I’m talking about strength training, interval training, endurance training, balance, rest & recovery & of course proper nutrition. Not all of these need to be tackled full on but incorporating even a little of each one will improve your overall mountain biking experience.
I’m going to focus on strength training. A strong body can only make you better, on & off the bike. Stronger muscles will increase your force production, allowing for easier & more efficient spinning, you will be able to navigate the trails better as fatigue sets in, and if you happen to ‘buy some property’ your body will be better able to absorb the impact – as strength training will make your bones, ligaments & tendons all stronger. Aim for a 45 minute session twice a week…truth is, as you get stronger you will become a better rider.
The following workout is designed to engage your core and work your upper body & legs – the muscles you commonly use in mountain biking, as well as improve balance and coordination—skills that make you better on the bike and less likely to get injured.
These exercises were chosen for you to be able to do at home, so if you don’t have a gym membership, no problem. To make each exercise a bit more challenging, where possible, I give you an option to incorporate a stability ball. These can be bought at most sports stores, I got mine from Fizique in Honeydew, Gauteng (remove this if it is not allowed)
How to do it: Complete the workout two to three times per week, performing each exercise for 5 sets and 10 reps.
- Lunges: 5×10 reps each side
Why it works: This movement builds strength in your hip flexors, quads, glutes and hamstrings, which all create greater power on the bike.
- Standing tall, with your shoulders back and core engaged, step forward and lower your body, under control, until both knees are flexed to 90 degrees, then return to the start position. Repeat on the other leg.
Challenge Option: Bulgarian Split Lunge with Stability Ball: 5×10 reps each side
- Keep one foot flat on the floor and place your other foot on your stability ball behind you. Bend your front leg until you reach 90 degrees, then push back up to a straight leg for one rep. Adding dumbbells for additional weight can increase gains too.
- Squats: 5×10 reps
Why It Works: Squats build your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes & calves, works core strength & stability, ankle mobility & back muscles – all muscles we use extensively when we cycle.
- With feet just over shoulder width apart and chest upright, ease your hips down as if sitting on a chair until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Push back up slowly.
Challenge Option: Jump Squats 5×10 reps
- Follow the same movement as a normal squat, but instead of pushing back up slowly, forcefully jump up, landing with soft bent knees to absorb the impact.
- Single Leg Squats 5×10 reps each side
Why It Works: Single-Leg Squats (& Hops as the challenge/plyometric move) are classic strength-and-agility drills that help you work on balance and coordination. Plyometric moves like this one also help you build explosiveness to power your bike forward and over jumps.
- On one foot, slowly squat down as far as you can manage while still holding your form (without falling over) Hold on to a wall or tree to help keep your balance if needed. Watch that your knee stays in line with your ankle & does not rotate inwards. Do all your reps on one leg, then switch to the other.
Challenge Option: Single Leg Squat Hops: 5×10 reps
- On one foot, slowly squat down as far as you can manage while still holding your form. From this position jump or hop upwards on the same leg, landing with a soft knee to take the impact. Again, watch that you knee stays inline with your ankle & doesn’t rotate outwards or inwards. Focus on going as fast as you can without losing your balance or having to use your other foot for support.
- Press Up 5×10 reps
Why it works: If you find that you struggle on rough ground or long descents, it could be that your upper body is weak…this exercise works the triceps, pectoral muscles, and shoulders. When done with proper form, press ups can also strengthen the lower back and core by engaging (pulling in) the abdominal muscles.
- With your hands just outside shoulder width, keep your body straight and extend your arms, pivoting from your toes. Lower yourself back down until your upper arms are parallel with the floor.
Challenge Option: Stability Ball Push Up: 5×10 reps
- With your feet on the stability ball, and arms straight beneath your shoulders supporting your body, dip down towards the ground into a press & push back up until your arms are straight again. Repeat 10 times.
- Dips 5×10 reps
Why It Works: The move will primarily target your triceps (duh). But you can also expect to see some gains in your shoulder and chest area. This includes your anterior deltoids—the muscles on the front of your shoulders. Working them will help your ability to lift those handlebars over a tricky obstacle on your single track.
