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!
Additional Resources: See our New WINTER CYCLING BUNDLE, which includes 12-week plans based on rider goals; how to extend your “riding season” outdoors by learning how to properly dress, eat, ride safely and stay motivated throughout the off-season; and how to use sports psychology to improve your cycling (even long after you’ve plateaued physically) by focusing on the often-overlooked mental side of the sport. Just $13.50; $11.48 for Premium Members!
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.