Question: I’m working on strength training to improve my leg strength. I assume that the principle for weight lifting — one should rest 48-72 hours between workouts for best strength gains — applies. If I do that, then there’s hardly any time for cycling! So what’s the effect of doing a ride the day after a leg workout? Does it undermine the progress I’d like to make? —Greg T.
Coach John Hughes Replies: Greg, whether to ride between weight-lifting training days depends on both the type of strength training and the type of riding. A rider can also do very effective strength training using just body weight and simple equipment — hitting the gym isn’t necessary. My website has a simple home program that Coach Dan Kehlenbach and I developed.
Types of Strength Training
- To build endurance a rider should do 1 – 3 sets of 12 – 20 reps with moderate weights and 30 – 60 seconds recovery between sets.
- For hypertrophy (to build muscle size, which can then be converted to power) a rider should do 3 – 6 sets of 6 – 12 reps with heavy weights with 30 – 90 seconds recovery between sets.
- To build maximum strength (for example for sprinting) a rider should do 2 – 6 sets of up to 6 reps with very heavy weights with 2 to 6 minutes recovery between sets. Unless a rider is a sprinter, there’s no value in doing this type of training.
Progression of Strength Training
The types of strength training proceed through three phases, from easier to harder. You should spend at least four weeks in a phase before proceeding to the next phase:
Types of Riding
- Active recovery riding in Zone 1 – digestion pace, the pace you’d ride after a big meal.
- Endurance riding in Zones 2 and 3 – you can carry on a conversation.
- Intensity riding in the Sweet Spot, Zones 4 and higher – your legs are talking to you and you can’t talk.
How Much Recovery?
Whether you should take 2 – 3 days completely off between strength training depends on how much recovery you need.
Endurance training – partial recovery between workouts is okay so you could do moderate length endurance workouts between strength workouts following a 3-day pattern, depending on your training priorities:
Priority is endurance strength training
- Day #1 endurance strength training
- Day #2 endurance ride
- Day #3 active recovery ride
Priority is endurance aerobic training
- Day #1 endurance ride
- Day #2 endurance strength training
- Day #3 active recovery
Hypertrophy training – full recovery. For 48 hours you should only do active recovery rides.
Strength training – full recovery so that you can work your legs really hard in the next session. For 72 hours you should only do active recovery rides of no more than an hour.
I like a pattern of double workouts (but ONLY with Endurance workouts), with which you get more recovery between hard days:
- Day #1 endurance strength training and endurance riding. If endurance strength training is the higher priority then do it in the morning and ride later in the day. If endurance riding is the higher priority then ride in the morning and strength train in the afternoon.
- Day #2 recovery day, perhaps recovery ride
- Day #3 either another recovery day or another double workout day
Because you need more recovery for hypertrophy and maximum strength workouts you should NOT try to do double workouts.
Remember: You’re Training to Be a Better Cyclist
If you’re pressed for time:
- Keep the number of days / week of strength training.
- First, cut back on the number of sets. Most of the gains come from the first set.
- To save even more time, reduce the number of exercises. Keep exercises that work multiple muscle groups (lunges, split squats, step-ups, etc.) and cut exercises that work just one muscle group (leg extensions, hamstring curls, etc.). If you have muscle imbalance, for example, weak glutes, then keep that one muscle-specific exercise.
In addition to making you a better cyclist, strength training is great for strong bones!
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Mark Follmer says
I ride my bike to the gym to work out, I ride home immediately after strength training.
Howard Radin says
Agreed. You can bike same day as a strength workout. Just depends on individual goals. And to Coach Hughes, you simply cannot overload with just body weight exercises as optimally as using weight equipment. Impossible for real strength gains.
Howard Radin says
Coach Hughes, you also say that there is no value to do the type of training that builds maximum strength unless a sprinter but I disagree. As aging human beings first and then calling yourself whatever recreational pursuit you follow, we all need to maintain strength throughout our lifetime. Sorry but it just doesn’t happen on a bike. Sarcopenia being the main problem of all adults.
I don’t think he meant “NO value”, but in relation to the original question, no value to improve cycling. My son is a college football player and trains for maximum strength – he struggles to ride with us. It’s just a different kind of fitness. My husband was an x- power lifter who now trains for endurance. He has seen the results and felt the effects of both types of training. I see Coach’s point.
I use the biking as a ‘finishing off’ on my legs – at least once a week. I love the below workout and have seen great results.
3 sets of each exercise rotating them with reps at 15-12-10 – I think I give about 30s-1min rest between each exercise…I will also add pull ups in between sets sometimes for fun
Bulgarian split squats – Sumo deadlift – dumbbell squats – bike