Weightlifting to Improve Your Cycling: The Squat

Pumping Iron Complements Your Time on the Bike

Squat with barbell.
The squat with barbell. (c) Paul Rogers

Though riding your bike in itself will help you get faster - by both developing cardio capacity, which is the body's ability to deliver oxygen to muscles by making the heart and lungs more effective, as well as strengthening the various muscles of your body that help drive the bike - there are certainly valuable gains to be made in your cycling ability in the weight room as well.

When looking at those weight room workout options, the squat is the single best exercise for developing powerful legs, as it works the entire upper leg muscle groups.

When done right, you will quickly see results in increased strength and sprint speed.

In doing the squat exercise, you first hold a weight bar across your shoulders while in a standing position, with your feet pointing straight ahead or turned out just a bit, and positioned slightly wider than your hips. Then, while keeping your back straight, bend your legs and lower your hips until your upper thighs are parallel to the ground. From this point you then push straight up, returning yourself to the standing position.

If you haven't done squats before, you will probably find a sufficient workout using a weight bar only, with no weights attached. What's great about this is that it allows you to develop proper form, which is most important at this stage.  You can even do the squat workout with nothing at all, using only your body's own weight to provide the mass to be lifted.

If you have done squats before, or have no problems with lifting an empty weight bar, you will want to start adding weights in order to really develop those leg muscles.

To determine the right starting weight for your exercise, a good rule of thumb is to start with an amount roughly equal to half of your body weight. It is much more important to do this exercise properly, using correct form, than to lift lots of weight at first. If you can do this twelve times easily, bump up the weight by 10-15%.

If it is already too difficult, trim it down by the same amount, making these adjustments until you get to that good starting point.

You can do three sets of squats, performing 12 repetitions in the first, then 10 in the second and then eight repetitions in the last, getting progressively heavier each time.

Because squats can put substantial strain on your knees and back, check with your doctor if you have any questions about the suitability of this routine for you. And be sure you have a spotter when you do this exercise.

For additional information and instruction on squat lifts and variations, check out About.com's sites on Weight Training and Body Building.