ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Are Upper Body Exercises Beneficial For Cycling?

Updated on January 14, 2013

Cycling and Weight Lifting

Cyclists have traditionally been sceptical about the benefits of lifting weights as part of their training. When cycling in the mountains, the old adage that every ounce of weight that you are carrying matters, has led to many cyclists shunning weight training completely. The idea that gaining several pounds of weight (even in the form of muscle) could significantly help performance was often discounted before cyclists looked into the science behind it.

In recent years, however, many cyclists, including professionals, have come to realise the positive impact that a carefully structured weight training plan can have on their performance. The benefits of including squats, deadlifts and core strengthening routines are now well documented. By performing heavy sets with low repetitions, it is possible for a cyclist to significantly improve their strength, without the excessive hypertrophy that is more commonly associasted with bodybuilders.

Voeckler on Tourmalet

Thomas Voeckler leading the field in the Tour de France over the Col du Tourmalet in 2012.  His arms are not huge, but you can see that they have clear strength definition from an upper body routine.
Thomas Voeckler leading the field in the Tour de France over the Col du Tourmalet in 2012. His arms are not huge, but you can see that they have clear strength definition from an upper body routine. | Source

Upper Body Training

One area, however, that many cyclists remain sceptical about, is the potential benefits from upper body weight exercises. You will often hear cyclists say 'I don't need extra mass on my upper body' or 'the riders in the Tour de France do not have big arms and chests so why would I want them?'. The key factor that is being overlooked here, is that improving the strength of the upper body is not synonymous with improving its size.

Weight training for the upper body is used extensively by professional cyclists and has numerous benefits which, when followed carefully, far outweigh the negatives. In mountain biking and BMX the benefits of improving upper body strength are more obvious than in road cycling. The need to forcefully move the handlebars around tight turns, and the need for the shoulders and upper back to provide support when landing from jumps or ending steep downhill sections are evident. Having decent upper body strength not only improves bike handling, but also improves endurance, as you will have enough strength to ride with perfect technique even on the last laps of a tough event. Muscle fatigue (along with dehydration, although if you are a serious cyclist this should not be an issue) is the greatest cause of poor technique and loss in concentration in all sports.

In road cycling, the benefits of a strong upper body are less obvious, nevertheless, there are some. The most obvious is riding out of the saddle. When you get out of the saddle, either on a climb or if you wish to accelerate quickly on the flat, much of your bodyweight moves from being supported by your pelvis to being supported by your shoulders. It is this mechanism that allows you to generate more power; although with the consequence of requiring more energy. Strong shoulders and arms, when standing on the pedals, can help you to minimise the energy expenditure through this area - meaning that you can put more effort into turning the pedals.

At Cycle Fiesta, we run cycling holidays to Tenerife which have several short steep sections where most riders get out of the saddle. The endurance on staying out of the saddle is generally greater on riders with stronger arms and shoulders, even though they are carrying a small amount of extra mass.

I can here you saying now 'but Contador is always out of the saddle, and he has arms like toothpicks!'. Firstly, although riders like Contador do not have huge arms, they have certainly strengthened them with weights, and they look like toothpicks more because of the very low bodyfat and lack of water retention and glycogen in the muscles. Secondly, once again, it is important to remember that strength training does not necessarily equal much more mass (Indeed, muscle mass is increased primarily by diet, if you do not eat more calories than normal, then your muscle gains will certainly be limited).

The other major benefit of upper body strength training for cyclists, is the benefit that it will provide to the core muscles. Exercises such as bench press (including with dumbbells), shoulder press and pull-ups have a huge impact on strengthening the core muscles in the stomach and the lower back. Having a strong core is vital for all sports; in cycling the core allows you to maintain the correct position on the bike (especially important for time trials), as well as being much more efficient than if you are constantly wasting energy to stabilise weak muscles in the mid-section.

What Is A Good Upper Body Training Plan For Cyclists

It is not possible to give a one-size-fits-all plan to weight training for cycling; everyone is different and their body responds to different stimulus. However, there are several exercises that will be of great benefit to the vast majority of cyclists. As mentioned previously, the key exercises are the bench press (with barbell or dumbells), the seated shoulder press, pull-ups and bent-over rows. Exercises such as bicep curls or tricep extensions, that most people do far too often in most commerical gyms, have little benefit for cyclists.

In order to priotise improvements in strength rather than size, the key is to lift heavy weights for low repetitions. Each exercise only needs to be done once per week, and it is possible to do them all in the same session if you do not have the time to split them. Exercises can be done to failure, or close to failure, and you should aim to increase either the amount of weight that you are using (even if only by 1-2kg) every one or two weeks. There is no need to do any super-sets, and take as much time as you need to recover between sets (this is weight training - leave the cardio for when you are on the bike!)

A sample plan would be the following:

3 (sets) x 6 (repetitions) Bench Press (or dumbbell bench press)

Pullups (as many as you can do to failure in three or four sets)

3 x 6 Shoulder Press (using barbell or dumbbells)

3 x 6 Bent Over Row (using a barbell is preferred here)

For cyclists, strength work clearly does not make up the bulk of their training; however, it is an important area not to be neglected. Spending less than one hour, twice per week in a gym (or just with a barbell and set of dumbbells at home) it is possible to greatly improve both lower and upper body strength, giving you a real advantage over other cyclists whose dated training methods are holding them back.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)