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Off-season lifting strategies...anyone.... PODIUMBOUND?(30 posts)

Off-season lifting strategies...anyone.... PODIUMBOUND?funknuggets
Oct 8, 2002 7:34 AM

Are there specific weight movements that would help power for sprinting and climbing? I see how specific push movements with the legs could help generate power in the quads/calves, but are there specific techniques that the knee-wary cyclist should utilize to maximize the effectiveness of the movements?

Squats: I could see how a squat movement would be benefical to the glutes and quads, however... there are many things in a squat that could potentially be useless or damaging. A deep squat for example would likely do more harm then good. Instead, should you press your butt further back in your stance to keep your knees as close as possible over your feet, instead of way in front? How deep should you go, what reps, weight, how many sets? I have spoken with PODIUMBOUND on this subject before, but little was said about proper technique for a cyclist. I think I have some ideas but wanted to see if there are any tried and true methods out there.

Leg extensions: Besides strengthening around the knee, what use does this have to a cyclist? This is an unnatural mechanical motion and seems to have more negative effect to my knees than any of the other movements. If I do these at all, I do super low weight and super high reps. Any thoughts?

Lunges: This is a big question mark for me. I would think these could potentially have the greatest impact on a cyclist. Being able to isolate the legs individually should far exceed any standard double-leg press or squat. However, I see the same questions and problems as exist with a squat. Proper technique with lunges are vastly more difficult with these. Is weight better across the shoulders, or held in the hands more effective, how deep? I also am curious if lunges to a raised surface (a box or a step) would be more effective and help eliminate extreme knee angles. In addition, is there a proper height that would maximize benefit relative to the pedal stroke?

Calf raises: Does anyone really think these are effective? If so, how many reps and what kind of weight?

Leg Curls: Once again the reps vs weight question. I think these can really be beneficial. I never really notices how much the hammys can be used in the pedal stroke until I did alternate 1-2 minute leg intervals on my trainer at home. Holy smokes.

Let me know if you have any experience or knowlege regarding these or other leg exercizes. I would love to incorporate these or other ideas into my training.

Thanks in advance.

re: Off-season lifting strategies...anyone.... PODIUMBOUND?BryanJL
Oct 3, 2002 5:55 AM
Hi Chris,

Porbably you'll get a lot of information on this.

Regardless, I highly, highly recommend the following (book) resources:

Ed Burke, Serious Cycling
Joe Friel, Cyclists Training Bible

These have pictures and give rationale for the exercises. I like having these books because I can constantly refer to them (a remnant of my grad school days and wishing to view the original sources myself).

There's a significant amount of "folk" or anecdotal information about just about everything, including weights and cycling. These books will help you cut through that and decide what's best for you.

Lastly, get an illustrated atlas of the human body, or a laminated chart showing the muscles..I've found it very helpful for me in understanding the body, muscles, etc.

Good luck,

Squats ARE NOT bad for the kneesbrider
Oct 8, 2002 8:15 AM
However, there are things that a lot of people do when squatting that do bad things for the knees.

One, the knee WILL travel forward when squatting, but don't let it go past the toes.

Squatting deep IS NOT the problem that people make it out to be. The problem is that once some one goes deep, they bounce at the bottom to get the lift started out of the hole. DO NOT DO THIS. Squats need to be pressed out, no momentum.

Don't allow the knee to collapse inward. If your knees start creeping inward, then you need to work the abductors and strengthen them to keep your form when squatting. Lunges have the same effect, and are much mor difficult to control.

Also, do NOT use any form of heel lift, and don't use a Smith machine.

There is more danger to the back with deteriorating form than to the knees. Keep your head up, your back arched hard, and the shoulder blades back and down.

There really isn't a unique form for cyclists.

Leg extensions -- these can have bad effects on dicey knees when going to 90 degrees. You'll get the same strengthening effect by only working the last 30 degrees of motion.

Calf raises -- go HEAVY with these. You'll know when you get there. Calves recover fast (as do forearms, but that's not really a concern for you). Do both seated and standing versions.

Leg curls -- I prefer stiff-legged deadlifts for hamstring work.
Squats ARE NOT bad for the kneesJon Billheimer
Oct 8, 2002 8:21 AM
All the above exercises will build strength, but not necessarily power for cycling, as they can't be done at appropriate velocities. However, some research does indicate that following through with plyometrics will improve sprint power.A good resource is "High Powered Plyometrics" by Radcliffe and Farrentinos. There are others as well.
jon- shhhh! don't tell 'em the secret!(nm)merckx56
Oct 8, 2002 8:25 AM
Weights when done properly will help on the bikePODIUMBOUNDdotCA
Oct 8, 2002 8:38 AM
If you properly periodize your program to have a hypertropy (break down the muscle and build new muscle/recruit all the muscle), max strength and then a power phase you will notice a much larger difference on the bike. *You have to train the muscles at the speed they will be working at* and lifting a lot squating with a 2.1.2 tempo or worse yet a slower 4.1.2 can actually make you slower on the bike whether your stronger or not. In the case of plyometrics the stimulus are the explosive movements.

