How to Get Big, Strong Legs Like an Olympic Cyclist

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We need to let you in on something. As impressive as a hulking upper body might be to your middle-school self, you end up looking like a weird, muscly Popsicle if you don’t have the legs to haul that thing around. So we asked Martin “Marty” Nothstein, an Olympic track-cycling gold medalist, what he does for his redwood-sized wheels.

Be warned: To get thunderous, 33-inches-around thighs like Nothstein had in his prime, you can’t sandbag your workouts at the gym. Be prepared to give it all you’ve got every time.

Replace your typical “leg day” with this simple but leg-destroying workout on two non-consecutive days, like Mondays and Thursdays.

Choose a weight that causes near-failure at the very last rep, yet still allows you to maintain excellent technique. Sloppy form, especially in complex compound movements like these, can result in injury. Rest 60 seconds between lifting sets.

After the strength portion, you’ll switch over to the stationary bike for sprints. Good luck.

THE WORKOUT

Barbell Hang Clean: 3 sets, 3 reps

Using a shoulder-width overhand grip, bend your knees to initiate the move. Pull the bar as high as you can by explosively standing up as you bend your elbows and raise your upper arms. Rise up onto your toes. Flip the bar onto your fingers and catch it on top of your chest in the front-rack position. Bend your knees to squat under the bar at its highest point. Stand up straight and reset the bar before repeating.

Barbell Squat: 5 sets, 5 reps

Hold the bar outside shoulder width and pull your shoulder blades together. Exhale as you lift the bar off the rack and stand with your feet shoulder-width distance apart. Inhale and push your hips back to lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Return to the start and repeat.

Stationary Cycle Sprints: 3 sets, 60-second bursts

  • On a stationary bike, adjust the bike seat so your knee is slightly bent when you’re sitting. Tighten the pedal straps or wear cycling shoes, which lock in your feet and allow you to alternately push down and pull up on each pedal stroke, so you build both quadriceps and hamstrings.
  • First, choose a medium resistance and pedal for 20 seconds at around 90 revolutions per minute (RPM).
  • The next 20 seconds should be 100 percent of your maximum effort, around 140 RPM on the highest resistance you can handle without rocking your hips. “If you’re doing it right, it should hurt,” Nothstein says. Hurt, by the way, should mean a burning or sore sensation, not a sharp stab.
  • During the last 20 seconds, your power will drop off as the resistance starts to feel heavy. Take a five-minute recovery break, pedaling slowly with little resistance. You’ll be panting by now so just focus on breathing deeply.