As an athlete, you probably know that strength training is essential for not only keeping you strong and powerful on the bike, but also in life. With age, muscle mass dwindles and bones weaken. And resistance exercises help slow that process—yet another reason strength training for cyclists is so important.

Though masters athletes and women may benefit most from the muscle mass and bone health payoffs of strength training for cyclists, anyone can benefit from the performance gains (including faster times and improved cycling economy) and injury prevention that resistance exercises offer. That’s why even climbing specialists like Joe Dombrowski and track cycling stars like Ashton Lambie swear by strength training.

The caveat: Strength training for cyclists can seem intimidating at first, especially if you don’t know what to do. You may enter the weight room with the best of intentions of a great workout, but feel totally stumped when you’re standing in front of the mirror holding a set of weights (been there). That’s why we pulled together the only 10 strength training exercises you really need to know. These moves target your primary movers (your legs) and help strengthen the muscles that support your body on and off the bike (your core and upper body).

How to use this list: Below are 10 strength training exercises for cyclists demonstrated by personal trainer, Kenny Santucci. Master the proper form first, then add weight. For form tips, check out the video above with Charlee Atkins, a certified personal trainer in New York City. Modify each move as needed.

You don’t have to do all 10 moves in every workout, just be sure to hit your upper body, lower body, and core, selecting moves that fit those categories. (Choose the moves that feel best for your body!) You will need a set of dumbbells, an exercise mat, and a step to perform all of the strength training exercises.

To keep things fresh and continually challenge your muscles, mix up your sets and reps from session to session.

  • Session 1: Lift heavy (3 to 4 sets of 3 to 6 reps with 3 to 5 minutes of rest between sets)
  • Session 2: Lift light (2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps with 1 to 2 minutes of rest between sets)
  • Session 3: Lift moderate (2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps, 1 to 2 minutes of rest between sets)

Keep in mind that bodyweight moves are done in higher rep ranges, because there’s no external weight.

To reap the greatest rewards, you should strength train year-round, hitting all your major muscle groups one to three times a week (more often during the off-season when you’re not riding as much; less frequently when you’re riding lots).

1. Dumbbell Deadlift

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Why it works: The deadlift targets your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and lower back for powerful pedaling in and out of the saddle.

How to do it: Start standing with dumbbells at sides, feet hip-width apart. Keeping eyes forward, chest lifted, and back flat, hinge at the hips by sending butt straight back, and lower the weights toward the floor as you rotate palms to face you. Allow knees to bend slightly. Keep the weight close to shins and lower until torso is almost parallel to the floor. Contract glutes and drive feet into ground to stand back up. Repeat.

2. Side Step-Up With Leg Lift

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Why it works: Working one leg at a time develops balanced strength (most of us have one side that is stronger), helping you sidestep muscle imbalances that can lead to injuries. This move also targets your outer glutes so you’re more stable in the saddle and less prone to side-to-side rocking, which can cause back and knee pain.

How to do it: Hold dumbbells at sides (or put hands on hips if performing this exercise without weight). Stand to the right of a box or step. Place left foot on step, press through foot, and straighten left leg to lift body up. At the top of the step, lift the right leg up and out to the side as high as comfortably possible. Then lower right leg back in, and lower back down to the floor. Repeat for a full set. Then switch sides.

3. Single-Leg Bridge

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Why it works: This exercise hones in on the glutes, which can be weak in quad- and hip-flexor-dominant cyclists.

How to do it: Lie faceup on a mat, legs bent with heels close to butt, feet on floor, and arms resting at sides. Raise one leg straight up toward ceiling, keeping both knees in line. Engage glutes and lift hips up toward ceiling to form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Pause. Lower back down and repeat for a full set. Then switch sides.

4. Squat

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Why it works: Squats target your legs in a 360-degree way—covering your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. These are all power providers on the bike. Plus, it’s a functional move you practice every day, so you want to be able to do it with ease.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Clasp hands together in front of chest. Send hips down and back and bend knees to squat down until your butt drops below knee level. Press through feet and straighten legs to stand back up. Repeat.

