Three cycling strength mistakes, and how to avoid them

Head Strength & Conditioning coach for the Israel National Track Cycling Programme Menachem Brodie on transforming your off-bike programme

The annual Science and Cycling conference took place in Leuven, Belgium, just prior to the World Championships, its usual pre-Tour slot moved because of logistical issues around Covid. Recently, we investigated the latest developments of the so-called (legal) wonder drug ketones and its impact on the peloton off the back of Peter Hespel’s enlightening presentation at the conference.

Related: Rouleur Performance. Are ketones changing pro cycling?

Now, we bring you another exclusive from Leuven, this time around cyclists maximising strength training. It’s brought to you by the magnificently named Menachem Brodie. Brodie’s head strength-and-conditioning coach for the Israel National Track Cycling Programme and a leading light when it comes to the science (and application) of strength training to improve cycling performance. Over to Brodie to reveal three common strength-training mistakes… and how to rectify them.

Mistake #1 Stopping strength training completely

Menachem Brodie is the strength-and-conditioning coach for the Israel Cycling Federation Track Program. Photo: SWpix

The bane of my existence is that there’s a feeling that you should stop strength training six to eight weeks before your peak event. This is wrong. You should strength train up to three or four days before your event or you’ll lose adaptation.
There is a simple way to continue your strength training throughout the season and that is to keep it at one or two gym efforts a week. Also, look to complete a shorter, more focused home workout another day a week, using a kettlebell, resistance bands or some dumbbells. 

Related: Rouleur Performance. The importante of strength training for Haute Route events

But don’t become obsessed with corrective work. I used to be, spending ages with my athletes on foam-roller work, Trigger Point this and that. You’d spent 40mins on correctives but leave only 20mins for proper strength training like deadlifts. 

Another mistake? Too many don’t feel they’ve worked out unless they destroy themselves. That puts them off because it affects the quality of their subsequent cycling session. The aim is for all-year-round strength work, not to kill your muscles as if you were a bodybuilder.

Mistake #2 Focusing on weight, not technique

How do we track progress when it comes to strength training? Most cyclists will base it on repetition and volume. That’s a mistake. Why? Because cycling’s a repetitive, pulsing sport. Let me explain… Strength training – lifting things from a dead weight to moving – is about producing force once with continual control. Cycling is about producing small pulses of force, followed by relaxation of the system, while maintaining control of the bike. It’s why the inherent characteristics of strength training don’t carry over to cycling.

And it’s why the weights you use and how much you can lift really don’t matter. On the other hand, HOW you move matters immensely. We are focused on movement efficiency and economy, as improving the skill of movement and force control plus production is how strength training actually improves performance.

Related: Rouleur Performance. Next-level fuelling.

Once you’ve moved to mastery of the fundamental movements and in order to continue to stimulate a response, that’s when we layer more weights or resistance. But the ‘higher loads’ come much, much later for the average cyclist – usually two to three years in. 

I did a podcast with a client of mine who was willing to share his experience, as we only used a max of a 20kg kettlebell. Here’s the link if you’d like to listen…

It highlights how technique is just so important. Even increasing, say, a squat weight by around 10kg can change form. Take this individual here. This is poor form…

He’s rounding his back, dropping his chest down and his elbows are far behind him. This affects his joint position, which’ll impact muscle function and potentially lead to injury. This plays out as the bar’s not being moved up and down in a straight line.

This is better form… 

This is what we want with our athletes rather than just heavier weights. Force creates motion but stiffness controls motion and that’s driven home by a simple example. If I want to move my finger very fast, I need to create force from the central nervous system (CNS) down through the shoulder, the elbow, down to the wrist and to the finger joints for it to move really quickly. But if I don’t have some form of stiffness in the elbow and finger, I’ll experience all sorts of different movements through that chain.
It’s the same with a popular cycling strength exercise such as the squat. It’s more important how the athlete’s able to generate proximal stiffness [the stiffening of the core between the hips and shoulders] to create distal motion [in this case, move the legs], and is why worrying about the weight on the bar is a fruitless endeavour. 

Related: What are stregth efforts and why should you do them?

Treat strength work like you would your bike set-up. How you sit and position yourself has a huge impact on how you’re going to breathe, how you move on the bike and how you generate power. It’s the same with squats. It’s an exercise that engages many muscles but, if the joints are in the wrong position, those muscles lose their efficacy to do the job.

