Strength Benchmarks

Hi all,

I am wondering at what a good reference point is to aim for in the off season gym work? Asked differently at which point does it become detrimental.

Squat of > 1x bodyweight? Deadlift?

What’s your approach?


Well, it “depends”… but since that weight classification is usually not indicated in the gym…

For aerobic purposes: take the indoor bike in the gym
For strength training purposes: >= 55% of 1 repeat max (RM)

Determine your 1 RM after a warm-up by testing how much kilo’s you can move (have somebody help you for safety reasons).
Different method: calculate the weight from your recent sprint power:
sprint power / (60/cadence) = Force. (*)
If you can move the weights in the gym about a meter in about a second, the Force value is roughly the kilo’s that you can move (just once).

(*) the formula produces unrealistic values for me, some probably something wrong. And scientists here to correct it?

Hi Sina,
Great question. I would reference the description given by Joe Friel in one of his Craft of Coaching pieces where he talks about how we typically monitor this - it’s about how much weight we lift in a session. That has always been my North Star when it comes to off season gym work. My priority is progression - I want to see an increase in the amount lifted per session over time. That way I know if I’m lifting more, I’m getting stronger. (of course this comes with all the usual expectations that there will be unloading weeks and periodization strategies just like on the bike to support the long-term progression).

In terms of reference points, things like squatting >1x body weight is a great, fun target to aim for and it can fit in nicely to your focus on overall improvement. One other reference point that I like to work toward is achieving 10,000 pounds lifted per session for my lower body. This is usually through 2, or at most 3, lower body exercises - squatting, dead lifting, lunges, or some explosive movements like cleans, etc. That has always been a signal for me to know that I’m achieving a high degree of strength, and that has historically translated to a better season on the MTB. Whatever those reference points are, they have to be meaningful and appropriate for your individual needs.

It becomes detrimental when you no longer see progress and neglect to make changes or adapt your training to the current needs. Just like endurance training you have to regularly inspect your training and adapt as necessary. Are you carrying additional strain, long-term fatigue, etc.? If so, it’s time to adapt your approach to find the necessary balance.


Thanks, monitoring the overall weight is actually a smart idea, its still shows progress even if plateaus etc happen on some exercises. Like it!

What I wonder is there was a “too much” or do I go just as far as I can with the amount of time I have? Currently I focus on strength, but of course I can’t train on the bike as normal, be it intensity (no really a focus this time of the year) but also not in volume. So basically I could go as far as I can until maybe January and then focus back on cycling and maybe keep strength wherever it is. What I am saying there musst be a point where I stop the progression in the gym…no?

I was just wondering if there is some kind of general values after which more strengths doesn’t really help. Of course, as a track sprinter I probably want to go as much as I can and as TdF climber maybe just the minimum to somehow stay healthy on the bike.

Curious how others apporach this…

Hi Seena,
This reference may rankle the moderators and FTL coaches, but this seems to be what you’re asking for: Coach Chad’s Strength Training Benchmarks for Cyclists
It doesn’t tell you how to hit the benchmarks…that’s for you and a competent strength coach to determine.

If hiring a strength coach is out of the question, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. He lays out a great program to help you nail your form and then follow a simple progression to hit the numbers shown in the linked benchmarks. Agreed, it’s tough to progress with weights while also trying to maintain an effective cycling training program. Before I started cycling seriously in 2010, I spent about 2 years following the SS protocol and was able to move some serious weight by the time I decided to start getting faster on the bike. Currently, I start the heavy barbell exercises (Squat, Deadlift, Bench, etc) at the end of cyclocross season (early December here) and progress as far as I can until February or so when my cycling volume starts ramping up. I don’t always hit the benchmarks by then, but I feel that I re-build a substantial amount of strength in that time. Then throughout the season, I try (I really do try!) to maintain a lighter gym routine and focus more on core work and unilateral exercises like Single- leg RDLs and Bulgarian Split Squats.
I’m coming up on 55, so I know I need to start devoting more time to the weight room and less time to the bike, but I struggle to do that!


Great point. I think it has to come down to the individual, as with most things in sport, right? :slight_smile: Completely agree with your thought on how to approach it- do as much as you can with the amount of time available, and shift priorities as necessary to accommodate the necessary development components for you as an athlete. In the winter, that may allow for a higher priority on strength, and then once you achieve whatever level (that link from @Mschrank looks like a great set of targets to aim for - thank you for posting!) with your available time, you change the priority to more on-bike work. There is research to support maintenance lifting in-season where you can maintain a high % of those strength gains. And anecdotally, that has always seemed to produce some of the better overall seasons for my athletes and myself. Progression is a key overall component, and shifting focus to allow for progression across multiple components of your fitness is critical, too.

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I started lifting year round 3-4 years ago. I do building/rebuilding work from December through March and then go into maintenance mode. I’m not sure how much that has helped my peak performance but I can say, without a doubt, that I’m more durable. I dislike doing strength work (a lot). But I’ve found it to be a necessary evil. Because of this I super set 3-4 exercises to be as efficient as possible.

HI Sina, I wouldn’t have a number in mind when doing/ planning strength training - particularly if you don’t strength train all year round. You’ll need to start easy and do some anatomical adaptation first to get your body prepared for any serious lifting. The priority is working on technique and good movement before adding weight. Many hours on the bike impacts range of movement - barbell back squats for example require a range of movement in the shoulders that some cyclists don’t have - goblet squats are a great alternative to start with and build up from - for example.

So, if I were to set a goal for strength training - it would be improving technique and movement before anything else. Then I’d make sure I was doing it all year round so I didn’t lose the adaptations.