Since 2005 I’ve been using Kettlebell Swings in my own program and to help my clients ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail. And after 12+ years they are still one of my favorite exercises because they build mountain bike specific fitness in a very efficient way.

First, they are a great way to build hip power, grip strength, and cardio. They also help teach you how to move from the hips on the bike instead of just pushing and pulling with your arms, which is an essential skill for balanced movement on your bike.

In that time, I’ve also seen the Swing go from a little-known exercise to one of the most popular exercises in the world. This is great for mountain bikers everywhere who are now easier than ever to take advantage of its ride changing power.

However, with this surge in popularity has come a down side…there are A LOT of bad Swings being done. These bad Swings are doing little but increasing risk of injury and teach you bad movement habits.

When showing riders how to do a proper Kettlebell Swing I cover a lot of things but these 5 tips are the ones that can make the biggest impact on the results you get from this exercise.


1 – Make sure you can Hip Hinge like a pro. Post Continued :: Click to Read More

MTB Ultimate Program

Body position on the bike is the foundation for everything else you do on the trail. From pedaling to cornering to jumping, everything takes place on top of the foundation your body position creates.

If you don’t know how to hold yourself properly on the bike it makes it a lot harder to improve your riding.  This is why it is one of the most common things taught to new riders and usually one of the first things covered at a skills clinic.

However, there is a problem with the way that body position is taught and explained to most riders. Post Continued :: Click to Read More

Pedaling Innovations

Mr. Miyagi had a lot of great quotes…

Balance good, karate good. Balance bad, may as well go home.” – Mr. Miyagi in the original Karate Kid

While we aren’t preparing to fight Johnny and the Cobra Kai dojo in a karate tournament, Mr. Miyagi’s advice about the importance of balance applies to the trail as well. If you are balanced on your bike then you feel confident and safe on the trail…but when your balance is off it can feel like you are trying to kill yourself, causing you to wonder why you didn’t just stay home.

As important as it is, though, balance training is something that isn’t very well understood in the mountain biking world. This leaves a lot of riders missing out on the benefits of balance training or wasting their time on less-effective techniques.

At the heart of balance training for any sport is the need for applying the Specificity Principle, which says that the results you get are specific to the way you train something. While this seems obvious, when you look at how most riders approach balance training you see that it isn’t. Post Continued :: Click to Read More

MTB Skills and Fitness Program

Ambidexterity in Practice – by S. Vockenhuber, 2013 – © M. C. Escher

This is another guest post from Jukka Maennena, a Finnish coach I’ve had on my podcast and blog before. He’s a really bright guy who is always thinking about things a little differently than most, which is why I’m always curious when he sends me a new article to check out.

In this one he makes a case for ambidexterity, or the ability to use both of your hands and feet to do things. I’ve been a long time proponent of the need for riders to be able to ride regular and switchfoot on the trail, which is why I was excited to see Jukka talking about and making a case for it in this article….

By definition ambidexterity is the state of being equally adapted in the use of both the left and the right hand (or leg). Humans are naturally asymmetrical, heart and liver aren’t located in the midline of the body, most of us have a dominate hand etc. Ambidexterity has interested me for a long time since it´s very rare, only about 1 % of population are naturally ambidextrous, and seeing someone perform a high-level skill with both hands, legs or sides is very impressing.

How does all this apply to mountain biking? Post Continued :: Click to Read More

MTB Fitness Membership Program

In this new podcast I talk about the Trackstand and why it is an important skill for every rider to learn. In it I explain how they will help you improve your overall riding skills as well as some tips to help you more easily learn this important skill.

Download this episode (right click and save)

You can check out this video to see how I teach people to Trackstand…]

If you think that Trackstands aren’t important but you still struggle with things like Switchbacks, Techy Climbs and/ or Rock Gardens then you don’t want to miss this podcast. My goal with it is to help more riders understand how this lowly skill can help you ride with far more confidence and flow on the trail.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems


– Trackstands are not an advanced skill or only needed for certain types of riding.

