12 week strength program for cyclists

Here is a very effective strength training program for cyclists based on multi-joint exercises with free weights, which indicates that this program is not for beginners.

If you are not familiar with lifting free weights, consider training the same exercises in a machine. Ask a fitness instructor in your local training gym.

When using this weight training program:

  • Warm up before lifting
  • Never train to failure
  • Use as heavy weights as possible (still no failure training)
  • Be explosive in the concentric phase
  • Rest periods of at least 2 minutes between sets

Weight Training for Cyclists

Week 1 & 2 (Mondays and Thursdays)
Squat: 3×12 (technique)
Leg press: 2×12
Leg curl: 2×12
Bench press: 2×12
Chinups: 2×8
Deadlift: 3×5 (technique)

Week 3 & 4 (Mondays and Thursdays)
Squat: 4×8
Leg press: 2×8
Leg curl: 2×8
Bench press: 2×8
Chinups: 2×5
Deadlift: 4×4

Week 5 & 6 (Mondays and Thursdays)
Squat: 4×6
Leg press: 2×6
Leg curl: 2×6
Bench press: 2×6
Chinups: 3×3
Deadlift: 5×3

Week 7 & 8 (Mondays and Thursdays)
Squat: 5×5
Leg press: 3×5
Leg curl: 3×6
Bench press: 3×5
Chinups: 3×3
Deadlift: 5×3

Week 9 & 10 (Mondays and Thursdays)
Squat: 2×5 + 5×3
Leg press: 3×5
Leg curl: 3×5
Bench press: 3×3
Chinups: 3×3
Deadlift: 5×3

Week 11 & 12 (Mondays and Thursdays)
Squat: 8×3
Leg press: 3×5
Leg curl: 3×5
Bench press: 3×3
Chinups: 3×3
Deadlift: 5×3

Please remember that it is possible to combine this weight lifting program with one of these training plans.

53 thoughts on “12 week strength program for cyclists”

  1. Hi,

    nice programm cause it targets the maximum power, which is the base to all other forces in cycling. The only thing i am missing is, when you implement biking. I read 2 different things about it. First seperate leg training in the gym from biking or jump on the bike/spinningbike et cetera directly after workout.

    Personaly i am used to hit the bike at the same day or directly after hard workout with weights for the legs. What would you recommend?

    thx
    Steffen

  2. I normally recommend doing some cycling directly after weight training. I believe that this helps the muscles in the motor learning phase. A very important factor when we discuss weight training is how much of the strength we can convert to power on the bike. E.g. Leg extensions are not in the program because they are almost useless when trying to convert them to power on the bike.

  3. Do you think Mondays and Thursdays the best days to integrate this strength program into one of your cycling schedules? What are your thoughts on the recovery aspects of lifting weights on Monday when the cycling schedule calls for a recovery day? Any advice on finding a good balance with simultaneous weight and cycling training would be helpful. Thank you.

  4. My choice of Mondays and Thursdays are just to illustrate that you should not train on two following days. Have at least one day without strength training before you enter the gym again.

    I normally recommend strength and cycling on the same days. Make a short warm up, do the strength training and finish your training schedule with some cycling. Then you have enough time for a day off or a recovery day.

    Happy training!

  5. This is to be done in one workout day? With heavy weights? I have lifted for over thirty years and this to me looks prety dangerous to someone not used to heavy training.

  6. Great routine! The best one I’ve found on the internet so far! I especially like the fact that all exercises are functional, i.e. mimics moving patterns used on the bike!

    I have two questions though:

    1 ”“ Why no additional core (I”™m thinking abs/hip flexors etc.) and calf exercises? I know you work these muscle groups when you squat and deadlift, but is that sufficient?

    2 ”“ Heavy deadlifting twice a week seems like overkill. I have been doing weights for several years, and my experience tells me the once a week is enough if you use heavy weights. Your comments on this?

    Actually, I”™m testing your program at the moment (week 5 as we speak), and besides the thing with the deadlift, It”™s working excellent. I solved the problem by cutting back the weight drastically and going really explosively into the lift, and now it works just fine!

    Cool site in general btw, really looking forward to the training programs for beginners!

  7. Kristian,

    Thanks for commenting.

    1) I believe that squats and deadlifts are sufficient or actually much better than traditional abs. I think it is a question about functionality.

    It is okay to do additional exercise for core, but normally I don’t include it in the programs for my riders.

    2) It’s a myth that you can’t train deadlift more than once a week. Avoid failure training and don’t even get close to failure training. Then there should be no problem and you will still gain a lot of strength.

