Strength Exercises for Cyclists

There is no doubt that all cyclists can benefit form off the bike resistance training. It will help you to ride longer and stronger.

This does not mean you have to hit the gym.  There are many exercises you can do at home, some of which require no equipment (so no excuses).

I have split the exercises into those relying upon your own body weight for resistance and those for which you will need to use weights.

You do not have to do all of these exercises.  In fact it is a good idea to mix up your routine with different exercises to keep things fresh and to give your muscles varying challenges.

You should complete the exercises in sets of repetitions.  You can vary the number of reps in each set depending on how new the exercise is to you and how much weight you are using (where relevant).  For instance on one day you might decide to use a light weight and do 15 reps per set and on another a heavy weight and only do 6 reps per set.

You can decide which exercises to use and how may sets of each you wish to complete. You should start out easy and build to more exercises and more sets with greater weight, where relevant, as you become stronger.  Try not to put yourself off by overdoing it early on and becoming too stiff and achy. In the long run slow and steady will get you there.

An internet search will reveal a multitude of exercises you can perform but I have put the ones that I found most helpful below. I have made a suggestion for the numbers of sets and reps but this is entirely a personal matter and depends on your physical starting position.

No Weights (Bodyweight)

Strength exercises for cyclists - on a mountain top image

These exercises require no equipment so can be performed anywhere, at any time – go as extreme as you like.

Press up

Good for: upper back, arm and core.

Start with arms extended to the floor, shoulder width apart and legs extended behind, feet hip width apart, body and legs in a straight line. Lower your chest towards the floor, keeping your body in a straight line, until your elbows are a right angle.  Push back to the start.

Start with 3 sets of 5 and build to 5 sets of 10.

Plank

Good for: core.

There are two standard start positions for the plank. The first is very similar to the press up; arms extended to the ground at shoulder width apart, legs extended behind you with your legs and back forming a straight line but this time with your feet together. The second and more common is the same but supporting yourself on your forearms with your hands clasped in front of you.

From the start position you should push your heels together and back, tense your glutes and the muscles in your thighs and tighten you abs.  The secret to a good plank is to make sure your body and legs are in a perfect straight line – no sagging in the middle nor bottom in the air.

Start with 3 sets of 30s with a 60 second rest between.  Build to 5 sets of 60s with 60s rest between.

Rocking press up

Good for: upper back, arm and core.

Start in a press up position.  Complete a press up but at the end roll your body to the left and raise your right hand and reach towards the sky.  You should look a little like an aeroplane with your left hand (and your feet) on the floor, the right hand pointing straight up. Roll back to the start position and repeat, this time rolling to the right, extending the left hand towards the sky.

Start with 3 sets of 6 (3 each side) and build to 4 sets of 20 (10 each side)

Straight leg arch

Good for: glutes.

Lie face up with your legs bent, your heels close to your bottom.  Point your right leg towards the ceiling in a straight line.  Tense your glutes and raise your hips until your shoulders form a straight line with your hips and knees.  Hold the position for a few seconds then lower.  Repeat for a full set then repeat with the left leg raised.

Start with 3 sets of 5 for each leg and build to 4 sets of 10.

Squat

Good for: glutes, quads, calves and core.

Stand with feet wider a little further apart than shoulder width, feet turned out slightly. Extending your arms straight in front of you, squat down until your bottom is below knee level. Hold the position for a couple of seconds then slowly push back to the start position.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Leaping squat

Good for: glutes, quads, calves and core. Also has some impact, which is good for maintaining strong bones.

Complete the squat but rather than pushing slowly back to the start position extend your legs rapidly and leap into the air.  When you land begin the next squat immediately.  To add an extra you can swing your arms and clap your hands over your head as you leap.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Lunge

Good for: glutes, hamstrings and quads.

Stand with your arms at your sides and feet hip width apart. Keeping your back straight take a step forward with your right foot, moving your body forward until the right knee is at a right angle. Tensing your glutes and right legs muscles return to the start position.  Repeat using the left leg.  This is one rep.

You can increase the intensity by taking bigger steps but don’t overstretch or you will lose balance.  As your core strength improves you will be able to take bigger steps whilst maintaining balance.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Side lunge

Good for: glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip adductors.

Stand with your arms at your sides and feet hip width apart. Keeping your back straight take a step to the right  with your right foot, moving your body sideways until the right knee is at (or near) a right angle. Tensing your glutes and right legs muscles return to the start position.  Repeat using the left leg.  This is one rep.

