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Cycling strength training: a four-week training program

Strength training for cyclists
(Image credit: Getty Images)

While we have previously discussed that benefits of strength training for cycling, the current article will look at how to implement this with a four-week training plan. We will also provide some tips and recommendations on how to customise the provided plan.

Strength training recommendation recap

Include exercises where the muscle action, muscles engaged, and the movement pattern should be as similar to the action on the bike as possible. In cycling, the muscles around the hip, knee and ankle joints are required to work together in order to generate force on the pedals, so this should be your primary focus.

When starting off with strength training, you should reduce your total endurance training volume. A side effect of the introduction to strength training is often ‘heavy’ or ‘sore’ legs. By simply adding strength training to an already high volume training load can negate any positive improvements to be found in cycling performance.

Two sessions per week over an 8 – 12 week period are sufficient to achieve strength increases. Start with lighter loads and then progressively increase weight while reducing reps.

Some of the exercises that can be included in your training program include: squat, half squat, step-up, leg press (progressed to single leg at a time), one-legged hip flexion, and toe raises. As you progress closer to competition and strength development is not the main goal, you can incorporate more explosive strength training exercises.

Torque intervals on the bike

Torque (or big gear) efforts are performed by maintaining a high power output at a low cadence. You can incorporate some of these efforts into your training during the general preparatory phase (the first phase of your training program). These are especially effective utilising the erg mode function on the best turbo trainers or smart bikes where the resistance is maintained throughout the effort.

Torque is the rotational force applied to the pedals. It is an important variable for cyclists to consider as power is the product of torque and cadence. A cyclist should, therefore, be able to improve the power they produce on the bike by improving the amount of torque they can produce at a set cadence.

These are intervals performed at a low cadence (usually 40-60rpm) where the rider can just manage turn the pedals over. They are best performed on a steeper gradient (8%+). Intervals of 4 – 10 minutes in duration are most commonly utilised.

How should I include strength training?

Follow the points below to include strength training into your current plan:

  1. Pair your weight training sessions within 12 hours of your interval / key sessions 
  2. Complete your interval / key training sessions before your strength sessions when paired on the same day
  3. Allow for adequate recovery from session to session, this can be done by following hard days with easy days
  4. Perform between 4 and 10 reps with 2 – 3 sets with approximately 2 – 3 minutes recovery between sets. 
  5. Start with 10 reps and progress to a heavier load and reduce reps over time
  6. Perform your lifts as quickly as possible during the concentric phase (cycling specific phase), while the eccentric phase (non-cycling specific phase) should be performed more slowly (lasting 2 – 3 seconds)

Recovery is vitally important

Not allowing for sufficient recovery between key sessions is a major error made by many cyclists. When this occurs, you are performing hard training sessions before you have allowed yourself to adapt to the previous training session.

Performing hard training sessions before you have recovered can lead to a downward spiral of performance and can lead to a state of overtraining, where prolonged rest will be required in order to recover. This can be avoided by including adequate rest and recovery days between training sessions and ensuring that these easy days remain easy.

Week 1
DayTimeTraining
Monday1h 30m 1.5 Hours LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Self-selected cadence
Tuesday2h Morning: Warm up 15 min zone 2 and 3: 60min high zone 2, low zone 3 in high gear at low cadence. Keep cadence below 50 throughout. Warm down 15 min zone 2 | Afternoon: Gym session.
Wednesday1h Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
ThursdayRestRest
Friday1h 30m 1.5 Hours LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Self-selected cadence
Saturday2h Morning: Warm up 25 min zone 2 and 3: Follow with 5 x 4 minutes of one legged riding. Keep non-working leg clipped out. Do 5 minutes of riding with both legs between each one leg repeat. Warm down 25 minutes - zone 2 | Afternoon: Gym session.
SundayRestRest

Week 2
DayTimeTraining
Monday1h 30m 1.5 Hours Zone 2 only. After 20 min do 5 x 15 second maximal effort sprints on FLAT terrain (perform a 15 second effort every 10 minutes). Do not shift down the block but allow cadence to reach absolute maximum and then try to hold that cadence for full 15 seconds.
Tuesday2h Morning: Warm up for 25 min in zone 2 and 3: Follow this with 6 x 4 minutes in a high gear and at a low cadence (Use a gear which you can only just turn over. Keep your cadence at 40-50 during the high gear efforts). Rest 4 min in zone 2 between each high gear effort. Warm down 20 min - zone 2 | Afternoon: Gym session.
Wednesday1h 30m 1.5 Hours LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Self-selected cadence
ThursdayRestRest
Friday1h 30m 1.5 Hours LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on undulating terrain. Keep cadence >85 throughout
Saturday2h 30m Morning. Warm up for 25 min in zone 2 and 3: Follow this with 8 x 4 minutes in a high gear and at a low cadence (Use a gear which you can only just turn over. Keep your cadence at 40-50 during the high gear efforts). Rest 4 min in zone 2 between each high gear effort. Warm down 20 min - zone 2 | Afternoon: Gym session.
SundayRestRest

Week 3
DayTimeTraining
Monday2h2 Hours LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on undulating terrain. Keep cadence >85 throughout
Tuesday2hMorning. Warm up 25 min zone 2 and 3: Follow with 5 x 4 minutes of one legged riding. Keep non-working leg clipped out. Do 5 minutes of riding with both legs between each one leg repeat. Warm down 25 minutes - zone 2 | Afternoon: Gym session.
Wednesday2h2 Hours LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Self-selected cadence
ThursdayRestRest
Friday2hDo not eat breakfast. Drink 2 x Espresso Caps or a very strong cup of coffee with no sugar. Ride 2 hours zone 2 only. Drink plenty of water while riding.
Saturday3hMorning. Warm up 45 min zone 2 and 3: Follow with 3 x 10 minutes of seated climbing on moderate gradient. Keep cadence low (50-65). Recovery of 10 minutes - zone 2 between climbs. Keep shoulders and hands relaxed during climbs.. Warm down 45 min zone 2 | Afternoon: Gym session.
SundayRestRest

Week 4
DayTimeTraining
MondayRestRest
TuesdayRestRest
Wednesday1hEasy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Thursday2hMorning. 1.5 Hours LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Self-selected cadence | Afternoon: Gym session.
FridayRestRest
Saturday2h2 Hours Zone 2 only. After 30 min do 5 x 15 second maximal effort sprints on FLAT terrain (perform a 15 second effort every 10 minutes). Do not shift down the block but allow cadence to reach absolute maximum and then try to hold that cadence for full 15 seconds.
Sunday2 Hours2 Hours LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Self-selected cadence