How to build cycling strength with a big-gear workout

How to build cycling-specific strength on the bike, without having to head to the gym


Big-gear work should be an off-season staple for all triathletes, especially if you come from a running or swimming background and find that your strength on the bike is a limiter.


Specificity – meaning that if you want to improve a particular activity you need to spend more training time doing it – is one of the golden rules of conditioning.

Although there’s no doubt that there are proven performance, injury prevention and health benefits to strength work in the gym, for cycling-specific strengthening, a dose of big gear/low cadence grinding is hard to beat.

It forces you to engage all of your key cycling muscle groups to keep your pedals turning, it necessitates a balanced, all-round pedal stroke and it demands a strong, stable platform from your core to deal with the high torque.

You’ll also find that during the intervals you’ll be working around and above threshold level, which gives bonus FTP-boosting benefits. Come race day, you’ll be able to convert this new power into speed.

Top tips for building cycling strength

Stable in the saddle

Really focus on bracing your trunk, keeping your back flat and your head up. Think strong, and avoid excessive hip rocking. Your upper body should be still and relaxed.

Strong out the saddle

Don’t allow your stable platform to collapse when you stand up. Transition smoothly from sitting to standing, avoid stalling your pedal stroke and don’t wrestle your bike.

100% on the sprints

Don’t sandbag the finishing sprints. Brace, drive hard out of the saddle, and imagine you’re deadlifting. Watch a top track cyclist doing a gate start and copy the technique.

A session to help you build cycling strength


Keep gearing low and focus on the cadence targets

  • 3mins easy @90rpm
  • 1min moderate@95rpm
  • 1min moderate@100rpm
  • 1min moderate@105rpm
  • 1min vigorous@110rpm
  • 30secs vigorous@120-130rpm
  • 2:30mins easy @80-90rpm

Main set

Complete the following 3-5 times.

  • 1min vigorous @60rpm seated
  • 1min vigorous @55rpm stand
  • 1min vigorous @60rpm seated
  • 1min vigorous @55rpm stand
  • 50secs vigorous @60rpm seated
  • 10secs max effort @max rpm stand
  • 5mins easy spinning recovery


  • 2mins easy @100+rpm
  • 10mins easy @80rpm

Adapt for beginners

Dial down the length of the efforts to three minutes. Stay seated for the first minute, stand for the second and then go seated into the final sprint for the third minute.

Adapt for Ironman

Five reps with sprints is about as advanced as this session needs to be. Increase the difficulty by dialling up
the resistance.