Female doing dumbbell bench rows

A Cyclists Guide to Weight Training: How to Build Muscle AND Endurance

Yes, the rumors are true - it's important. If you want to improve your cycling performance, then weight training is a must.

While many cyclists focus only on endurance training, neglecting strength work can be a huge mistake. Lifting weights and increasing your strength is an important part of taking your cycling to the next level.

However, weight training as a cyclist presents a unique set of challenges. Because cycling is primarily an aerobic activity, cyclists need to be careful not to overtrain their anaerobic (strength) systems at the expense of their endurance. In other words, they need to strike a balance between building muscle and maintaining their cardiovascular fitness.

In this guide, I'll show you how to do just that. We'll start with a brief overview of the benefits of weight training for cyclists.

Then, we'll give you some tips on designing an effective strength-training program. Finally, we'll provide some guidance on how to integrate weight training into your overall cycling training plan.

So, let's get started!

What are the benefits of weight training for cyclists?

There is a reason that so many professional cyclists include weight training in their training programs. Tom Bell and Dr. Emma Wilkins from High North Performance note that "The evidence base for combined strength and endurance training having a positive impact on cycling performance is mounting every year..."

Weight training has proven to provide a number of benefits for cyclists, including:

1.) Increased power output: In order to ride at high speeds, cyclists need to be able to generate a lot of power. Studies have shown that weight training can help improve power output, making it an important part of any cyclist's training regimen.

2.) Improved muscular endurance: Cyclists need to be able to maintain their pedaling cadence for long periods of time. Weight training can help improve muscular endurance, allowing cyclists to ride longer and stronger.

3.) Improved joint stability: The repetitive nature of cycling can put a lot of stress on the joints. Weight training can help improve joint stability, reducing the risk of injuries.

4.) Greater cycling economy: Studies have shown that weight training can help improve cycling economy, which is a measure of how efficiently a cyclist uses energy. Improving your cycling economy can help you ride faster and longer with less effort.

5.) Injury prevention: A well-designed strength training program can help identify and correct muscular imbalances, which can help prevent injuries.

6.) Increased bone density:  Cycling is a non-weight bearing activity, which means that it doesn't put much stress on the bones. As a result, cyclists are at risk of developing osteoporosis. Weight training can help increase bone density, reducing the risk of injuries and improving long-term health.

With all these benefits it's clear that weight training is an important part of any cyclist's training program.

Tips for Building Muscle and Endurance

Now that we understand the benefits of weight training as a cyclist, let's focus on how you can incorporate it into your workout routine so you're building muscle AND endurance.

Train your whole body

The first thing you want to understand is that it's important for you to strength train your entire body. Too many cyclists fall into the trap of only training their upper body and core because they think cycling is enough for their legs.

Or they go too far in the other direction and skip the upper body and core completely and just focus on the legs. Both of these approaches are a mistake because they can lead to imbalances and injuries.

The American Council of Exercise notes that:

"Muscle imbalances can be a potential cause of injury because they can affect the position of the joint at rest and change its path of motion during movement, both of which are potential causes of injury."

The best approach is to focus on strength training all of your major muscle groups equally. This will help you develop the power, endurance, and stability you need to ride strong.

Prioritize nutrition

Another important part of building muscle and endurance at the same time is to make sure you're eating enough calories and getting the right mix of nutrients.

When you strength train, you're breaking down muscle tissue. In order to repair and build new muscle, your body needs a good supply of protein. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.

You also need to make sure you're getting enough calories and carbohydrates to support your training. If you don't eat enough, your body will start breaking down muscle for energy, which is the opposite of what you want.

A study on glycogen metabolism notes that "consuming a diet sufficient in carbohydrates, along with ingesting carbohydrates during and following exercise, can improve performance and speed recovery."

They recommend you consume 1.4-4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day depending on the training intensity and duration of your workout.

Making sure you're getting enough protein and carbs in your diet is important to help your body recover from workouts and build new muscle.

Adjust your cycling sessions accordingly

Especially in the off-season, you'll have to make some adjustments to your endurance training as you start adding in weight training.

The goal is to find a balance that allows you to get the benefits of both without overtraining or undertraining.

A good place to start is cycling at least 3 days a week in-season and 1-2 days a week off-season. About 60% of the time, you want to bike below your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR).

The other 40% of the time, you should be alternating high-intensity bursts followed by active recovery. For the high-intensity intervals, you want to be riding above your LTHR. These should last for 1-5 minutes followed by a few minutes of easy pedaling to recover.

