Squat is the king in weight lifting


Squat is the king in weight lifting
If you have decided to enter the gym this winter, implementing squats into your training program is difficult to avoid. This exercise is the best way to increase your leg strength in a very functional way. If you only have time for one exercise, then perform some good squats.

I actually tested out a strength training program with squats as the main (or sometimes only) exercise. It was time effective and the rider reached similar strength levels as previous years when he had done several other exercises.

Therefore, I recommend that in a cyclist’s strength training program, squatting should always be the bread and butter exercise. That is why you might have heard squats mentioned as “the king of exercises”.

However, strength training is not that time effective and is not recommended if you want to be ultra time effective.

Actually it is counter-productive to speed up high quality strength training sessions because the recovery periods are essential when you build neuro-muscular power.

Heavy Weights Matter

First of all you have to reconsider how you can make your muscles stronger. The short answer is that you have to lift heavy weights frequently. If the weights aren’t heavy enough, they will not force the muscles to make neural adaptations or hypertrophy.

The good thing about squats is that it is possible to work with heavy weights, which puts an enormous amount of stress on legs, calves, hamstrings, glutes, abdominal and back muscles. As you can see, most of your body is working in co-ordination to manage to lift the weight.

Can you imagine what this exercise will do to your overall strength?

You will get a great boost not only for your leg extensors (quadriceps), but also several other important muscles at the same time.


Non-functional exercises are very difficult to convert to something useful in your cycling. This is because strength training is a kind of teaching for your nervous system.

Here is an example: If you compare an elite tennis player with a pro golfer: who will win the match if these elite sport people play badminton? That would probably be the tennis player because tennis is a racket sport that has movements similar to badminton.

So the tennis player gets an advantage because his nervous system is optimized for movements that are similar to the ones in badminton. It is easier for him to convert his skills from tennis to badminton than it is for the golfer to start playing a racket sport.

Squatting is a lifting style that is closely related to pedaling and therefore gives you the best opportunity to convert strength gains made in the weight lifting gym to a better cycling performance.

On the other hand, commonly used exercises such as leg extensions (or even worse leg adductions or abductions) are single joint movements that are very difficult to convert into cycling power. Leg extensions should be used only by cyclists with injuries and otherwise left for people that don’t know the power of squats.

23 comments… add one
  • david linenberg Link

    Would it not be more beneficial to simply pushing a large gear (if on a trainer) or doing steep hills. I personally have gotten more out of doing 28% grade repeats for 2 hours then doing any sort of lifting…
    Andrew Coggan / Ric Stern seem to think weight training is useless / detrmintal compared to cycle strength training specificity.

  • Hi David,

    Thanks for commenting, it is definitely an interesting question.

    Strength training for cyclists is a controversial topic which I have tried to describe in http://www.training4cyclists.com/strength-training-might-increase-performance/

    “Strength training is a controversial topic when we discuss optimizing of training programs for cyclists. There is no definitive answer to whether cyclists should include weight lifting in their winter training plans. There have been made several studies which have not yet proved that cyclists can benefit from strength training.

    One of the biggest problems for these scientific studies is that they are done at untrained people and the study group is usually small. That makes it rather difficult to prove a significant difference between endurance training only versus endurance training combined with weight lifting. My best guess is that strength training does make a difference and it is, at least in theory, possible to prove it with a larger study group. But the difference between including strength training or not, is obviously not the most important factor when it comes to overall performance in road races. Thus, it is very difficult to recommend you to either go to the gym or spend an extra hour on the bike. In both cases you will probably improve your overall performance level. It is important to notice that even though studies about strength training does not produce significant gains in overall cycling performance, it is very likely that there is a difference. ”

    This article about squat is primary an article to show why you should squat IF you decide to strength train. Not to discuss whether you should strength train.

    2 hours of 28% grade repeats does not sound as max strength training to me, rather like strength endurance, which I always recommend should be done on a bike. That is why I don’t recommend long strength endurance sets with 12, 20 or even 100´s of reps. That is better done on the bike.

    But when we are talking max strength, squat gets important, because you activate almost every single motor neuron in your quadriceps (and a lot of helper-muscles) in a heavy lift. It is very difficult to activate the same percentage of motor neurons on a bike, and especially if you are doing steep hills that take more than 5 revolutions in the pedals. When you train for neural adaptations it is important to activate as many motor neurons as possible. Also there some discussion whether a better neural control will help you to be more efficient when recruiting muscle fibres.

  • Hi Jesper,

    First of all, your blog rocks and I read it regularly. Thanks for all the great tips; I’ve found your indoor training interval tips very useful.

    In regards to squats, I’ve read in a few places that it is beneficial to hop on the bike after a squat session to do 30-60 minutes of spinning. Presumably this is to “train” your now stressed and healing muscles to adapt the learned forces from the squat directly to the bike.