Form really impacts your performance on the bike. It’s why I encourage all cyclists to spend more time working on bike skills, too. That means learning how to ride a bike on different terrains, how to climb properly, how to handle, how to sprint, how to maximise gear changes… I see a lot of riders who have raw power but not real power. What I mean by that is the everyday cyclist is obsessed with power numbers. As a coach, say Tuesday is a skills session. All of the excuses come out from my cohort and, instead of 25 riders for a VO2max session, you have three. This is where I implore all cyclists to understand it’s how you move on a bike that’ll help you progress, not just raw power, and that means sharpening your skillset, both on the bike  and in the gym.

Mistake #3 Core work is all about crunches and planks

When it comes to traditional core training, the usual methodology is along the lines of 20secs to 2mins of crunches, planks, dead bugs, bicycle crunches, straight-leg raises, reverse hyperextensions, hyperextensions and rotational exercises like the Russian twist.

This is all well and good but we need to think of our core of being far more extensive than just  our mid-section. This is a large part  of my experience of the past 20 years with a back injury. I went from a back patient back to doing everyday things to being a competitive athlete to becoming a cyclist to becoming a certified practitioner.

Related: Rouleur Performance. Phosphate sprints: the ultimate training session?

So, think about the core as being everything between your neck, elbows and knees. Many different muscles come into play, not just one single muscle. Even though we’re out of ‘spine neutral’, we must learn how to breathe well, as well as generating enough proximal stiffness to enjoy distal motion.
One of the key tenets for this is teaching the ‘stop-twist’. This is a type of movement where the individual needs to keep the ribs and hips locked together, resisting gravity or the applied force’s attempt to push them in opposite directions. For ease of understanding, let’s use the wall-plank rotation as an example. It may look simple, but it’s certainly not easy. Give it a go and film yourself from behind. See how your video compares to the example.

Related – The midlife cyclist. How to cycle healthily after the age of 40

For many weekend warriors this can be a challenge. But persist as it’ll bolster your defences from racking up the miles in a crouched-over position. Right, that’s the theory ticked off. Now onto a couple session examples to get you going…


This is for those just starting their strength training for the year or winter. This workout is for at home or a gym as long as you have kettlebells and bands. Note: many, but not all, of the exercises have videos (explainer/why) on my Youtube channel.

3 x 20secs

2 x 8

A2. Hip Lifts

2 x 15

B1. KB Deadlift from Block

3 x 8

B2. Side-Lying Windmills

3 x 5

C1. Band Rows with pause

2 x 8

C2. Wall Scapular Slides

2 x 6-8

D1. Side Planks

3 x 20secs

D2. Max Effort Front Planks

3 x (3 x 5secs on, 3secs off)

D3. Bird Dogs, Level 1

2 x 5-7

Note: have 2-3mins rest between each set.


This is  for those who’ve gone through three to six weeks of light lifting and technique work, and are ready for some loading.


A1. Double KB Hover Deadlift

3 x 8

A2. Half-Kneeling Banded Lat Stretch

3 x 5 breaths

B1. Half-Squat Band Rows

3 x 10

B2. KB Around the Worlds

3 x 5 

C1. Push-ups

3 x 10

C2. Banded Lat Pulldowns

3 x 12

D1. Side Planks on Knees (Hinge Pattern)

3 x 5

D2. Farmer Carries 

3 x 30secs

Note 1: have 3-5mins between each set.

Note 2: the alphabet indicates the importance of the movements in the workout and helps to understand what the primary focus is. This is a part of the workout that even ‘normal’ personal trainers miss, but has a massive influence on the outcome of the training. The ‘1’ is what I refer to as a ‘Fundamental 5+1 movement’, being a push, pull, squat, hinge, (overhead) press and rotary stability. These five movements are the major movement patterns of the human body and require prime attention (in the right amounts). The ‘2’ exercises are some kind of supporting exercise. This can mean they are a ‘corrective’ exercise, an ‘activation’ exercise or some kind of dynamic stretch or movement that helps drive better movement for the next set of the ‘1’ exercise it’s paired with, as well as prime the cyclist for the remainder of the session. 

You can find out more about Menachem Brodie at

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