How to: Get Quads of Steel for Stronger Cycling - Total Women's Cycling

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Training & Nutrition

How to: Get Quads of Steel for Stronger Cycling

Those legs? Definitely belong to the legend that is Italian sprinter, Giorgia Bronzini

Many cyclists will remember a time, before they really got into all things two wheeled, when they thought having muscular cycling thighs was a bad thing. However, it doesn’t take long for most of us to realise that defined quads and calves not only look awesome, they also make us stronger on the bike, both in a sprint and up the hills when extra power is required. 

Not only that, despite the common beginner fear that cycling will immediately result in hench legs, most regular cyclists also quickly realise that the sculpted quads of pro riders take an awful lot of work and are pretty hard to come by.

They are, however, not impossible to create. Here’s a few ways you can go about bulking up those leg muscles…

Squat, deadlift, repeat

Start without a weight. Not smiling quite so much on the right there.

The jury is out on the benefits of weight training for your average cyclist. If endurance and climbing ability are top of your agenda, you probably don’t need to be lifting weights to reach your goals – though basic core work is beneficial for all of us. However, if you’re a roadie after a stronger sprint or a mountain biker looking to power up those short sharp ridges, then gym time can be beneficial and the general consensus is that strength comes from lifting heavy (for you) weights with low reps as opposed to sets of 50 reps with a paperweight.

Squats and deadlifts are beneficial because they’re functional, complete movements. This means they don’t isolate random muscles and therefore strengthen your body in a way that’s useful in sport as opposed to just increasing the size and tone of a body part. The squats primarily work your quads and glutes, but also your core whilst deadlifts are great for your hamstrings, glutes, and core.

Your body would be out of balance if you had solidly strong quads and hamstrings of jelly, which is why it’s a good idea to do both. Aim for three sets of ten of each, a couple of times a week for results.

More on Deadlifts

More on Squats

Before you hit the gym or buy your weights: a few ground rules.

  1. Go to a gym and have a professional check your form with and without weights before you start.
  2. Stop and rest of it hurts (aside from normal muscle ache).
  3. Accept that you’ll get delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after weights, so don’t do them in a week where you have a goal event or big ride planned.

Standing starts and overgeared hill sprints

Just imagine this moment for every sprint…

Cycling puritans will tell you (unless you’re a full on trackie) to stay out the gym and develop your sprinty quads on the bike. And they’ve got a point, especially if you’re short on time and want all your training to be as specific as possible. If you want to develop the exact muscles that will propel you forwards on the bike – it makes sense to strengthen them in the way they’ll be used.

There are two key sessions you can use for this: standing starts or overgeared hill sprints.

Dani King gave us a great standing start session here, but the basic principle is to warm up, then find a straight stretch of road. Bring your bike almost to a halt (but remain clipped in), keeping in a fairly high gear. Then, pedal as hard and as fast as you can until you’re up to speed. King has riders maintain the speed, then put in another 10 second sprint burst, before repeating. The idea is you get up to speed from absolute zero, therefore using all the muscles you would in a sprint in the most powerful way possible. If you can do more than six of these in an hour, you’re not going hard enough.

Overgeared hill reps follow a similar principle, but use a hill to make it easier to get your absolute best effort. You’ll need a short ramp that’s about 20 seconds long (if it’s longer this will really hurt..). Roll up to the hill at a steady pace, again in a high gear. Once you get to the bottom, smash it up the hill as hard as you can, without changing gear. Riding these in the saddle will have the greatest effect on those powerful quads, whilst out the saddle efforts will work your calves and upper body more – you can always alternate for a bit of variety.

There are some ground rules here, too:

  1. Sprint training requires your full attention, do these sessions away from traffic or on a turbo trainer
  2. If you feel pain – aside from normal muscle ache – stop. These sessions will put strain on your joints and getting injured won’t help you to get stronger!

All the protein

Eating protein without working to build muscles won’t have much of an effect on your body composition. However, working on your strength and not eating protein could equally have little effect.

We’ll let nutritionalist Joseph Agu explain: “During exercise your muscle fibres break down. That’s a natural process of exercise and that break down allows them to rebuild, causing an adaptation. Protein ingestion facilitates that response by stimulating what we call muscle protein synthesis.”

Without enough protein, your body will struggle to rebuild itself, so you could miss out on the resulting adaptation. Agu suggests we consume between 1.5-1.8g of protein per kg of body weight a day though this will vary between individuals.

Looking for more ways to power up your training? You might also like… 

Training: 3 Drills to Improve your Sprint on the Bike

Training: Nail the Basics to become a Better Sprinter on the Bike

A Need for Speed: Training Workouts to Make You Faster

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