Coach Chad's Strength Training Recommendations For Cyclists

Coach Chad’s Strength Training Recommendations For Cyclists is now live on our blog!

A few weeks ago on the podcast we discussed minimum strength requirements for endurance athletes and a strength training plan that for endurance athletes looking to get faster, stronger and healthier.

We’re curious to hear how many of you currently strength train, what sort of strength training you do, and how you stack up to these recommendations. Let us know!


Reference videos from Coach Chad:

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I slot between level two and level 3. Currently 64 years old and 73 kg. Adding 5 lbs to the bar each session as per Mark Riptoes Starting Strength. Deadlift, Squat, Bench Press haven’t plateaued yet, Overhead Press has.

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Thanks, TR: it’s good to have all these laid out.

It seems to be expected [see the FAQa] that we will do 5 reps of an exercise, rest and then repeat the set. However, there is no prescription of how many sets. Can you add this please?

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I think that will vary with your goals, current abilities, and “athlete age” in strength training. The FAQ was probably just trying to address a specific issue that comes up, especially in the context of CrossFit-style strength training or circuit training, where “rest between sets” is a four letter word.

I have always incorporated compound exercises into my weekly routine. Irregardless of what my current training load is I keep the 2 times a week always in my training. Squats, dumbbell deadlifts, pull-ups, pushups, and bent over barbell rows are my moves with 10 minutes of stretching at the end. I do 5 rounds of these in the late fall/winter and only 2 rounds spring/summer. Just my personal experience. Weight and reps stay the same, usually whatever weight I can do 10-14 reps with for each exercise.

I started strength training last year in late October with a personal trainer. We do a traditional squat, deadlift, push, pull, rotate and core type deal once a week him and once a week on my own. I haven’t really been periodizing my weight training, just trying to figure out a way to lift, make gains and still be able to hit 2 interval sessions, 2 long rides, 1 whatever ride and 1 recovery ride a week. I was definitely below Chad’s Level 1 when I started and now am just above Level 2 in most areas.

I am “weaker” than my previous FTP peak by about 10 watts because of different time commitments and different winter scheduling, but I can actually hold the power off the trainer for longer distances. I also gained about 2kg. My body isn’t a wreck after huge rides or really rough trails and I can power over really steep trails that I had no hope of before. It does take a while to figure out how to successfully incorporate training on the bike with training on the gym and I don’t see any direct “FTP” improvements, but the on the bike resilience and comfort gains are definitely real.

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@Jonathan what would you suggest as alternatives for deadlifts and squats. I have an unfortunate injury L4L5 L5S1, and those two important exercises are a no-go for me. I thank you in advance

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This seems more like strength training goals than a strength training plan. A plan would incorporate more detail about how many sets to do, how often to train, what level to start at, what sort of progression to aim for (e.g. 2.5kg per week), whether to do every exercise in every session or alternate between bench press and military press, etc.

That said, it’s a pretty well balanced set of exercises and targets. As an approach it also seems pretty closely aligned with the 5x5 lifting program from the Stronglifts website, albeit with targets tailored to cyclists instead of lifters. For those looking to make increases in strength it’s worth checking that out as it’s a very time-efficient approach (with the caveat that if combining with endurance training you probably don’t want to lift 3x a week, and you’re unlikely to progress as quickly) - https://stronglifts.com/5x5/#gref

I do some kind of strength training most weeks. I generally do something similar to the 5x5 approach for a couple of months during off season and early base (more like 2x a week than 3 though), then maintain through the rest of the season with maybe 1 lifting session per week supplemented by some bodyweight exercises (pushups, single leg squats, lunges, etc) done at home as and when I have time. Even if I skip the gym and just do 10-15 minutes of bodyweight exercises a couple of times a week it really helps. From build phase onwards I tend to avoid the squats and dead lifts in favour of higher reps and bodyweight exercises for the legs as I find otherwise it impacts the quality of the high intensity sessions. I could hit all of the level 3 targets for chest and legs, for the barbell row and pull ups I’m currently closer to the level 2 targets, which is mainly a function of not having very good options at home for targeting those muscle groups. That’s quite reassuring as I’m somewhere between level 2 and 3 as a rider (rolling road races, TTs and a few crits)!

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Great resource! But, could you suggest alternative exercises for those that do not have access to a full gym or barbell? I know about this resource: https://blog.trainerroad.com/5-strength-training-exercises-for-cyclists/, but perhaps there are recommendations as to which exercises are good alternatives if you don’t have access to a weight set?

