When you’re logging a lot of miles on your bike, those long hours in the saddle have a way of taking a toll on your joints and the muscles that support them. One way to combat that is by doing some indoor strength training before cycling season begins.
This workout plan builds strength in a cyclist’s power source: the glutes and muscle groups in the upper legs. It also boosts endurance in upper body areas that typically get fatigued when you put in extended road miles.
Here’s a quick, general overview of how to train for road cycling:
- Increase strength in leg muscles that provide your cycling power to tackle hills and take on headwinds.
- Build stamina in the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists and hands, as well as the knees—areas that are prone to discomfort after a long day of riding.
- Improve your balance with some core exercises; riders with great core stability in the saddle can direct maximum energy into powering the bike.
- Ramp up your cardio. Complement this exercise plan with regular cycling sessions that include lots of hills.
Before beginning any training plan, check in with your doctor or certified training professional.
Training Schedule for Cycling
Start training 6 to 8 weeks before your cycling season begins. A good mix of workout types for each week involves the following (but feel free to modify this schedule to fit your needs):
- 3 nonconsecutive days of strength training (exercises in this article)
- 2 nonconsecutive cycling sessions
- 2 nonconsecutive rest days; take more any time you feel your body needs it
As cycling season gets closer, you can do 3 cycling days and 2 strength-training days, then 4 cycling days and 1 strength day until you’re doing all cycling sessions in season.
Training Exercises for Road Cycling
Keep the following in mind as you train:
- Make the exercises fit your body, not the other way around.
- If something hurts, modify the exercise or skip it—and take extra rest days if you feel the need.
- Move at your own pace, going slowly at first.
- Increase the repetitions or add more resistance or weight as your training progresses.
Warm up: Get yourself warmed up by doing an easy 5- to 10-minute cycle-trainer session or an easy-paced run. Then follow the guidelines below as you progress through the exercises in this article:
- Inhale during initial exertion, then exhale as you return to the starting position; during faster exercises, simply make sure you breathe normally.
- Rest for 30 to 45 seconds at the end of each exercise (unless otherwise noted).
Do each of the exercises below one time in succession, then rest for two minutes and repeat another set of the exercises (if you have time to fit in a third set of exercises, that’s even better).
Walking Lunge with Rotation
This exercise warms up and boosts strength in your glutes, quads, hamstrings and abdominal muscles as it moves them through a wide range of motion.
- Stand with your feet slightly apart.
- Step one foot forward into a lunge. Your back knee should drop at a 90-degree angle to the ground. Your forward knee should also be at a 90-degree angle.
- As you step forward, rotate your body to the side in the direction of your lead knee. Have arms at chest height, slightly elevated from your sides.
- Drive up and through your forward leg to take the next lunge step. Your back knee should now be out front.
- Repeat 10 times each side for a total of 20.
Tips and modifications: If you don’t have enough space, you can stay in one spot and alternate your legs. Make it easier by keeping your back leg straight. Make sure that your knees do not go inward, and stay in a straight line with your foot and hip.
Single-Leg Deadlift Exercise
This exercise strengthens your glutes and hamstring muscles, which helps prevent knee soreness and increases your pedaling power and endurance.
Props: A lightweight dumbbell
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in your left hand.
- Centering your weight over your right foot, bend forward at the hips as you extend your left leg backwards; maintain your balance as you lower the dumbbell toward the floor. Do not let your hips rotate.
- Raise back up to the start position by squeezing your glutes; your core should remain engaged and your back should remain straight.
- Do this 20 times; then switch to your other side and do 20 reps.
Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by adjusting how far down you bend toward the floor. You can also use a lighter or heavier dumbbell.
Goblet Squat Exercise
The goblet squat strengthens your glutes and quad muscles, which are some of your major pedaling muscles. This is another exercise that can help prevent knee soreness.
Props: A lightweight dumbbell
- Hold a dumbbell vertically up against your chest.
- Position your feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider) and turn your toes out slightly.
- Think about how you sit in a chair: lower your hips straight toward the ground while keeping your chest open, your back straight and your shoulders back. (As you are doing this, keep your heels down and don’t let your knees extend past your toes.)
- Use your glutes and quads to power back up to the starting position.
- Do this 20 times.
Tips and modifications: To make it easier, rest briefly after 10 reps; you can also reduce the weight of your dumbbell and reduce how far down you go on your squat.
Plank with Single-Arm Row Exercise
The plank in this exercise builds core strength and stability, along with neck stability and endurance. The row portion of the exercise builds endurance in the lats and shoulder muscles.
Props: A pair of lightweight dumbbells
- Begin in a plank position with hands on dumbbells and feet set wide apart.
- Row one elbow back, bringing the dumbbell up toward your rib cage.
- Return dumbbell to ground and repeat.
- Maintain a plank position throughout the exercise by keeping the body straight from head to toe. Do not let hips rotate; keep chin slightly tucked looking at the ground ahead of you to better engage neck muscles.
- Do 10-15 reps on each arm.
Tips and modifications: If you are unable to maintain a stable trunk while on your feet, drop to your knees to complete the exercise.
Bridge with Hamstring Curl Exercise
The bridge portion of the exercise engages your core muscles, while the hamstring curl builds up the glutes and hamstring muscles, both of which are used during the upward pulling phase of a cycling stroke when you’re clipped into the bike’s pedals.
Props: A medium-size exercise ball. To check for the correct size, sit on it. If the tops of your legs are parallel to the ground, then it’s the correct size. If the tops of your legs slope toward your knees, then the ball is too large. (If the tops of your legs slope slightly up toward your knees, the ball size is still fine.)
- Lie on your back with your arms extended down by your sides, with your legs extended and your heels resting atop the exercise ball.
- Tighten your glutes and abs as you pull your legs back, rolling the ball toward your butt.
- Stop when your knees are bent at slightly more than 90 degrees.
- Extend your legs straight again, rolling the ball away from you.
- Repeat the sequence 15 times.
Tips and modifications: If you struggle to maintain balance as you roll the ball, place your heels slightly farther apart on the ball and move your arms away from your body. Increase difficulty by keeping your heels closer together and by moving your arms closer to your body.
Back Extension Exercise
This focuses on your core muscles, building endurance that will help them support your lower back and stave off fatigue on long rides.
Props: A medium-size exercise ball. (The same as the one used in the bridge with hamstring curl exercise, above.)
- Lay with your stomach on the exercise ball.
- Cross your arms in front of you so your elbows are level with your shoulders.
- Slowly lift your shoulders up until your body forms a straight line. Keep your chin tucked a bit to keep head in neutral.
- Lower your shoulders back down, taking the shape of the ball.
- Repeat 15-20 times.
Tips and modifications: Avoid overarching your back.
Nerve Glide Exercise
Cyclists often complain of numb hands and/or sore wrists. Padded gloves help, of course, but so does this unique exercise that works on these nerves that run down each side of your neck and the full length of your arms.
All nerves are surrounded by a sheath; friction inside that sheath is what can lead to numbness. This exercise helps the nerve slide more smoothly through its sheath. As a bonus, you’ll also improve your wrist mobility.
- Stand or sit facing forward with your right arm extended out to the side with your palm up. Bend your elbow as though you are holding a tray on your open hand.
- Slowly tilt your head so that it leans toward the right shoulder; as you do so, also straighten your right elbow and extend your right arm.
- Return your head and hand to the starting position.
- Do this 15 times, then repeat the exercise 15 times on the opposite side.
Tips and modifications: The goal is for smooth, simultaneous movement of your head and hand. If you feel any tension along your arm as you move, then slow down until you can synchronize movement without feeling that tension.