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Cycling Training in the Off-Season – Learn How to Stay Fit on the Bike

You want to do something for your cycling fitness in the off-season? But you don't like to train alone on the cycletrainer or going to the gym? Then you are on the right site! On this topic page, we'll give you tips on how to do a varied bicycle workout. Furthermore, with professional support, we'll address many questions about ergometer training, training at home and balancing exercises for cyclists. Find out which muscles are important for cycling, how you can specifically build up your fitness and much more. Start right away and click on

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When the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are dropping, it often becomes difficult for recreational cyclists and athletes to complete regular training sessions on their bikes. Many even take a complete break from training, but that doesn't have to be the case. Our training tips show you how you can do something for your cycling fitness systematically and yet in a varied and fun way, even in winter. The best thing is to start right away, because winners are known to be made in winter.

The following topics await you:

Which Muscles Are Important for Cycling?

Training for cyclists – Classic strength workout in the gym

Before a race or a tour, cyclists often wish for strong legs among themselves, but that is only half the truth. Leg training alone is often not enough to ensure long-term, injury-free cycling. To help you build up muscles or compensate for deficits during winter training, here are the most important muscles or muscle groups for cyclists in general and the differences for road cyclists and mountain bikers in detail.

It's primarily the leg and gluteal muscles that are stressed when cycling.

These are:

  • the large gluteal muscle
  • the knee flexor and extensor muscles
  • the four large thigh muscles (quadriceps)
  • the calf muscles
  • the shin muscles

Fortunately, these are the largest and strongest muscles our body has to offer, which is why almost anyone can quickly start basic training and achieve success.
However, if we take a closer look at individual disciplines, there are other secondary muscle groups that play an important role in the various cycling disciplines in order to achieve optimal performance.

Riders of drop bar bicycles like road bikes and gravel machines sit for the most part on the bike, while the back is moved and loaded comparatively sparingly. A lot of static support work has to be done through the arms and shoulders.

Secondary muscles used in road cycling are:

  • Triceps
  • Stabilising shoulder muscles
  • Stabilising neck muscles

Active mountain biking means many fast changes from sitting to standing on the MTB, and the obstacles and different trail conditions often require the whole body. Arms, shoulders, chest, back and abdomen have to react dynamically and quickly on the trail.

Secondary muscles used in mountain biking are:

  • Triceps & Biceps
  • Shoulder muscles
  • Upper back
  • Abdominal muscles and lower back
  • Neck muscles

From this point of view, it makes sense for MTB winter training to train the entire body. 
But road cyclists and other bike enthusiasts who are interested in mileage should also regularly include so-called cross-training specifically for cyclists in their planning.

Recommended sports for cross-training include: cimbing/bouldering, yoga and functional fitness

If done correctly, you can prevent bone mass loss and joint arthrosis in parts of the body that are hardly used, improve your coordination and keep your primary sport fun thanks to the mental variety.

If you want to get into training in the best possible way and quickly address possible deficits, you should get to know not only the muscles that are important for cyclists but also the cycling fitness basics described in the following chapter.

Cycling Fitness – The Basics

Improve your fitness on the bike with regular running sessions

Endurance, speed, strength and coordination are the fitness basics that matter for cycling.

Endurance-based muscle work is also the basis for high performance in cycling. But what is endurance exactly? As far as muscle metabolism is concerned, fitness can be divided into aerobic (long-term energy production with O₂) and anaerobic endurance (short-term energy production without O₂).
Since cycling primarily requires long-term endurance, a lot of training should be done in the aerobic range. For this purpose, so-called basic endurance training (LIT – Low Intensity Training) is particularly suitable, in which a holistic load is applied. This means training with only 60-80% of the maximum pulse over a period of at least 45 minutes.

This can be implemented in cycling winter training in the following way:

  • Indoor cycling workouts on the bike trainer – fitness can be built up directly on the bike
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • "short" laps at the weekend with cyclocross, gravel or mountain bikes

Whether it's a town-sign sprint with a road bike or challenging uphill and downhill passages in the mountains with an MTB: speed is also essential for road cyclists and mountain bikers alike.
The short cyclic impulses (powerful pushes) required for this should also be specifically trained during cycling training in the cold season.
Speed training primarily improves the control/coordination of the muscle fibres of each individual muscle and the entire muscle chain. In addition, you train your central nervous system to control more muscle cells at the same time!

We recommend the following training variations for your speed training:

  • Sprints on the cycletrainer or, for advanced users, on the free roller
  • Training on the running track or in a marked area outdoors
  • Training with fitness accessories like kettlebells at home
  • Plyometric training

Strength and speed are closely related. You need a lot of explosive maximum power in a short time to accelerate your bike rapidly. However, when cycling you often need a lot of strength or power over a longer period of time, e.g. on hills. This ability to conquer the mountaintop without a terrible burning sensation in the thighs caused by the onset of lactate is called power endurance. A mountain biker also needs additional strength in the torso so that he or she can master drops and jumps in the park without accidents. But a road cyclist not just train the leg muscles, but also the upper body. Only if you are balanced and stable around the neck and back, for example, can you achieve maximum performance on the pedals.
For targeted strength training in the off-season, a distinction should be made between general strength training and targeted training of the primary muscles for cyclists. The following types of training are interesting for winter cycling training.

