Best Leg Exercises For Cyclists

Best Leg Exercises For Cyclists

Simple, proven leg strength exercises to make you a stronger, faster cyclist…

It has been proven that complementing your cycling with a spot of strength training leads to stronger, faster and more sustainable optimum performance – compared to solely cycling.

Strength training is also associated with forging a more bulletproof body and reducing the chances of injury; delaying—if not reversing—age-related decline in muscle mass; raising power output; and boosting bone density. In short, strength training will benefit you whatever genre of cyclist you are, be it a sportive rider, downhill mountain biker, or IRONMAN triathlete.

How much should you do?

Conversely, this is where you must remember you are a cyclist, not a bodybuilder, so we’re talking an ideal of twice a week when you’re cycling less (during the winter, for example, when the weather is inclement), which you can reduce to once a week when mileage increases.

How many reps and sets?

Well, you can’t go far wrong with following retired sprint sensation Marcel Kittel’s programme. The German focused on high weights and low repetitions to build power output during the off-season, which he tweaked to lower weights and more repetitions during the season. This template change, Kittel said, was designed to add sustainability to efforts, which paid off on the flats but also helped on climbs.

What about the exercises? Well, there are many you can choose from, but arguably, these are the top four…


Why squat?

Squats are the most popular leg exercise used by cyclists of all levels. There are myriad reasons for this, but the key is that squats really work your quadriceps, which are integral to a powerful pedal stroke. Also, when you’re standing with the bar across your shoulders, first you need to stabilize your position, which activates other muscles simply to keep you standing.

Squats are a simple exercise whose complexity can be cranked up if you’re a marginal gainer. We know that the Trek-Segafredo pro cycling team uses a device similar to a power meter on a bike that measures the speed of your squat, called T-Force. The riders then perform a full squat in 0.9m to 1.2m per second. If they do it faster than that, the support team will increase the weight, though it’s never usually beyond 40 or 50kg. The key, though, is that the team never take them past five or six repetitions as they’re looking to “strengthen” the neuromuscular system rather than bulk up their muscles.

Anyway, I digress. Here’s how to squat, though I’ll describe the goblet squat as this dispenses with the barbell, which may be useful if you’re still enduring lockdown.

How to (goblet) squat

Stand with your feet a touch wider apart than your shoulders. You should hold a dumbbell or kettlebell across your chest with your elbows tucked nicely in. Then begin your squat, ensuring you keep your elbows inside your knees. Ensure your heels remain on the ground and aim to stop when your thighs are at a 90° angle to the floor. Then, slowly come back up, driving through the heels. Around four sets of 10 reps are fine, though you might want to drop that to three sets of six to eight reps if you’re using a barbell and heavier weights.


Why Romanian Deadlift?

Too many cyclists and triathletes stomp on the pedals, leading to an inefficient pedal stroke that leaches energy and results in early fatigue. Instead, your pedal stroke requires effort for the entire 360°. That means activating your hamstrings more than you do now. Crack this and you’ll ultimately ride faster for no more effort. And that’s why the Romanian Deadlift is useful – it works and strengthens your hamstrings.

How to Romanian Deadlift

Position your feet shoulder-width apart with a barbell in front of you. Pick up the bar again with your arms around shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and stick out your bum. Then bend at your hips and keep your back straight. Then drop back down until the weight’s slightly below your knee or you feel a stretch in your back. Then, immediately drive through your hips and hamstrings until upright. Three sets of 10 reps are good.


Why box jump?

These are a staple of many top sprinters’ gym training, including multiple Tour stage winner Caleb Ewan. And you can see why: They’re fantastic for building explosive power. They really tap into your fast-twitch fibres, which you engage when looking to generate maximum power.

How to box jump

In front of you, position a stable platform. The ideal here is a soft plyo jump box, which is rectangular shaped so you can vary the height of jump depending on your leg power and abilities. Now, position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Then squat down and jump onto the platform. Jump off and repeat. Four sets of 10 reps is a good start. You can crank up the difficulty by keeping your arms still when jumping. Just note that this can affect your balance, leading to the occasional topple!

