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How to Build Strength for Cycling

The Best Strength Training Tips for Cyclists

Build power and endurance through strength training to boost your cycling performance.

By Eric Arnold, Team PelotonUpdated 7 March 2024

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Cycling and strength training go hand in hand. Ask anyone who cycles and they’ll tell you: It’s a sport of power and endurance. In either case, developing the right muscles can make you that much better of a rider. Do you need muscles that power you through sprints up the hills or muscles that drive you toward the finish line, many miles into your ride? Your answer will dictate the type of workout routine you do. And while many of those workouts will be on your bike, you can get a head start by adding in some strength training moves for cycling as well. What you achieve off the bike helps you progress on it. Learn more about how strength training for cycling can make you a better rider and the types of exercises to do based on your goals.

How Strength Training Improves Cycling Success

Peloton instructor and track cyclist Christine D’Ercole explains that off-bike strength training is essential if you’re looking for a performance boost. “A balance of core, back, arms, lower, and upper body strength will help improve your stamina,” she says. Plus, by improving your posture through strength training, you won’t sink your weight on your joints during rides. 

It’s not just anecdotal: A study in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that cyclists who followed a 10-week program of twice weekly strength training were able to increase their power output during sprints and 30-minute cycling trials more than cyclists who did not strength train. This jives with another study that found competitive cyclists who performed eight weeks of strength training exercises, three times a week, improved their cycling economy, efficiency, and time to exhaustion compared to those who trained on the bike alone.

How to Add Strength Training to Your Cycling Routine

In general, Christine recommends working three rides, two strength sessions, and a yoga class into your weekly routine. (And don’t forget to make time for a recovery day, too!) 

But tailoring your routine exactly requires you to know your goals and the type of cycling you prefer. For Christine, as a champion sprinter, sometimes her races are mere seconds long, which means her fast-twitch muscle fibers deliver big bursts of power in a short amount of time. Endurance cyclists, however, develop slow-twitch fibers, which allow them to maintain a slower pace for longer.

Trying different types of cycling classes can help you determine what you enjoy most or what comes naturally, Christine says. Is it high-intensity classes like Tabata or endurance-driving Power Zones? “Experiment and discover what you might be built for,” she says, “and dig into that.” 

Once you know what works for you, set a goal. Do you want to PR in a Tabata class? Are you considering a century ride? Do you want to boost your FTP for Power Zones? A clear goal, whether power-focused or endurance-based, dictates your training program.

“Making your goal specific and attainable—and maybe slightly out of reach—is the best way to stay committed,” Christine says. Noting your progress along the way, she adds, will keep you motivated.

If you have a sprint goal, she suggests heavy weights and short reps; for endurance, lighter weights and higher reps.

The Best Strength Training Exercises for Cycling

Regardless of whether you’re trying to build fast-twitch or slow-twitch muscle fibers, any cycling strength routine is going to involve a lot of lower-body moves aimed at your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. But don’t stop there! A strong core is essential for keeping you stable in the saddle, and the stronger your arms, the better able they are to support you as you pedal.

To build strength for cycling, start with these seven moves, split into power (fast-twitch) or endurance (slow-twitch).

Strength Moves for Power

Woman demonstrates a squat jump as a squat variation

Squat Jumps

These jumps build explosiveness in your quads for those gnarly hill sprints.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out.

  2. Holding 15- to 20-pound weights in each hand, bend your knees, sink your hips back and lower until your quads are parallel to the floor

  3. Keep your knees over your toes.

  4. Push through your heels and jump as high in the air as you can. Land with soft knees. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Muscles worked: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings

Front-to-Side Lunge Push-Offs

You’ll develop faster reflexes with this multi-directional exercise.

  1. Stand with your feet together, 15- to 20-pound weight in each hand.

  2. Take a large step forward with your right leg, shifting your weight forward as you step.

  3. Keeping your left leg straight, bend your right knee and lower until your right quad is parallel to the floor, knee over toes.

  4. Push explosively through the floor with your right foot and quickly return to standing.

  5. Immediately take a large tep to the right side with your right leg, shifting your weight to that side.

  6. Keeping your left leg straight and torso facing forward, bend your right knee and lower until your quad is parallel to the floor, knees over toes.

