Cycling: How to Keep the Upper Body in Balance

If you get lost in a cycling routine, you will find your body will get out of balance.  You will have an incredibly developed lower body (calves to hips/bottom), but lack serious definition in your arms, shoulders, and neck.  

This is importing for a few key reasons.  There is a common injury or pain that most cyclists will encounter, and that is lower back pain.  Being in the saddle and keeping your body in the 15-38% body angle for hours on end adds serious stress.

To counter that stress it is important to develop the counter-balancing muscles, and that is a strong front core, and tight upper chest and shoulders.  One of the two workouts that I provide below will be a great guide.

Second, aesthetically, your body development will just look incomplete.  You may be lean, and have amazing legs, but your upper body has a chance (genetics dependent) of looking withered and tired.  We always want to keep a healthy balance.

Side Pose Upper Body Shape

Cycling: First Focus Body Part is the Neck

Building out the sternocleidomastoid and the trapeziums muscles.  Documented in the image below immediately outside the pink lines and where the black straps come over the shoulder. 

The Neck - First Focus Upper Body Part

Having these two areas built out, which means a tighter neck, and a “taller” shoulder will create an amazing look.  This will also help off-set the strain of having to keep your head raised sharply up in the normal biking position.  

This will be a key differentiator in your biking community.  Everyone will assume that you have a training secret, as others lean out in this area, you will look stronger.

Next Body Part is the Shoulders

Deltoids is the next great muscle to focus on. This muscle is mostly for aesthetics, but it will also help you create torque when climbing hills. 

PEARL IZUMI Women's Pursuit Attack Bib Short

Finding a bike outfit that contours to your curves can also help make you feel great about how you look while you bike (and after).  The below outfit integrates from the shorts to the jersey. It also does a good job of compressing any areas that may be under-developed and pushing up those that are.

The tricky part with deltoids is that they take serious volume to get to take shape.  I’m talking about hitting 8-10 sets, and completing 15-20 reps per set. I know that sounds crazy, but this is also why people see so little progress in this area–they aren’t willing to do the work.

The best workout that I’ve seen to shape the shoulders belongs to Caroline Girvan (see below).  The exercise she demonstrates and the sequence that she performs them is optimal.

Please just bump up the sets and reps. Also important will be to bump the weight consistently once you have mastered the technique.

Final Body Part is the Arms

So with cycling set as the optimal way to control my calorie balance and some ideas on showing off your hard-earned body, let’s turn to the next major benefit.  Cycling has an incredible community. And that community likes to hang out and have fun.

Getting arms to take shape mostly requires progressive weight overload and varying the angles that you attack them.  The 2 major muscles that we will focus on is the bicep and triceps. We will pick up some benefits to the forearms with the below workout.

I will want you to perform the following workout for a 4 month cycle.  

  • Dumbbell Curls (4 sets, 10 reps)
  • Close Grip Bench (4 sets, 8 reps).  Use standard barbell.
  • Isolated Arm Curls, Single.  (2 sets to failure)
  • Diamond Push-ups (2 sets to failure)
  • Concentration Curls (3 sets, 10 reps).  Moving slowly (8 count) on eccentric movement

workouts for best upper body balance


Riding a bike continues to be the best way I’ve found to lean out.  However, ensuring you do not end up with the standard cyclist body is important.  That will require you to focus on your off-bike time to build out your upper body. It will also be important to space out the training so that you are getting the most out of your intense workouts.  You will not achieve the aesthetic that you are after if you do not go all out during these workout periods.  

It is also critically important that you continue to increase the weight each week.  If you workout starts to stall, then stretch out the days between your workouts. Let the weight and the mirror be your guide on what the required intensity is for this workout series.

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