getting started strength training

Getting Started Strength Training Workout for Cyclists


By Chris Carmichael,
CTS Founder and Chief Endurance Officer
Special thanks to CTS Coach Sarah Scozzaro for her assistance with exercises and demo videos.


In the past I’ve talked about why cyclists – especially aging cyclists – need to incorporate strength training, and discussed some of the principles endurance athletes should keep in mind. Many athletes are already incorporating strength training, but I hear from a lot more athletes who say things like, “I haven’t lifted weight in 20 years, I don’t even know where to start anymore.” Well, here’s how.

And if you want a personalized strength training program integrated into your cycling training plan, that’s now included in our the Premium Coaching Package.

Start with movements only

It is tempting to go into the gym and just go heavy on the first day. Some people even think, “Well, I’m going to be sore anyway, so I might as well go heavy and get all the pain out of the way now.” Don’t do that, please. The truth is, you might get through one workout by jumping into the deep end, but you’re likely to be so sore that the rest of your training – and even activities of daily life – will be dramatically and negatively affected. There will be plenty of time to go heavy, but at the beginning you want to be conservative with the resistance and focus on getting the techniques and movements down.

Coach Sarah’s Getting Started Strength Training Recommendations

CTS Coach and National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer and NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist Sarah Scozzaro, MS  had the following recommendations:

  • Focus on form and quality of movement.
  • Start with resistance that is significantly lower than you think you can work with. You’re going to need some resistance to even get the movements correct, but keep the weight deliberately light.
  • Try to commit to 2-3 strength workouts per week for the first four weeks. Once you are lifting heavier you might go down to two workouts per week, but during this transition period, a third workout can help accelerate the adaptation to getting the movement patterns down.
  • Focus on breathing out during the hardest portion of the movement. This is not that important when the resistance is light, but will be important when the resistance increases.
  • Pull you navel in toward your spine to engage your core and stabilize the spine during exercises, especially during rows and standing exercises.
  • Add weight in small increments but in a steady progression. It is important to continue challenging yourself, especially during a period of the year when you are placing a higher level of focus on strength training.

Strength Training Mistakes to Avoid

Likewise, Coach Sarah had a list of things you shouldn’t do in the gym:

  • Don’t skip the rest between sets. Think about your interval training for cycling, triathlon, or running. While the rest periods are not necessarily very long, they are long enough to well recovered before your next set, so you can get the most from each and every repetition within a set. Some athletes try to combine aerobic conditioning with strength training by working through exercises quickly, but when it comes to the goal of gaining strength, we don’t recommend that strategy. Your aerobic conditioning will be taken care of by your endurance training; the gym is the time to focus on strength training.
  • Don’t worry if you’re not sore after the first time in the gym. It is better to be too conservative as you start out.
  • Don’t worry if you are sore after the first time in the gym. If you haven’t been in a gym in many months or even years, it is very difficult to determine exactly how prepared you are for resistance training. You may be well prepared for lower body exercises and woefully unprepared for upper body movements. Pushups or bench press could be easy, but rows and lunges could prove more challenging. You won’t know until you get in there and give it a try. Just prepare to be surprised by what you can and can’t handle.
  • Don’t add weight or increase reps if your form starts to deteriorate. As an endurance athlete you are often encouraged to push through the pain even if you are slowing down. The risk of injury is low when you do this during cycling and running, but is much higher when you are strength training. Especially as you are starting out, it is better to be conservative and stop short of absolute failure. When you adapt to the movements and have progressed to heavier weight, pushing yourself to failure (while maintaining good form) is effective. Always focus on form, especially in the beginning when you are setting up good habits and establishing the correct movement patterns for each exercise.

Your ‘Getting Started’ Strength Workout

For many driven, goal-oriented, Type-A athletes, the following workout is going to seem too easy to be effective. Your ego is likely to write a check your body can’t cash. You’re going to need to keep that in check. Remember, if you haven’t done resistance training in several years – or longer – being overly conservative is the wisest strategy. Your primary sport is still cycling, triathlon, or running. What we’re trying to accomplish is a transition to incorporating strength training in a way that will minimally diminish your ability to continue with productive endurance training.

Because I realize I am an old-school coach who used to throw athletes into the deep end with strength training, I asked Coach Sarah to provide a workout in keeping with the NSCA’s recommendations on getting started with strength training. Here’s what she designed for you.

Warm up:

Start with some dynamic mobility; this primes the body for the work ahead. Coach Sarah recommends 1-2 sets of 8-10 of the following:




Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

Single Leg Bridges

Monster Band Walks

Main Workout:

You will do each workout pair, or superset, back to back.  Using the first pairing as an example, you will do a set of squats for 10 reps, then a set of push ups, rest, and then repeat this pattern to complete all of the sets. You will then move to the next superset.

Superset #1: Goblet Squat & Pushups

Goblet Squat:

Complete 2 sets of 10. Stand with feet at or slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in the “goblet” position, or at chest height just below your chin, elbows tucked in close to your body. Breathe in, engage your core, and slowly lower down, thinking of dropping your hips down between your legs. Pause at the bottom for a count, drive through your feet and return to the top.

