A lot of riders waste time trying to “ride themselves into shape” after an off-season of either doing nothing or spending too much time on a road bike. They find themselves struggling to find their groove and have to spend a few weeks or even months getting their riding legs back under them.

The take home point is that if you’ve never spent any time getting stronger then it is the fastest and simplest way to see improvement on the trail.

For me, this is a giant waste of precious riding time. Who has trail rides to waste feeling like crap on the trail when you can hit the trails much better prepared to deal with the physical demands of trail riding?

If you find yourself among the thousands of riders every year who fall victim to this problem then there is something you can do to see results in just a few weeks. And it is pretty simple to do.

Getting stronger is the fastest way to see an immediate impact on your riding.

floor press

Doing some double 32 kg/ 70 pound kettlebell floor presses

The first question I ask riders who come to me with questions about how to improve their performance is how much can they deadlift. It doesn’t matter if they race DH, Enduro, XC, 24 Hour, Marathon or simply want to ride the trail with more fitness and confidence – the answer to that question tells me what we need to work on.

If they look at me without blinking and tell me that they deadlift somewhere in the 1.5-2 X BW area I know that while they may still need some work in specific areas, their overall body strength is pretty good and I need to look at what they are doing on the cardio side of things that isn’t working. Here’s a hint – most of the time they don’t use their trail rides properly and just ride as hard as they can for as long as they can with no real plan.

On the other hand, if they look at me with a blank stare of tell me that they don’t really deadlift I know that they need to get stronger before the cardio stuff will start to work. I’ll still want them to use their trail rides in a smarter way but the focus isn’t on adding more cardio yet.

The reason is that strength levels give us a good idea of how stress-proof a movement pattern is. A rider might have a good looking hip-hinge a.k.a. deadlift with just bodyweight or a light weight but terrible looking technique when trying to pull 2X bodyweight. In this case the movement pattern is there but isn’t stress-proof enough to handle that weight.

On the bike this rider may look good at low fatigue levels but starts to break down easily after a few High Tension Cardio efforts. They end up wasting a lot of energy through bad breathing and posture on the bike because they weren’t able to maintain it as the movement patterns were stressed with the realities of trail riding.

A stronger rider will be able to sustain their breathing and posture better because they have it mastered at such a high level that what they do on the trail seems easy by comparison. When you’ve pulled a double bodyweight deadlift trying to turn over a hard gear to crest a steep climb suddenly doesn’t seem as “hard”.

Once this physical and psychological strength has been built you can get more out of cardio training in the off-season to improve the ability to sustain those efforts longer.

So if you want to quickly improve your trail riding and skip the whole “ride yourself into shape” thing this year then get stronger. I’ve posted a lot of great articles over the years on methods I like to get stronger but Rep Ladders continue to be one of my favorites.

Here is a workout you can do that will quickly increase your strength and performance on the trail:

Workout 1

Deadlift – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Floor Press – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Chin Ups – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Workout 2

DB Clean & Press – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Single Leg Squat – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Renegade Rows – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

You want to rest for 5-10 breathes/ 30-60 seconds between exercises and rounds. You can do these workouts as a circuit or you can finish all of your sets before moving on to the next exercise. Either way you only want the last set to feel “hard”, and even then your form should still look as solid as on your first set.

As you add a little weight each week you’ll find that you are getting stronger but the workouts still don’t feel any “harder” than they did when you started. After 4-6 weeks you’ll be significantly stronger and feeling much closer to mid-season form on your bike.

The take home point in that if you’ve never spent any time getting stronger then it is the fastest and simplest way to see improvement on the trail. If you want to hit the trails feeling like you never took any time off of your bike then get stronger using the routine I posted above or something like the new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 for a longer term approach.

And remember that strength training is more about the journey than the destination. It may take you a couple years to achieve a double bodyweight deadlift and even then that isn’t the real point. Focus on getting a little stronger every day and you’ll see benefits, if you force the issue you’ll just get injured.

If you have any questions about this workout or why getting stronger should be your first priority please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word to fellow riders who could benefit from the info.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Bodyweight Exercises

As you probably know I have some different views on mountain biking compared to most “experts”. From the value of flat pedals to the ridiculousness of spending hours on a road bike to improve your mountain bike conditioning I try to get riders to stop and think about things, if only for a second.

Standing pedaling is only a bad option if you don’t have the mobility, strength and endurance in the core, upper body and hips to sustain it.

Funny things happen when riders stop and think about things. Some of them start to realize that there may be more to the story than what they were told. The world of mountain biking is littered with myths, half-truths and outright lies and one of my goals is to help shed some light on what it really takes to improve your riding.

One area that I’ve talked about before but I think needs some special attention is Standing Pedaling. Most riders view Standing Pedaling as something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

They are told that they’ll tire themselves out too quickly and they think they need to sit down in order to weight the rear tire on climbs.

They end up shackling themselves to their seats, which really impedes their growth as a rider.

Once you understand that standing pedaling is better than seated pedaling in many ways and how you can incorporate it more into your riding you’ll never look at the trail the same way again. More riders are held back by this one myth than anything else on the trail. Break free of the seat shackle and you’ll have way more fun on the trail.


