If you get a kick out of hurtling downhill, single-track mountain biking, you’re not alone. Tough terrain ups the ante on traditional road cycling—and your body benefits from the challenge. That said, your muscles and joints can also take a beating.
Want to improve your skills, bulletproof your joints, and avoid injury? Build strength, balance, and coordination with strength training specific to mountain biking.
Anyone, big or small, experienced or new to the sport, can work on those areas, says Shaums March, a technical skills coach for the USA Cycling National and Olympic team. He’s trained five World Championship riders, and is a two-time Downhill Masters World Champion himself, so he knows a thing or two about riding.
The following workout is designed to engage your core and work the muscles you commonly utilize in mountain biking, as well as improve balance and coordination—skills that make you better on the bike and less likely to get injured.
“A functional strength workout like this is something we’d give an athlete at the start of their training to test their baseline strength,” says March, who owns March Northwest, a mountain biking skills coaching and guiding company in Bellingham, WA. “Then we’d make it more challenging and add in more balance components depending on their strength level.”
The Ultimate Strength Workout for Mountain Bikers
How to do it: Complete the workout three times per week, performing each exercise for 5 sets and 10 reps.
“You could use this workout as a warmup without weights before a ride, if it’s short, too,” March notes, since you don’t want to tire yourself out before a long trek.
1. Lying Pullover on Stability Ball
Why it works: This move challenges your lats, chest, shoulders, and abs, which are essential to your ability to maneuver in tricky situations and stay balanced. “This exercise requires coordination, too, which is key since you’re moving a bike that’s independent from your body,” says March. If the weight is too light, go up 5lbs; or, work on maintaining control throughout the exercise while performing it faster.
How to do it: Lie down on a stability ball (or bench if you don’t have a stability ball). Hold a plate or dumbbels. With your feet planted firmly on the ground, and your shoulders and back on the ball, lift the weight straight up so it’s aligned with your head. Lower the weight(s) behind your head. Focus on keeping your hips raised and your core engaged.
2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Why it works: Dumbbell Lateral Raises also work your upper body, specifically your delts, lats, traps, shoulders, and core. “The key is to use the strength of your core to power you all the way out through your arms,” says March. “This will help build your shoulders so you have the strength to move the bike how you want.”
How to do it: Stand with feet hips-width apart, holding 5-10lb dumbbells. Raise your arms straight out until you form a T, focusing on drawing your shoulder blades together. Slowly lower down for one rep. Make sure you don’t shrug your shoulders.
3. Seated Dumbbell External Rotation
Why it works: Seated Dumbbell External Rotations build strength in your shoulders (specifically the rotator cuff) and your core. “Common injuries in mountain biking often happen in the upper body when people fall off the bike or go over the handlebars,” says March, leading to injuries like a broken collarbone, shoulder separations, or wrist injuries. Building up a strong upper body, which might seem counterintuitive to biking, may help.
How to do it: Sit on a chair or bench, holding 5lb dumbbells in both hands. Keeping your back straight, raise your arms into a goal-post position so your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Then, keeping your elbows up, rotate your forearms down so your palms face the floor. To make the move more challenging, try it standing on both legs, then one.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
5×10 reps each side
Why it works: Bulgarian Split Squats build strength in your hip flexors, quads, glutes and hamstrings, which all create greater power on the bike. “You can easily make this exercise more challenging, too, by adding in balance components,” says March.
How to do it: Keep one foot flat on the floor and place your other foot on a bench behind you. With a 5-10lb dumbbell (or without), bend your front leg until you reach 90 degrees, then push back up to a straight leg for one rep. To make it more challenging, place your front foot on a raised step, or a Bosu ball. Get even crazier by balancing your back foot on a stability ball while you have your front foot on a Bosu. Adding more weight can increase gains too.
5. Single-Leg Hops
5×10 reps each side
Why it works: Single-Leg Hops are a classic strength-and-agility drill 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.
How to do it: Using lines or tape in a gym (or sticks, if you’re outside), create a cross. On one foot, jump over the lines side to side, then front to back for one rep. Do all your jumps on one leg, then switch to the other. Focus on going as fast as you can without losing your balance or having to use your other foot for support.
6. Split-Squat Alternating Jumps
Why it works: “Split-Squat Alternating Jumps help you learn how to deal with the impact of the bike hitting the ground,” says March, “and learn how to move the bike under you and land with the same amount of pressure on both pedals, since your feet need to land equally at the same time on the ground in this exercise to keep your balance.”
How to do it: Start standing with feet hips-width apart. Jump into a lunge position, with one foot forward and bent at 90 degrees. You back knee hovering above the ground (don’t drop it so low that it touches the ground). As quickly as you can, explode upward and switch your legs so you’re lunging with the opposite foot in front. That’s one rep. Add light weight for more of a challenge.