You may think that is the case...Wayne
Oct 8, 2002 8:59 AM
and I guess it could be for any given individual. But studies that have looked at this in a controlled fashion have failed to show any significant endurance performance benefit. If there was any group it would seem to be beneficial for it would be track sprinters but I'm not sure if any one has looked at this. I say the latter merely because most good track sprinters are heavily muscled and undoubtably weights are the best means of inducing hypertrophy.
Study could have been faulty or geared towards that resultPODIUMBOUNDdotCA
Oct 8, 2002 9:10 AM
The study could have been either 1) faulty just making a group of cyclists go into the weightroom and do one workout completely negating any idea of periodization or 2) purposely engineered (possibly through using no periodization on purpose) to get this result. I feel when strength training is done properely it can help an endurance athlete but the keyword properly is a huge catch 22. I believe Lance has been well documented to do weights in the off season but he has an amazing coaching team behind him. It doesn't mean the average person shouldn't spend time in the weight room, it just means that to MAXIMIZE results either 1) they should try to get as well versed in the topic through reading books like High Performance Sport Conditioning, Periodization: ... by Tudor Bompa, and whatever other cycling training books there are or find a good strength coach. Either tends to be fairly expensive.

I disagree with not using a heel liftPODIUMBOUNDdotCA
Oct 8, 2002 9:14 AM
I was at a conference this weekend and one of the sessions I went to was Strenth Training: From Research to Program Design and the guy talked about all kinds of stuff we're debating here from deep squats to knees over the toes in the squats and AIDS like a heel lift. He made an interesting point that a person should use an aid when necessary to completely the proper range of motion. Then using staggered sets where either your stretch your calf between sets and then move towards doing one set with the aid (heel lift) and one is done without until you are slowly weened off the aid. He had a client who did this and now can squat without the heel lift free.

I found this a really interesting idea.

And the goal of all that manipulation was...brider
Oct 8, 2002 11:16 AM
to NOT use the lift. Remember, when cyclists go into the gym, they're basically lazy. If some one starts using a heel lift, they'll generally continue to use a heel lift.

The fact is that heel lifts (and hack-squat machines) place a high shearing force on the knees.
For when someone cannot squat properly without the lift (nm)PODIUMBOUNDdotCA
Oct 8, 2002 11:45 AM
I have a problem with calf raises.hrv
Oct 8, 2002 11:56 AM
Over the last several years, whenever I try calf raises, the exercise is great, but when I do other activities, including cycling, I get calf cramps, so I stopped doing them. Going through growing pains, or what? Keep at them and it should go away?

Try drinking more and stretchingPODIUMBOUNDdotCA
Oct 8, 2002 12:21 PM
Your calf cramps could be caused more dehydration that any problems with the muscle. So drink lots of water and stretch your calfs out. I used to have the exact same problem and it was all due to not drinking enough.

Hope this helps,
But only get cramps after doing calf raises.hrv
Oct 8, 2002 12:40 PM
If I don't do calf raises -- no problem. Can ride a century with zip calf issues. Do a few calf raises, bam!, next ride or two - cramps.

I'll try drinking more and see if that helps.

Oct 8, 2002 9:00 AM
Theres a key principle in training that needs to be adhered to at all times to see results. And thats work the muscles as close to the same way as the actual movement. So in cycling this means using the same range of movement you use on the bike and then at the speed you will use on the bike... I'm still trying to figure out how much past 90 degrees I really go to make changes to my program. Now its impossible and dangerous to do hypertrophy or max strength at the speed you will on the bike when climbing let alone sprinting so thius is where a power phase comes into play and the wonder of periodization is noticed.

I recommend my strength coaches at or a book called Periodization: ... (can't remember the rest of the name) by Tudor Bompa.

