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Q | I’m an avid cyclist but don’t do any strength training. What are the benefits of adding it to my routine? What beginner moves can I start with?

A | It’s not uncommon for cyclists to think their weekly mileage is enough to build a strong body. But adding some strength training to your routine will make your time on the bike more comfortable — and help you be a better all-around rider.

“For cycling, as with any endurance sport, approaching it with a holistic mindset of endurance training, strength training, and interval training is important to improving not only performance but overall health and fitness,” says Jeff Rosga, NASM-CPT, NASM-PES, senior director of Life Time Academy in St. Paul, Minn.

“The old-school mentality of using one type of training or simply adding volume is being replaced by more progressive, balanced approaches designed to deliver results,” he says.

Rosga, a competitive cyclist and cycling instructor, offers the following three-pronged approach to balancing endurance and strength training:

Build muscle; improve work efficiency.

Work efficiency — also known as work economy or, more specifically in this case, cycling economy — is simply the amount of oxygen needed to perform a certain task, explains Rosga. “Including resistance training can ensure stronger muscles and ligaments to provide more structural support, allowing athletes to use less oxygen during endurance events.”

Subtract distance; add plyometrics.

Plyometric training — think jumping and sprinting — also improves economy and lactate processing. By adding plyo moves like jumping lunges and box jumps, you can increase how “explosive” you are in the saddle. You’ll also be able to pull back on overall training distance without sacrificing performance for distance events.

Get results with interval training.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is fast becoming an important component of endurance training because of its time-efficient potential,” says Rosga, who recommends HIIT sessions as short as 20 minutes, twice a week.

Starting Strength

Rosga recommends incorporating the following exercises with your regular rides. To get started, perform two or three sets, twice per week.

Starting Strength

1. Romanian Deadlifts (illustrated above)

  • Begin by holding a weight at the top of your deadlift, either by deadlifting the weight from the floor or unracking it at hip height.
  • Initiate the movement by hinging your hips back. Keep the weight close to your body as it travels down your legs.
  • Once your hips can no longer reach back, squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips forward to return to standing.
  • Repeat for 12–20 reps. (Visit “BREAK IT DOWN: The Romanian Deadlift” for more form details and variations.)

2. Bird Dogs

  • Assume an all-fours position. Contract your core by flattening your spine — imagine balancing a glass of water on your lower back.
  • Extend your left arm forward, palm down, and your right leg behind you, until they are parallel to the floor.
  • Briefly hold the extended position. Draw your elbow and knee back toward each other.
  • Repeat 12–20 reps per side. (For more details, see  “BREAK IT DOWN: The Bird Dog“.)

3. Plank

  • Lie on your stomach. Place your elbows under your shoulders with your forearms on the floor.
  • Lift your torso off the ground so you are balanced on the balls of your feet and forearms.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

4. Hip Bridges

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. From this position, engage your core, press your back into the floor, and begin squeezing your glutes.
  • Keep the glutes engaged and weight even across both feet as you press your hips up. Extend your hips fully so your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  • Hold this position for one breath, continuing to squeeze your glutes. Take care not to overextend and arch your back by keeping your ribs in proper alignment.
  • Slowly reverse the movement — keep squeezing your glutes and don’t collapse to the floor — to return to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  • Repeat 15–20 reps with pause at the top. (Finesse your bridge form at “BREAK IT DOWN: The Glute Bridge“.)

5. Step-Ups

  • Facing a box or step that’s about 6 to 15 inches high, lift your left foot off the ground and step on the box.
  • Exhale and engage your core. Then drive through your left heel to stand up on the box, drawing your right knee up to hip height. Inhale.
  • Exhale as you slowly reverse the movement, returning your right foot to the floor on a count of two.
  • Repeat 12–20 times on the left, then switch sides. (Go to “The Workout: Train for the Trail” for tips to make this move easier or more challenging.)

6. Alternating Lunge Jumps

  • Stand in a split stance, right leg forward, with both knees softly bent. Keep your core engaged and your spine neutral; weight is balanced on both feet.
  • Bend both knees to lower into a split squat, making sure that your front knee does not cross over your toes.
  • When your back knee is about an inch from the ground, exhale and then immediately push off your front foot as you lift your back foot to jump. In midair, switch your feet so that your left leg is now in front and your right leg is behind you.
  • Land softly on the ball of your front foot, sinking back into your heel; then let your back foot touch down as you lower into a split squat. Inhale.
  • Repeat 10 reps per side. (See “Jump Around: A Plyometric Workout“.)

7. Pushups 

  • Assume a high-plank position, with hands slightly wider than shoulder width, arms extended (but not locked), and body straight from heels to the top of your head.
  • Keeping your body straight and your head in a neutral position, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. Bend your arms and retract your shoulder blades to lower yourself until your arms form 90-degree angles.
  • Reverse the movement, pushing yourself back to the starting position without breaking the straight line from head to heels.
  • Repeat for 12–20 reps. (For additional tips and variations, visit “BREAK IT DOWN: The Pushup“.)

8. Pull-Ups or TRX Rows

Illustration by: Kveta

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