If you're unsure of your LTHR, you can use a heart rate monitor to find it.

To do this, warm up for 10 minutes then ride at a hard, but sustainable pace for 30 minutes. Note your heart rate at 10 minutes and the 30-minute mark.

Your LTHR is your average heart rate for the last 20 minutes.

Don't forget rest days

Another really important part of building strength and endurance is making sure you give your body time to recover. Rest days are just as important as training days.

On rest days, you can still be active, but you want to focus on low-intensity activities like walking or light stretching. This will help your muscles recover and prepare for your next workout.

If you don't give your body time to recover, you'll start to see a decrease in performance and an increase in injuries.

Lifting Weights During the Off-Season

The off-season, when the weather starts to get cold and wet, is the perfect time to start shifting your workouts more toward weight training.

You can still ride your bike, but you'll want to start cutting back the mileage and focus on quality over quantity. Instead of riding 5-6 days a week, you can drop down to 1-2 days.

This will give you more time to focus on strength training without sacrificing too much of your endurance. Ideally, this will give you 5-6 days a week where you can hit the gym and start working on building muscle and strength.

Lifting Weights In-Season

Once the weather starts to warm up and you can start riding outside again, you'll want to focus on maintaining the muscle and strength you've built during the off-season. This time of year you'll spend more time cycling and working on your endurance.

Plan to lift weights at least 2 days a week and cycle at least 3 days a week. If you want to perform at really high levels, you'll want to be on the bike 5-6 days a week.

As you condense your weight training routine down into 2 days, I recommend you split up the types of exercises you're doing. 1 day of the week should be for pull exercises and 1 day should be push exercises.

This split will help you get the most out of your workouts in a shorter period of time.

Sample Workout Plans

Here is a sample workout plan for lifting in the off-season:

Day 1 - Chest


  • Warm-up, 20-25 total pushups


  • 3-4 exercises

Day 2 - Biceps


  • 1 set of 30 DB alternating curls using a light weight


  • 3-4 exercises

Day 3 - Triceps


  • Warm-up, 1 set of 20-30 dips using a bench (or assisted dip machine)


  • 3-4 exercises

Day 4 - Back


  • Warm-up, 1 set of 30 lat pulldowns using a light weight


  • 3-4 exercises

Day 5 - Shoulders


  • Warm-up, 1 set of 20 DB front raises and 20 DB lateral raises using a light weight


  • 3-4 exercises

Day 6 - Legs


  • Warm-up, 5-10 minutes on a bike or a steep treadmill


  • 1-2 exercises


  • 1 exercise


  • 1-2 exercises


  • 1-2 exercises

Day 7 - Rest day or a make-up day or Cardio

Here is a sample workout plan for lifting in-season:

Day 1 - Push Day


  • 20-25 total pushups

3-4 Exercises for Upper Body

  • Bench Press
  • Triceps Pushdown
  • Dips
  • Lying Triceps Extension
  • Side Lateral Raise

3-4 exercises for Legs

  • Goblet Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Lunge
  • Calf Raise

Day 2 - Pull Day


  • 1 set of 30 DB alternating curls using a light weight

3-4 Exercises for Upper Body

  • Lat Pulldowns
  • Bent-Over Rows
  • Bicep Curls
  • Pull-ups
  • Dumbbell Rows

3-4 Exercises for Legs

  • Deadlifts
  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
  • Kettlebell Swing


  • Face pulls 3 sets of 20 reps
  • Crunches 4 sets of 25 reps (or hanging crunches)
  • Laying side bends to touch heels 2x25 reps
  • Rotator cuff forearm rotations out with a band, 4 sets of 20-15-12-10 reps
  • Stiff arm crunch-ups on a dip bar 2x25 reps
  • Pelvic thrusts 3 sets of 15 reps (use a heavy DB)


  • Pick a weight that you’ll likely fail on the last rep of every set.  If you don’t fail, go up next time.
  • The time between sets should be 60-90 seconds so you can push heavier weights
  • You should be going up in weight when going from 12 to 10 to 8 to 6 reps. The amount is determined by failing on the last rep (rule above).
  • If there are other supplementary exercises you like or that help you prevent injuries, I encourage you to squeeze them wherever you can.

The Takeaway

Having a good balance of weight training and cycling will help prevent injuries and help you perform at your best. By following these guidelines for weight training for cyclists, you can build muscle, endurance, AND strength.

Remember to focus on quality over quantity. The goal is not to lift the heaviest weights possible but to complete the exercises with proper form.

Time to hit the gym so you can start seeing results!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

1 of 3