As for the exercises themselves theres a few you should for sure do... those are squats, deadlifts, single leg leg press and lunges. But make sure to use as close to perfect form on all of them... so flat back on deadlifts, proper depth on leg press and slow and controlled movements on lunges. On squats 1) they aren't bad for the knees when done properly and 2) keeping your knees behind your toes *isnt necessary... its simply a statement to keep your weight balanced in the middle of your foot.* Also if you lack the ankle flexibility to go all the way down you can use a heel wedge (contrary to what someone else said) just stop using it as quickly as possible. I''ll talk about this in reply to that post though. As for foot width it should be in the range of just slightly wider than shoulder width. Also make sure to control the weight through the entire range of motion. Finally if you have any knee wobble you'll need to put some hip abductor, adductor exercises in to stabilize.

As for leg extension... I don't think its necessary unless you have weak quads but most people don't so if anything you would need to do leg curls as a supplementary exercise at the end of a workout.

In terms of a schedule I recommend most definitely to at least split these exercises into 2 workouts looking at which ones focus around a squat based workout (squats, single leg press, lunges) and a deadlift workout (deadlift, leg curls, if you want calf raises). Also with these workouts make sure to incorporate in upper body exercises like pushing during the squat workout and pulling during the deadlift as well as core in every workout.

As for calf raises they will help if you have weak calfs and at the very least they will help you get nice definition for the season.

Then as the season approaches and you've completely your hypertrophy and max strength phase if you can't do/don't want to learn power lifts I'd recommend doing plyos.

If you have any questions feel free to send me an email (

O ya... Robbie Mcewen attributs his success to WEIGHTSPODIUMBOUNDdotCA
Oct 8, 2002 9:02 AM
Very interesting fact one of my strength coaches pointed out to me. He said this in velonews I believe. Now of course he doesn't rely solely on weights and probably has an excellent periodization plan in place but this says a lot for the merit of weights when done properely.

O ya... Robbie Mcewen attributs his success to WEIGHTSJon in CT
Oct 8, 2002 9:37 AM
Please...everyone...listen to Podiumbound.

This is coming from someone who gets paid to give this type of advice to cyclists.

And for the record...pitch the leg extensions and curls. There is very little cross-over to cycling and you can potentially do more harm to yourself than good.

And one final comment...
Although Dr. Burke's books and Joe Friel's books are at the top of my list on good info for cycling training, they are not experts in strength training. They are giving examples of exercises that have been used in the past and may not be the most effective. I'm not saying all the info they give on weights is no good; some of it is very good. But you need to find a book, cycling coach or personal trainer that is up to date with the latest training technology.

A tip: use one leg at a time for as many lifts as possible (step ups, lunges, single-leg medicine ball squats)...and for your own sake, try to stay off machines that fix your body in a given position and control the path of the weight for you.

Jon in CT
Oct 8, 2002 9:32 AM
it's not one study there have been many, and I can't really see why anyone would engineer a study to disprove weightlifting improves endurance performance.
Any physical therapist or anyone else that knows how to use a goniometer can measure the amount of knee flexion you're at at the top of your pedal stroke (which would be the greatest amount) if you want that info, and similarly you can use the same instrument to measure how much knee flexion you're at when at the bottom of your squat or leg press, etc.
Also a basic muscle physiology principle is that there is an inverse relationship between the force and velocity of a contraction. Consequently if you tried to lift weights at cycling-like velocities you would necessarily have to use relatively light weights and vice versa if you want to generate high force contractions they must be slow (that doesn't mean you can't try to move fast but the speed at which you can move will be limited by the weight).
I remain skeptical that weightlifting will improve cycling endurance for many reasons, but I'm glad that you feel it works for you.
Oct 8, 2002 10:53 AM
I know theres studies out there that disprove weights help endurance performance. And when you word it that way it won't. Obviously if you try to be a body builder your VO2 max decreases with greater ammounts of muscle. I was a heck of a lot better climber at around 150 lbs than I am around 190 lbs now. But when done properly as an addition to normal endurance training (never in place) it can and will help sprinting, climbing and pushing larger gears on the flats which outweigh since you have the strength to generate more power.

As for doing weights to emphasize power you need to do olympic lifting which isn't an option for many people so thats where plyos come into play.

Then with the goniometer I have to get my hands on one. I've just started thinking about what range of motion I should be doing in the last couple days so I haven't really acted on my curiousity.

I like the way you train!!!up_hiller
Oct 8, 2002 10:08 AM
It is so great to hear someone who is primarily a cycling buff speaking something other than gibberish about weights. I hit the weights four times per week, and cycle/run a couple of times a week just for fun and to keep some level of endurance. I have spent many hours reading about weight training principles and theory, techniques, etc. and fully agree with everything you suggest. Whenever I see threads like this I am tempted to try to disspell fallacies and warn of the most common mistakes, but I usually have trouble putting all my thoughts into some logical order. Plus, since I am technically as unqualified as anyone else to give advice about this stuff, why should anyone listen to me? Anyway, thanks for putting in the effort to type that response. I hope everyone who uses weights in the off-season takes your advice.

