A row of dumbells at a gym

How much can you bench press — once?

“One rep max” and other tips for weight training during early season training

[content_box type=”with-header” title=”StartConfident Summary” text_color=”dark” color=”default” animation=”fade-in”]
  • How much weight is enough? Start by determining your “one rep max”
  • Always warm up aerobically, and always remember to stretch
  • Work only on cycling-specific muscle groups
  • 40–60% of 1RM, 20–30 reps, 2–3 sets, up to 4 weeks or so for this phase

Basic periodization for athletic training involves five key periods of time:

  • preparation
  • base foundation
  • the build phase
  • peaking
  • and your actual performance. In our case as cyclists, racing.


Your weight training regimen should be adapted to these periods. You don’t want to be pushing or pulling the same weights over and over in the gym for weeks on end, nor do you simply want to keep adding weight. This merely builds mass and bulk, and does nothing good for your cycling.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]What is the FTP of weight training that will allow us to set “intensities” of weight for our periodization? It’s called the one rep max.[/callout]

In order to know how intense your cycling workouts should be, you perform a baseline test. If you have a power meter, it is a functional threshold test. If you only have a heart rate monitor, you test for your lactate threshold heart rate. Once you have one (our both) of these baseline measurements, you can then calculate your training zones.

But what about weight training? What is the FTP of weight training that will allow us to set “intensities” of weight for our periodization?

It’s called the one rep max.

Before you actually begin your early base training weight lifting program, you will want to spend a session in the gym determining your one rep max for a series of cycling specific weight exercises.

Before we talk about how to determine that one rep max — or 1RM, let’s talk about the exercises.

Strengthening cycling-specific muscles

The exercises you will be focusing on work muscles that are specific to the cycling motion: your quads and glutes for getting power all the way around the stroke; your chest and upper back and shoulders for pulling up during sprints; your calves, and your core.

One of the reasons many racers — even successful racers and coaches — site when eschewing weightlifting is that weightlifting is a strictly linear experience. Weightlifting, in order to be successful as an exercise in and of itself, requires isolating muscles by excluding others, and this is nothing like the motion used in cycling.

I believe that weightlifting is important for cyclists, especially older cyclists and women, as it helps to build the musculature that is necessary for sprint work and climbing. Perhaps more importantly, weightlifting helps to develop overall body strength. Cycling bills strong legs, and strong lungs and heart’s. Core muscles, arms, and other musculoskeletal areas go underdeveloped when we spend so many hours on the bike.

Don’t skip warming up, and don’t skip stretching

It is important to remember when beginning weight training as a supplement to your cycling training that you must stretch, and warm-up aerobically. Ideally, you will warm up using a stationary bike with high cadence, low-power gearing. There’s a lot to be said for preparing your brain and muscles for weightlifting by starting out on a bike. Get those pathways trained!

Give yourself 5-10 minutes warming up very easily, with a high cadence, then spend another 5-10 cooling down. If you don’t have a stationary bike at your gym, do another aerobic exercise: hit the treadmill, for example.

Then you can begin your circuit of exercises.

Here they are:

  • Squats or leg sleds
  • Seated rows
  • Incline setups
  • Bench press or lat pull downs
  • Calf raises or hamstring curls
  • Standing rows

The idea behind 1RM is to determine the maximum amount of weight that you could lift if you only had to complete the exercise one time. Needless to say, this could take a considerable amount of time if left to trial and error, not to mention the potential for hurting yourself. Thankfully, some very smart people have already done some work for us.

For each exercise, start with enough weight that you know you could lift at least four times, but definitely no more than 10. If you can do 10 repetitions of the exercise with the weight you’ve selected, the weight is too light for this test.

Do the exercise to exhaustion. Then, refer to this website: http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/OneRepMax.html  Enter the number of reps you were able to squeeze out for each exercise. For example, let’s say you are doing bench presses, and you had 70 pounds on the bar. Your 1RM calculates to 81 pounds.

Do this for each of the cycling-specific exercises mentioned, then note the 1RM for each.

Prep Period Sets and Reps

During the Prep Period, you’re doing exactly as the name implies: preparing your body for the rigorous training that’s to come in subsequent weeks. This isn’t about building strength so much as it’s about getting your brain, neurons, and joints all humming along together nicely.

When you return to the gym to begin your actual prep phase workouts, here’s what you’ll do. For each of the exercises listed above, complete 2 – 3 sets of 20 – 30 reps, using 40-60% of your 1RM, OR the greatest load possible for 20–30 reps. Ideally, you’d progress through this preparation phase (up to 4 weeks, twice a week) starting at 40%, working your way up to 30 reps per set, then adding small amounts of weight up to 60% of 1RM by the end of the 4 week phase.

Rest up to 2 minutes in-between sets.

Finally (and this is big) remember to gently stretch whichever muscles you’re working on during your rest time. You’re not here to build “static” muscle, or muscle mass. You want “dynamic” muscle. Ultimately, we’ll want to convert this newly acquired strength from linear strength to cycling-specific, cycling-motion strength during the late base period with some big gear efforts.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: If you’ve never lifted weights for cycling before, tell us: are you going to this season? [/icon_box]

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Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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