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How much strength training should I do?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearQ:  I tend to resist strength training but I know it’s important, especially as I get older. Why should I do it? How much should I do in the off-season and how much during the cycling season?

This question often comes up. As your body ages you lose bone density and strength. That’s why strength training becomes more important as you get older. Beginning at age 60, women become susceptible to breaks in the pelvis, hips and knees as a result of poor bone density and strength.

Many women avoid weight lifting because they fear they’ll bulk up and get heavy.  But 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions twice a week won’t build bulk, they’ll build strength, increase bone density, and increase lean muscle mass. Lean muscle mass burns calories at rest but body fat does not. The higher the percentage of lean muscle you have, the lower amount of body fat you’ll have, and the easier it will be to maintain a healthy weight—all good reasons to start doing strength resistance training.

Does cycling increase bone density?
This is another question I’m often asked. The answer is, it depends. There are benefits if you cycle with intensity, and if you increase resistance on your legs by pushing harder gears. You won’t strengthen your bones if most of the cycling you do is easy, steady-state riding. To build bone density and strength, there needs to be a “tug on the bone,” which happens while doing resistance training, and also during big-gear power training on the bike.

How much strength training is enough?
I recommend doing at least two resistance training sessions per week during the off-season, and one session a week for maintenance during the outdoor cycling season.

If you have the basic tools for weight training at home there’s no need to join a gym.  All you need to buy are a few small weights (5 to 15 lbs.), medium strength exercise tubing, and a stability ball. You can buy all of these fitness products at department stores in the sports equipment section, at fitness and sporting goods stores, or online. 

What to do:
Here’s a sample workout you can do either at home or at your gym.
Lower Body:

Squats –  Stand with your feet approximately hip-width apart. Put your hands on your hips (or hold onto weights for added resistance), squat down (like you’re sitting in a chair) until the knees form a 90-degree angle, then press back up to a standing position. Your knees should never extend past your feet. As you return to an upright position, make sure you press your body weight up through the heels of your feet, not through the balls of your feet. That will protect your knee joints by reducing pressure on them.

Walking Lunges – Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lunge forward with one leg so that it forms a 90-degree angle. Then push off the front foot and lunge with the other leg. Continue lunging in a walking-type movement for 20 paces, then turn and walk-lunge back for 20 paces.

Leg Curls – Lie on the floor on your back with your lower legs on top of the stability ball. Lift your hips up off the floor. Stabilize yourself by placing your hands on the floor beside you with your palms facing down. Bend your knees and roll the ball in toward your butt. Then straighten your legs and roll the ball back out.

Upper Body:

Chest Press – Sit on the stability ball holding the dumbbells and walk your feet out until the ball supports your head, neck and shoulders. Keep your hips up and in line with your lower back and hold the dumbbells above your face. Lower the dumbbells to touch your shoulders, then push them back up to the starting position.

Upper back rows – Wrap the resistance tubing around a banister or a door knob. Stand away to get resistance on the tubing. Hold one foot forward and one foot back. That provides good support. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed. With the palms of your hands down, pull the tubing back and squeeze the shoulder blades together, then release the tubing forward.

Tricep Dips – Sit on the second step of your staircase or on a weight bench with your feet out in front so your knees form a 90-degree angle.  Then, bending the elbows, drop your butt down until it just touches the first step. Then press back up to a fully extended arm position.

Bicep Curls – Stand in an erect posture holding the weights in front of you, curl them up to touch your shoulder, then lower the weights back down.

This sequence covers the whole body. If you haven’t been doing any resistance training, start with one set of each exercise, and do 10 to 12 repetitions per exercise for the first two weeks. At week three, add in a second set, and by week four, time permitting, you can add a third set in. However, the greatest gains are from increasing from 1 set to 2 sets. There isn’t as much benefit going from 2 to 3 sets. So if time is an issue, you can still get a lot of benefit from doing 2 sets. Increase the weights when the last set starts to feel easy.

If you’re stuck inside either on a trainer or on a spin bike, bring out your weights and exercise tubing and get to work strengthening your muscles and bones. To add balance and variety to your indoor training season, do the above strength workout on the day you do your easy, shorter indoor ride, or do it on the days when you aren’t on the bike.


Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.



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1 comment to How much strength training should I do?

  • susen-marie

    thank you diane for another great article. even though i go to the gym i very much enjoy doing my exercises at home. this article has some very motivating ideas and i almost feel stronger just reading them! thanks*

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