    Good luck with your training! 🙂

    Jesper

  8. We know that high reps cause hypertrophy and weight gain. But yet you say, in this program, that until week 7, we need 12,8 and 6 reps (which are considered high). Wouldnt this cause hypertrophy?

    Instead of 12 reps, why not 5 or 6 reps with same weight? And why do you advocate so many sets? I heard that Russian trainers do only 2 sets. Remember im just asking to learn; am not questioning you 🙂

  9. Hi,

    Should you mantain the same weight for each day? In other words, you have squats 3 x 12. Can you increase the weight every time, or you prefer to do all of them with a weight that you can amanage without going into failure mode?

    Regards,

  10. Pingback: How You Can Make Training4cyclists.com Even Better

  11. Hi I am just wondering what do u mean by 3×12 is it 3 set of 12 reps?? Please help sorry for my ignorance im not that good when it come to this stuff. Thanks

  12. Janet – Get an assistant to support you. If your assistant lifts just a few kgs it will make a big difference for you. Otherwise, try lateral pulldowns.

    Frankie – yes, 3 sets of 12 reps.

    Diego – you might adjust if necessary. The first couple of weeks is meant as an introduction to the lifting technics.

  13. This is a really good schematic

    I like how every set and repetition differs from day to day nulling muscle memory.

    Another plus what i like is these exercise are all COMPOUND exercises and not isolate, hell the squat alone is a full body work out. @ Simon Weighted lunges and squats is a good enough substitute. If extremely eager farmers walk would be great.

    I LOVE how every exercise mentions Squat, many people havent even heard or know how to do a squat… and these are the people that are bicep warriors.

    For chin ups lol if you are over 160 (male) doing 1 is pretty still damn amazing if you can pull it off.

  14. Hi!
    Thank you so much for posting this!!! This is so helpful. You have a really great site! I am a cyclist and a rower and this is great for both.
    I am currently training a 4X15 rep program for 6 weeks and I want to transition to this program because my goal is to inc strength without increasing muscle mass and weight – I am actually trying to decrease weight…So my question is if I switch to this program from my current 5 day a week 4X15 weight training to this will I see weight decrease or have I already messed it all up?
    Thank you!

  15. Hi,
    a very basic question – what is the difference between leg curls and leg extensions? Thank you.

  16. Does’nt this 2 min rest between sets make for a really long gym session. What I mean is 6 exercises 3 reps each equals 36 min of rest time + all the lifting time.

    Can you superset these? Can you do one set of each excersise all in a row, then rest after that? On my bike for two hours is fun, but I preffer to get out of the gym after 30 to 40 min.

    Also how do you know your lifting correctly and not to failure? I’ve always just lifted till I can’t lift it anymore.

  17. How do you incorporate a strength training program like this into a winter training schedule, such as the 12 wk one you provide? It probably is counter productive to substitute one of the off days for a day in the gym?

  18. I’m looking to use a training program like this before track season this/next year, but i would like to bulk up a little bit as well. What would i need to change to help build muscle mass?

    I noticed there is no calf workouts, would it be helpful to add calf exercises or not?

    Also someone was saying about not being able to do chin ups, usually lat pull downs are a good substitute for them, is it the same in this case?

  19. Thanks for the inspiration.

    I have started the strength training a bit early (normally you would wait for late fall). Is there a recommended way to extend the program? Would you just continue the program for the last weeks 11+12 and maybe do them for another month?
    Another problem: I am already maxed out in my gyms leg press sled – should I just keep the reps low and focus more on the squads or maybe do more reps to keep building strength?

  20. @Matt – Pull down is a good substitute exercise for a chin up. Calf exercises can be added but they are not so specific in regard to the cycling move pattern.

    @Lars – If you have no heavier weights available you should focus on explosiveness. If you lift the weight as explosive as possible in the concentric phase (lifting phase) you can improve your performance with weights down to 65% of 1RM. Yet, the most effective exercise for you is squat.

    Having more time for strength training is only an advantage. Make some kind of progression (and periodization) of the extra time available.

  21. i think this is a quite interesting program and overall well thought out, but am wondering about the amount of sets towards the end.

    8 sets of 3 reps, is a lot of sets. isn’t this quite different from what even an olympic weight lifter would do? if so, why?

    is the number of sets a way to mimic the amount of times one needs to sprint in a race?

    thanks!

  22. Hi Jesper

    I am starting this program tomorrow 1-10-11, but i have a ?. After the 12 weeks is up, do i start the program all over, or is that it just 12 weeks ?. Thank you Mike Stearns

  23. Most cyclists use strength training for 3 to 4 months Per season and that’s it. If you want to continue for a longer period you can use the principles mentioned in this training program for inspiration.

