Question: I’m a 42-year-old recreational rider who does squats to build leg strength. But I’ve read that specificity is important in weight training to transfer the gains to the bike. Assuming that’s true, should I do single-leg squats instead of regular squats? — Joe F.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Good question, Joe. A number of strength-and-conditioning experts advocate specificity in the weight room and suggest that cyclists do squats or leg presses with one leg and then the other. According to this theory, cycling is a “one leg at a time” sport, so it follows that any resistance exercises should be done that way, too.
However, other experts point out that cycling isn’t really a one-leg-at-a-time sport. Both legs are working all the time, one pushing down and the other, at the back of the pedal stroke, pulling up or at least trying to get out of the way. The pedal stroke is a circular motion with both legs contributing continuously. This being true, they argue that one-leg squats are only marginally more specific to the pedal stroke than normal squats.
In addition, one-leg squats (and their brethren, lunges and step-ups) seem to have a greater potential for injury. True, you’re using less weight, but they require more balance and most people find them harder on the knees.
The consensus now seems to be that you should build general strength in the weight room by whatever means you prefer, then use the bike to convert that strength to cycling-specific power. This can be done as spring arrives, starting with low-rpm intervals and gradually progressing to a regimen of conventional intervals.
Bottom line: If you enjoy one-leg squats, lunges, step-ups or other single-leg exercises — and can do them without getting hurt — they’ll be beneficial during the strength-building phase of your training.