Training

The Pros’ Go-To Bike-Specific Strength Workout

Get faster on two wheels by using the concept of eccentric loading.

It’s a go-to workout for pro athletes like Flora Duffy—and chances are this bike-specific strength workout could become one of your favorites, too. Big gear training on hills and riding the indoor trainer are traditional approaches to developing bike-specific strength, but both of these methods have their limitations: They both only allow for concentric muscle contraction. Put simply, cycling involves concentric muscle contraction—your muscles contract as they shorten. Eccentric contractions involve your muscles contracting as they lengthen (for example, the descending phase of a squat). These eccentric contractions cause micro tears in your muscles, and as these tears are repaired, you and your muscles grow stronger. Focusing only on concentric loading—such as only riding hills or big gears to build strength—will lead to limited muscular development. Bike-specific strength work in the gym provides a wider variety of exercises, incorporating concentric and eccentric loading as well as full and specific ranges of motion. Just remember that eccentric loading requires a delicate balance during the race season, making this time of year the best time for more aggressive eccentric loading.

Nine-time world champion and Olympian Flora Duffy says this bike-specific strength workout helped boost her bike fitness last year while she was battling to return to racing after a foot injury.

“Coming off my injury, I didn’t have much time to prepare for my first race of the season, the Olympic test event in Tokyo,” Duffy says. “The work I was doing in the gym, especially the sled pushes, really helped boost my bike form in a short period of time. It was really cool to see the work I was doing in the gym pay off big time on the bike.”

*Note: Though most gyms are closed, most of these moves can be replicated with basic dumbbells or items around your house.

Bike-Specific Strength Workout

1. Split Squat

Bike-Specific Strength Workout

  • With a split stance, keep 80-90% of your weight on your front foot.
  • Squat with your front leg, so your knee almost touches the floor, and then drive up, keeping control.
  • Maintain a forward trunk lean throughout the exercise.
  • Maintain hip/knee/foot alignment; ensure there is no inward shifting of your knee.
  • Maintain a flat back throughout the movement.
  • Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

2. Romanian Deadlift

Bike-Specific Strength Workout

  • Stand with legs slightly wider than hip width.
  • Maintain about 20 degrees of knee bend while driving through your hips as you lift the bar.
  • Maintain a flat back throughout the movement.
  • Lower the bar until your hands are just below your knees.
  • Unload the weight at the bottom of each rep for a “cold start” each time.
  • Do 3 sets as 12 reps, 8 reps, 6 reps.

3. Sled Push

Bike-Specific Strength Workout

  • Set yourself up to push with your arms out in front of you, in a position similar to being in the time-trial position on your bike.
  • Keep your hips lower than your chest, with your front leg bent and your back leg straight behind you.
  • Bring your foot all the way up toward your chest on each step, and drive it all the way back.
  • Do 2-3 sets of 20-60 seconds.
  • If you don’t have access to a sled, use a soft plyometric box with weight on top (e.g. a 45-pound plate).

4. Split Jump

  • With a split stance, keep 80-90% of your weight on your front foot.
  • In one movement, jump and land on your other foot.
  • Maintain a forward trunk lean throughout the exercise.
  • Maintain hip/knee/foot alignment; ensure there is no inward shifting of your knee.
  • Maintain a flat back throughout the movement.
  • Do 2-3 sets of 10-20 jumps.

5. Trap Bar

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than hip width.
  • Your thighs should be parallel to the floor when in the start position.
  • Pinch your shoulder blades together before initiating the lift.
  • As you lift, be sure to maintain a flat back.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Unload the weight at the bottom of each rep for a “cold start.”
  • Do 3 sets as 12 reps, 8 reps, 6 reps.

Kevin Purvis is a certified personal trainer with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He’s based in Boulder, Colorado, where he works with a number of endurance athletes.