Even as gyms start to open up around the world, it's not always everyones taste. If being in a gym isn't your thing, how might you build that strength? Don't worry you still can, using a fantastic piece of kit that we all have access to. That is of course, our bikes.

Covered in this blog:

  • What are the elements of strength and conditioning
    • Strength
      • Why power is not strength
    • Conditioning 
  • How to apply strength and conditioning on-the-bike
    • Strength sessions
    • Conditioning sessions
  • How to perform strength reps
    • How to mentally complete strength reps

Strength and conditioning can be completed on the bike

What are the elements of strength and conditioning


Strength is essentially the amount of force that muscles can exert. Lifting weights in the gym and powering a bike up a steep hill are both measures of strength (not necessarily power). The element of strength in strength and conditioning essentially stands for making the athlete stronger, able to exert more force. 

Why power is not strength

Power is force x velocity. Meaning the amount of force a muscle can exert at a given leg speed (or cadence). Jump height, sprints on the bike, punching is all a measure of power. If you think about these movements, they are all fast, explosive movements that are over in a second. Long steep climbs are not over in seconds and as such, require more strength than muscular power.

Watts per kilo is a good test of power: How much effort you can maintain over a given amount of time. Take a test if you have the equipment for it and watch your power drop off after 3-5 seconds.


Conditioning is how well conditioned the athlete is for their sport. For example, a cyclist with strong legs that is unable to maintain a stable position when climbing, and as such suffers from slow climbing times, is unconditioned for his sport due to a weakness in his upper body and core muscles. Just like a stable cyclist, who cannot sprint, is unable to exert a lot of force through his muscles and is lacking strength (and power).

A lot of people mistake conditioning for fitness. While fitness is an important part of a strength and conditioning plan, I would class fitness as a given, as you would expect an athlete to have a certain level of fitness. Conditioning is a much more specific term as it refers to being suited/trained into a specific sport.

Cyclocross is a great example of this. If you take a traditional roadie, and a traditional mountain biker, and put them in a cyclocross race, you will usually see the roadie’s take off and use their fitness to hold a strong position when pedalling, but they struggle when it gets slippy and technical as their bodies are not conditioned to handling a bike over this kind of terrain.

I class conditioning as a mix of skill, fitness, and preparation work on the body.

Given our message for athletes not working out in a gym, how can those people strengthen and condition their body using nothing but their own bicycle?

Low cadence hill reps are a great way to build leg strength

How to apply strength and conditioning on-the-bike


Hill repetitions are one of the best ways to develop some leg strength on the bike. By repetitions I don’t mean hill sprints. I mean repetitions like you would do on a squat machine at the gym. Finding hills that take a lot of effort to get up or a hill you can climb in a harder gear to get the legs burning more is a great way to boost your strength using your bike. Think of local spots where you can hammer out some hill reps that will burn at your legs. Climb them in harder gears than you usually would on a longer ride as you do not need to worry about conserving energy.

For example, imagine someone who completes their road rides on their mountain bike. They will purposely leave it in a gear lower than they usually would to burn their legs more. The idea being he is improving the force he can exert to give him stronger legs, and more powerful pedal strokes.



When I think of on the bike conditioning, I look at the riding of my athletes, and consider what we need to do to turn them into complete cyclists. For example, there might be a weakness of out of the saddle climbing. Those short undulations in the road which do not really require to change gear, but instead require getting up and powering through them. We can then create a plan in order to work on that specific weakness.

Remember conditioning differs from strength as it is all about developing your body’s ability to perform at your sport.

For my athlete, this meant planning routes where we knew there would be undulation and making sure they disciplined them-self into standing up and powering through them. Just as you can do with hill reps you can also add these into short training loops when you know your area.

Being more focused on fluid pedalling at a lower cadence helps build leg strength

How to perform strength reps

The difference with strength repetitions is simply leg speed. During sprint reps, an athlete might be looking to get their leg speed (cadence) as high as possible - or at least fast enough to create power. Whereas strength repetitions are at a lower cadence and more about strengthening the muscles. Doing this allows the body to build that muscular strength.

How to mentally complete strength reps

In order to get these right, it is important to prepare mentally too. Correlate the importance of keeping the momentum while developing rhythmic breathing.

Establishing that mind/muscle connection to get on the gas before the hill, build up pace and maintain it going up the hill without having to shift gear, then when you reach the top, back down on the saddle and you are still moving at a good pace rather than crunching gears trying to get back up to speed.

Remember to correlate your breathing with your pedal motion to activate your mind and body


These are things that you cannot replicate in the gym conditioning your body for the demands of your weaknesses/sport requires training to be as close to the real thing as possible.

Again, when it comes to improving performance you do not need a fancy gym, lots of weight and you can train from your home or on your bike.

Sometimes it just takes a little imagination and planning.

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