Weight Lifting for Cycling

Increase your Functional Threshold Power this winter with a resistance training plan. Weight lifting for cycling also known as resistance training 'works' and we've been coaching cyclists thru the following 4 phase, cycling specific resistance training program for more than 15 years.


During these 4 phases of weight lifting, cyclists first build new muscle (hypertrophy phase) and then train that new muscle to produce great force (strength phase). Then, most importantly in the 4th and final phase cyclists train that new muscle capable of producing great force to contract at speeds specific to cycling (power phase).

"Speeds specific to cycling" is the secret sauce of this program and this weight lifting is made cycling specific by the velocity of the lifts plus the neuromuscular sprint workouts that are coupled to the Strength and Power Phases.

Our Philosophy on Resistance Training for Cyclists:

  • Sprinters should follow a weight program for at least 2 years to develop the muscle adaptations necessary for sprint power.
  • Time Trialists, Mountain Bikers, Cyclocrossers, Triathletes, and Road Racers will increase their Functional Threshold Power with this Strength Training. They will also increase the amplitude of their short-term power output to attack, counterattack, respond to surges in the peloton and carry momentum over technical terrain.
  • Masters athletes benefit from resistance training to prevent age-related declines in performance
  • Resistance training needs to be speed specific and has accompanying neuromuscular work coupled to the gym workouts.
  • "Combining endurance training with explosive and heavy strength training will improve endurance performance due to the delayed activation of less efficient type II fibers, improved neuromuscular efficiency, conversion of fast-twitch type IIX fibers into more fatigue-resistance type IIA fibers" Ronnestad BR, Mujika I Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2014 Aug 24 (4) 603-612

Now that you’re on board the weight lifting for cycling to improve your power output you need a plan because successful resistance training involves more than just a lot of squats. You’ll want to break down your time in the weight room into four phases each having a physiological purpose. And couple those phases with on the bike training to take the strength gains from the gym out onto the bike. Neuromuscular sprint and standing starts help achieve this adaptation. Here's a brief description of our 4 phase cycling specific resistance training plan:

# 1 Adaptation: acclimate your legs to the weight room

#2 Hypertrophy: build new muscle

#3 Strength: train that new muscle to produce great force

#4 Power: train the new muscle that's now capable of producing great force to do so at cycling specific speeds. What makes our resistance training program cycling specific is the neuromuscular sprint work that is coupled to the lifting in phases 3 and 4.

Phase 1:Adaptation: Your resistance program should start off gradually with an adaptation period of approximately three weeks. During these 3 weeks your training goals are to develop proper and safe squat technique and let your musculature and joints adapt to forces much different than they encounter on the bike. Focus on three primary lifts: the squat, the leg press, and the hamstring (leg) curl. The hip thrust may be added for athletes with prior weight lifting experience. Start with 4 sets of 8 repetitions (reps) per set, taking 2 minutes in between each set, three times per week. Gradually increase the weight over the course of the three weeks in a way that is challenging but not so hard that you cannot finish each set nor find yourself 'sore' in the days following. 

Phase 2: Hypertrophy: After three weeks you will be ready for the big time: a muscle building phase. Because muscular size is closely correlated with muscle strength, the primary goal during this training phase will be to build muscle. This is where you can revel in the fact that you are creating those opposite sex attracting legs. Its OK to gain some weight during this phase! In power to weight terms you are increasing your power far more in the ratio that 1 - 4 pounds. Like your adaptation phase, perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps per set with a 2 minute rest period up to four times per week. Set your 1RM (1 resistance maximum) and for the 6 sets lift 65% > 70% > 75% of your 1RM. With each set increase your weight by 5% and select weight that is hard but allows you to just finish the four sets. Plan on 2 weeks for maximal adaptation to this phase. You will notice that what was once difficult will become easier but do not increase the weight (your 1RM) rather recover better from the workout.

Phase 3: Strength: Once you’ve put on a few lbs of power producing leg muscle, it’s time to train this muscle to produce more forceful contractions. Without going into a physiology lecture on nervous system stimulation, that’s the goal in this phase of resistance training. To teach your brain how to "enervate" (aka contract) the musculature you built in the previous hypertrophy phase. Thus, fewer sets, less reps and heavier weight is the name of the game. You want to increase the frequency and the magnitude at which the nervous system can stimulate the muscle to contract. To do this, drop down to 6 reps per set and bump up the weight (in a safety conscious way!) big time: 70% and up to 100% of your 1RM. For an even greater training effect, add weight with each additional set but drop the number of repetitions in the set. Note: this type of training produces great stress and training progress will only be seen with adequate recovery often involving up to 2-3 days in between lifting days. Plan on a 2 week “force” phase of 4-5 workouts before moving on to your final “power” phase. Starting in the Strength phase we couple neuromuscular sprint intervals with the gym work to transfer the gains made in the weight room out onto the bike.

Phase 4: Power: In the final phase comes the fun part. Muscle strength is speed specific and up until now we haven’t been lifting at speeds specific to cycling. In your power phase drop the weight significantly to “almost ridiculously easy” (45% to 60% of 1RM) levels and concentrate on performing each lift as fast as possible. The squat will become the “jump squat” as you accelerate out of the squatting position so fast that you actually jump off the ground. Once again please exercise extreme caution and safety in the weight room during this time. One recommendation we make is to find a “smith machine” to perform your jump squats on. A better recommendation is work with a personal training to learn proper jump squat form and technique. But the smith machine does have built in safety features unlike a free squat which is nice. Like the “force” phase allow 2 weeks of 4-5 workouts with 2-3 days of rest in between workouts. Similar to the Strength phase we couple standing starts to the gym workouts to transfer the speed specific gains from the gym to the bike.

There you have it, more power for you to put into the pedal. When given enough time in the off season, our coaches will split an off season into 2 parts with the first half including this 10 week resistance training but still planning for 8 - 12 weeks of sweet spot/aerobic endurance training afterwards. Here's how a 32 week off season program would look that includes 10 weeks of resistance training 

References: Ronnestad BR, Mujika I. "Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review." Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2014 Aug 24 (4) 603-612

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About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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