  24. Hi Jesper

    Thank you for your reply. I have another ? for you. Do i only Strength train Two days a week , like you have listed, or should i Train more days with the weights ?. Thank you Mike

  25. Hi there, Just wondering if doing the workouts Monday and Friday would be okay or if they should be a little closer?

    Thanks

  26. I just started this program today. I ride my bike a lot (road & cross country) and work out during the week. I was looking for a work out program that concentrates more on putting energy and strength into my cycling. This one seems like it will benefit me lots.

  27. I’m currently doing something similar but you’re suggestions will make a nice enhancement to my program …

    One question though.

    I have traded my normal cycling interval training during the weekdays for my two weights sessions (plus one run to maintain some cardio), I still do a long hills ride on Saturday morning (120km plus). So far I am finding mixed results with the Saturday ride. Sometimes I feel stronger but mostly I feel like it’s much much harder. I am assuming this is due to recovery time after working the large leg muscles … but last week I did not have any gym time and my ride was a killer (and only 85km) what would be the full recovery time after doing heavy squats and leg press? Once I finish this weights program how long would it take for my legs to fully recover and be at their best for the bike?

  28. Hi,

    Just wondering why you haven’t included power cleans? They’re a great compound exercise, which take the standard deadlift to another level. Could you perform one day with deadlifts and one day with power cleans?

    I was also wondering why leg curls were listed vs an exercise like rigid-legged deadlifts, as the leg curls seem like an exercise which isolates the hamstrings too much. I know that leg curls mimic the pedalstroke moreso than RLD’s, but if you’re jumping on an exercise bike for active recovery at the end of the workout, does it really matter? I just find that with RLD’s i can work my hamstrings alot harder than with leg curls.

    Would love your opinion on these points!

  29. Now just done first week
    also trained twice this week
    exactly as the scheme, i only didn’t do BP en chin-ups
    because i train my core twice a week…

    after training full 30′ recovery ride @ high rpm
    and done soms short 10″ powersprint; for translate the neural power even more to the bike

    felt great!!

    I think i will follow the whole program but only once a week
    i’ll do a neural power training on the bike, some short sprints…

  30. As far as I’m informed more than 4 repitions cause hypertrophy thus muscle growth and capillary as well as mitochondria damage. Hence it is counter productive for cyclists.
    Only maximal force-training MIGHT be useful. Although max force is just a side effect, improving neuro-pathways is what helps a cyclist.

    All this does of course NOT apply to core/stability workouts.

  31. yes but it’s difficult to begin immediately with lifting weights more dan 85-90% of you maximum
    after the 8-12 reps, the reps decreases also to 6 en less which the best for neural power

  32. Debatable but okay.
    I would suggest progressing to even fewer reps (1-2) at whatever you can lift.
    Also you can start with few reps at medium intensity and only increase intensity to not risk injury in the beginning.
    I think anything over 5 reps is counter productive.

  33. ok, i’ll do this week still with 8 reps( squat en leg press) en 4 reps (deadlift)

    i think i won’t do the weeks with 6 reps en go to less reps (4 tot 1-2 ass you say)

  34. when you have to race on May (big cyclist event-road race) when it is appropriate to stop weight lifting? Usually most cyclists stop february, if you dont have many races until May what do you do ? you stil training in the gym?

    thank you 🙂

  35. This is great, as an elite cyclist for several years and a greeny in the field of Peronal Training, i have been trying to workout the best routines for cyclists (as im focussing on sports specific PT’ing). I agree that aslong as you dont reach failure, heavy weights is fine twice or more a week, aslong as you are recovering between workouts and cardio after weight training really does the trick 🙂

    So guys, this guy is a professional, he has willingly submitted this on the internet, and he deserves the credit!!

    Thanks for the help and advice, Jesper 🙂

    only problem is that a lot of endurance athletes dont believe in gym work until they realise that all the pro’s do it 😉

    – Jon

  36. Can any of this be achieved using dumbbells? It seems that I can do the squats with dumbbells but not sure how to incorporate Leg press/curls without equipment or a gym membership.

    Any alternatives to Leg press/curls without machines or benches?

  37. Hi,
    I have a question regarding on the bike strength training. As a cyclist I know that doing hill repeats on a 10-12 min climb with a gradient of 3-4% using a gear that allows a cadence of between 60-70 rpm is a good form of strength-endurance training.

    What are your thoughts of doing it in aero-bars with the saddle only 6-7 cm behind the BB like a TT position. Is it too much stress on the knee? Given it will fall 2-3 cm ahead of the ball of the foot in the 3 o’clock 9 o’clock position.