– Trackstands are an important skill for every rider to learn.

– They are also fun and safe to learn.

– They are also the best “balance drill” you can do on your bike, giving you way better transfer than balancing on a BOSU ball, stability ball or other balance training tool.

– Despite all of this they are still seen as a non-essential skill by most riders and coaches and little time is spent teaching or practicing it.

– This is a huge mistake that is leaving a gap in a lot of rider’s ability to balance on their bikes in certain situations on the trail.

– Track stands are an indicator of how well you can balance on the bike.

– When you are moving you are using momentum to help you balance and if you can’t trackstand then you can’t really balance on your bike since you always have to rely on momentum to help you.

– If you think about balance and momentum on a continuum you can see how track stands can help a lot of other skills. Think of it as your slow speed balance – nothing is slower than not moving at all!

– I personally put it in that 20% of skills that will give you 80% of your results on the trail and think that time spent on it will help riders out in a lot of ways. You should be able to control momentum and balance without it, otherwise your overall balance skills on the bike are lacking.

– If you lack slow speed balance then you will struggle with a lot of the more technical side of riding like 1) Rock Gardens, 2) Techy Climbs and 3) Switchbacks.

– So while a pure track stand might not have much carryover to the trail the slow speed balance it creates does help in a lot of areas.

– In fact, IMO this is the #1 reason that riders struggle with Switchbacks – they lack the slow speed balance needed to change the direction of your momentum in the turn. I’ll bet that that few people looking for the “secret” to riding switchbacks can trackstand very well, leading them to look for momentum based techniques.

– I also think that it is one of those skills that you should spend time learning early on and then you don’t need to worry about training it as much (unlike a higher level skill like cornering or manualing where time off can erode your skill level).

– But, let’s be honest – most people want to learn the sexier skills like cornering and manualing and the trackstand is seen as a non-essential skill for some reason.

– I think that people should spend time learning to trackstand if they don’t know how already but they don’t need to spend a ton of time on it once they can hold a regular and switch-foot trackstand for a – solid 10 seconds. It is still good to come back to but at that point you spend your time on higher level skills now that you’ve backfilled a hole in your balance.

– IMO if we got beginners off of clipless pedals this wouldn’t be an issue since trying to learn to track stand on clipless pedals is stupid and most riders switch to them before learning to track stand (along with several other vital skills).

– It also helps to use a mid-foot position and get off the ball of your foot, using the same foot position favored by surfers, skate boarders, skiers and other athletes who are balancing on top of something that is carrying them rather than running or jumping.

– Lastly, don’t let your ego hold you back by making excuses for why you don’t need to learn to Trackstand and just do it.

– Trackstands are only an advanced skill if you are trying to do it on clipless pedals and/ or on the ball of your foot, otherwise it is a pretty easy and fun skill learn and it will help you in a lot of ways on the trail.

MTB Kettlebell Workout

Cardio is one of those topics that I could write about every day and some people still couldn’t get enough. To say that mountain bikers are obsessed with cardio training would be an understatement and every rider I’ve ever talked to wants to know how to best improve it. From intervals to base miles the debate rages on over the best approach to allowing you to work harder and/ or longer when you ride.

There is just one small problem, though. The vast majority of riders – and coaches – are missing the most important part of the whole cardio training equation. Without it you are literally making it much harder on yourself to see improvements from your workouts and rides. But once you fix it, your cardio capacity will automatically increase and stay that way even if you never did another “cardio workout”.

So what is this vital ingredient that you need for an effective cardio training program?


I mean, think about it. Since your “cardio” all starts with being able to take in oxygen (you can’t work for very long without oxygen, just try riding while holding your breath) then it just makes sense to train it.

This isn’t something you want to leave to chance, either. For most of us the deep, relaxing breaths we took with our diaphragm as kids have turned into shallow, panic breathing from our chest. You can check yourself right not – take a deep breath and pay attention to your shoulders. If they come up at all towards your ears or you even feel the urge for them to come up towards your ears then you have some chest breathing issues.