Primary muscle specific:

  • Power intervals on the bike or roller trainer with low speed and a high gear (K3 training)
  • Leg strength/maximal strength training in the gym on machines or with free weights - e.g. leg press or squads with barbell and dead lifts
  • Squat and lunge variations at home.

In general:

  • Basic strength exercises in the gym (bench press, shoulder press, pull-ups, rowing)
  • Bodyweight training at home on the mat

Coordination is the basis of all movements. Well-trained coordination skills lead to the targeted or more efficient use of mobility and strength, speed and endurance. Furthermore, it opens up the possibility of using the entirety range of motion. This also applies to cyclists and should therefore be an integral part of your winter training.

For optimal interaction between muscles, tendons, nerves and brain, reflex training is recommended for cyclists, e.g. with the:

  • Pezzi ball
  • Balance board

but also:

  • outdoor cycling technique parcours
  • Bouldering
  • Yoga
Cycletrainer – the classic for your cycling fitness

This Is How Varied Winter Cycling Training Can Be

Have you ever thought about track training, yoga or bouldering in the cold season - how about something different? Here is a brief overview of what you can do at home or outdoors during the cold months.

With these cross-workouts, boredom is definitely not an issue during MTB or road bike winter training.

How Do Pro Cyclists Train – The Interview

We've already told you a lot about the theoretical basics of cycling winter training, but to ensure that you leave the off-season stronger and achieve your long-term goals, it's all about practice. And who better to tell you about this than a racer and training pro like Maik Höhne, leader and rider at the BIKE24 Racing Squad. Maik has already been in the MTB saddle for over 25 years, but as an "old hand" in the downhill and enduro racing circus, he knows what he's talking about: 1st place at the German DH Championship 2019 in Thale (Pro Masters), 2nd place at the German Championship Mountain Bike Downhill 2020 (Pro Masters) and many other titles.

Would you like to train just like the girls and boys of the BIKE24 Racing Squad in the upcoming winter? In the following interview, Maik provides you with useful tips on how you can get in shape for the summer months with optimal winter training.

Hi Maik, let's start with a general question:

How can I train for cycling in autumn and winter to stay fit?

By continuing to be active and, if health and weather conditions permit, by getting back on the bike.

Which fitness basics are crucial for cyclists and how can they be specifically trained?

From my point of view, besides the goals for the next season and possible deficits discovered in the previous season, the main cycling discipline plays a role. It is always worthwhile after the end of a season to look ahead, but also to look back and do an analysis. Then the athlete can draw up a targeted training plan, if necessary with professional support. This will probably look different for a road cyclist than for an athlete in the disciplines of downhill or enduro. In these disciplines, the proportion of strength, coordination and flexibility training will be somewhat greater than pure endurance training.

Which types of training do you prefer and why?

In the "off-season" varied and set up in such a way that possible deficits can be eliminated or consequences of possible injuries from the season can be eliminated. I often consult a physiotherapist after the season to be able to proceed in a more targeted way. In addition, due to the weather, the proportion of indoor training activities is significantly higher and I therefore prefer strength and coordination training in winter. In order to maintain or improve my riding technique, I also regularly do shorter, fun-filled laps on my MTB. I don't like aerobic endurance training, i.e. long sessions with a low intensity, in the cold season, but I am going to plan a training camp for it in spring.

How much time do you spend on training and what do you recommend to our customers to get started?

I try to organise my daily routine in such a way that, after the recovery break, I train twice a week in the gym and, if possible, sit on my bike or use my running shoes or cross-country skis at the weekend. The amount of strength and endurance training increases as the season gets closer. Then I increasingly use a cycle trainer. But there are also regular evenings spent bouldering with friends, yoga sessions or indoor sports. In spring, longer sessions on the bike are added at the weekend to build up basic endurance.

Is it good to take a longer break after the main season?

That depends a little on the intensity of the season and the location of the last competitions. Purely recreational cyclists can certainly do without it, but I would recommend it to competitive cyclists, for example, to use the rather wet and cold November for a regeneration break and to spend the time with low-intensity yoga sessions to maintain/improve flexibility. This year, for example, I unfortunately had a longer break in August and September due to injury and will therefore use the coming months for training.

I have decided to train at home. What do I need for optimal indoor training?

As I am not a sports scientist, I cannot say what research recommends for optimal indoor training, but based on my experience I use the following:

I have a direct drive cycle trainer at home, a yoga mat, some kettlebells, a set of sling trainers and a balance board. I think that's good basic equipment with which to train in a varied and effective way.