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I want incorporate this program into my week and was curious as to what you’d recommend regarding number of sets for each exercise in this program?

I’m going to start a mid volume SS plan from next week.

@chad would love some videos of these if possible

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I am just about L3 on deadlift (doing both, sumo and conventional) and high bar squat. I could do half of the L3 weight on dumbbell row (haven’t tried barbell row yet). L2 in military press and chin-ups and L1-2 in bench press (I don’t do benchpresses at all). Oh, and I am a true climber - 189 cm, 64 kg.

I started strength training in Nov 2016 with a coach but at the beginning the main focus was just a proper movement and joint health (mainly hips and shoulders, proper breathing). I was a runner back then and did 2 sessions a week. After around a year I kept one session with coach focused on overall health and good movement in the lifts while the other two sessions were regular strength training. This is still the same though when my coach is not available I’ll do third strength training focused session instead. My strength training is compound movements focused on legs, back, shoulders and abs. I’ll perform high bar squats, deadlifts, latt pull downs, overhead presses, seated rows, facepulls, dumbell rows, reverse dumbbell flyes, hanging leg raises. Since I am focused on strength I’ll do 3-4 x 5 on dl and squat and around 8 rep series for back and shoulders. Trying to do the sessions after my hard bike training sessions.

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Squat with 132kg? :flushed::flushed::flushed::flushed:

Understandable, @PeterYock, and I’m sure you’re far from alone.

The single best resource out there right now is https://revival-strength.com. If you subscribe to their newsletter, you’ll get frequent mailings with workouts (free of charge, btw) that often include short YouTube videos of the exercises listed. Here’s a good example:

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@chad, @Jonathan, I’d also be curious about the number of sets for each exercise. And another question: you recommend 2-3 sessions during base, 2 heavier sessions during build, and 1-2 sessions during specialty. But you also say that once you have reached the target weights, there is no added benefit. Does this mean that at that point one can switch to maintenance mode year-round?

Hey @cyclhist. How you get there can be accomplished in a number of ways, and our aim wasn’t to prescribe the conditioning so much as give you measures of what we consider sufficient strength relative to your gender & cycling discipline.

Like nutrition, there are so many ways to ‘skin the cat’, but unlike nutrition, there are so many good, arguably better, resources than us on this matter since these resources make it their primary, and often only, focus.

But let me state that if you’ve achieved our recommendations, it’s then up to you to decide if you agree with them. “Am I as strong as I want to be?” “Could I justify a little more mass, or perhaps a little more strength sans any added mass.”

Remember, these are recommendations, and they’re largely based on what I saw over several years of strength-training endurance athletes.

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Exactly. :slight_smile:

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I have spinal fusion in C spine, lumbar, and SI joint due to Ankylosing Spondylitis. Heavy lifts are a no-go, but kettlebell training is a good fit. The weights are lower and there is a more “functional” aspect to the movements that agrees with my mobility issues. I can’t do a barbell back squat, but KB front squats are doable. Same with overhead press. Barbell deadlifts are a struggle, but KB swings I can go pretty heavy.
I mix in shoulder mobility exercises, my back problems seem to put more stress on my shoulders for overhead movements.
I am 46 and trained with coaches at an orthopedic clinic/gym. Give kettlebells a try, but for your back’s sake don’t go to a crossfit gym. Those people are, in general, clowns. Hire an expert.

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Ah, fair enough! Blog post gave off a few slightly mixed messages e.g. a section titled “How to use this Strength Plan” and an intro that said:

“we’ve created guidelines to address these strength-related shortcomings and make you faster.”

So I was reading it and expecting a bit more. Kind of like if you wrote an article saying it would tell you how to be a competitive cyclist, then you got to the meat of it and it just gave W/kg targets for 1 minute, 5 minute and 20 minute power :wink:

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I’ve just restarted using SL 5x5 app. Using it previously I got lifting some relatively heavy weights. That is, relative to my previous life as a proper wimp.

This time round I’ve modified it so I do both A and B workouts on the same day, without repeating the squats, and I’m also doing more sets of deadlifts as I feel one set isn’t enough.

Two gym sessions a week for now, although as I’m in a base phase on trainerroad I might add another as per Chad’s suggestions until it’s time for build.