5. Russian Twist

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Why it works: This exercise strengthens your obliques (on the sides of your torso), which are the muscles that rotate your trunk, or in the case of cycling, minimize that rotation as your legs pedal up and down. When they’re weak, you are susceptible to too much twisting, which can cause aches and fatigue, as well as wasted watts.

How to do it: Start sitting on the floor with knees bent, heels on floor, holding a dumbbell in both hands at chest, shoulders relaxed. With a straight back, lean back from the hips until you feel your abs engage. Keeping heels on the floor and arms close to body, twist from the waist to the left. Twist back to the center. Then twist to the right. Then back to center. Continue alternating.

6. Swimmer

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Why it works: This exercise targets your entire back to counteract the stretching and weakening effect of all the time cyclists spend sitting in hunched-forward position (whether over your handlebar, steering wheel, keyboard, or phone).

How to do it: Lie facedown on mat, arms extended out straight overhead, legs straight and feet about hip-width apart. Engage glutes and back to slowly lift feet, legs, chest, and hands off the floor. Lift right arm and left leg higher. Then lift left arm and right leg higher. Continue alternating.

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7. Triceps Dip

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Why it works: Your triceps help prop you up on your handlebar. They can get pretty sore on long rides unless you take steps to keep them strong.

How to do it: Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair or bench. Place hands shoulder-width apart on either side of hips. Slide hips off the chair, legs bent or extended out in front of you (the straighter your legs, the harder it is). Straighten arms, but maintain a microbend in elbows—don’t lock them out. To do the move, bend elbows and lower hips toward the floor until arms are bent 90 degrees. Press through palms to straighten arms. Repeat.

8. Push-Up to Renegade Row

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Why it works: This exercise builds core and upper back strength, which helps you maintain good posture on and off the bike. This move also improves your ability to transfer the power you generate from pulling on your bars into your legs to push the pedals, especially when climbing hills.

How to do it: Start in a high plank position with wrists under shoulders, hands on two dumbbells. Position feet shoulder-width apart (the further apart they are, the easier the move). Bend elbows and lower body to floor (in one straight line), then push yourself back up to perform a push-up. Then, keeping back straight and hips level, pull the right dumbbell up to right ribs. Return dumbbell back to floor. Pull left dumbbell up to left ribs. Return dumbbell back to floor. That’s one rep. Continue alternating with the push-up between rows.

9. Lateral Lunge With Overhead Press

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Why it works: This exercise covers two motions many cyclists miss: lateral (side to side) and overhead—both of which you need for general life function. Tackling movement patterns you do on the bike can also help correct muscle imbalances, which helps with injury prevention.

How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart, dumbbells racked at shoulders. Lunge left by taking a big step to the left and sending hips back and bending left knee. Keep knee tracked over toes. Press through foot to stand back up. Then press the weights overhead. Repeat, this time lunging to the right. Continue alternating.

10. Burpee

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Why it works: This is a great go-to move to strengthen nearly every muscle of the body, get the benefits of a little impact from plyometrics, and it gets your heart rate up when time is tight.

How to do it: Stand with arms at sides. Squat down, placing hands on floor, shoulder-width apart. Jump legs back into high plank position, then drop chest and hips to floor at the same time. Push back up to a high plank. Then jump legs back in toward hands in a deep squat position. Extend legs and jump straight up, exploding off the floor and raising arms overhead. Repeat.

Charlee Atkins wears New Balance Reclaim Hybrid set: tights and crop bra.

Images: Julia Hembree Smith; Video: David Monk, Josh Wolff

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selene yeager
“The Fit Chick”
Selene Yeager is a top-selling professional health and fitness writer who lives what she writes as a NASM certified personal trainer, USA Cycling certified coach, Pn1 certified nutrition coach, pro licensed off road racer, and All-American Ironman triathlete.