Best Gym Workouts for Cyclists
How to Add Gym Work to a Cycling Training Plan
with tips from LIV RACING athletes
If you ride a bike, chances are you would love to improve in one way or another. Perhaps you’d like to go faster, increase your stamina, ride with more power, improve your skills, or just feel more stable on the bike. It’s true, the more you ride your bike, the better you’ll become. However, sometimes to see gains on the bike you must step off the bike… and into the gym.
We know, going to the gym to pick up and put down heavy things may not be your cup of tea. Truth be told, when we spoke to our Liv Racing professional athletes, we heard more than one confession about not loving the gym. But gym time will ultimately help your cycling game in huge ways, from injury prevention to building explosive power! Read on for some great tips from the pros.
How often do you go to the gym?
“In the off-season, I go to the gym for an hour session 4 days a week and two of those days I go twice, so 6 gym sessions in total. During the season, my gym sessions are very limited. If I am lucky, I get in 2x a week, but most of the time (during travel or race week) I don’t go to the gym at all.” -Rae Morrison, Enduro MTB
“I go to the gym 2-4 times a week in the off-season and 1-2 times a week during the season, usually spending 1 hour per session.” -Crystal Anthony, XC MTB
“The off-season, or base building season, is the perfect time to build a solid foundation for racing and spend some additional time in the gym. But, year-round attention to functional strength keeps my body and mind in alignment. During the off-season/ base building phase, I lift 2-3 days a week. Year-round I boulder at our local climbing gym 2-3 evenings a week and practice a morning routine of strengthening, TRX, core work, and a moving meditation every day.” -Serena Bishop Gordon, XC MTB
“Off-season gym training consists of 3 days of lifting and 1-2 days of body weight injury prevention focused work. During the season, I will weight train 2-3 days a week and spend one day focusing on body weight movements.” -Allysa Seely, Triathlon
“I try to do core and stabilization exercises 2x a week during my main race season and focus on gym work in the early training season (December through February).” -Radka Kahlefeldt, Triathlon
"In the off-season, I go to the gym twice a week and in the regular season I try to go once a week unless I have a race that weekend. Sometimes if I do have a race that weekend, I will still go into the gym earlier in the week and do a core/upper body-focused workout." -Kaysee Armstrong, XC MTB
“I’ve had career-best seasons without setting foot in a gym and I’ve had lots of other great seasons that have involved lots of gym work. These past few seasons, I’ve put much more emphasis on doing daily core, stability and strength work using mainly body weight exercises (about 10-15 minutes every day).” -Sandra Walter, XC MTB
What is your goal in the gym?
“The goal in the off-season is to build up my strength and conditioning to help me perform on the bike with extra power on the pedals, having strength to hold on through rough sections, and save mistakes rather than crashing. I also want to build muscle around my joints so if I do crash, I have more protection and stability to reduce the chance of a major injury. All my gains are made in the off-season, the gym goal during the season is to maintain those gains and limit the strength loss that comes with traveling and a hectic racing schedule.” -Rae
"My workouts stretch across a broad range of goals to improve my mobility, flexibility, balance, coordination, strength, and cardio. It is so great to see improvements. Lifting heavier numbers, or being able to push a higher watt on the bike, run faster on the tready." -Leonie Picton, Enduro
“My goals are to build strength in the winter, strengthen my core, and work on balance and coordination.” -Crystal
“Gym sessions focus on balance, alignment, and lifting heavy things in ways that simulate the demands of riding a bike.” -Serena
“In the off-season, my focus is on building strength and connecting the whole cycling chain muscle groups. During the season, my focus moves toward transitioning the strength I have gained in the off-season to power.” -Allysa
"Going to the gym helps tremendously with my explosive power and top-end and gives me the extra strength I need to stay strong on long endurance events. People don't realize just how much upper body and core strength is required in cycling. After 3 hours on the bike, having the ability to not have a fatigued upper body and core helps keep all the focus and strength on the pedals to generate power." -Kaysee
“The goal of core and stabilization exercises for triathlon is to help with injury prevention. During the training season, I will have different focuses for gym work. Some days are focused on exercises that will benefit my cycling/running and others benefit swim/core.” -Radka
“My goal with any off-the-bike work is to improve my posture, balance, and keep previously nagging injuries under control while helping me be able to sit on a bike for 6+ hours and feel solid.” -Sandra
“I find the time in the gym as a good opportunity to touch base with my body and give it the fine-tuning and attention that I can’t give when I'm training full gas. To try and iron out the imbalances between my left and right, to identify the weaker muscles and work them in isolation and stretch out those that have been overworked. Gym time, for me, is basically giving this beautiful machine of a body the TLC it deserves.” -Shirin Gerami, Triathlon
Tips for Building a Gym Routine
Start with a solid warmup.
