting change.

Here are a few areas of the body you should focus on, and some exercises.

  • To strengthen the lumbar spine – hyper-extensions or ‘super mans’
  • To strengthen the abdominals – crunches on physio-ball, planks, bridge on ball
  • To strengthen the quadriceps – squats, leg extensions, dead lifts
  • To strengthen the hamstrings – hamstring curls, Romanian dead lifts, bridge on ball with hamstring curls
  • To strengthen the calves – seated or standing calf raises

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Calf raises are a simple exercise that can be done virtually anywhere:

Calf raises, and many resistance training exercises, can be done almost anywhere

Allow for at least 24 hours between gym sessions to give your body a chance to recover. Some people choose to do lower body on one day and upper body and/or core the next. An experienced coach or trainer can help you sequence your plan.

Some upper body lifts are beneficial too. These will help balance you as an athlete and actually, a little upper body muscle gives you more places to store muscle glycogen, one of the fuels used for energy. Some may argue that upper body mass is a liability. A large volume of endurance activity puts an upper limit on how much muscle mass your body will allow for. Additionally, an appropriately constructed program will have as one of its goals keeping the balance of lifts focused on the core/lower body and only creating tone and structure on top.

Useful upper body moves include:

  • Lat pulldown
  • Dumbell chest press
  • Tricep press (cable or prone with dumbells)
  • Military or dumbell press for shoulders
  • Seated rows or one arm bent over rows (key for good posture helping you to avoid the “cyclist slouch”)

After any resistance training activity, do a short spin on your bike or a stationary bike if you have time to clear some lactic acid and help maintain a fluid pedal stroke. Just 20 minutes of easy spinning in the same day as a lift, perhaps as your cooling phase, is typically enough to loosen you up.

Taking a measured approach to an off-season weight training program will help you build strength that may be lost during the regular cycling season. Entering  next season with more strength will give you a larger platform on which to build your cycling fitness, and it will extend your strength further into the cycling season.


Ainslie MacEachran is an AAAI/ISMA certified personal trainer, a USACycling Level 2 coach and the owner/head coach of Gemini Training Systems. His book The Cyclists Guide To Off Season Strength Training and Nutrition is available on, and