Chapter 3: Equipment

Before we lay out a detailed plan, it’s important to highlight that sustainable strength training is better than optimal strength training.

Put another way; strength training should be done consistently throughout an entire season [8, 16, 31]. If your strength training has never lasted more than a few months, you’ve probably left improvements in health and performance on the table. 

A “year-round” strength mandate requires a more thoughtful approach to integrating strength training with your cycling, starting with making sure you have the proper equipment.

Equipment Options

While bodyweight or other light strength exercises can provide a starting point to improve your health, they’re not likely to support the intensity needed to develop maximal strength [16, 32].

In short, to lift heavy, you need equipment. 

That’s not to say that lighter strength exercises using kettlebells or dumbbells can’t contribute to better health, only that improvements in your cycling are most likely to come from lifting heavy [16].

Here’s how your equipment options may dictate the direction of your strength training [32].

Good

Bodyweight

Use bodyweight or banded exercises to build a functional range of motion and prepare your body to safely lift heavier weights

Better

Dumbbell

Use kettlebells or dumbbells to progress in strength and functional range of motion while moving closer to the goal of lifting heavy

Best

Barbell

Use barbell movements to safely and progressively train heavy while maximizing your cycling performance potential

Investing in Strength

For most cyclists, gaining access to strength training equipment requires an investment in a gym membership or home gym setup. 

I think the best option for most cyclists is to invest in a home gym where you’ll never have to waste time driving, wait your turn, or feel tempted to ego lift around others.

Who’s Faster?

If you find the expense of a home gym off-putting, here’s my sales pitch: Having the option to strength train at home will contribute more to your health and long-term cycling performance than a third bike ever will. So sell a bike, clear out some space in your garage, and make it happen.

From Home

If you’re willing to invest in home gym equipment, I have good news for you; you don’t need much.

Squat rack, barbell, and weight plates; that’s it.

As a result of the pandemic, options for home gym layouts have exploded. For any budget and in nearly any space, you can make a squat rack happen.

Building your strength approach around a barbell isn’t just convenient; it’s your best option to address the health deficits we covered earlier.

Here’s why I think the barbell is the best strength training implement for cyclists.

Barbell training:

1. Stresses your skeleton

Heavy barbell movements like squats and deadlifts place compressive force on the spine [5], delivering stress to the exact area where many cyclists suffer losses in bone mineral density [3, 8].

2. Activates more muscle

Evidence suggests free-weight movements like the barbell squat activate more muscle than comparable squats using a machine [33].

The takeaway? It makes sense to challenge your body with movement free of the fixed path of a machine, especially since most cycling movement is restricted to a limited range of motion.

3. Improves balance & stability

Barbell training poses a more significant challenge to our balance than fixed workout machines. This challenge improves awareness and control of our body in space [5, 34].

4. Is scaleable

The weight on a barbell is infinitely adjustable to ensure safety and optimal intensity no matter where you’re beginning your journey in strength training [34].

5. Makes you smarter

New research suggests that barbell training might be more effective at improving cognitive function than comparable machine-based exercises [35].

For the reasons listed above, I think barbell training is the preferred method of strength training for most cyclists [29].

Let’s get to choosing some exercises…