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The Blueprint to Developing Upper Body Strength for Cyclists

Feb 18, 2024Cycling, Fitness

upper body strength for cyclists Table of contents


Cycling is an endurance sport that primarily utilizes the lower body. However, upper body strength’s role in enhancing a cyclist’s performance cannot be overstated. While leg power might propel you forward, upper body strength determines your stability, control, and overall cycling efficacy. Hence, it’s not just about pedal power; strong arms, shoulders, and core are equally integral to optimal cycling performance.

The Role of Upper Body Strength in Cycling

A well-developed upper body aids cyclists in several ways. Cyclists with a solid upper body can maintain a better bike posture, reducing fatigue during long rides. Moreover, good upper body strength enhances bike handling, especially when navigating tricky terrains, elevations, and descents, offering improved stability and control. It also helps in injury prevention, as a strong upper body can absorb more shock during rough rides, reducing the strain on the lower back.

Bear in mind that cycling should not result in bulky upper bodies. The goal isn’t to build bulging biceps but to develop functional strength that enhances your cycling performance.

Essential Upper Body Workouts for Cyclists

Just as you would incorporate Zone 3 cycling workouts into your routine for endurance, it’s vital to include upper-body strength workouts as well. Here are some exercises that we recommend: 

Shoulder Workouts for Cyclists

  1. Push-ups: A classic exercise that strengthens the shoulders and chest. Maintain a straight body line from head to heels throughout the exercise.
  2. Overhead Press: This exercise targets the shoulder muscles. Ensure to keep the back straight while lifting the weights above your head.

Back Workouts for Cyclists

  1. Pull-ups: Excellent for strengthening the back and shoulders. Aim for a full range of motion.
  2. Bent-over rows: This exercise works the entire back and helps improve postural stability, which is beneficial for cyclists.

Arms Workouts for Cyclists

  1. Bicep curls: Simple yet effective, this exercise targets the biceps. Ensure your elbows stay close to your body and only your forearms move.
  2. Tricep dips: A great exercise to strengthen and tone the triceps.

Core Workouts for Cyclists

  1. Planks: A solid core workout that builds endurance in the abs and back, helping improve stability on the bike.
  2. Russian twists: This exercise targets the entire core and helps improve rotational strength, beneficial for controlling the bike.

Cycling-specific Strength Exercises

Integrating these cycling-specific exercises into your routine will ensure holistic strength development:

  1. Planks with variation: Besides standard planks, try adding leg lifts or arm lifts to engage different muscle groups.
  2. Lunges: Work on the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, with a bonus of improving balance.
  3. Leg lifts: These strengthen the lower abs and hip flexors, a crucial muscle group for cyclists.
  4. Burpees: A full-body exercise that boosts strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Weighted and Bodyweight Options

Including both weighted and bodyweight exercises offer variety and allow you to train even if you don’t have access to gym equipment:

  1. Renegade rows: This weighted exercise is excellent for working the core and upper body.
  2. Kettlebell swings: A fantastic full-body workout that particularly targets the back muscles.
  3. Single-leg deadlifts: Great for engaging the lower back and improving balance.
  4. Front squats: Work the whole body with a particular focus on the core and lower body.

The Importance of Nutrition in Building Upper Body Strength

Nutrition plays a critical role in building and maintaining muscle strength. It’s not just about working out; you need to fuel your body right to see the results:

Essential Nutrients for Cyclists

A balanced diet for cyclists should include proteins for muscle repair, carbohydrates for energy, and healthy fats for satiety. 

Pre- and Post-workout Meals

Before a workout, aim for a meal rich in carbohydrates and proteins. Post-workout, replenish your body with a protein-rich meal to aid in muscle recovery.

You can read our full guide on cycling nutrition here.

Hydration Strategies

Staying hydrated is crucial, especially for endurance sports like cycling. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day and replenish lost fluids post-workout.

Common Mistakes and Solutions When Training Upper Body for Cyclists

While training for upper body strength, cyclists often make a few common mistakes:

  1. Improper form: Always prioritize form over the number of reps to prevent injury and ensure you’re effectively targeting the intended muscles.
  2. Neglecting certain muscle groups: All muscle groups work collectively while cycling. Ensure your workout routine includes exercises that target the overall body.
  3. Not incorporating enough variety: Including a mix of workouts keeps training exciting and challenges different muscle groups in varied ways.

upper body strength for cyclists FAQ

Why is upper body strength important for cyclists?

Upper body strength is crucial for cyclists as it enhances bike control, improves posture, and aids in power generation from the legs. It connects the rest of the body to the bike, allowing for better harnessing and control of leg power. Strength training can also prevent injuries and increase training longevity, making you a faster and stronger cyclist (The Bike The Body, TrainerRoad Blog).

Can strength training make me a faster cyclist?

Yes, strength training can make you a faster cyclist by improving your cycling economy, increasing time to exhaustion, enhancing core strength, and preventing injuries. These improvements contribute to a more efficient and powerful cycling performance (EVOQ.Bike, BarBend).

Will I gain unwanted weight from strength training?

While some cyclists worry about gaining weight from strength training, the reality is that gaining functional strength without significant muscle mass is possible, especially for endurance athletes. Strength improvements can come from neural and physiological changes, not just muscle growth (The Bike The Body).

What are some effective upper body exercises for cyclists?

Practical upper body exercises for cyclists include chin-ups, triceps dips, shoulder presses, push-ups, rowing, diamond pushups, bent-over rows, and barbell curls. These exercises target crucial muscles for cycling, such as the back, triceps, shoulders, chest, and core, contributing to better performance and injury prevention (Cycling Inspire, BIKE Magazine).

How often should I incorporate strength training into my cycling routine?

It’s recommended to start with light and simple exercises, gradually increasing intensity. A low volume of strength training with high recovery periods can lead to significant strength gains without necessarily increasing muscle size. Incorporating strength training once a week during the season can be beneficial, adjusting based on your competition schedule and recovery needs (TrainerRoad Blog, EVOQ.Bike).

Can strength training improve my bike handling and control?

Yes, strength training, particularly exercises that enhance upper body strength, can significantly improve bike handling and control. Stronger upper body muscles provide better stability and pulling power, which is crucial for maintaining control over the bike in various terrains and conditions (BarBend).


An amalgamation of targeted workouts, a balanced diet, and the right approach can significantly enhance upper body strength, leading to improved cycling performance. Remember not to overdo it; the goal isn’t to build a bulky upper body but to develop lean, functional muscles that work in harmony with your legs while cycling. Now that you’re armed with this comprehensive guide pedal your way towards enhanced strength and improved performance!

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