  38. These all maybe dumb questions but I have never lifted before.

    What does “Be explosive in the concentric phase” mean?

    Also “heavy weights”, is that a weight that I can easily do all the sets/reps or something that is difficult but yet I can still do all the sets/reps? What is the best way to find the right weight to start with?

    What is the proper form or a dead lift?

    Thanks, I am looking forward to getting stronger.
    I will typically not have someone to spot me would that be an issue?

    Can you

  39. I had another question:

    My lower right back gets really sore when I ride hard, what can I do to hel[p get rid of that or at least delay the pain as long as possible. Besides spinning and easier gear 🙂

  40. Another question, what about upper body, arms for example, is there strengthening I should do there too? Obviously it does not directly help spin the peddles, but just wondering.

    Thanks,

  41. Hi there,

    Before I get to the point of my questions, I’d like to give a run-down regarding myself. Without the boring bits, I’m in my mid-30s and initially started off being morbid obese at 130 kg and then reduced to around 97 after I started cycling from 2008 on-wards. Obviously, my overall aim is to lose weight and get back to a normal desired BMI range.

    I ride approximately 3 or so days a week commuting to and fro to work at medium to high intensity (20 km @ 40 to 50 minutes per ride) with 70 to 95 cadence and HR Zone 1 to 2 (110-140 bpm) and during the last 8 months or so I have slowly started to incorporate some strength training exercises and especially squats with a home gym set up. Having to spend at least 45-60 minutes up to 3 times a week doing upper and lower body exercises to tone such as:

    – 4x 12-15 reps (Flat position Bench press – 20 kg)
    – 4x 12-15 reps (Inverted Row)
    – 4x 12-15 reps (Dumbbell Shoulder press – 10 kg each)
    – 4x 12-15 reps (Tricep Dips with Chair)
    – 4x 30 reps (Seated Calve Raises – 1x 20 Kg weight plate on knees)
    – 4x 12-15 reps (Bicep Curl Bar – 20 kg)
    – 4x 12-15 reps (Bent over Curl Bar – 20 kg)
    – 4x 30 reps (Kettlebell Calve Raises – 30 kg)
    – 4x 12-15 reps (Deadlifts – 20 kg)
    – 4x 12-15 reps (Squats – 25 kg, not ATG version)

    These exercises are normally done in this order, sometimes it may vary but generally after my rides, after of which I take a 5mg teaspoon of micronised creatine for a quick recovery. I would not consider myself to be an elite cyclist, but I guess to a certain extent I am looking at toning and developing my lower leg muscles, particularly the calves and the quadroceps. Am I doing too much, not enough?

    My weight has stayed about the same, but I believe I have put on some muscle and increased strength. To a certain point, I feel a lot better than before; but is this the wrong way if my aim is to achieve my BMI goals?

    Thanks in advance.

  42. Hi Jesper,

    Thank you for sharing such a usefull program. I have a few questions if you don’t mind. You recommend to do some cycling directly after weight training, which will help the muscles in the motor learning phase. Which is the better way to ride, spinning lightly or push a considerably heavier gear? And what is the best duration to do so?

    Thanks in advance.

  43. Hi there, I just started this workout today (I’m doing tuesday thursday instead of monday thursday) i have added in some flexibility and core stuff and am also spinning twice a week aswell as club riding at the weekend, i should also mention that i cycle to and from work. I like the workout but wondering about a few things: firstly what effect would it have if i did all the freeweight stuff first (squat, bench, dead)? (just for practicalities and machine availability) also can i replace the deadlift with a powerclean as i want to get more upper body stuff in there. What would you reccommend for weight progression, should i find a challenging weight and stick with it or should I constantly be pushing to lift a higher weight? One last thing, i want to do an upper body session on sunday so my legs get rested but so i can work on upper body strength a bit more, what sort of exercises would you advise?

    thanks, LT

  44. I have noticed that Louis’ question is still unanswered.
    My two cents, if I may:

    – if you stick with the plan and actually squat and deadlift, the back side of your torso will get good stimulus. Additionally, chin ups complete the top/side part. Caution with chin ups as, believe it or not, they may negatively affect your aerodynamics.
    – moving to the flip side (front), again the lower part will be poked for good by squat and DL. But if you want to throw in something more, then bench and press (standing military press, FRONT press 😉 ). Same criteria as top of the page.

    I trust this helps!

    Sebastiano

  45. I don’t race bikes. I just love to ride a lot. If I incorporate this plan into my week, how should I adjust my riding? (Days per week, duration, hilly vs flat, etc)

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