I can tell you are familiar with Ian King's work, too. Cool.
Just for my erudition...Wayne
Oct 8, 2002 10:36 AM
You state, "Theres a key principle in training that needs to be adhered to at all times to see results. And thats work the muscles as close to the same way as the actual movement." This seems to be pretty much a solid conclusion supported by numerous studies (including those of a multitude of strength training studies). Then you go onto advocate weightlifting to improve cycling, why not cycling to improve cycling?
Re: Just for my erudition...PODIUMBOUNDdotCA
Oct 8, 2002 11:05 AM
This is a good point. Why don't Olympic sprinters (running) just sprint to go fast? My answer is simply its too difficult to get the ammount of load to create the ammount of microtrauma needed to create the strength gains to increase speed. As such they work on a periodized program. In the offseason they spend a lot of time in the weight room using the range of motion (they don't train only their back, or do squats a quarter of the way down to run faster) as well as jogging to create the endurance base with minimal sprint work on the track. Things that slow down the speed of the muscle. Then as the season approaches they start doing more and more power movements in the weight room, increase time on the running track sprinting and decrease aerobic training volume.

Now applying this to cycling. In the winter you train the *range of motion* you'd use on the bike in the weight room while spending time on the bike building a good endurance base. Then as the season approaches you begin to do more power lifts or plyometrics to make that strength useful on the bike when countering attacks, climbing and sprinting and more specific workouts such as lactic acid intervals and so on.

My 2 cents,
I've always thought thatscottfree
Oct 8, 2002 11:11 AM
pushing a bigger gear than normal would accomplish the same thing, by increasing load on the specific muscles/muscle groups. Spend a few weeks fighting your way up a favorite hill in a smaller cog and see how much stronger you get.

You can do the same thing on a trainer. I normally spend the winter using much higher gears/resistance than I normally encounter on the road, but the movements are specific to cycling.
re: Off-season lifting strategies...anyone.... PODIUMBOUND?PEDDLEFOOT
Oct 8, 2002 9:19 AM
I did leg weights last off seaon (Nov. thru Feb) with the specific purpose of strengthening my legs for climbing.I concentrated mainly on the strength exercices such as squats,presses,hamstring curls and calf raises.I also did low rep high weight the majority of the time.

The results were increased climbing strength and the ability to hold pace on the hills.It did not make me faster on flats or help my endurance but I didn't expect it to.

I would recommend weight training for everyone but try to be specific for what you want to improve.Do some research and find out what exercices and weights will benefit the most for your goals.

Good luck and stay with it.
Even if lifting doesn't help your cycling, what abouthrv
Oct 8, 2002 11:47 AM
how cycling is viewed as a 'non-weight bearing' activity and how lifting would fill in that gap, ie, maintain bone density? I guess so would walking/running, but some of us like to lift. So does cycling really not contribute that much to maintaining bone mass (something us older types need to be concerned with)?

Also, for me, I really can't do much overgeared climbing drills, jumps, etc. without a strength base achieved via lifting.

I believe the theoretical basis for...Wayne
Oct 8, 2002 11:54 AM
the loss of bone mass that may be associated with cycling has to do with the hormonal response to endurance exercise more so than the non-weight bearing nature of cycling. Of course, running vs. cycling (or swimming) would provide some good groups to compare this theory.
Weights = necessarymass_biker
Oct 8, 2002 12:07 PM
As a skinny (145lb) runt with little time to train, weights have made the difference between getting dropped and actually making a difference in a race.

I use the fall to build core strength, and then as we head towards the Spring races, focus more on refining that winter-gotten strength to translate it into on-the-bike power.

My typical week has 2 (or 3, depending on how cruddy the weekend is) weight sessions, bookended by swimming workouts, and with time on the rollers as needed. I have found that the combination of leg strength (weights) and leg speed (rollers) along with general aerobic fitness/efficiency (those frigid 3+ hour rides in January on the winter beater) translates into decent fighting form come March - fighting form that can be refined as you spend more and more time outside (on the bike) as the weather and the light turn in your favor.

My big breakthrough came over the last two years as I put more time in the gym in the fall than normal (just lifting base weight to get used to the routine) that allowed me to really start focusing the workouts in January/February.