Kickstart Your Training Today!
Choose from over 900 plans from 4-48 weeks long in beginner, intermediate, advanced, masters and off-season versions!


Why calf raise?

Follow a trained cyclist and you can’t fail to be impressed with their sinewy, sculpted calves. Their lower limbs are a badge of athletic endeavour because your calf muscles are constantly flexed and stretched to deliver power through the pedals.

How to calf raise

These are easily done from the comfort of your home. Stand around shoulder-width apart and raise yourself on your toes in an easy, controlled manner. Lower yourself equally slowly. Do this 20 times over three sets. You can increase the difficulty by calf raising off a step or by using the calf-raise machine at your local gym (if it’s open).

There you have it – a quartet of exercises to improve your cycling performances. Just note that if you’re really overloading with strength exercises, it doesn’t do any harm to increase your protein intake via something like an extra egg or chicken breast. You can also play around with proven supplements like creatine if you’re inclined, though beware that creatine holds onto water so you could add weight.

Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised endurance expert who founded MyProCoach in 2010 to offer smart training plans that still leave quality time for your family, friends & career - complete with highly-rated coach support (he has sold over 40,000 so far). Learn more here!

As featured on...

download (1)
220 triathlon

Popular Articles from the Training Tips Blog


Sign up for Phil's email newsletter!

Get expert training advice, the latest news and occasional discounts. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Kickstart Your Training Today!
Choose from over 900 plans from 4-48 weeks long in beginner, intermediate, advanced, masters and off-season versions!
Planning Your Off-Season

You can start our Off-Season (Fitness Maintenance) plans anytime you like.

They’re designed to help you maintain a good level of fitness when you’re not specifically targeting an event, such as, during the off-season, or anytime you’re taking a break from racing.

Planning For Your Event

For the best outcome, input the date for your “A” target race and the tool will default to a plan that will fill that gap nicely. If you want, you can then adjust the plan length to start it on a different day.

Note that you can still work in other, smaller races during your plan too!

The longer plans start easier and progress more gradually. This has a bearing on the difficulty level you choose. For example, a 12-week plan starts off at a higher level than a 36-week plan because with 12 weeks left there’s not as much opportunity to build up slowly.
Short Medium Long
4-12 weeks
14-24 weeks
27+ weeks
Required fitness level
Training phases
Fitness tests
Our Standard and Masters plans are designed to get you ready for your target event, while our Off-Season plans allow you to recover from a tough season but still maintain your well-earned fitness.
Approx. age
Under 40
Over 40
Recovery weeks
Every 4 weeks
Every 3 weeks
Strength sessions
1-2 per week
2 per week
1-2 per week
Likely goal
Train for event
Train for event
Maintain fitness
This table provides a brief overview of which level might be right for you, to help you get the most out of your plan. You should also note your current fitness levels and how many times you have done this event before.
Little to none
1-3 years
3+ years
Time to train
Likely goal
To finish
At least top half
All our plans are available either for sale directly on the TrainingPeaks Store (where you can also see screenshots of sample weeks), or you can subscribe as an Unlimited Athlete to be able to swap freely between all of them, among other benefits outlined below.
$24 to $159 per plan
From $24 per mth
Flexible, structured training
TrainingPeaks training app
Coaching videos, articles & FAQs
Email coach support

During plan only

Swap freely between all 900+ plans
Help setting up your training zones
Coach fortnightly engagement check
Discounted TrainingPeaks Premium (optional)
30-day moneyback guarantee
We're Sorry To See You Go!

Please confirm your cancellation below and one of our team will process it as soon as possible (stopping all future payments). Your subscription will still continue until the end of your current billing cycle (your “next payment date”) and there is nothing else you need to do.

Don’t worry, you will always be able to access your completed workouts and your TrainingPeaks login credentials will stay the same. Also, if any payments happen to come out before we cancel your subscription, we’ll simply refund them.