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Coaches and athletes have come to realize the benefits of strength training (resistance, weights, or pumping iron) in all sports. This article is based on the strength and power training guidelines produced by the US Cycling Federation National Team coaches. Fall and winter is the time for strength training, which usually begins in November, following a rest period off your bike. Many cyclists continue a light weight program all year ("peak" phase), others stop completely in late winter.

Strength training will help prevent injuries and increase bike strength and power, important in hill climbing, time trialing, and sprinting. Mountain bikers will appreciate increased upper body strength for help in getting through technical sections, as well as crash protection. Road-only cyclists may want to go easy on the upper body development, but doing moderate upper body strength training is still important for injury protection and making long rides easier on your neck and shoulders. Masters riders over 35 should note that you loose 1 pct of your body muscle mass each year as you age. Strength training can prevent and even reverse this process. Those who are battling the bulge (who isn't) should remember that, while muscle weighs more than fat, lean muscle mass burns calories and looks a lot better than fat!

Strength training for cyclists is divided into five phases: Transitional, Foundation, Strength, Power, and Peak. The following table is the National Team basic plan. Note that those who have not lifted weights before should stay in the Transitional Phase for 4 weeks, 6-8 weeks in the Foundation, Strength 4 weeks, and Power 5 weeks.

Strength Phases
preparation2-31-312-20light/moderate2-4 weeks
muscle growth33-58-12moderate4-12 weeks
get strong35-74-6heavy4-8 weeks
explosive force2-33-66-15moderate/fast4-12 weeks

In the Power Phase you will be reducing the weight you lift, but moving it quickly (but under control and with good form) to build power.

Always perform a 5 to 10 minute cardiovascular warm-up at about 65 pct of your max. heart rate prior to resistance training (Stair master, Life Cycle, etc.). Then stretch at least the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals before lifting. One set of light lifting should be performed before leg exercises during the strength and power phase. For example, squat a light weight 15 times before doing your main workout of heavy squats. This exercise specific warm-up will decrease injuries and allow for a better strength and power session. And don't skip the transition stage which helps strengthen your joints and tendons in preparation for the demands of heavier weight training.

Strength training should be for strength and power and not endurance, which is best developed on the bike. Use strength training to develop strength. If, however, you are short of time, you may want to try "circuit training" which uses lighter weights, more reps and less rest between exercises to combine strength training with aerobic conditioning.

Exercise Selection
Day 1crunchesdips or push-upsleg curlleg extensionsback extensioncrunchessquatscalf raisedips or push-upsback extensionbent-over rowsdead-liftsquatscrunchescalf raisehigh pullsdipsheavy partial squatscrunchesbent-over rowsback extensioncrunchesdips or push-upsbent-over rows
Day 2crunchesleg pressoverhead presslat pull-downcrunchesdumbbell pressgood morningleg pressbent-over rowsbench presshigh pullscrunchessquatshigh pullspush presssquatscrunchespartial squatsdips or push-upsbent-over rowscalf raise
Day 3cruncheslungescalf raiseback extensionupright rowcrunchesstep-ups or squatsstiff-legged deadliftbent-over rowscalf raisedips or push-upsleg pressspeed squatsincline pressbent-over rowscruncheshigh pullspull-upsheavy partial squatscrunches

Be careful!

The downside to strength training is that you can seriously injure yourself if you do not perform these exercises correctly. Good form is more important than the amount of weight you lift. Take this list to a properly certified strength trainer at a well equipped gym and ask them to show you how to perform these exercises correctly. Many of these exercises are performed with "free-weights" which are believed to be better for cycling training as they work more muscle groups. Machines (such as Nautilus) are better for isolating and working specific muscle groups. However, as free weights require more skill and better technique to perform properly, you might ask your trainer to show you equivalent exercises on the machines. Be careful! Check with your doctor first to see if you have any medical problems that prohibit this type of training. Squats are a great leg strength builder for cyclists, but can be hard on your lower back. You may need to substitute leg presses for squats if you have back problems.

Recreational Cyclists:

Recreational cyclists can benefit from a stripped down version of this program. Consult with the trainer at your gym for ideas on a simplified version of this plan that works the same general muscle groups and avoids free weights. Divide the exercises into the 2 or 3 days a week you can devote to this and start with easy weights, 20 reps, 1-2 sets and then build after a month to heavier weights, min 12 reps. Finish winter with lower weights, but faster lift, slow return, keeping good form as a power builder. If you have a limited time to work out, you can do these with lower weights and higer reps and minimal rest between exercises in a form of "circuit training" that combines strength and aerobic training.

Recreational Riders Strength Program

EquipmentExercise Reps/setsComments
crunchesnone25/2-8keep at it until you can do 200
leg curlsleg curl machine12-20/1-3strengthens hamstrings
leg pressleg press machine12-20/1-3replaces squats
back extensionshyperextension12/20-1-3despite name don't hyperextend, only raise back to straight position
calf raisecalf raise12/20/1-3strengthens calf power connection
upright rowsupright row12/20/1-3strengthens shoulders, back
military pressmilitary press12-20/1-3strengthens shoulders, back

By Bill Becher,
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