Cycling Specific Strength Training, I’m Not Too Sure

Want to get stronger and faster on your bike? Listen to Al.

– Brian

I’ve been putting myself back together after some nasty back business since November, and something has finally hit me: if I worked on the muscles that cycling breaks instead the ones I use in the saddle, I’d have been a hell of a lot better off.

Instead of improving my thoracic spine mobility, I tried to strengthen lats that weren’t being supported by my spinal erectors. I had so many muscles that had been shut down from riding that my chiropractor is still in shock that I don’t have debilitating nerve pain daily. Based on what an MRI said about the condition of my lumbar spine, I am too.

What most likely saved me were kb swings and get ups because these exercises hit the “broken” muscles and kept me upright without pain. For a while. Until a sneeze almost made me pass out from lumbar spine pain.

Long story short, what has saved me and gotten me back on the bike training again are “anti-cycling” exercises. The program consists of body weight work for joint mobility head to toe and getting my total body neuromuscular coordination back that the repetitive stress of cycling crushed into oblivion.

You know, throughout this process, the more I learned, the more I’m now convinced that “cycling specific workouts” aren’t the way to go in the weight room, and “anti-cycling” routines are. Why make people stronger in patterns of motion they are most likely dysfunctional in? Doesn’t make sense, does it?

As a result of this journey of self discovery, we’ve switched up the way we train people at our place. Other than having things done in a bent over position (rowing and reverse fly motions), and single leg squats in a warm up, we don’t have people do things that mimic cycling all that much. And they are getting a lot faster in the saddle as a result.

I get that cycling requires single leg neuromuscular power to push a pedal down and pull it up, and that it makes sense to train that. Enter Bulgarian Split Squats. Bowler squats also work to address not only single balance/strength, but mobility as well. Other than, we don’t get too nuts.

If you think about, the actual movement skill demands of cycling (pushing a foot down in a seated position) aren’t that high so do you really need people to be able to make movements other than that? I’d rather train someone to optimize the way they move out of the saddle because that will serve them much better each time they clip in. If you do it when you’re awake, do it when you exercise!

We are more focused on training ranges of motion that essentially undo what’s being done on the bike:

Spinal flexion

Loss of hip mobility

Tightening of the chest/shoulders

Loss of thoracic spine mobility

You will get a lot more improvement in your performance on two wheels doing this. We do this with:

Turkish Get Ups

Farmers Walks (the overhead version focusing on lat activation is brutal!)

Trap bar hip hinge deads

KB swings/windmills

Overhead everything to open up the shoulders.

Bulgarian splits are about as cycling specific as we get for the lower body.

We’re also getting more mileage out of overhead presses with kb/db’s, loaded glute bridges and thoracic spine mobility than we did tons of single legs squats, step ups, etc and more traditional cycling prescribed work. RKC style power planks are also helping. Long story, for :20 you put as much force into a plank as possible. Brutal.

Standing anti-rotation holds have also been worked into the mix quite a bit. Think plank in a standing position with resistance from the side with a cable pulley or rubber tubing. Once you align the spinal column into a neutral position, this exercise will wallop you.

We also have people do quite a bit of prone cobra holds to hit the spinal electors that hold us in place as we ride. This is in addition to hitting lats quite bit because we are seeing those muscles not working as well. Especially trying to get them to activate without pec/upper trap activation.

Our philosophy is constantly evolving, and I’m pretty excited about what we will learn next!

Al Painter, BA, NASM-PES, CES
President & Founder