Now, with the cold winds and snow outside, it’s the time of year we cyclists and runners hit the gym for a little weight lifting. Doing some weight lifting and other cross-training is a good idea for a few reasons, such as improving overall fitness, correcting any muscle imbalances, and of course, injury prevention.

We need to be strong everywhere to make sure our bodies can stand up to the rigors of our racing season, so that our legs get the chance to do their job. Just like yoga is great for mountain bikers, weight lifting has benefits for riding that you just can’t get from riding.

But if you don’t do it right, you’ll just waste your time (or worse, get hurt.) So here are the exercises you need to AVOID, (along with better options I do recommend):

1. The Bicep Curl

Why: The bicep curl is extremely popular because so many guys are focused on how their arms look in the traditional “which way to the gun show?” pose. Whether they just like to flex in front of the mirror, or believe women want to see big arms, the bicep curl is their savior.

Why not: Just think about it – what good do your biceps do? Very little.

Your biceps, no matter how much you work them, are a relatively small muscle. They don’t do much of anything, and they certainly don’t have much use in sports like cycling, running, and swimming.

Try this instead: Do chin ups or supinated pull downs. These are compound movements that work your biceps along with the rest of your arms and shoulders.


2. The Leg Extension

Why: It’s easy – you just sit down in the machine and lift your feet.

Why not: It’s not practical. When cycling, your legs don’t move anything like that. Machines and their typical isolation exercises are useless for functional strength, too.

Try this instead: Lunges and reverse lunges are much better for a quad workout. They give you a serious workout, and they do it in a way that will actually translate to useful leg strength.


3. The Pec Deck

Why: Pecs are second only to biceps when it comes to flexing for oneself in front of the mirror.

Why not: It’s a useless movement controlled by a machine. The strength gained here will not translate to anything worthwhile outside of the gym.

Try this instead: The bench press and incline bench press (or even better, push-ups) give you all the chest workout you need, plus they work your arms at the same time. These exercises strengthen your entire upper body, including smaller stabilizer muscles, which leads to better bike control.


4. The Hamstring Curl

Why: This is simply another easy machine to work out on.

Why not: When you’re out riding or running, how often do you stretch forward and pull your feet onto your back, while being held in place? Never? OK then.

Try this instead: The traditional squat and deadlift provides all the stimulus you need for building super strong and powerful legs and back.


5. Triceps Kickback

Why: The next step once one realizes the bicep curl is useless, is to switch to a little isolation exercise for the other side of the arm.

Why not: While your triceps are important, the triceps kickback is pointless. If you want to gain strength, you need to lift heavy weights, and this exercise just doesn’t let you accomplish that.

Try this instead: Save your triceps strength for performing dips and pull-ups. Want to add weight? Get a dipping belt and pack it on.

Weighted dips will skyrocket your arm strength in no time!

And those are the biggest time wasters in the gym.

They might serve some small purpose for competitive bodybuilders or Olympic lifters, and sometimes have a place in physical therapy and rehab, but for multisport endurance athletes, these are nothing more than a waste of time.

The only real way to get better at cycling is by cycling, so don’t spend all day in the gym doing every exercise you can find. Simply stick with my recommendations for good exercises and you’ll get stronger in less time, and you’ll ride faster and more “in control” next spring!

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Bonus section!

6. “Any exercise done with improper form”

Even good exercises like the deadlift, squat, and bench press are useless (or worse, detrimental) when done with improper form. Improper form leads to torn muscles and ligaments and other pains and injuries that will set you back.

So whatever exercise you do (whether with dumbbells or barbells or plates hanging off your waist,) make sure you are using perfect form. If you’re not sure, get some help from a smart and experienced lifter.

Also, don’t fall into the trap of using machines, thinking that they are safer than free weights and encourage proper form. Just the opposite! Smith rack squats and bench press machines don’t allow you to use a proper range of motion, effectively forcing you to use improper form!

Photo credit: o0bcessed

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  1. Great piece, and I agree 1000000% percent!

  2. i just read a website of the same nature that i completely disagree, but yours is spot on. I want to hate the pec dec like everyone else, but it gives definition in the valley of my chest. And also kickbacks are the only exercise that i really feel the squeeze in my triceps. But everyones different

  3. @Jason

    Those exercises are great for bodybuilding type workouts and “feeling the burn,” but nicely defined pecs and tris won’t improve your cycling or running performance.

  4. I totally agree and hold many of the same positions on these ideas, BUT, after many years of knocking bicep curls, I finally realized a few things as to why they might not be as bad as we’re led to believe. Check out this article where I try to offer up some ideas from a different perspective. Thanks and keep up the good work. -Ben

  5. @Ben

    You make good points in your article for most athletes. I even do curls sometimes for those reasons. They’re just not part of my cycling training or my training plans for any endurance athletes.

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