Cycling is a power sport. Power on the bicycle is transferred primarily from the action of the legs, through the pedals and into the frame providing the propulsion we require to provide the performance we desire. The ability to be more efficient on the bike allows you to be where you want to get to quicker and with less effort required.

As most of you would already know, the most effective way to train for your passion whether it be swimming, running, cycling or something like tennis is to be “sport specific”. Simply spending time ‘doing’ your chosen discipline will provide the fitness and training designed specifically for improved performance in your chosen field.

In regards to cycling, this simply transfers to good old time on the bike. Nothing outshines hours in the saddle for enhancing your output. Cardiovascular fitness is paramount to allowing your body’s systems to operate at their best in endurance related fields and the muscles used to provide the go forward are obviously in use with each pedal stroke.


The easiest way to see the role that resistance training can play in our training is to make sense of the role strength plays in cycling performance.

As mentioned at the outset, cycling requires power. Power comes from strength. It’s the role of power when transferred to the pedal to provide the force required to generate higher output.

If two cyclists are pedalling at the same rpm (revolutions per minute) but one has more power, that rider will be more efficient – there is a limit to how fast you can ride at cadence dictated purely by leg speed.

The most effective way that power can be produced is through the use of resistance training.

Photo: Nicole Spears


The most effective improvements that you will see from resistance training will be provided when you need that extra kick for a sprint effort, reaching the peak of a climb or simply to provide sudden acceleration. In a car driving analogy, it’s the ability to shift down a gear to provide the extra grunt to the vehicle when overtaking or climbing a gradient.


Thought and care must go into the timing and type of resistance training you will need to undertake. It is best to follow a system that will allow you to improve your power to weight ratio (hence riding efficiency).

Timing: perhaps the most important factor to consider with resistance training is its proximity to competition season or a peak training time of year, as recovery from weight sessions may inhibit your riding performance. For this reason, increased resistance training in both weights lifted and sessions per week is most recommended to occur in your preparation phase or off season period.

Winter is a great time for this as the weather can prevent our ability to get out on the bicycle anyway.

During the competition or peak training season it is advisable to move to more of a maintenance phase after the majority of work has occurred in the off season.

Type of Training: To consider what types of strength training we should undertake we must think about what results we are looking to achieve.

We must develop strength-endurance for the majority of work on the bike when long periods of time are spent turning the pedals with huge amounts of power. This covers the great majority of your time in the saddle. Pure strength is also required for the actions of Sprinting, Climbing and Acceleration. Generating force quickly through efficient and strong pedal movements will give us the power we ask for. These two categories benefit greatly from effective resistance training.


Before we get to the specific exercises you should be considering in the gym we should briefly look at the pedal stroke and what muscles we use to influence that action.

Most power comes from the downward action of the leg on the pedal, the force for this action coming primarily from the Quads and the rectus femoris; these are the power muscles of the thigh. Then the Glutes kick in followed by the pull of the hamstrings. Hip Flexors are also part of the equation and must not be forgotten. The bulk of the force though is produced by the Quads and Glutes, the others including calves get most of their strengthening through cycling itself.


Squats/Leg Press: these power muscle groups respond to power exercises and heavier weights. I find squats and/or the leg press most effective, as the movement in both simulates the downward stroke of the pedal. For me, squats have a slight advantage as the standing up phase of the movement more closely mimics the pedal stroke.

Squats are however, an exercise that requires form and skill. If you have injuries or simply not experienced with squats using the Leg Press is an option as is employing the help of a Personal Trainer.


Deadlifts/Hamstring Curls: Balancing the muscles at the back of the leg will prevent any imbalance and provide power on the bottom and ‘up’ phase of the pedal stroke. This of course means strengthening the Hamstring muscles.

Deadlifts once again require technique and good form so must be taught by a coach or Trainer. Hamstring Curls provide a very close simulation of the action we are looking to strengthen.

For some great set ideas and weight guides and ranges, see Adrian’s next piece.