    Does this make any sense to you, and can you clarify what actually may be happening here, if anything? Thank you again!

  • Hi Erik,

    Glad you like this blog. I will do my best to keep posting articles worth reading.

    I have heard the advice you mention before, but I haven’t seen any documentation for this theory. I think it is difficult to explain how and why it might work. Nevertheless, I recommend my riders to do the warmup on the bike and take ride after strength training.

    Best regards,


  • Interesting… thanks for the reply, Jesper.

  • Coach Mike Taylor Link

    Squats are the “Queen” of exercises. Deadlifts are the “King” in regards to muscles worked in one exercise, tranferable strength to real life and not nearly a technical, or dangerous. I am not a cyclist but I am a strength coach. I have encouraged my brother in law who is a competitive mountain biker to use deadlifts, push presses and chins to get a complete body workout. What I have suggested to him is to follow Mark Verstegan’s mobility recommendations for pre-workout preperation and follow a Pavel T/Barry Ross type workout for the resistance portion (check Barry’s Sprinter workout on Dragondoor.com) along with conscience effort to use proper recuperative techniques. Assuredly you will get superior hamstring group involvement in the dead and depending on the range of motion, good quad involvment, as well, especially with something like the snatch grip dead off blocks. For the older cyclists, if pain is the issue on back squats or deads, have a look a front squats down to a box or stepups. Remember, you are using this portion of your training economics to build strength. Keep the reps low, build strength and it will convert to usable quality in your riding. Just 2 cents from the strength enhancment side of things.

  • Hi,

    I do squats twice a week, 2 sets of 25 reps 92% of my body weight as the weight used. I also do deadlifts but with very light weights, likewise at 25 reps per set.

    My climbing has improved a lot and so has my average speed. I have to improve though on my sprints and attacks as I normally run out of gas towards the end.

    Your tips are very helpful but I guess to further improve my riding I need more saddle time.

  • tim Link

    Tony, I would recommend doing 4 sets of 10-15 reps for strength gains which would improve your sprinting time significantly as it would focus on strengthenning your fast twitch muscle fibres.

  • Tony and Tim>>

    I don´t recommend sets with more than 8 reps if you want to develop strength. If strength is the primary goal you should concentrate on doing sets in the rep range 3-6.

    Read more here:

    Best regards,


  • Jesper, your site is fabulous, thanks for putting so much effort into it. I’m guessing but you probably have alot of silent followers using your advice.
    I was an endurance cyclist for about 8 years, ultra distance stuff but not very fast. I took up racing a couple of years ago and have mofied my training to include more intensity but I’m still getting dropped in the short sprints or short hills. If the hill is long enough I can slowly roll the group back up. I suspect a lack of power as I’m at 100% HR and my lungs are on the edge of exploding. I have a lower back problem and adding weight to my spine doesn’t go so well for me. Have you any suggestion on how to develop more power without crushing my spine?

  • Dave Link

    Hello Jesper. I don’t ride much, but I’ve been squatting for four months and am to up 190 lbs for 3 sets of 5, with a personal record 200 for 2 reps.

    I got on my bike a few days ago after more than a year off, and I noticed I had more power than ever. I was climbing formerly challenging hills without problem, without standing up.

    The initial gains in a solid strength training program are dramatic, and it’s hard to argue against squatting if you want to improve your riding.

  • Fredrik Link

    Hi Jesper!

    What kind of squat is it you recommend, one leg, two leg, deep, front?

    Best regards
    Fredrik, Sweden.

  • Heather Link

    I added squats and deadlifts to my winter training program and my hill climbling and sprints improved significantly. I performed 4 sets of squats on Monday and 4 sets of deadlifts on Thursdays along with some upper body exercise and core training on both days. I now squat over 225LBS.

  • Cleg Burris Link

    I learn something new everyday and I definitely learned it again from this article. I”m still wondering about the leg press and how much the squat is dissimilar.

  • I am interested in purchasing your e book but im english living in spain and will be paying by a uk debit card, so card and address do not tie up according to the web , can you please advise..

  • If you can use it for other transactions I suppose there would not be any troubles.

  • james Link

    I started weight training with my cycling recently, and I was wondering if there is an advantage between doing cardio (low intensity cycling or treadmill) before or after weight lifting? Currently, I’m doing long duration cardio before weight lifting. My goals are #1 Endurance and #2 to increase muscle strength, and I don’t mind gaining some mass as I have always been skinny. This is my current workout schedule:

    Mondays: Cardio (low-intensity ride or treadmill for 6 hours, 65%-69% of Max heart rate), and thereafter I immediately go to the gym to do squats, leg-press, hams and some upper body.

    Wednesdays: Interval Cardio or a brisk ride for about 2-3 hours, and then 3 hours of low-intensity cardio. Thereafter, I do weight training for upper body only.

    Thursdays: Low-intensity ride or treadmill for 6 hours, and immediately thereafter I do weight training for my legs only: squats, leg-press and hams.

