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Essential strength and conditioning for cyclists

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Strength and conditioning is more widely known as S&C and is a selection of dynamic exercises that can be performed and gradually developed to create a more intense workout load.

So, what is S&C really. Well, we use it to strengthen every part of our body, creating a stronger base to intentionally improve performance and prevent injuries. The conditioning part is all about maintaining the strength you’ve built, for example during an athletes season they won’t necessarily be thinking about ‘increasing’ strength due to the fatigue and DOMs it’ll create pre-competition, but they do want to maintain the strength they’ve built through the winter.

Strength training will increase your muscle’s aerobic ability, which in turn will provide greater potential to clear lactic acid and decrease fatigue onset. Providing your body with maximum capability for aerobic strength, which will improve your form on the bike and make for better performance.

For your average person – non-athletic, using S&C to keep their muscles strong and maintained will prevent them from getting everyday injuries, help them to perform their everyday tasks better and delay aging within the body – it’s been proven to improve bone density – another benefit for cyclists.

Round-up of the benefits:

  • Increases bone density.
  • Improves efficiency on the bike.
  • Reduces injury.
  • Improves muscular endurance.
  • Improves flexibility.
  • Improves resting metabolism.
  • Increases power.
  • Improves balance throughout the body.
  • Adds a few more endorphins to your day.


Basic S&C

You’ll be glad to hear, you don’t need to pay a gym membership fee to get the basics done – start at home, get a feel for it, find your feet, and think about building up to the gym for your winter training.

Although, I can confirm, the gym brings more motivation and endorphins. Equally, you don’t ever have to step foot inside a gym if you’re happy training at home.

Basic S&C will take less than a session, if you’re lacking motivation, do it while you watch TV in the evening – but always add some stretching in at the end, flexibility is key for cyclists.

Basic exercises

  • Bridges 2 x 8
  • Side squats/crabs with an exercise band 3 x 10
  • Lunges (you can increase this intensity by using a filled rucksack as a weight) 3 x 8 per leg.
  • Single leg squats 2 x 8 per leg
  • Single leg RDL 3 x 8 per leg
  • SA DB Row (grab a weight from around the house to use) 3 x 8 per arm.
  • Deadbug 2 x 30s hold
  • Banded kneeling paloff 2 x 20s hold.
  • Bear crawl hold 30s hold

When you’re ready to increase load, you can add some weighted objects from around the house. You should aim to do these twice a week during the race season and have a minimum of one day between each session while also allowing yourself 2 days to recover before race day.

If you want to go into more depth and fully utilise S&C through winter as well as during the season, there are phases that will help you build for the best results.

Disclaimer: this is based off research and personal experience, for a personalised S&C programme speak to an S&C coach or physio, this is guidance.

The Dead Bug

Anatomical adaptation – prep phase

This should be the first phase post-season, but not before you’ve taken some time off the bike to reset mentally and physically.

The aim of this phase is to prepare the muscles for higher load capacity and repetition in the upcoming phases, creating a foundation for your off-season strength training. This is also the time to really focus on form when carrying out the movements. It usually lasts 4-6weeks and should be completed 2-3 times a week, with exercises such as:

  • Squats 3 x 10
  • Deadlifts 3 x 8
  • Lunges 2 x 10 per leg
  • Core exercises such as: dead-bugs, bicycle crunch, glute bridge, bird-dog, bear crawl hold
The Bird Dog

Max strength phase

This phase will last 4-6weeks and the loads will progressively get heavier, as the repetitions and sets decrease, the main exercises should be carried out at 3-5sets of 2-6 reps. You should be aiming to get into the gym 2-3 times a week.

Research has proven that stronger athletes can put out higher power outputs and have a greater muscular endurance, which could be arguably more important than a higher peak power during cycling – unless you’re a trackie, but then gym work is even more important.

Benefits: lifting maximal loads will recruit more muscle fibres, activating more muscles and creating a stronger support system for your prime movers.

Research has also shown this phase to improve cycling economy, making you more efficient in the way you ride a bike, allowing you to save energy.

It’s an intense phase, and you shouldn’t dive in headfirst, it will do you better to start at 80% of 1RM and build the weight gradually to 90% – decreasing risk of DOMs and injury.

  • Weighted squats 3-5sets x 2-6 reps
  • Deadlift 3 x 2
  • Leg press 3 x 3
  • DB row 3 x 2-6
  • Continue core.

Muscle endurance

This usually commences toward the end of your build period on the bike and can continue into your early season races. This phase will transition your muscles into cycling muscles and teach them how to be repetitive. It focuses on lower weights and more repetitions.

It’ll help improve aerobic metabolism, which will make turning your pedals at 90-100RPM continually for hours much easier.

It’ll last 4-6weeks, 1-2 times a week and it should be based around 50% of your 1RM for each exercise.

  • Squats 3 x 10-12
  • Lunges 3 x 10-12
  • Core as above

Strength maintenance i.e., conditioning

This phase focuses on maintaining the strength you’ve built throughout your base training, allowing you to continue preventing injury, by maintaining the strength and support your muscles require.

This phase continues throughout the season, 1-2times a week, while allowing yourself at least 3 days pre-race to recover from the exercises.

  • Bridges 2 x 8
  • Side squats 3 x 10-12
  • Lunges 3 x 8 per leg.
  • Single leg squats 2 x 6-10 per leg
  • Single leg RDL 3 x 8 per leg
  • SA DB Row (grab a weight from around the house to use) 3 x 8 per arm.
  • Deadbug 2 x 30s hold
  • Banded kneeling paloff 2 x 20s hold.
  • Bear crawl hold 30s hold
The Hold


All this information is a guidance, find what works for you as an athlete and build exercises around any injuries or ailments you have. It’s important to build strength following any weaknesses you have – I’d always recommend seeing a physio to work out how best to utilise S&C.



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