“I spend the first 15 minutes doing different dynamic warmup movements to fire all the muscles in my body. Sometimes it’s more structured and focused on certain muscles and sometimes it’s a dance party or my boyfriend teaching me how to shoot a basketball (we’re working on it).” -Savilia
"A good warm up for me consists of burpees, squat jumps, medicine ball slams, ice skaters (side-to-side lunge jumps), etc." -Kaysee
Include a variety of exercises.
“I used to abhor the gym. I knew I needed it, but it was mind numbing and my routine never changed. I was bored out of my mind and wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. The past two seasons that has all changed with mixing up my gym sessions. In the off-season, I utilize numerous squat variations (loaded barbell squats, single leg squats, TRX squats, goblet squats, etc.) and glute bridge variations. During the season, I start with more explosive movements, utilizing timing and power data a lot more.” -Allysa
“In addition to functional strength, we include Romanian Deadlifts, Box Squats, Single Leg Deadlifts, Hip Thrusts, Kettle Bell Swings, Split Squats, and Hamstring Swiss Curls.” -Serena
"I typically complete two sets of arm/leg weighted workout combos and one set of core work. Weighted exercises include: Pushups (sometimes I use variations like t-pushups or balance ball on the feet), walking lunges with kettlebell overhead, dead lifts (I tend to opt for less weight and more reps to go easy on my hamstrings), pull ups, tricep dips, squats on a bosu ball with dumbells, renegade rows with dumbells, step ups, etc. My core set typically consists of plank with hand taps, side plank with dips, weighted v-outs, scissor kicks, and weighted Russian twists." -Kaysee
“Some of my favorite exercises at the gym include: Leg press, chin ups and pushups, and lunges with one leg on a bosu ball.” – Radka
“I typically do half the workout focused on strength exercises, and half focused on balance and coordination.” -Crystal
"I enjoy my cool downs, composed mostly of stretching. I can easily let myself rush through a good stretch session, so I usually put on some good tunes and let the music run out the clock. I always regret it the next day when I didn’t spend enough time stretching." -Leonie
Consider different gym phases to achieve your goals.
“The first phase I start my training with is a restorative phase that addresses all my imbalances and focuses on full range of motion. As a cyclist with the amount of traveling and sitting down I do, I always have super tight hip flexors (front of my hips) and tight pectorals (front of my shoulder) which then leads to weakness in my glute, core, and scapular muscles. I think this is an important phase that everyone should go through to get the proper movements, mobility, and right muscle activation before lifting heavy weights.” -Rae
You don’t need a gym membership to build strength.
“I can’t say enough about regular core, upper body and stability work! I can do it all conveniently in my home without any special equipment. That said, depending on individual weaknesses, imbalances and other factors, it may be necessary for athletes to actually visit a gym and pick up and put down heavy things.” -Sandra
Build a schedule that works for you.
"I work longer hours so finding time to get to the gym is a challenge. I can sneak an hour in the morning before work and then the timing is a bit more flexible for the afternoon. I prefer to complete cardio sessions in the afternoons and weights in the morning. I find it difficult to get motivated for cardio in the morning and when I do try, my efforts are not very good. So I stick with what works for me." -Leonie
Anything to avoid?
“One of the biggest mistakes I see and the thing that I would tell people to avoid doing is going straight to lifting as heavy as you can without full range of movement or improper technique. This at best leads to more imbalance and at worst leads to injury.” -Rae
“Focus on your form. Start with a weight that’s manageable but challenging by the second or third set and tune into your body position and overall feeling. Getting to know your body in this way and what works for you is so beneficial in the long run.” -Savilia
"I believe strength training should complement on-bike training, not interfere with or compromise it. In other words, workouts should be short and sweet and if they negatively affect cycling workouts, something in the strength program needs adjusting. For example, if your legs are still too sore from a gym workout two days ago for you to successfully hit your target watts during your interval session on the bike, the strength program isn’t right.” -Sandra
"It’s finding the balance of pushing yourself when you feel you can and know you are ready, and seeing improvements. Pushing yourself too fast and not listening to the feedback that your body is giving you, is going to end poorly and it will be a motivation destroyer." -Leonie
Ready to add gym work to your training program, but not sure where to start? Consider hiring a coach or choosing a gym with a knowledgeable staff of personal trainers. It’s important to work with someone who understands your goals and will help you get started with proper technique!