    Saturday: Long and hard ride for about 70-100miles with elevation gain of 4000-7000ft.

    I rest on days not listed above.

    Except Squats, I do the weights heavy (for me) at 6 to 7 sets of 6 to 7 reps, and every other week I would increase the weight by 10 pounds. The weeks when I do not increase the weight, I de-load by 5 pounds. For example, week1 would be 285pounds of leg-press, week2 would be 295pounds, week3 would be de-loading by dropping to 290pounds, and week 4 would 300pounds, etc. For Squats, I’m only on the Smith machine at low weights: 120pounds max so far at 8 sets of 6 slow reps.

    I do eat as much as my stomach can digest: 5 whole food meals on rest days. Similar calorie intake during workout days, but the meals are protein shakes and energy bars during the workouts.

    Any suggestions to modify my routine, or am I generally on the right track?

  • Declan Link

    Hi Jesper!
    I’m looking to start squatting to improve power but don’t have access to a Smith machine and can’t lift very heavy weights onto my shoulders, how can I improve power while using smaller weights?

  • Christian Nørlyng Link


    I have started doing squats the last 6-7 weeks, once a week.
    I am doing 8 sets of 8 reps. with lots of rest in between. The number of reps is due to the weight available on the machine, and the it must be tough to work.
    I feel an increase in strength and repeatability of that strength on short climbs.
    I see no increase in mussle yet. And since I am 40. I know that mussle don’t grow easily.

    Great book and great blog.

  • Malte Therkildsen Link

    Hej Jesper

    Jeg har læst en del af dine artikler på det sidste.
    De er fremragende! Super meget god viden.

    Med hensyn til styrketræning, hvad er dine tanker så om en mere simpel core og funktionelitets rutine, som man laver året rundt. – Hver dag, på ca 30 min.
    Altså hvor fokus mere er på muskel aktivering og funktion samt skadesforbyning.

    Jeg ved at en del britiske ryttere, specielt en del af dem fra Team sky træner et par sæt simple core øvelser hver dag samt bodyweight squat og lunges.
    Kun et par sæt hver øvelser, men igen mest for muskel aktivering og funktion.

    Jeg har selv gjort det i en længere periode da jeg for 1 år siden er blevet opereret i begge mine hofter, core samt squat og andre simple øvelser hver dag virker til at sørge for at mine ben fungere ordenligt rent biomekanisk når jeg cykler, og på den måde undgår overbelastningskader.

    Er der restiotionstid på øvelser som squat og lunges på trods af det er uden nævneværdig vægt?
    Jeg er nemlig konstant øm, som jeg lidt mistænker kan være pga de øvelser.
    Så vidt jeg kan forstå forårsager Cykling ikke voldsom nævneværdig muskelskade som sådan, men det gør styrketræning derimod pga excentriske bevægelser.

    Vil det kunne være tilvænning, eller er hver dag for meget med henblik på præstation på cyklen?

    Hvis det er noget du ved noget om, så sætter jeg meget stor pris på enhver form for svar.

    Beklager beskeden blev lidt lang.
    Mange tak på forhånd.

    Venlig hilsen Malte Therkildsen

  • Erik Link

    commenting on 11 year old post here why not.
    I would figure the squat training should be done relevent to the style of cycling you are into.. I figured heavy weight for sprinting and lighter weight high rep for normal distance racing style cycling.

    i took a break from cycling and just started lifting heavy with my new weight set, squatting, benching, rowing, etc.. i cant deadlift cause im in an upstairs apartment. I recently got back into cycling and noticed that my sprinting power is a lot stronger from all the heavy squats.. but.. I get tired a lot faster with the extra 10 pounds of muscle ive put on since i quit cycling for a year and played around on my squat rack. I really doubt any kind of heavy weight training and cycling mix.. Sure as hell upper body training and cycling do not mix cause that is just dead weight sitting up there on a bicycle. Personally i dont care about being as fast as i can on the bike anymore cause i love lifting weights and cycling too

    One guy mentioned that hes 40 and hasnt gained much muscle after lifting for a little while

    A. It takes time.. expect it to take months for good results and years for max results.
    B. One of the biggest shortcomings of a lot of new lifters and even experience lifters is lack of eating. Getting bigger muscles takes a lot of food and getting huge muscles takes a TON of food. casual eating dosnt cut it for most people you have to smash the calories down to get big muscles.. If you just want toned muscles with a little bit of added size then normal dieting with a few extra snacks should get you there. for big muscle i would go as far to say the dieting is harder work then the actual weight training because of how frequent the meals have to be it can also get expensive.

    last but not least C… sleep is very important too. I dont know about you but when im tired my appetite slows down a lot. No matter how amped up my mental attitude is i still cant train as hard as when im properly rested, and it seems like it takes my muscles longer to heal which is a big big hindrance with training

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