Getting started

What to do first

We're going to assume minimal gym training, or at least, minimal with this program.  So, even if you've been gym training for years, you probably haven't done this training, so you're a novice.  That's ok!  This is an adaptation of the material presented in "Practical Programming for Strength Training, 2nd Ed".  This is a general strength program, the specifics are, in our opinions, best done on the bike, where they really are specific.


The core exercises we'll be doing are, in order of priority and learning :

The Low Bar Back Squat (from now on, we'll just call it the Squat)

The Deadlift

The Power Clean

The Press (sometimes known as the military or standing press)

The Benchpress

Chin ups


All of these exercises are full body (yes, even the benchpress is a full body exercise), we do no isolation training, no "core" training etc as it is not necessary if these exercises are performed correctly.


To start, we do not need, or even really care about, a 1RM (one rep max) - as you're a novice the 1RM is meaningless, every time you train it will have changed so using it to determine loads is just silly, it's a moving target.


Our novice work sets will be :

Squat, Press, Benchpress and chinups : 3 x 5

Power Cleans : 3 x 4

Deadlift 1 x 5

Rest between sets can be 5 minutes or more if necessary - Take as much time as you need to be sure you complete the next set.  This isn't metabolic/cardio training, this is strength training.  We do our metcon on the bike.


If you're lifting twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, for example, the following is how we recommend you structure the sessions :


Monday Squat 3 x 5
Press 3 x 5
Power Clean 3 x 4
Thursday Squat 3 x 5
Benchpress 3 x 5
Deadlift 1 x 5
Chinups 3 x 5


We need to do a general warm up first, one suggested warmup is :

2 x 1 min easy rowing with 30s rest between the minutes

30 seconds skipping

Not much, but we're not interested in a hard warmup, we're getting ready, not getting tired.


For the big lift, the squat, our warmup is scaled to the work set as follows :

2 x 5 at an empty barbell (warming up the bar) - An olympic barbell is 20kg

1 x 5 @ 40%

1 x 5 @ 60%

1 x 2 @ 80%

Then the work sets start.  Between warmup sets you don't need recovery time, but you can (and should!) rest after the 80% set for around 3-5 minutes or out to 15-20 minutes if it's getting really heavy, if your worksets are close to 1.5 or more of your bodyweight.  Lift when you feel ready.


As the body is now pretty tired (squats will do that) the remaining exercises need less warmup, we'll always do a set to warm up the bar, and usually one set of 5 at around 50-60% of the work set before doing the lifts.  Chinups require no warm up, especially after deadlifts.  You'll understand this once you've done it.


As this is a novice progression, every time you lift, you increase the weight for the work sets.  Initial gains will be very rapid, and males can generally add 5-10kg every time for squats and deadlifts and benchpress and 2.5-5KG for press and power cleans for some time (3 to 9 months, assuming good diet).  Expect the press to start to get challenging very quickly and investing in 0.5kg (humiliator!) plates is worthwhile.


So how do we determine the first training session's weights with no reference?  An experienced strength coach will be able to eyeball a trainee and have an estimate, but in particular, with cyclists who are often strong in the legs, concentrically, but feeble eccentrically (there's no eccentric component in a pedal stroke) and with weak backs and upper bodies, we caution this approach.


For the squat, an example of a first session would be (assuming a fit and healthy athlete) :

2 x 5 Air squats to learn correct depth, foot position, knees out etc

1 x 5 Broomstick squats to learn balance

1 x 5 10kg/standard barbell to learn low bar position

1 x 5 20kg Olympic barbell, learn breathing (hold your breath!)


If you're a big guy or girl, you can take 5kg jumps for this next bit, if you're not so big, 2.5kg steps.

Load the bar with some weight as above, so either 25kg or 22.5kg, do a set of 5.  If it feels easy, increase again, repeat until the weight starts to feel meaningful, then do two more sets of 5 at that weight and that's your first session.  If it feels way too easy at 25kg, you can jump up by 10kg for the first couple of steps, but don't be greedy, DOMS will bite you hard if you're new to this.


Although the above is simple, it is not easy.

You can keep doing this for months before you start to stall on your progression, at which time, you need to read Starting Strength and/or Practical Programming.