Strength Training for Cycling Health

Make it functional strength training!

Functional strength training for cycling and triathlon is essential. The key word here is “functional”. Functional strength training develops neuromuscular coordination. It is intelligent strength.

Suppose you can leg press 600 pounds on a controlled rack system. Whoa! That’s terrific! I wish I could! However, you may have the legs to power a freight train - but if you can’t stabilize that power on your bike, it is not functional.

small zendurance cycling logoTriathlon strength training and strength training for cycling both start with a stable pelvic core.

The strength of your arms and legs must be tied in with the stability of your pelvic core. This is a cornerstone in the foundation of Zendurance Cycling Methods. Your cycling technique begins with a stable pelvic core and expands from there.

Functional strength focuses first on the correct posture and alignment that activate and optimize your pelvic core stabilizing muscles.

This is essential for pedaling force, as well as comfort, stability and endurance on your bike. Your triathlon strength training should focus on and build towards multi-planar, stability-limited movements that are relevant to your sport(s).

small zendurance cycling logoAll sports require a strong and articulate pelvic core.

A basic Pilates mat class provides a great initial approach to functional core strength. Between my first and second Ironmans (a period of 6 months) I integrated Pilates mat work into my triathlon strength training program. That core strength made a profound difference: I dropped an hour off my time.

Whatever form your strength training for cycling might take, be sure to work patiently and deliberately with a focus on posture and alignment. Consider your strength training sessions as educational. Functional strength is more about coordination and awareness than it is about pure muscular contractile strength. Your neural system is the focus! (See Exercise Physiology Triangle.)

small zendurance cycling logoFunctional strength has three elements:

  1. Stability
  2. Agility
  3. Mobility

If you have adequate stability, agility and mobility, you will be more comfortable, efficient, enduring and faster on your bike.

These should be your priority when strength training for cycling and triathlon. In Zendurance Cycling Technique, we examine the application of functional strength to efficient cycling technique through posture, alignment, biomechanics and riding positions.

Let’s look at how functional strength for cycling can alleviate the common pains associated with riding.

small zendurance cycling logoSaddle soreness and numbness:

  1. Remain stable and still in the saddle
  2. Weight your pedals, not your saddle

Functional strength will enable you to remain stable and still in the saddle as you pedal. In Zendurance Cycling, we call this “saddle silence”. Saddle silence reduces saddle chaffing and increases efficiency.

As you learn to keep more of your weight in the pedals, you will have less weight and pressure in the saddle.

This is an important objective in strength training for cycling. The benefits are greater comfort and performance. The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide provides specific on-bike exercises to improve this.

small zendurance cycling logoCycling knee pain:

  1. Improve lateral stability in your knees
  2. Improve mobility and stability in your hips
  3. Improve mobility and stability in your feet and ankles

With adequate joint stability, your knees are more likely to align and track true during your pedal stroke – eliminating lateral stress.

Pedaling requires joint stability in your hips, ankles and feet, as well as your knees. Single legs squats, performed in a stance that closely mimics your riding position, will improve lateral stability in your hips, knees and ankles.

small zendurance cycling logoShoulder and neck pain:

  1. Develop adequate pelvic core strength
  2. Relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders

Functional strength enables you to maintain correct posture and alignment so that you support your upper body with minimal reliance on your shoulders and arms.

This is an essential component of strength training for cycling that can alleviate hand and wrist pain as well. If you can relax your shoulders, neck and upper torso, you breathe well and conserve energy. Chronic tension consumes energy that is not moving you forward – or contributing to your enjoyment.

small zendurance cycling logoHot spots and discomfort in your feet:

  1. Improve lateral stability in your knees
  2. Improve mobility and stability in your feet and ankles
  3. Improve mobility and stability in your hips

Functional triathlon strength training develops joint stabilization. This includes your ankles and your feet – so vital to putting the power to the pedals.

If your feet are not stable, the force you are generating is “leaking” through those pressure points and hot spots, and through the small muscles and connective tissues that are straining from misalignment and instability. Lateral movement in your knee can cause your foot to push against the side of your shoe, causing a hot spot. Use the single leg squats described above to improve lateral joint stability.

small zendurance cycling logoLow back pain:

  1. Recruit and strengthen pelvic core muscles
  2. Recruit and strengthen spinal stabilizer muscles

Low back pain usually indicates overuse and chronic tension in those muscles.

With adequate functional strength, you are more apt to maintain correct posture and spinal alignment. You will engage the muscles that best function to support your upper body and stabilize your pelvis on the saddle of your bike. You will rely less on your low back.

small zendurance cycling logoSummary:

You generate all movements from your pelvic core. With a strong and stable core, you maintain good posture and spinal alignment. You are able to use the strength of your arms and legs efficiently. Pelvic core strength and stability is the primary objective in strength training for cycling, or any triathlon strength training program. Without that stable platform, your efficiency diminishes. Your arms and legs are just a-flailing!


small zendurance cycling logoAdvance to:

There is a second proactive approach to assuring comfort when you ride – for performance and enjoyment. Please visit Cycling Technique for Bike Comfort to find out more.


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Bicycle Comfort: Addressing Common Cycling Pains

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