top of page
  • Edgar S.

Strength for Endurance: Why Functional Training Makes You a Better Cyclist

kettlebel training for endurance

Endurance athletes log a lot of repetitive movements, making them susceptible to overuse injuries. So, the question arises: When adding strength training, should they prioritize the muscles they use most (primary movers) or the supporting muscles (ancillary)?

Take cycling, for example. Should a cyclist focus on squats for quads, or glute medius exercises to reduce internal hip rotation and improve pedal stroke power?

I firmly believe that full-body functional strength training offers tremendous benefits for everyone. Endurance athletes are no exception – incorporating these movements into your routine is highly recommended.

Now, let's address "functional movement." Simply put, it's any movement your body uses in daily activities. However, some sport-specific movements might seem unconventional compared to everyday motions. Take cycling's aerodynamic position – it's certainly not your typical posture!

Functional training improves power and efficiency, enhances neuromuscular coordination, improves stability and flexibility, and develops core strength and balance.

Although cycling is our passion, dedicating time to functional training may seem like a detour from what we really want to do: ride. However, investing in this type of training is crucial for the success and longevity of any cyclist, for two main reasons: biomechanics and stabilization.

lifting weights

How should it be implemented?

And it is on what I’ve written that a functional training program should be structured. With exercises that aim at the specificity of movement and the muscular amplitudes involved in the process or in a specific context of the athlete. It should also incorporate work in joint segments and muscle groups where there role is to support the main function muscles we use on our sport.

A good example of an exercise that points to the specificity of pedaling in order to imitate the movement and thus make the muscle involvement identical, is in the case of squats where we can include a platform under the heel and keep it elevated when we perform the exercise.

Including unilateral exercises also yield excellent results. These aim to improve core stability, reduce asymmetries, improve neuromuscular coordination, and prevent injuries.

Example exercises: Mountain Climber, Bicycle Crunches, Bulgarian Split Squat, Single-leg Squat, Single-leg Deadbug etc.

Bulgarian split squat

(Bulgarian split squat)

And in each exercise we can clearly innovate in certain positions that mimic our position on the bicycle, as long as it does not shake the technique of the exercise with respect to the Stretch-Shortening Cycle. Just one example, in a single-leg deadbug the hands can be in a position as if they were grabbing the handlebars.

wich is better for endurance cyclists: concentric, eccentric or isometric contractions exercises?

The pedal stroke in cycling involves both concentric and eccentric contractions, so for endurance cyclists, all three types of contractions (concentric, eccentric, and isometric) can be beneficial, but in different ways:

Concentric Contractions: These are the shortening of muscles to generate force, like the pushing motion on the pedals during a cycling stroke. They are crucial for power generation and maintaining speed. While important, endurance cyclists don't necessarily need to prioritize building massive power through intense concentric training.

Eccentric Contractions: These are the lengthening of muscles under tension, like the controlled lowering of the pedals during a cycling stroke. They play a vital role in absorbing impact and controlling movement. For endurance cyclists who spend a lot of time in the saddle, eccentric training can help strengthen muscles and connective tissues to reduce fatigue and prevent injuries caused by repetitive pedaling.

Isometric Contractions: These involve tensing muscles without any change in length, like maintaining a strong core while pedaling. They are beneficial for core stability and posture maintenance, which is crucial for efficient power transfer and reducing lower back pain on long rides.

Cyclists should prioritize eccentric and isometric exercises.

Here's a breakdown of how each type of contraction benefits endurance cyclists:

Eccentric Training: Prioritize exercises that emphasize the eccentric lengthening of muscles, such as slow controlled squats, lunges, or lowering yourself down from a box jump with one leg.

Isometric Training: Include core exercises like planks, side planks, and hollow body holds to develop core strength and stability.

While all three contractions have their place, for endurance cyclists, eccentric training for controlled movement and isometric training for core strength are the most relevant for improving performance and reducing injury risk.

Machines or Free weight?

I prefer free weight. For several reasons but the main one is related to the fact that we have to control/master the technique of each exercise and if, as I said before, unilateral exercises or with a particular specificity in movement should be our goal, machines do not represent a very good option.

Proper form and technique should be used throughout the program.

With materials like: Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Medicine balls, Resistance bands, TRX and Your own body weight we can do everything. Even with some kettlebells and resistance bands, we can build a very useful program.

There is room for creativity and we can even combine materials, such as using kettlebells and resistance bands at the same time for certain exercises, like this one:

When is the optimal time for it?