You can increase the intensity by taking bigger steps but don’t overstretch or you will lose balance.  As your core strength improves you will be able to take bigger steps whilst maintaining balance.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Snow angels

Good for: entire back and core.

Lie face down, arms extended at your sides, feet together. Tense your glutes and raise your arms, feet and chest.  Maintaining the body position and straight arms and legs swing your hands over your head whilst simultaneously moving your feet apart (the snow angle bit). Move arms and legs slowly back and return to start position.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Sitting oblique twist

Good for: core, in particular the obliques (side stomach muscles).

Sit on the floor with shoulders relaxed and hands held to your chest, knees bent and heels on the floor about hip width apart.  Keeping a straight back, lean backwards until you feel your abs starting to tense.  Then, keeping a straight back and your hands on your chest, twist to the left from the waist.  Return to facing forwards and repeat to the right. This is one rep.

Start with 3 sets of 4 building to 4 sets of 10.

Triceps dip

Good for: triceps.

Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair (or similar object) with your hands on the chair either side of your hips.  Supporting yourself on your hands, extend your legs in front of you. To start make sure your arms are extended but without the elbows locked.  Now bend your elbows, lowering the body towards the floor, until your elbows are at right angles.  Straighten your arms back to the start position.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Burpees

Good for: most of the main muscle groups and really gets the heart rate going.

Stand straight, with your arms at your sides. Squat down, placing hands on floor, shoulder-width apart. Jump legs back into press up start position. Perform a press up and immediately jump legs back towards your hands, into the squat position. Extend legs and jump, swinging arms overhead to clap your hands above your head.  On landing immediately drop into squat to begin next repetition.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

With Weights

With all of the weight exercises try out the movement without weights first. Then start with very low weights and build up. The first time you try an exercise (or the first time you have done it in a while) don’t jump in at a heavy weight, you will just be asking for an injury.  You may want to get results fast but a muscle strain might put you back 2 weeks.

Press up, pull up

Good for: upper back, arm and core.

Start in a press up position but holding dumbbells with the weights parallel to the body, feet shoulder width apart.  Perform a press up, then, keeping your back straight, pull the right hand dumbbell up to your chest. You will need to tense the muscles of your left side and push the left dumbbell into the floor to keep balance.  Return the right dumbbell to the floor.  Repeat, this time lifting the left dumbbell. Left and right are one rep.

You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by placing your feet closer together.

Start with 3 sets of 4 for each leg and build to 3 sets of 10.

Deadlift

Good for: glutes, hamstrings, quads and lower back.

Stand holding dumbbells by your sides. Keeping a straight back and slightly bent knees, hinge at the hips and lower the dumbbells until your back is almost parallel to the floor.  Try to keep the weights close to the body. Then, maintaining a straight back, tense your glutes and push your hips forward to raise our body back to the start position.  Whilst you will be using the muscles in your shoulders and lower back your concentration should be on tensing your glutes and using your legs to avoid undue pressure on the lower back.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Sitting oblique twist with weight

Good for: core, in particular the obliques (side stomach muscles).

As the name suggests this is a seated oblique twist with the addition of weight.  Hold a weight (plate, dumbbell, full water container, small dog) close to your chest whilst performing the exercise.

Lunge with weight

Good for: glutes, hamstrings and quads.

This is the same as a lunge but undertaken whilst holding dumbbells with straight arms to the side of your body.  Your arms should remain perpendicular (90 degree angle) to the floor throughout.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Side lunge with weight

Good for: glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip adductors.

This is the same as a lunge but undertaken whilst holding dumbbells with straight arms to the side of your body.  You will need to lean forward slightly, keeping a straight back, to allow the weights to remain perpendicular (90 degree angle) to the floor.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

Snatch, pull and press

Good for: glutes, hamstrings, quads, arms and whole back.

This exercise can be performed with a dumbbell but is a little less awkward with a kettlebell.

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart holding a kettlebell with both hands. Keeping a straight back squat down and place the kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Tensing your glutes and pushing with your legs, stand up and in the same motion lift the weight to chest height. Adjust your grip to hold the sides of the handle and push the kettlebell straight overhead. Lower it to your chest and readjust grip to the top of the handle, ready to start again.

Start with 3 sets of 5 building to 4 sets of 10.

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Three books are available related to this website (including gpx route files) as ebooks or paperbacks. As little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

Back to training for Lands End to John O Groats cycling or onward to look at endurance training,  interval training, or stretches for cyclists.

Maybe you would like to visit one the most popular pages on the site, which concern planning your End to End, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page