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Weight Training for Cyclocross

Get ready for the demands of ‘cross with these strength training exercises.

By: Lee Unwin, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

In my experience, most cyclists don’t spend enough time doing dedicated weight training. Sure, you might have the 12 oz curls down, but is the rest of your body ready for the extreme demands of cyclocross? If this sound like you, don’t worry - here are just a few specific exercises that will get you ready for ‘cross in a hurry.

The Suitcase Lift

This exercise is designed to make your bike feel light as a feather during carries.


For the hand that carry the bike’s top tube, start with a weight that is slightly heavier than your bike. For the hand that will carry the handlebar, start with a weight that is slightly less than that of your bike.

Begin this lift by shrugging the shoulders up, then engaging the triceps as you bend the elbow. The upper part of the shoulder, called the trapezius, is far stronger than triceps, so practice engaging those first as it will save a lot overuse at the elbow. After you are smooth with this motion, increase the weights. Additionally, you can do this action as fast as you can and return slowly to the start position.

When you’re ready, practice quickly running over a barrier. Take 3 quick steps, lift, turn and repeat.

The Suitcase Lift

Free Weight Run-Up

This exercise is designed to get your entire body strengthened for steep run-ups.


Start with a weight that is slightly more than your bike. Bring your carry arm over the top of the weight the same as you would when shouldering your bike. Practice walking and running up a steep climb or even stairs. This isn’t just a quad and cardio exercise, you will feel how much the abdominals and shoulders are engaged when doing this drill.

To help drive you upward, practice swinging the opposite arm with forceful forward momentum. Practice short quick steps and avoid long lunging steps up the incline. Keep the heels off the ground, and power up using the quads and calves, as this helps avoid hamstring and achilles pulls, and it’s more powerful and efficient.

Free Weight Run-Up

Front Suspension Training

This exercise is designed to get the upper body ready for those rough and bumpy courses.


Position two weights the same distance apart as your brake hoods. Begin on your knees and slowly lower yourself down 6 -10 inches, then practice pressing yourself up as quickly as you can.

To focus more attention on arms, lower yourself down only 3-4 inches and press back up. (Tip: Try to put your back into riding style for this press-up and not the classic straight back position.)

Front Suspension Training

The Bunny Hop

This exercise is designed to engage all the muscles required to get the front wheel off the ground. While it might not get you over the run barriers, this exercise will help you get over all those smaller course obstacles.


Start with weights totaling the same weight as your bike (i.e., for a 20 lb bike, place a 10 lb weight in each hand). Turn the palms inward, just like riding on the hoods. Now, while seated on a chair or ball, hinge at the waist at the same angle as on your bike.

Keeping your arms at the same width, pull up and back to your armpits in an arching motion. While pulling back you will also move yourself into an upright position. This exercise is even better with a pair of thera tubes.

After you are smooth with this motion and weight, try pulling up and back as quickly as you can. You can also do this with palms facing down, keeping the same width as when riding on top of the bars.

the bunny hop

The 0.2 Run

While cyclocross victories don’t require you to be Usain Bolt, you should still be practicing some running without your bike or cleats.


Start by warming up with a 1-minute very easy run, followed by a 2-minute walk. Repeat 5 times.

Then, set up 3 barriers. Starting around 100 ft out from the first barrier, begin running a little faster towards the barrier until you are running full speed by the time you reach it. As you come over the barrier drive the foot down quickly, don’t just leap over. (Tip: watch world class hurdlers and you will see they are driving the leg down with great speed and force as it comes over the top of the hurdle.)

This is also a good warm-up before the race. Practice coming in as fast as you can, as the faster you can learn to run through the barriers - the faster you can ride into them.

the 0.2 run

Lee Unwin

Lee Unwin received BA Exercise Science at St. Ambrose University. He is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist as well as a Board Certified Massage Therapist.

Alongside his wife, Lee owns and operates Unwin Chiropractic & Wellness Center and the Verona Fitness Studio, in Verona, Wisconsin. He has over 20 years of experience working athletes. Lee also competes in marathon mountain biking and cyclocross, both locally and nationally.