Pedal stronger and faster by adding these strength training moves to your off-bike routine.
With all the talk of resistance, watts, and output, you could be forgiven for thinking your daily indoor (or outdoor) ride is a strength-building workout all on its own. But getting out of the saddle and using weights trains your body to handle additional load — a perk that will absolutely translate to your cycling.
“The two most important benefits of strength training are that it enhances your performance and prevents injury,” says Frank Baptiste, a certified strength and conditioning coach and cyclist. “The stronger you are, the more force you can exert on the pedals, which propels you forward. And you won’t be able to ride if you’re dealing with nagging aches and pains.”
But it’s not just about building stronger muscles to power your ride and bulletproof your body; it’s also about working a different energy system. Cycling is mostly an aerobic activity, meaning your body is using oxygen to meet energy demand. Strength training, on the other hand, is typically anaerobic, which means it doesn’t require oxygen to produce energy. Here’s the catch: Your body is never using just one system, explains Baptiste, and sometimes you have to transition quickly from one to the other — kind of like cruising on a flat road then breaking into a sprint. “I like to think of it like shifting through gears,” he says. “You want to be strong and efficient through all of your gears.”
Another major benefit of strength training: targeting imbalances or weaknesses. Say your knee is angled away from your midline or your ankle is collapsing in with each pedal stroke. “Those little form issues can turn into irritation on the lowest level, then inflammation, pain, and injury over the course of thousands of repetitions,” says Baptiste.
Because cycling is all about forward motion powered primarily by your quads, “a good strength training program will balance that out with side-to-side [lateral] exercises that work your stabilizing muscles and hip-dominant movements that strengthen your hamstrings and glutes,” adds Baptiste.
Exercises like the seven below will help you avoid discomfort and pedal stronger so you can get the most out of your time in the saddle.
How to use this workout: Review the exercises below. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps for each exercise. Complete the workout two to three times per week to boost your power in the saddle.
You can also try one of Tonal’s coach-led workouts and programs created specifically for cyclists. Ultimate Cycling Legs and Core Strength For Cycling are workouts that will help you crush climbs and remain injury-free. For more structure, Better Bike and Treadmill and Better Bike and Treadmill 2 are four-week programs that build the strength required to conquer your favorite cardio workouts.
Bulgarian Split Squat
How to do it: Place your right foot between the Tonal’s arms and reach your opposite leg back, placing the top of the foot on the bench. Hold the Smart Handles and stand tall. Keeping your right heel down like it’s glued to the floor, bend right knee to drop your hips down until your right thigh is parallel with the floor. Press the floor away from you to stand and repeat. Complete the reps, then repeat on the left leg.
Why it works: “In cycling, the legs function as the engine. As the legs get stronger and more resilient, so does that cycling engine,” says Liz Letchford, Ph.D., certified athletic trainer and Tonal coach. “The combination of single-leg balance and strength needed for the Bulgarian Split Squat challenges the glutes, quads, and core to help improve your power output during cycling.”
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart, laces lined up with the end of the Tonal’s arms. Bend your knees slightly then send your hips back to hinge as you grab the bar with your hands outside your knees. Keeping the arms straight, stand by pushing the floor away from you, pulling the bar up your thighs, and keeping your back flat. Once at the top, keep your chest proud as you reverse the motion, sending the hips back and returning to the bottom position. Repeat.
Why it works: The deadlift is such a valuable exercise because of its ability to increase power and strength in the posterior chain: the back, glutes, and hamstrings, says Nicolette Amarillas, Tonal coach and postural specialist. “These muscles are vital for speed and endurance. And when it’s executed correctly, it’s also a great exercise to counteract postural imbalances that may develop from being on a bike or sitting at your desk.”
How to do it: Grab the rope with both hands, elbows bent. Extend your arms to bring your hands down toward your hips, working the back of the arms. Imagine a magnet between your shoulder blades as you pull the rope down. Control your hands back up until they are just above the elbows. Repeat.
Why it works: Ever finish a ride and realize your triceps are more sore than your legs? “This move is great for reducing fatigue on the triceps during long rides,” says Letchford. The isolated motion also helps stretch your triceps and lats, which can feel great post-ride.
How to do it: Take a handle in each hand. Place right foot on the center of your bench in line with the end of the Tonal’s arms. Press through the heel to push the bench away from you and stand tall, keeping the left leg relaxed. Use your glute to lower down with control, lightly tap the floor with the left foot, and repeat on the same side. Complete the reps, then switch legs.
Why it works: A step-up basically mimics the push your legs make with every pedal stroke, and adding weight makes it more of a strength and balance challenge. “It improves pedal power by strengthening the glutes and quads, the muscle groups responsible for big lower body pushes,” explains Letchford.
How to do it: Start with feet hip-width apart. Send hips back and bend knees to grab one handle with your right hand. Place left hand on hips. Engage your core to resist bending to the right, then with a straight arm, press the floor away from you, pushing through your heels to stand tall. Once at the top, keep your chest proud then hinge at the hips and bend knees to lower back down to the bottom position. Complete the reps, then repeat on the left side.
Why it works: This unilateral move helps develop the strength of each leg separately — it just requires more knee flexion. “This gives you more glute and quad engagement, but less hamstring work,” says Amarillas. “I love the Suitcase Deadlift because it forces you to use the core in a different way, stabilizing the trunk through anti-rotation and avoiding lateral flexion of the spine.”
Resisted Lateral Lunge
How to do it: Take the Smart Handle in your right hand and take a few large steps away from the Tonal. Stand with your left side toward the Tonal with the cable crossing in front of you. Step left foot toward the Tonal, bend left knee, and send hips back like you’re sitting into a chair while keeping the right leg straight. Press the floor away from you with the left leg and return to standing. Complete the reps then repeat on the other side.
Why it works: “I often work with cyclists who have knee or back pain stemming from a lack of activation in the hip stabilizers,” says Letchford. “This movement strengthens the outer hips while focusing on developing power and building a stronger, more stable core — which includes the hips — for a solid ride. When the core is strong, the legs have a strong foundation.”
Bird Dog With Row
How to do it: Start on all fours on the bench with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Extend left leg out straight and grab the Smart Handle with your right hand, balancing on the two limbs. Using your back, pull the Smart Handle toward your ribcage pointing your elbow to the ceiling. Control the weight back down and complete the reps. Repeat on the other side.
Why it works: This move requires serious anti-rotational strength (which challenges your core), in addition to building shoulder and back strength, says Letchford. “The shoulders are responsible for providing stability while the hands are on the handlebars, so improving that strength can lead to more comfortable rides, less neck and upper back tension, and a decreased risk for overuse injury.”
How to Build This Custom Workout on Tonal
It’s easy to build Custom Workouts for the Tonal trainer in our mobile app. Just follow along with the steps below.
- Open the Tonal mobile app.
- Click the Custom button in the lower right corner of the navigation bar.
- On the Custom screen, click the Plus button to create a new custom workout.
- Name the workout and hit Create.
- You can now start building the workout. Add a description, edit the number of sets in a block, search for the moves outlined in the workout you are building, and add them to create the workout.
- Aim for three sets and 10-12 reps per exercise.
- Once you add all the moves, hit save. This workout will now be available in your Tonal account on the trainer.
- To access this workout on your home screen, choose Custom in the right corner of the navigation bar. You’ll find your new workout at the top of the screen. Select it, then get to work.