  7. Push explosively through the floor with your right foot and rapidly return to standing.

  8. Repeat on the left side. Do 3 sets of 10 reps total.

Muscles worked: Glutes, quadriceps

Push-Ups With Arm Raise

When you put down the power during a sprint, you need a rock-solid upper body to drive you forward on the bike.

  1. Start in an extended push-up position: arms straight, hands below shoulders, back flat, legs straight.

  2. Bend your elbows, keeping them tucked close to your side. Lower your chest until your torso is about two inches from the floor.

  3. Straighten arms back to the start. At the top of your push-up, lift your right arm off the floor and reach it in front of you.

  4. Lower your right arm and repeat the push-up. This time at the top of your push-up, extend your left arm in front of you.

  5. Note: For an extra challenge, balance a weighted plate on your back during this exercise. Do 2 sets of 10.

Muscles worked: Biceps, triceps, lower back, core

Strength Moves for Endurance

Emma Lovewell Bicycle Crunch GIF | The Output by Peloton

Bicycle Crunches

Learning to continue the cycling motion even as your muscles fatigue trains your slow-twitch fibers to get you across the finish line.

  1. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, elbows wide, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. 

  2. Lift your feet off the floor so your lower legs are parallel to the ground.

  3. Engaging your core, raise and rotate your torso to bring your right elbow to your left knee as you extend your right leg out in front of you. Switch to the other side. 

  4. Alternate crossing right and left, keeping your elbows wide, and imagining that your legs are cycling through a pedaling motion. 

  5. Do 3 sets of 90 seconds on, 30 seconds rest. 

Muscles worked: Deep core, obliques

Leg Lifts

Feel the burn take on new meaning, especially in those all-important biking support muscles—your hip flexors.

  1. Lie on the floor, legs straight out in front of you.

  2. Engage your abdominals and raise your legs together off the floor until your feet are 90 degrees over your head.

  3. Make sure to keep your legs straight, feet together, and lower back pressed into the floor.

  4. Lower your legs back to the start, but do not let your feet touch the ground. Raise back up to 90 degrees.

  5. Do 3 sets of 60 seconds on, 30 seconds rest.

Muscles worked: Abdominals, hip flexors, quadriceps

Pull-Ups

Pull-ups develop upper-body stabilization that makes cycling long distances a little easier.

  1. Grab pull-up bar in an overhand grip, hand shoulder-width apart.

  2. Exhale, bend your arms, and raise your chest up toward the bar until your chin is level with the bar.

  3. Straighten your arms and lower to the start.

  4. Work up to 10 reps.

Muscles worked: Latissimus dorsi, trapezoids, biceps

Plank Walkout

When you’re two hours deep into a century ride, the stronger your core, the better your odds of toughing it out.

  1. Start in an extended plank position: arms straight, hands under shoulders, back flat, legs straight.

  2. Keeping your back flat, walk your hands out in front of you as far as you can while supporting your weight.

  3. Keeping legs straight, walk your feet towards your hands until you are back in the start position, hand under shoulders, arms straight.

  4. Repeat 10 times.

Muscles worked: Core, quadriceps, hamstrings, biceps, triceps

Warm Up and Cool Down

In addition to these strength-building exercises, it’s important to warm up and cool down. Warm-up classes help you last longer and push harder in your main class, and cool-down classes help calm your heart and bring your circulation back to normal. Both help you maximize your workout. Recovery rides are important as well for helping your body heal. If you don’t take the time to warm up, cool down and recover, you risk injury and even losing your motivation. 

Channel Positive Energy

At the end of the day, no matter how strong or fit you are, the nature of any sport is that you want to continue to be better than you were the day or week before. Your mental strength is an essential ingredient to help you on that journey, which is why Christine recommends meditation classes to help with attitude awareness. 

“When I have … an attitude of curiosity instead of judgment and comparison, I always come out on top,” she says. “Winning is finishing something you didn't think you could finish, regardless of where you land on the Leaderboard.”

“The numbers are not there to have power over you,” Christine adds. “The numbers are there to empower you.”

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