5 Must-Do Leg Exercises for Cyclists

by Marc Lindsay
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5 Must-Do Leg Exercises for Cyclists

Whether it’s pedaling efficiency, correcting muscular imbalances or generating more power, weight-training can help you become a better cyclist. While you’ll still need to work on your core, these five essential leg-strengthening exercises, which can be done at home with dumbbells or a kettlebell, are a good place to start.

JUMP SQUATS

Why do it: Whether you’re climbing mountains or sprinting to the line, you’ll need to improve your top-end power to take your cycling to the next level. This explosive exercise works multiple muscle groups including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and core.  

The move: Beginning with a squatting motion, bend your knees so your thighs are parallel to the floor. With an explosive movement, propel yourself up toward the ceiling. Swing your arms and reach up as you jump. When you land, bend your knees and go immediately into another squat. To make the exercise harder, or for a variation, do box jumps instead. Complete 3 sets of 10.

SINGLE-LEG DEADLIFT

Why do it: In addition to strengthening the glute muscles and the lower back, single-leg deadlifts also improve overall strength in your hamstrings and adductor magnus, which helps your upstroke or pull phase (6 o’clock to 10 o’clock) of the pedal stroke. Since climbing uses more of the posterior chain, this exercise can also be helpful for anyone looking to improve climbing power.

The move: Balancing on your left leg, hold a kettlebell or a dumbbell in your left hand. With a slight bend in the knee, hinge at the hip, keeping your back straight. Extend your right leg behind you as needed for balance. When your upper body is parallel to the ground, return to the starting position without letting your right foot touch the floor. Do 3 sets of 10–15 reps with each leg.

LATERAL LUNGES

Why do it: Even though cycling doesn’t require lateral movement, strengthening your adductors helps prevent muscle imbalances, stabilize the hips and keep the knees from moving in toward the frame during the pedaling motion, which helps prevent injury.

The move: With a pair of dumbbells that weigh close to 10% of your bodyweight at shoulder height and your feet spread to the width of your hips, step to the left and bend your left leg. Your right leg should be straight. Lower your hips until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg. Do 3 sets of 10 reps with each leg.


READ MORE > MASTER THE MOVE: THE LUNGE


DUMBBELL SQUAT WITH CALF RAISE

Why do it: Developing quadriceps and calf strength can improve your overall power output and reduce fatigue on long-distance rides. It’ll also help the push phase (2 o’clock to 6 o’clock) of the pedal stroke, which is when most of your power is generated.

The move: Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells at shoulder-height. Bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep the hips back and try to keep your abs contracted. When you return to the starting position, raise onto your toes for a calf raise. Do 3 sets of 10–15 reps.

SINGLE-LEG PEDALING

Why do it: In addition to training your muscle memory to pedal in smooth circles instead of only pushing down, working on single-leg drills also improves any weaknesses in your hamstrings or hip flexors. Completing this exercise improves pedaling efficiency and power output.

The move: On an indoor trainer with the resistance set to a moderate level, begin by pedaling only with your left leg. Keep the right foot off the pedal and rest it either on the side of the trainer frame or on a chair. Concentrate on pedaling in smooth circles through all phases of the pedal stroke. If you notice the upstroke is a bit jerky, it could be a sign of weak hip flexors. Pedal for 45–60 seconds before switching to the opposite leg. Do 5 reps with each leg, increasing reps as you improve your strength.

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