Various sites recommend a variety of exercises to strengthen a cyclist's core (back and upper body).

bicycling.com recommends aerobic type exercises with an exercise ball.

t-nation.com recommends weights, rowing machines, and other curious exercises.

I'm having some difficulty knowing which ones are most important, and/or if some are redundant etc.

Therefore I ask:

What supporting muscle groups need to be strengthened?

In what order of priority should those muscle groups be addressed?

What is the optimal strength to maintain for each of the groups? By optimal strength I mean how much effort (10min 3x wk for example) do they need? If it depends on how much biking then please answer for a nice spectrum of distances such as 60mi/wk, 150 mi/wk, 300 mi/wk.

Given that information I should be able to research the various recommended exercises to determine which are redundant and which are of primary importance.

  • The only thing you really need to do is to have SOME activity other than cycling, so other muscles will be stressed a bit, vs only your cycling muscles. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 7 '13 at 22:56
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    I once asked a similar question that got migrated here: fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/12031/… – amcnabb Aug 7 '13 at 22:59
  • @DanielRHicks Would running be enough? – Dale Aug 7 '13 at 22:59
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    Somewhat orthogonal: I'm remembering that a major biker (LeMond?) in the late 70s took up cross-country skiing in the winter to build up his endurance (because XC-skiing is about the most intense cardio exercise you can do). However, he dropped it after a year or two because it built too much upper-body strength (and weight) that was a negative when biking. No moral there, just an interesting tidbit. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 9 '13 at 15:41
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    @CareyGregory For me, the cardio is assumed, but you're right to point that out. I do an alternating thing of weights three days, cardio three days, Sunday off. I'm not Mr. Universe by any means, but I'm fit for a programmer (a low bar, admittedly). – MrBoJangles Aug 9 '13 at 17:08

For core, read Tom Danielson's "Core Advantage". It's exactly what I did in PT after getting hit by a car and suffering lots of back pain. The key is inner core. So no crunches. The inner core muscles are associated more with balance than movement. Not saying you don't need outer core too, but most people neglect IC in pursuit of 6-pack abs.

In the off-season, all the cyclists I know do lots of dead-lifts, squats, good-mornings and shoulder presses,in addition to riding.

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What supporting muscle groups need to be strengthened?

All of them! Cycling is a full body sport, despite what some people will say. Ever ridden a long ride on a road bike? You may have soreness all the way from your neck to your toes. Some of this can be from poor bike setup, but that's another topic entirely.

The major muscles are obviously going to be legs, back, and core as these are the muscle groups that support the motor (making the bike go). Next up is your upper chest and back, shoulders, and arms which all support the driving (telling the bike where to go). If you ride on bumpy roads or trails you know how much your arms get beat up!

In what order of priority should those muscle groups be addressed?

Do not train exclusively one set of muscles over another, that's just generally bad practice. You should look to strengthen all your muscle groups. Now, if you have a specific objective in mind, like "I want to climb hills like a mountain goat." you may want to start by targeting your weak points (leg power) or strengthening the needed portion (hamstrings, quads, calves). For all around cycling fitness, don't just work the "mirror muscles" aka the big ones that have lots of definition. Supporting muscles are what keep you from getting injuries in your joints or excessive stresses in your major muscles, so don't neglect those.

What is the optimal strength to maintain for each of the groups? By optimal strength I mean how much effort (10min 3x wk for example) do they need? If it depends on how much biking then please answer for a nice spectrum of distances such as 60mi/wk, 150 mi/wk, 300 mi/wk. 

Again, this depends on your goal. If you're a weekend warrior looking to do some nice leisurely rides around the lake or through town, you'd probably be OK working out 2-3x per week for 30 mins doing basic bodyweight strength training. But if you're wanting to prepare for a bike race, triathlon, cross-country epic, you'll want to do 3-4x (or more) for 45-60 minutes a week to not only maintain, but develop and improve your strength.

Cross training (running, swimming, lifting, etc.) can be very valuable to any athlete from amateur to pro. Look at various programs and find what works for you. Body types, goals, and external limits can help you plan the type of program that will work best for you.

*Note: I'm not a certified/licensed trainer/doctor/physician but I've been doing sports since ever of all kinds, and currently race amateur class mountain bikes.

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    +1 covers it nicely, but personally a good all-over weights (not necessarily heavy) session would seem good. Concentrate on your core, as this couples a lot of mass the the frame. Generally free weights are better than machines for supporting groups - and cheaper if you want to train at home. Swimming of course works everything but may be awkward to fit in. – Chris H Aug 8 '13 at 15:37

Take a look at Joe Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible: it covers in detail all aspects of training for a cyclist, including strength training. His advice generally goes counter to the other two answers given so far. He lists specific exercises along with a strength program in the book (chapter 12), but the general principles are few and can be given here verbatim:

Rule 1: Focus on prime movers. Prime movers are the big muscle groups that do the major work on the bike. Cycling's prime movers are the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals. While having well-developed deltoids may look nice, they're only good for lifting your bike -- not a common movement in road racing.

Rule 2: Prevent muscle imbalances. Some of the injuries common to riders result from an imbalance between muscles that must work in harmony to produce a movement. For example, if the lateral quadriceps on the outside of the thigh is overly developed relative to the medial quadriceps above and inside the knee, a knee injury is possible.

Rule 3: Use multi-joint exercises whenever possible. Biceps curls are a single-joint exercise, involving only the elbow joint. This is the type of muscle-isolation exercise bodybuilders do. Squats, a basic cycling exercise, include three joints—the hip, knee, and ankle. This comes closer to simulating the dynamic movement patterns of the sport of cycling and also reduces time in the gym.

Rule 4: Mimic the positions and movements of cycling as closely as possible. Position your hands and feet when lifting weights so they are in similar positions to when you are on the bike. On a leg-press sled, for example, the feet should be placed about the same width as the pedals. You don't ride with your feet spread 18 inches (45 cm) and your toes turned out at 45 degrees. Another example: When holding the bar for seated rows, position your hands as as you would on handlebars.

Rule 5: Always include the "core"—abdominals and lower back. The forces applied by your arms and legs must pass through the core of your body. If it is weak, much of the force is dissipated and lost. As you climb or during a sprint, it takes a strong core to transfer more of the force generated by pulling against the handlebars to the pedals. Weak abdominal and back muscles make for wimpy climbing and sprinting.

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    That's good advice, but perhaps should not been taken as priority order unless you're race training. Most casual cyclists who don't swim or do some sort of core training already, probably need to apply the rules in the order 5,3,2,4,1, at least in my opinion based on people (including myself) trying to improve their cycling strength, or their kayaking strength - the big muscles for the sport are easily trained by doing the sport, the supporting and occasional muscles less so. – Chris H Aug 9 '13 at 15:47

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