Workout of the Week: Mel McQuaid’s Bike Strength Circuit

Build your bike-specific strength and power with this fun and dynamic workout from a top pro triathlete.

Female riding trainer
Photo: Shutterstock

This week’s Workout of the Week is a winter bike strength session from pro triathlete and coach Mel McQuaid, head coach of the MelRad Racing Squad. It combines a mix of strength moves followed by short bike intervals, so you’ll want to have your weights set up near to your trainer for maximum efficiency.

McQuaid said: “Circuit workouts are common in run training but much less so in cycling. This is simply down to tradition rather than the training stimulus not being effective. The best runners in the world use circuits to build strength for running and the same strategy can be employed in cycling. I think for triathletes specifically, this workout is a hugely beneficial session for building cycling-specific strength required to hold form and resist fatigue over long distances.”

Build specific strength and power

McQuaid said she likes to think of this workout as a “strength session masquerading as a bike workout—or maybe it is the opposite?”

She said: “This workout marries vertical force production with the specific demand of the cycling pedal stroke and offers significant strength training stimulus specific to cycling. It is challenging while still being an interesting and fast-paced workout that creates some variety for your indoor training. This workout is great for building specific strength in early winter and can be progressed nearer to the season by manipulating the length and/or intensity of both the cycling and strength intervals.”

You should do the strength exercises with bare feet, not in your cycling shoes, McQuaid said. Where strength exercises are listed, beginners to strength training should do bodyweight squats. Intermediate athletes could choose bodyweight full-range squats as well or choose a kettlebell held at the chest for a goblet squat. Athletes who lift heavy consistently could opt to do this workout with a hex bar and load the bar according to the repetition range specified. 

McQuaid said: “A hex bar is a great at-home strength training tool as it is a very non-technical lift to utilize, the ¼ squat range is the limit required for cycling, and it is relatively compact and inexpensive for at home. Most of my squad chooses to have a hex bar at home allowing heavy lifting to be sprinkled in all year without the time commitment of having to go to the gym.”

She added: “After the two minutes rest between rounds, take your time resetting the weights and rest enough that you are ready to go again with good form each round. It isn’t important to get through all the rounds quickly. It is more important to preserve the quality of your technique lifting, the efficiency of your pedal stroke, and the position you hold.”

Plan your workout wisely

When planning where to place this workout in your training week, McQuaid advised that it is an intense session, so you should plan to do this relatively fresh. She said: “Choose a conservative approach to your first attempt until you understand what you can lift each round. The lowest repetition range is 8 so it is certainly not a one-rep max sort of workout.  The idea is to pre-fatigue your cycling specific muscles and then send them off to recruit in a cycling specific task.”

McQuaid added: “For Ironman athletes, this entire set should be completed in aero position, even if sprinting in that posture is somewhat terrible. Athletes who regularly sprint out of the saddle (roadies, mountain bikers, gravel racers, short-course triathletes) absolutely sit up or stand and smash the pedals. For those whose primary goal is Ironman, working on the maximum strength you can produce in your sport-specific position is a good idea.”

Workout of the Week: Mel McQuaid’s Bike Strength Circuit  



10 min. build from 50% to 70% FTP  

5 x 15 sec. @ 100% FTP with 45 sec. @ 50% FTP

Main set

For all strength sets: beginners, do bodyweight squats; intermediates, do goblet squats; advanced, do hex bar squats.

Round 1

STRENGTH: 25 reps with a light weight

BIKE: 2 min. @ 90 RPM @ 80-85% FTP

Rest 2 min.

Round 2

2 sets of:

STRENGTH: 10 reps

BIKE: 1 min. @ 90 RPM @ 115-130% FTP

Rest 2 min.

Round 3

2 sets of:

STRENGTH: 8 reps

BIKE: 30 sec. sprints, all-out

Rest 2 min.


BIKE: 10 min. @ 50-60% FTP