Push Ups:

Complete 2 sets of 10. Assume a plank position with your hands slightly more than shoulder width apart, fingers facing forward (not out to the sides). Keeping your body in a straight line from heels to head, lower your chest to the floor while keeping your elbows close to your sides. To return to the starting position, push against the floor and focus on keeping your body in a straight line. If you need to start with your knees on the floor, that’s fine. You will quickly progress to pushups from your toes.

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30-45 sec of rest between sets

Superset #2: Reverse Lunges & Bent Over Rows

Reverse Lunges:

Complete 2 sets of 10 ea leg. Start in a standing position. Take a slow step backward, sinking into the lunge by focusing on lowering your hips. Pause at the bottom and then return to the starting position by focusing on driving straight up through the foot of the front leg, as opposed to only pushing off the back toes. If you decide to add weight from the beginning, use a dumbbell in each hand.

Bent Over Rows with band or dumbbell:

Complete 2 sets of 10. Start by standing with a dumbbell in one hand. Bend your knees slightly, hinge at the hip, keeping your back straight. Keeping your torso still and stable, lift the dumbbell or band to the side of your chest, keeping your elbow close to your sides. Lower your hand back to the starting position and repeat for all reps and then switch arms. You can use a bench for support if needed; in this case you would place the hand and knee of the nonworking side on the top of the bench, engage the core and keep a nice neutral back position, and row up, keeping the elbow close to your body. Switch sides after all reps.

30-45 sec rest between sets

Superset #3: Bear & Deadbug

Bear with Shoulder Taps:

Complete 2 twice for 30 seconds each, alternating shoulder taps throughout the hold. Get onto the ground in quadruped position (hands and knees). Breathe in, gently tilt your pelvis forward, and without leaning forward, come up off your knees and onto your toes. As you maintain this position with your knees off the ground, engage your core and lift your right hand to touch your left shoulder. Return your right hand to the floor directly under your right shoulder, then lift your right hand to touch your left shoulder. Continue alternating the taps for 20-30 seconds. If you prefer to count taps instead, aim for a total of 30 taps (15 per side). Rest 45 seconds between sets.


Complete 2×12 each side.  Lie on your back, bring your knees up so hips and knees are at 90 degree angles and shins are relatively parallel to the ceiling. Tilt the pelvis so low back stays in contact with the ground for the duration of the exercise. Breathe in, and as you exhale, straighten one leg bringing heel towards the ground as you also extend the opposite arm over your head with your thumb towards the ground behind you. Pause at the extension of both your leg and arm, and inhale as you come back to the starting position. That is one rep for one side. Repeat the repetitions on this side and then switch sides.

Workout Progression

In the first few weeks of strength training you will make rapid progress. This is because your progress is based on getting accustomed to the movements and optimizing neural recruitment. Once you have completed the workout above workout 2  times, add another set for a total of 3 sets and slowly but steadily begin adding add resistance. As you add weight make sure to maintain your form. As you begin to add more weight, you can change the reps/sets so that you are challenged by the load, but can still complete each set with good form and about 1-2 reps left in the tank; i.e. not to failure.


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Comments 9

  1. This is a perfect workout for beginners or to dive back in after a long break or injury.
    Do you offer off-bike programs (strength/power/mobility/etc) incl periodization as a standalone program?


    1. Post

      Right now (Nov 2023), we include periodized strength training within our endurance coaching programs. However, we have some coaches who are NSCA CSCS or have other S&C certifications and you could work with them on a more S&C-focused program than an endurance-focused program. – Jim Rutberg, CTS

  2. I’ve been weight training for 10 years after many years of weight training for basketball in my younger years. I am not as strong (or dedicated) a bike rider as most of you, but I’m sure weights have helped my biking and also helped in many ways that are unquantifiable. I am 6’4″ and, let’s just say, not at the optimal weight, but I have had no back problems (knock wood) since I started lifting. I had a hip replacement a few years ago (that was a miracle) and since then have had no joint issues. I am also convinced it has helped my breathing.

    One thing: I would strongly suggest using a really good trainer. He/She can ensure that you are using proper form and help with setup. Plus provide some incentive for going. Worth every penny

  3. Pingback: 5 Reasons Cyclists Need Strength Training - CTS

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    1. Hey George,

      I’ve found that a hard gym session will help your sprints/max power similar to a 30/30 workout (sprints). In addition to that, it protects you from further injury by building up some muscle. I would definitely avoid doing both a gym workout and interval training on the same day. That’s a lot of stress for your body and it will take you a long time to recover. Just do an easy 60-90minute ride on the same day (if you feel good, if not, just spin). I would incorporate intervals on your longer rides (maybe in the middle of it do an interval session). Hope this helps!

  5. I am 52 & started weight training 2 sessions a week. It has helped my bike riding a bit, especially on long rides where my back & shoulder do not get fatigued and sore after a few hours. Where I find the most difference is bot getting sore after doing any heavy work around the house or helping someone move house. The advice to go slow is good – your tendons and supporting muscles need to adapt to the loads, its not just the main muscles that need to get stronger. Take very good care of your shoulders and knees, make sure you are doing the exercises correctly.

    1. True. I’m 71. Though I can do up to 50x rep push up but I always do mostly up to 40x rep for several sets n do never less than 100x in total. A year ago I did push up up to 600x in total in 60 mnts including warming up n cooling down every day. Now I add sit up, sqatt, pull up, n punching for some 10 mnts for warming up… all at home as we don’t need any instrument to do all those.

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