I've got a little experience in this area...Breakfast
Oct 8, 2002 2:14 PM
This is my own theory on weight lifting and cycling and it doesn't have to fit everyone nor should it:

I believe in the off season a cyclist benefits by strength training using weights. Furthermore, I think the cyclist needs to continue cycling throughout the winter season except that instead of winning races as a goal he uses the off-season to build upon his base and his technique. He works on pedal stroke with high rpm and very low rpm power stroke pedaling, as well as one-legged and super-high rpm efforts usually on a trainer instead of the road. The idea is to improve the biomechanics and keep the base you have going. Since the weather changes, and there are very few races, sprinting and hill climbing are less frequent for the cyclist during winter and the cyclist's pedaling and overall strength is bound to fall off. Weights are a great way to keep the muscles adapted to strength demands and to also make strength gains if done properly.

Periodization is important and equally important is progressive resistance and strength gain over the weight lifting period. A program lasting at least 6-8 weeks ought to begin with one set per exercise and near the end incorporate more sets and exercises plus some varied movements. At the end of this 6-8 week period some strength gains should be realized, otherwise not much was accomplished.

Stretching muscles after a weight training session and spinning on a trainer to clear out waste by-products in the muscle from lifting is beneficial. Scheduling your cycling workouts on separate days is advised so that you don't overtrain.

The best movements for lower body training with weights, I believe, are: the squat, the hack squat, the leg press, the lunge, the step-up with a barbell across the shoulders, leg curls (single and double with benches and cables) back extensions (these work the hams, too) and deadlifts. Stay away from leg extensions, yet do calves with a slow stretch and an explosive lift going fully down and up to complete extension, (think of the ballet dancer and up almost on toes). I can't convey how badly most people perform calf training in gyms, it reminds me of another fast, rhythmic motion done by oneself to oneself!

The gym sessions need to also include core training; lots of abs, lower back, and hip and trunk flexibility.

With regard to upper body training, I think you can do circuit type training which many say is good cardio work since it emphasizes less resistance than strength training and relys on speed and very short recovery periods between sets. Some cyclists worry about upper body weight gain, I don't feel that's a big concern but circuit training does not build much bulk and is a good strategy, I feel.
Lifting in the off seasonpeloton
Oct 9, 2002 1:16 AM
I think the real reason most people here should lift in the off season is for reasons other than sport specific movement improvements in performance. I would be willing to be that most people here have many, many imbalances in their bodies, and some are exascerbated by their bikes. I would be willing to bet there are many out here with anterior rolls to their shoulders, pelvic tilt from tight hip flexors, and relatively weak core strength all around. Most people don't know that cycling activates the abs very little, and core strength can suffer as a result. Cycling makes you a hunched over, imbalanced person. Not to mention in it's non-weight bearing fashion it doesn't do much for bone density. A well designed strength and flexibility program is going to take care of some of these imbalances and make you a stronger, healthier person. You will be stronger on the bike as well as a result without even getting into sport specific training.

The problem with getting information in this type of forum is no one can see you. Hard to tell what someone needs to work on without seeing them in person. Do you know if you have pelvic tilt? Anterior roll of the shoulders? A weak lower back? Weak vastus medialus causing rotary movements in your squat? Could you be putting pressure on your cervical spine by doing lat pulls incorrectly? What to stretch for a tight IT band? Plasic or spindle for that same muscle causing ITBS issues? How long to hold the stretch to effect either? Lots of questions, and it's hard to answer here.

Look at some of the myths that go around- How about squats? Squats are great, and even deep squats can be fine as well. Full squats can be done if the backs of the legs don't contact the calf, there is no rotary movements of the knee, and no bouncing. Full squats are also a good way to hurt yourself if you don't do them right. Would you be able to identify a rotarty movement, and then deal with the issue causing it? Most people simply need someone to guide them through this stuff and adjust their workouts accordingly. There is no shame in that, and many 'trainers' aren't all that qualified either. I saw a study recently that was given to a group of trainers on basic physiology, and the majority failed. Not good.

The best strength training advise that anyone can get on the net is to go to a QUALIFIED physical trainer. Look for someone with National Strength and Conditioning Assoc. CSCS cert, someone recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine, or a certified athletic trainer. Finding someone who is truly qualified isn't always easy, but you will get safe results when you do so.

Fielding specific training questions over the net can produce some decent info, but trying to design a workout plan over the net is a little suspect. FWIW
Oh, my body is imbalanced alright, and I proved it last night.hrv
Oct 9, 2002 6:40 AM
Took my first yoga class. Being a 'tight connective tissue' type to begin with, I didn't have much range of motion. Not sure how much bike riding put me out of alignment but my balance weaknesses were glaringly obvious. Strenghtening these skills (not the least of which is concentrated breathing) will be a major fitness/body awareness piece of the puzzle I have been missing for a long time.

(note to self: lift weights before class, not after !)