The equipment is ready: What is the best way to start with indoor cycling workouts at home?

In my opinion, the best way to start is to integrate a plan with regular and, above all, fixed appointments into your daily routine. My own experiences and the stories of other athletes show a certain necessity here. In addition, it is certainly helpful if the athlete determines his or her current level of fitness, e. g. to make sure that he or she does not permanently overload himself or herself in training and thus achieve the opposite effect. Some platforms for virtual cycling training already offer good possibilities to determine specific values such as the personal FTP in order to plan the training in a much more targeted way or to assess the progress by regularly repeating such tests and to continue training in the right way.

Keyword ergometer training with the Cycletrainer: What do you see as the advantages for cyclists?

On the one hand, it is specific training for cyclists, on the other hand, with the cycletrainer I can train more independently of the time of day and the weather. This creates more flexibility in the organisation of the training plan and also increases the reliability in the actual implementation.

What's your opinion, is a smart cycle bike and app worthwhile or do they distract from the essentials?

Personally, I am very convinced by smart bike trainers. I really like the direct-drive versions, as they are much quieter and therefore much more accepted at home and in the house community. Since I've been using such a trainer, I've been exercising much more regularly and with greater motivation. The use of training platforms (apps) with virtual routes and options for targeted training control, such as Zwift, makes training much more entertaining and effective.

Many clients not only want to keep fit, but even improve their condition during the cold season. Do you have any tips on how they can do this?

Train regularly according to an individual training plan.

What other compensatory exercises and sports do you recommend for cyclists?

I find it very good to do sports that target muscles that tend to be neglected in cycling and/or improve mobility and coordination. Personally, I try to be as diverse as possible. Regular yoga for flexibility, climbing/bouldering or occasional running are my favourites. I also like to play table tennis once in a while to maintain reaction speed.

I think it's important in the "off-season" to also keep fit with alternative sports in order to keep the joy of intensive cycling in the season and not lose motivation early on.

Are there any other particularly recommendable accessories for systematic winter training?

In order to train systematically, you need motivation and a training plan as well as the possibility to monitor your training. Smart sports watches or heart rate measurement, e. g. with a bike computer, and wattmeters for measuring performance play a major role here.

What else can I do besides the actual winter training for maximum success?

Enjoy being active and increase motivation by setting specific and achievable goals. Regular training breaks to be able to regenerate effectively are also very important for improving performance!

For the interview conclusion: let's put it in a nutshell. Maik, what are your top 5 tips for cycling training in winter?

The top 5 tips for your training from BIKE24 Racing Squad leader Maik Höhne

  • Create an individual training plan that synchs your seasonal goals with your everyday life.
  • Train (create a training plan) with as much variety as possible to keep you motivated while having fun.
  • Plan regular outdoor sessions even in the cold season.
  • Monitor your training and your body with smart training accessories in order to recognise tendencies at an early stage and to be able to take countermeasures.
    Listen to your body – give it a healthy diet and enough sleep – and also have the courage to take a break for regeneration.
Strength and coordination for cycling thanks to boulder training

The Cycling Training Plan – This Is What Your Week Could Look Like

An ideal tool for building up strength or fitness on the bike, for example, is the often-mentioned training plan. This tabular or calendar document allows you to individually adapt the exercises and their frequency to your training goals. Furthermore, a detailed plan gives specific instructions on the duration or number of repetitions and the rest periods. And last but not least, it serves to record important progress and milestones of your cycling training.
Since a training plan depends on your individual goals and requires a lot of planning and analysis beforehand, the following weekly plan for beginners is only to be understood as an exemplary approach.
The exact execution of the exercises and sports definitely requires further professional guidance!

  Fitness basic Sport/training Duration
Training day 1
(best at the beginning of the week for sufficient recovery time)
Strength/speed bike specific:
  • Outdoor intervals on the bike
  • Indoor intervals on the roller trainer
  • Intervals on the spinning bike in the studio
non-bike specific:
  • Functional fitnesstraining at home on the mat
  • Basic strength exercises with weights in the gym
  • Sling trainer
  • Bouldering/climbing
30-90 minutes
Rest day  
Rest day  
Training day 2 Coordination/mobility Yoga, agility ladder, pezziball training, sling trainer, ... 30-60 minutes
Rest day  
Training day 3
(best at the end of the week, e.g. at the weekend)
Endurance bike-specific:
  • home trails with the MTB or the favourite tour with the road bike
  • virtually supported training on the cycle trainer
  • running
  • cross-country skiing
  • indoor swimming
min. 45 minutes
Rest day  

If you want to learn more about creating a cycling training plan, we recommend taking a look at our extensive selection of books in the Cycling Technique & Training section.
Do you already own an app-controlled trainer, a particularly high-quality bike computer, a smartwatch or an activity tracker? Great, these useful gadgets often offer a comprehensive analysis programme, which can then be used as the basis for a training plan to improve your cycling fitness.