Strength and mobility aren’t typically the first two words that come to mind when you think of endurance athletes. It’s even a little rare to think of professional cyclists as the embodiment of explosive power and flexibility. But strength and mobility are key to success for all endurance athletes. Mobility, pre-ride activation routines, and stretching, along with breath work to calm the nervous system and enhance recovery, are all things endurance athletes can benefit from. These workouts that take place off the bike need to be periodized according to what is happening on the bike. Individual rider goals and weaknesses also need to be considered when designing a strength and mobility program.
While there are no substitutes for long endurance miles and shorter, more gut-wrenching intervals, strength and mobility work can be the missing link that can take your performance to the next level. It is highly individualized, maybe even more so than on-the-bike training. Let’s take a look at how some different professional riders on the Rally Cycling team, including myself, approach strength and mobility throughout the season. To highlight some of the individuality across different types of riders and the changes across a full season, I’ll use my routine as well as those of team sprinter Arvid de Kleijn, and all-arounder and junior pursuit world record holder Magnus Sheffield.
My Approach: Organic Off-Season and Pre-Season Mobility and Strength Workouts
The off-season and pre-season are typically the best times to begin an off-the-bike program. When riding time is low or non-existent, you can really focus on the other areas that need attention. For me, the off-season is a time to escape structured workouts. Aside from at-home yoga sessions or classes at the gym, I take a more organic approach to mobility and strength work by hiking and doing some short trail runs. I find this type of activity allows me to mentally recharge from a season of structured intervals and racing. It also helps prepare my body for some structured strength and mobility work once pre-season training begins in earnest, typically in November.
Pre-season training is normally where riders can make the biggest gains in strength due to fewer hours on the bike and more rest. I’ve moved away from a lot of heavy strength work being a climber and GC rider. But this is the time of year where I’m in the gym focusing on compound movements like back squats and deadlifts, and single-leg RDLs with a kettlebell and single-leg squats. My goals here are injury prevention, improved muscle recruitment patterns, and improved efficiency on the bike. I typically have two harder off-the-bike sessions per week during this time and one lighter session to keep things active and mobile to enhance recovery. Over the years, I’ve found what works best for me through trial and error, and my requirements as a rider. Explosive power isn’t a limiter for me so it’s not the focus of my gym work.
Magnus’s Approach: Year-Round Structured Core and Mobility Workouts
Magnus, on the other hand, opts for a year-round structured core and mobility program. Already being a stronger rider, most of his work is with body weight. The aim of his workouts is to keep his body in alignment and activate muscles. He aims for about two hours per week in the off-season and four hours per week in the pre-season to really make some strength and mobility gains. Magnus excels in the TT position, so that is the focus of his plan. “I’ve been working on mounting a set of TT bars to a balance board,” Magnus told me, to really mimic the upper body and core demands of time-trialing.
Arvid’s Approach: Heavy Weights for Sprint Power
Arvid, being a sprinter, has the most strength work in his program. He aims for 2-3 sessions per week in the off-season, depending on his time on the bike. His sessions follow a similar format of “warm-up and activation, main exercises of the back squat, deadlift, Bulgarian split squat, leg press, or step-ups, and then finishing with some core work.” Arvid focuses on lifting heavy weights quickly to improve his peak sprint power. I saw him hit 1780w on an easy ride so something is working!
In-Season Strength and Mobility Routines
Moving into the race season, balancing strength and mobility routines becomes trickier. Personally, I allow the demands of my riding to dictate what my off-the-bike work looks like. If I’m in a strenuous 25+ hour week of training or racing, then pre-ride activation and recovery-oriented yoga and mobility sessions are all I do. I really enjoy using the Sufferfest app. The 15-minute focused sessions are perfect on days when you’ve done a lot of work on the bike and need some extra motivation to stretch or do core work.
During my lighter training weeks, I do more challenging sessions but nothing beyond a kettlebell for added weight. I mostly use my bodyweight and focus on single-leg movements to continue improving muscle recruitment and keep the stabilizing muscles strong to prevent injuries. Even when training at my maximum, I try to do a pre-ride activation on most days. This routine varies from day to day depending on how I am feeling and what I need to loosen. The format remains similar and involves a yoga-type flow to get my blood flowing and focus on the breath before the day’s workout, banded squats, fire hydrants to get the glutes and quads warmed up, and 90 seconds of planking variations to activate the major abdominal muscles. Beyond that, I might add in additional lunges, push-ups, active stretches, or glute bridges depending on what’s going on with my body at the moment.
For Magnus and Arvid, their off-the-bike routines remain similar during the race season but drop off in volume. Magnus aims for about two hours per week of his core stability program to supplement racing and training. Arvid has the most variety in his strength program. He is the only one of us really looking to make strength and maximum power gains with his gym program. When he is racing or in a heavy training week on the bike, he doesn’t do any gym work beyond some recovery-based sessions or simple off-the-bike core exercises. If there’s some time between races and Arvid has less volume on the bike, he will get back in the gym 1-2 times per week for some heavy lifting.
I hope this helps improve your off-the-bike workouts and recovery. Just like bike racers themselves, strength and mobility programs for pro cyclists come in all shapes and sizes. I highly recommend working with a qualified coach if you plan on incorporating structured strength and mobility work into your training — and if you aren’t planning on it, you should!