Just like cycling training, a cyclist's functional training program should follow a structured periodization model. The program should begin with general preparation and then progress towards specific goals. The timing and proximity of these goals will greatly influence the structure of the strength program.

The duration of each phase may vary depending on the individual cyclist's needs and goals.

The Periodized Model:

The model I advocate for follows the same logical structure as cycling training and respects the fundamental principles of training. It consists of four phases:

  1. Anatomical Adaptation Phase (4-6 sessions): This phase focuses on correct exercise technique, range of motion, and preparing the muscles for the following phases. Loads are low, and repetitions are high.

  2. Maximum Strength Phase (10-12 sessions): This phase focuses on developing maximal strength. Loads are high, and repetitions are low.

  3. Strength Endurance Phase (10-12 sessions): This phase focuses on developing strength endurance and muscular endurance. Exercises are performed with a higher number of repetitions and a faster execution speed.

  4. Maintenance Phase (1 session per week): This phase aims to maintain lean muscle mass and power output. A few key exercises are performed with high loads and low repetitions (Single Dose Per Week).

Exercise Selection:

The program should include a variety of exercises, including:

  • Unidirectional exercises

  • Core exercises

  • Stabilizing exercises

The overall goal of the program is to develop strength, stabilization, and core strength for a specific goal or a set of goals that are close in time.

A well-structured functional training program can help cyclists improve their performance and reduce their risk of injury. The program should be periodized and tailored to the individual cyclist's needs and goals.

Adaptation to the Cycling Context

It is important for any cyclist's strength training program to be tailored to their specific cycling context. This includes considering the particularities and details of each cycling discipline or type of event.

While the general principles of strength training remain the same across different cycling disciplines, there may be some specific adaptations that are necessary. For example, a mountain or gravel biker may need to focus more on exercises that strengthen the core and stabilize the upper body, while a road cyclist may need to focus more on exercises that develop leg power.

a Turkish get-up fit very well on mountain biker, gravel cyclist or ultracycling athlete. But it’s a very technical exercise.

turkish get-up

The specific exercises that are included in a cyclist's strength training program should be selected based on the following factors:

  • The cyclist's individual needs and goals

  • The demands of the cycling discipline or type of event

  • The cyclist's available training time

In addition to selecting the appropriate exercises, it is also important to consider how they are executed. For example, a cyclist who is training for a long-distance event may need to perform exercises with a slower tempo and higher repetitions, while a cyclist who is training for a sprint event may need to perform exercises with a faster tempo and lower repetitions.

By considering the specific demands of cycling and tailoring the program accordingly, cyclists can ensure that their strength training is effective and helps them achieve their goals.

The position of our feet and the way we position our arms can be adapted to resemble our cycling posture. Additionally, the speed of execution and the range of motion (amplitude) covered in the exercises can be adjusted to better mimic cycling movements. This specificity in movement is a great transfer to our cycling needs.

Finding the Right Balance

While this article delves into functional exercises for endurance sports, let's face it: building a strong and well-conditioned foundation is most important for everyone. This means prioritizing full-body, compound exercises – especially when time is tight. These exercises engage multiple muscle groups at once, maximizing your return on investment.

However, endurance athletes can benefit from incorporating both these foundational exercises and sport-specific "functional" movements into their routine. Here's the key: "functional" doesn't always translate to complex, multi-joint exercises. Sometimes, even seemingly unconventional movements specific to your sport can be highly functional.

The focus should be a balanced approach:

• Building overall strength: Full-body exercises are your best bet here.

• Addressing supporting muscles: Don't neglect muscles that work alongside your primary movers for optimal performance and injury prevention.

Strengthening stabilization muscles improves power transfer and mechanical efficiency.

This balanced approach will help you achieve peak performance while building a strong foundation for all your athletic endeavors.

Do you need to go the gym?

As previously mentioned, with some relatively inexpensive equipment, you can easily set up a home workout routine! However, some athletes may find that committing to a monthly gym membership helps them stick to their program.

workout and relax

It’s worth noting that gyms often offer additional services that cater to our sporting needs, such as saunas, Turkish baths, and swimming pools. These facilities can be particularly beneficial for endurance cyclists. This brings to mind the idea write about these aspects and how can they be effectively incorporated into the training regimen of endurance cyclists.

And on the bike?

What about training on the bike? That’s a topic for another post. We’ll delve into training techniques that focus on torque/strength development in the most specific way possible - right on the bike!

Until then, take care and feel free to share this article.

Enjoy your training!

39 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page