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Workouts To Build Cycling Leg Strength

Updated on May 16, 2013
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer, he ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

You need to build cycling strength for racing

You need to build cycling strength to help competition performance. Particularly for events like cyclocross
You need to build cycling strength to help competition performance. Particularly for events like cyclocross | Source

Build Cycling Strength for improved performance

Strength is a key attribute for a cyclist. Cycling strength is required for overcoming force to drive the pedals and bike forwards. When you're riding you need strength for riding into tough headwinds and powering your way up long climbs.

By building cycling strength over the winter and by using specialised strength training workouts on your bike you can lead yourself towards better performances. Whether you're looking for your first road race win, want to improve your sportive performance or you're simply looking to beat your friends to the cafe on a local group ride.

This article will focus specifically at gaining your cycling strength on the bike.

Is strength a limiting factor for your cycling?

We all know of riders who tend to hide in a bunch when the winds pick up, or tend to struggle when courses aren't completely flat. Cycling leg strength can be a limiting factor in many riders.

Is cycling strength a limiting factor for your performance?

Riding on your own can lead to improved cycling leg strength

Cycling alone can lead to improvements in strength. Pictured: David Fletcher of Orangemonkey- Cannondale
Cycling alone can lead to improvements in strength. Pictured: David Fletcher of Orangemonkey- Cannondale | Source

Build strength by riding on your own

Riding on you're own or in very small groups is one of the most effective ways to build your strength for cycling. The reason for this is that it forces you to do all of the work. Riding alone is a great cycling workout to build more strength.

When riding on your own you won't necessarily be able to ride for long periods at extremely high speeds. Riding with control for extended periods of time into the wind and up long gradients will help you develop into a more forceful rider whilst developing other aspects such as climbing and endurance.

Many Pro riders spend a large proportion of their training on long rides averaging 20-24 mph to develop both strength and endurance. If you can ride for a few hours at 20 mph on your own then sitting on someone's wheel at higher speeds is going to feel relatively easy during a road race.

Many road cyclists tend to enjoy group riding. They're a great way of getting in those endurance miles whilst the time ticks away relatively quickly however they should be just one of the workout's in your training arsenal.

It's easy to hide away in a bunch- but it won't help your strength

It's easy to hide on group cycling rides but riding on the front is when you get stronger
It's easy to hide on group cycling rides but riding on the front is when you get stronger | Source

Use group rides sparingly as part of your training

Many cyclists spend a huge proportion of their training by riding in big groups. Unfortunately group rides may not be helping you reach your strength potential for a number of reasons.

  1. On group rides you only spend a short amount of time riding into the wind. Your 'turn' is the only point when riding two-by-two that you're getting a full workout.
  2. Short turns on group rides are not characteristic of race performance. Whether you're riding for 2 miles or 5 miles at an average speed of 20-25 mph there is a likelihood that you will very rarely do this in a race.
  3. You're limited by the demands and aims of the group. If the rules are to wait for slower riders then stronger riders are going to be limited in their cycling strength development.
  4. The mad dash/ sprint to the local cafe might not be what you need in your training. Be wary of groups that spend the last couple of miles hammering to the local cafe- particularly in winter as you'll get extremely warm prior to a period of swift cooling down and can lead to increased risk of respiratory infections. You don't gain fitness whilst you're ill!

Head for the hills to build your leg strength

If you're looking to seriously build your cycling strength you need to head into the hills and mountains to challenge your leg muscles to adapt, whilst giving your cardio-respiratory system a great work out.

Whether you live in the mountains or have access to short climbs you can target your force.

Climb Long hills and Mountain Passes help develop strength

Looking down on Pen-Y-Pass, Wales at 364m as it rears up from the Pass of Llanberis. Long climbs can really help develop clycling strength development
Looking down on Pen-Y-Pass, Wales at 364m as it rears up from the Pass of Llanberis. Long climbs can really help develop clycling strength development | Source

Using climbing workouts to build strength

Long hills for on the bike strength

On long hills (taking longer than 5 minutes top climb) stay sat in the saddle with a cadence in excess of 60 rpm with heart rates up to your lactate threshold to help you develop cycling strength. Stay in control throughout and stay relaxed to get maximum benefit.

Steep Climbs and repeated efforts for strength building

On steep hills aim to keep your cadence above 50 rpm. Aim to power up short steep climbs with sections of over 10% gradient sections. Long, steep climbs can be ridden as interval workouts of up to two minutes hard effort followed by a 2-3 minute easier recovery prior to going hard once more. It's rare in bunch races that climbs are all tackled at the same speed. Breaks often form towards the mid/ end sections of climbs and therefore the ability to react after a hard effort is a great ability to develop.

The big gear strategy for building cycling strength

Some cyclists have had success in building their riding strength by riding in exceptionally large gears for extended periods of time. The speed you cycle at is governed by your gear and how many pedal revolutions you perform. If you increase the size of your gear you're going to have a larger force to overcome per pedal revolution.

A simple strategy to this that some riders preach is to go 1-2 cassette cogs bigger than the gear you would regularly push whilst riding in a group which will give you a feeling for the technique.

An alternative to this would be a form of a 'fixed gear' ride where you would use a gearing of say 53x15 on a slightly rolling ride. The 52x15 gear will feel relatively hard on flat roads and tough on climbs. Over longer rides this can lead to a degree of neuro-muscular adaptation within a single ride and the cyclist will feel more in control of the gearing later on in the ride- particularly on climbs.

If you struggle with your knees steer clear of this approach.

Using a fixed gear bike can help make you a stronger cyclist

Fixed gear cycling is a great way to improve cycling leg strength and power
Fixed gear cycling is a great way to improve cycling leg strength and power | Source

Ride a fixed gear bike for improved strength

One of the best ways to gain cycling strength is to use a single-speed, fixed gear bike as when you have no other gear options you cannot choose an easier gear if you're struggling. With the right gear a fixed gear bike will push your limits mainly while you climb and on tough flat roads into head winds.

Unfortunately a fixed gear technique to build cycling strength is not for all and a contra-indication is in those who have a history of knee problems and younger riders who are still physically developing.

The out-and-back cycling strength workout

We all know of roads that always seem to be into a headwind. They're the ones that we really suffer on as cyclists. I know just the road near me although I've learnt that I can use it as a great workout to build my strength and it's pretty simple- especially if it's a long road.

After a good warm up head out from where you live into the wind and keep heading into the wind. Then when you've done your relevant amount of work. Simply turn around and pedal home easy with the wind on your back. This is a great way to work on strength if it is a limiting factor for your riding as onl;y the first half of your workout is targeted- allowing the remainder of the workout to enjoy riding.

By doing the first half of your ride into the wind you have an easier return home and can actually recover on the return leg of the ride. If you're looking at challenging yourself or don't have such a road you can perform a 30-60 minute interval into the wind you could simply ride 10 minutes into the wind, ride back to your start point as recovery and go again.

Good luck becoming a stronger cyclist

We hope you have gained knowledge from this hub. Please feel free to leave comments below regarding your experiences or any workout suggestions you have.

Many Thanks

Liam Hallam (CyclingFitness @ Hubpages)

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