- Position your hands shoulder-width apart on a secured bench or on the ground, legs extended in front of you. Straighten your arms, keeping a little bend in your elbows to keep tension on your triceps and off your elbow joints. Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor until your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle. Once you reach the bottom of the movement, press down into the bench/ground to straighten your elbows, returning to the starting position. This completes one rep. You can bend your legs to modify this exercise.
Challenge Option: Stability Ball Dips: 5×10 reps
- Position your hands shoulder-width apart on a stability ball, legs extended in front of you. You may want to secure the ball against a tree or wall to make this movement a little easier. Repeat the move as you would a normal tricep dip. Note: this is a challenging exercise… while you are gaining strength in your core, please be careful of the ball slipping out from under your arms.
- Close Arm Press Ups
Why It Works: A variation of the normal press up – but the closer together your hands are, the more difficult the push up because it requires more core activation for stability. This exercise strengthens the total upper body and core, with more focus on your triceps.
- Put your hands under the centre of your chest. Keep your body straight and extend your arms, pivoting from your toes. Lower yourself back down until your chest touches your hands.
Challenge Option: Close Arm Stability Ball Push Up: 5×10 reps
- Crunches 5×10 reps
Why It Works: Crunches are an intense muscle isolation movement which help you build muscle, it targets your abdominals – great if you are trying to get that six-pack. This exercise is also ideal for strengthening your core, including your lower back muscles & obliques (those side ab muscles) which in turn helps with improved balance & posture.
- Lie down on your back, bending your legs to stabilise your lower body. Cross your hands over your chest, or you can place them behind your ears – without pulling on your neck. Lift your head & shoulder blades off the ground. Breathe out as you rise. Lower back down, returning to your starting point, and inhale as you lower your body.
Do more reps if you are comfortable doing 10 in a row.
Challenge Option: Ball Crunches: 5×10 reps
- Unlike crunches on the floor or a bench, by using a ball, you can increase the range of motion and both stretch and contract the abs on every rep.
- Plank – hold for 30 seconds, working up to 1 minute
Why It Works: Planks are one of the most effective exercises you can do. Also known as an isometric exercise, this pose works to contract the muscles by solely holding one steady, fixed position. The almighty plank pose requires a small amount of your time (try holding one for over a minute…) but achieves results in a short span of time.
This exercise (and its many variations) strengthens not only your core, but also your chest, arms, back, legs, and butt. A plank with proper form will help improve your posture, too.
- Begin in the top of a push-up with your elbows directly under your shoulders and drop down onto your elbows, making a 90 degree bend at your elbows & thus taking your body weight.
Engage your abdominal muscles to squeeze your belly button up towards your spine while maintaining a neutral straight back. Contract your quadriceps and glute muscles to firm your legs. Keep your shoulders drawing away from your ears, and heels over the balls of your feet. Hold for 30 seconds and work your way up to 1 minute & more.
Challenge Option: Side Plank with Stability Ball
Lying on your side, with the stability ball firmly under your chest area, lift your upper leg towards the sky in small pulsing movements. You will need to fully engage your core to keep your body on the ball. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch over & work your other leg.
(see my 30 day plank challenge on Instagram @fundamentallykim)
- V-Sit Up 5x 10 reps
Why It Works: The V-sit ab exercise builds core strength by working multiple areas of your core at the same time, while also challenging your balance. This exercise targets the rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, and hip flexors while improving core and trunk balance. Building your core strength, balance, and coordination can help you maintain good posture, catch yourself to avoid falls, and perform better at a variety of physical activities – mountain biking included.
- Start lying on your back, with knees bent at 90 degrees. Straighten the knee of one leg as you reach up with your arms to touch your ankle of the extended leg. Do this for 10 reps before you move onto the other leg. Once you have gained enough core strength, you can follow the classic v-sit up & extend both legs off the ground as you reach up to touch your ankles. (forming a v-shape with your body)
- Challenge Option: V-Sit Up with Stability Ball
Lay on your back with the ball between your outstretched arms, over your head. As you bring the ball up with your arms, simultaneously bring your feet up and transfer the ball from your arms to your feet. Lower your feet & arms at the same time. This is one rep. Repeat this movement for 5 x 10 reps.
And there you have it. A simple workout that targets your upper & lower body plus some core. For better cycling it is vital that these muscle groups are strong, to not only keep you on the bike, but to be faster on the bike too 🙂
See below the article that was published in MTBing SA magazine.