So while yes, breathing is natural and something that you already do it is also something that can be – and often is – done wrong. When this happens you have 3 major things go wrong for you:

1 – Chest breathing triggers the Fight or Flight response in the body. This literally changes the hormonal environment in the body, getting it ready for a sprint to safety or fight to the death, not a long ride where you want to stay relaxed and focused. Using your diaphragm to drive your breathing will literally put you in a different frame of mind and get the body to relax.

2 – When you use your chest and upper body muscles to breathe then they are not able to help stabilize the upper body and react to the trail as efficiently. This means you won’t be relaxed or able to flow, which leads to you having work harder to make up for your inefficient technique. When you can drive your breathing from your diaphragm you can stop riding with a stiff upper body and let it relax and pilot your bike.

3 – Chest breathing doesn’t let you use your full lung capacity. A good, deep breathe will start low and fill the lungs all the way up into the chest. When you start at the chest the breath has nowhere to go and it tends to end in the chest. For a lot of riders, learning how to breathe from their diaphragm will add a significant amount to their lung capacity.

What this means is that if you are really interested in improving your cardio then you’d be smart to start using this simple “cardio workout” designed to get you breathing better and help tap into your full lung capacity. Until you can easily complete this workout then you are really just wasting time with other types of cardio training since you are just reinforcing bad breathing habits while doing them.


Breathing Workout

Crocodile Breathing

Start by lying on your stomach with your hands by your sides, thumbs turned away from you. Start by taking one hand off the ground and placing the back of it against your lower back. Breathing only through your nose, send your breath to where you feel the pressure on your lower back. You should feel your hand rise and at no point should your shoulders start to come towards your ears.

After you 5-10 breathes take your hand off your lower back and take 5 more breathes, looking to make it feel the same way but without the hand pressure there to help you.

Now, take the pointer and middle fingers of your hands and poke them slightly into your obliques (your “side abs” found between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hip bone). Your goal now is to push them out using your breath. You don’t want to poke yourself too hard, applying just enough pressure to help you get the feel for your belly expanding in all directions.

After you 5-10 breathes take your fingers out and take 5 more breathes, looking to make it feel the same way but without the finger pressure there to help you.

Breathing Ladders

I got this one from Steve Maxwell who learned it from the Russians. While this workout looks easy on the surface, I’ll bet than most of you will struggle to get all the way through it.

To do these start by walking at a moderate pace (you can also march in place if you need to). Once you have established a comfortable pace you start by timing your breathes based on your footsteps. Breathing only through your nose, start by breathing in for 1 step and out for 1 step.

After a few breathes increase it to breathing in for 2 steps and out for 2 steps. After a few more increase it to 3 steps, then to 4 and so on all the way up to 10 steps in and 10 steps out. Your goal is to build up to those 10 steps and for it to feel easy.

You have to be careful that you don’t start to speed up as your breathes become longer. You’re not trying to get through the workout as much as you want to give your body the chance to improve its basic breathing habits.

Watch this video to see this cardio workout in action…


While this workout may be hard at first, the good news is that won’t take a long time to improve. Your body knows how to do this, it just forgot. Once you start reintroducing it to these breathing habits it will only be a matter of a few weeks before you are seeing dramatic improvements.

One of the most important things you can do for you long term success is to recognize that without great – not just good but great – breathing habits you are handicapping yourself on the trail no matter how “fit” you are. This simple workout will help reset your breathing and improve your lung capacity, giving you an advantage over most other riders no matter how many more intervals they do.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that unless something is hard and leaves you whimpering in a pile of sweat it can’t be effective. Sometimes the fastest way to improvement is to start with something simple, like breathing better. Make sure you have this vital skill down before focusing too much more time and effort on “working hard” and you’ll be riding faster and longer before you know it.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB DB Conditioning Program
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