Eric Wohlberg's "Olympic" Off-Season Workout

Looking for ways to improve strength and horsepower on the bike during the winter? Three-time Olympian and newly christened Optum Pro Cycling team manager Eric Wohlberg designed a workout to keep things on the up-and-up, regardless of how low the mercury is dropping. Combined with steady efforts all winter long on your Kinetic trainer, this circuit, while definitely on the tougher side, is designed for one thing – results. Remember – don’t expect to match the weight and intensities listed here right out the gate. This is aspirational, not prescriptive!

Horse Power = Torque x RPM

I have long accepted that I’ll never have the RPM capability of Lance. It’s like comparing a 4-valve DOHC cylinder head (Lance) to a old 2-valve push rod head (Wohlberg). [ed. note: Give yourself come credit, Eric] If you can’t rely on increasing RPM to build horsepower, than build torque. I have always thought that off-season weight training is the way to go for power gain. Here’s the simple routine I use, trying to hit the gym 3 times per week.

Full Body Weight Training Routine

Although this is set up in a circuit fashion, I have never been concerned about keeping a high heart rate by moving quickly from station to station. There is a alternating pattern between upper and lower body exercises to help your legs recover from the three core exercises of the program.

I prefer using the incline/sled press machine as opposed to a squat rack as there is no need for a spotter. I am a proponent of weight belts as they are a cheap insurance policy. If you can’t get to a gym, or have stuff in your home, you can still perform most of these exercises and realize a benefit as wieght lifting isolates/targets /focuses on specific muscles. The pyramid format of the leg segments lends to a combination of great strength building and muscle endurance.

The spin ups at the end of the routine will help keep suppleness. (For the love of God, ease into this program for the first couple weeks or your legs will be too store to even walk.)

The Warm-up:

  1. 15 minutes easy riding on stationary bike. Then hard for 10 minutes. 
  2. Hamstring/quad/lower back/calf/achilles tendon stretches.

The Circuit:

Bench Press (chest/shoulders):

  1. 20 rep warm up (no weight) 
  2. 2 x 30 reps OR 1 x 50 (little weight)

Bent Over Row (upper/mid back):

  1. 20 rep warm up (no weight) 
  2. 2 x 30 reps OR 1 x 50 (little weight)

Lat Pull Down (upper back/arms):

  1. 20 rep warm up (no weight) 
  2. 2 x 30 reps OR 1 x 50 (little weight)

Leg Press (quads/hips/butt): Pyramid Style

  1. 1 x 50 (sled only) 
  2. 1 x 20 (one 45 lb. each side)
  3. 1 x 15 (increase weight)
  4. 1 x 10 (increase weight)
  5. 1 x 8 (increase weight)
  6. 1 x 5 (increase weight)
  7. 1 x 50 (one 45 lb. each side)

Designing Your Pyramid:

The amount of weight you add each step of the pyramid is a personal choice. I suggest using at least 90 lbs. (2 x 45 lb. plates) as a starting point. Increments in the successive levels may best be limited to 50 lbs. I believe that greater gains will be realized through good form and smooth steady movements, than outright total weight lifted. Try to complete a full range of motion, allowing your knees to rest close to your chest at the beginning of the rep, and smoothly push up to the point where your legs are ALMOST fully extended (DO NOT LOCK YOUR KNEES OUT).

Go to full recovery (4-5 Minutes) between pyramid levels and make sure you are constantly stretching. This is a great opportunity to share the machine with a couple teammates or someone else in the gym as this segment of the circuit takes the longest time. Another hidden bonus is the overall benefit of schlepping 45 lb. plates across the gym, and loading/stripping the machine.

Once my body is adjusted to this exercise, I will use a lot of weight. You will be surprised at the rate of strength gain you will realize from this exercise.

Weighted Abdominal Crunch:

  • 2 x 50 reps (use a light enough weight to complete set) Strong abs will help eliminate lower back pain when climbing, or jumping out of corners. I recommend daily ab workouts (crunches and leg raises) over the course of the season.

Back Extensions (lower back):

  • 2 x 20 or 2 x 30 (no need for extra resistence) Carefully ease into these exercises as your lower back may still be a little fatigued from the leg press, and lower back muscles are generally neglected over the course of the season. You can use a machine (if one is available) where you can select the resistance you want or a” Horse”, which means you’ll have to deal with your own body weight. If you are not strong enough to do 20 reps with your body weight, decrease the # of reps and reduce the range of motion, until you are able to achieve the 40 to 60 total reps in the two (or three) sets without hurting yourself. 

Hamstring Curl (hamstrings):

  • Same pyramid format as leg press. Try to preserve your form throughout the range of the exercise, by making an effort to keep your stomach flat on the board while trying to curl the “roller” up to your butt.

Tricep Dips (triceps/shoulders):

  • (if using a machine, use a 20 rep warm up with no weight) 2 x 10 reps or 2 x 15 reps You may find that your triceps are hideously weak. All you can do is swallow your pride and modify the # of reps in each set. In addition to strengthening your triceps, you are also using this exercise to recover from the hamstring curls as you move to the last exercise in the routine.

Leg Extensions (quads):

  • Same pyramid as leg press. Again, try to preserve your form. Try to minimize the amount you arch your back in the seat. It is always better to drop the weight and maintain form than to solely focus on the amount of weight you are lifting.

This ends the lifting session – now time for an exercise to help remind your system that your legs need to turn circles. You can do this on the road if you ride to and from the gym, but it should be done ASAP after lifting, and a spin bike or lifecycle will work just fine:

Spin Ups:

(use a light gear for low resistance on the trainer or on the road) Try 2 sets with 5 minutes of recovery (still pedaling) between sets.

  1. 1 min @ 100 RPM 
  2. 1 min @ 105 RPM
  3. 1 min @ 110 RPM
  4. 1 min @ 115 RPM
  5. 1 min @ 120 RPM
  6. 2 min @ 125 RPM
  7. 1 min @ 115 RPM
  8. 1 min @ 110 RPM
  9. 1 min @ 105 RPM
  10. 1 min @ 100 RPM

If you feel the need for additional exercises to deal with a particular weakness you need to address, feel free to add them. I generally start with one circuit of the above exercises for the first week or two. I then build to two circuits per work out, and then three if I’m capable, but I think that two circuits is a very good goal. The length of the weight-training phase is dependent on when you finish your season, and when you intend to start racing the upcoming spring. I would recommend commencing November and ending mid – February.

We can duplicate some of these exercises on the bike to maintain strength over the course of the racing season. Good luck, and remember to take it easy at first!

WorkoutsDavid Simpson