My wife and I standing up to enjoy some sweet singletrack.

To help dispel some of those myths and help more riders break free of seated pedaling I created this podcast where I go over all things standing pedaling. I’ll dispel the myths surrounding it and reveal…

- Why it can actually be easier on your knees to stand up while climbing.

- Why you have to stand up to execute skills properly.

- Why clipless pedals can make it harder to stand up.

- How to use standing and seated pedaling together over the course of a ride.

Use the link below to download this episode of the MTB Strength Coach Podcast

Download this episode (right click and save)

I also wanted to share 5 things you can do today to improve your Standing Pedaling. Just like anything else on your bike, it is a skill that you must understand and practice to improve.

5 Keys to Standing Pedaling

1 – Use your pedals to help support your weight. You can do this by using a gear that gives you some tension at the pedals. This is usually going to be a harder gear/ slower RPM than you would use when seated. You also do this by getting the ball of your foot in front of and not on top of your axle, which will allow you to achieve better balance and use your hips more efficiently.

2 – Use your upper body to stabilize/ support your body and to help add power to the pedal stroke. The better you can get your upper body into the right position and the more you can pull to add to the pedal stroke the easier standing pedaling will be.

3 – You want to simply drive hard with your lead leg i.e. mash your pedals and use your upper body to hold you up and keep you smooth. While you don’t need to stomp every bit of your weight into the pedals don’t try to “spin” circles or keep a “smooth” pedal stroke either. Just try to stay light on top of the bike using your upper body while keeping pressure on the pedals with good gear selection and foot placement.

4 – Know how to use your hips to get the most out of your traction. When traction is good then you want to push the hips forward, almost like you would fall forward and your bike is keeping you from hitting the ground. When traction is poor you want to sit your hips back over the rear tire to weight the rear while also keeping your shoulders over the front end to keep it down.

5 – Focus on your shoulder and upper back position and as it is the real weak link in the standing pedaling kinetic chain, not your legs or lungs. In other words, you can have the strongest legs and the best VO2max but if you can’t help maintain an optimal shoulder position and posture for standing pedaling then you’ll waste so much energy it won’t matter. This will be the hardest habit to overcome so it has to be on the top of your mind.

Last, I want to share this new video I shot this weekend showing you how to instantly improve your standing pedaling balance and traction by understanding how to best use your hips. Through the power of bad stick figure drawings I’ll show you exactly what to do when you stand up and when traction starts to get loose.

So there you have it, a blueprint for overcoming the weaknesses that keep you from easily standing and hammering out singletrack. Attack those weaknesses with a good training program and that is no longer an issue.

Standing pedaling is only a bad option if you don’t have the mobility, strength and endurance in the core, upper body and hips to sustain it.

Sure, you’ll have riders in your group tell you that you will tire yourself out quicker, you’ll just have to wait for them to hear what they were saying at the top of that steep hill you were killing them on.

So how about you? Have you heard this advice only to find out that it wasn’t true? Or do you have any questions about getting better at standing pedaling? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word to fellow riders who could benefit from the info.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Kettlebell Workout

I was talking with one of my private coaching clients yesterday and we were talking about how to adjust their training once the riding season starts. In the past they would stop training their legs as they did more intervals and got out onto more rides in order to save their legs and they wanted to know if we were going to do something similar.

Strength and mobility provide the foundation for your cardio and a good program will balance riding and training to help you get the most out of both.

I understand where he is coming from – for a lot of mountain bikers riding is their leg training and the idea of adding more squats, deadlifts and swings would seem to take away from their ability to pedal.

However, as I explained to him that there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The first is that somewhere between not training legs at all and doing too much is the sweet spot and that is what we are looking for.

There is a level of intensity and volume that your body can handle without adversely affecting your riding.

What’s more, that level will change with training. After an off-season full of Goblet Squats, Swings and Stagger Stance Deadlifts his body is used to those movements and can handle more this season than last season. Basically, as your strength levels and experience grow you can do more without it wearing you out.

For example, someone who can Goblet Squat a 55 pound KB or DB for 3 sets of 8 reps will easily be able to handle 2 sets of 5 with that same weight and not feel much the next day. However, someone who has limited experience with the lift will get pretty sore from the same workout. The idea is not to eliminate leg training but to find what you can still do relative to your strength and experience levels.

The second thing to keep in mind is that your Mobility and Strength levels support your cardio. Very rarely does someone maintain their mobility and strength levels and see a dip in their cardio during the riding season. What usually happens is that the Mobility and Strength dominoes fall, toppling the Cardio dominoes as well.

This means that in order to stay riding strong all season long it is vitally important that you do everything you can to keep the Mobility and Strength dominoes from falling as long as you can. While you can’t help but lose some mobility and strength during the riding season you want to fight like hell to keep that to a minimum.

So there are 2 take home points for you to consider. First, you need to be working right now to build a mobility and strength reserve so you have something to carry you through the riding season. A smart program that builds mountain bike specific strength, mobility and cardio will go a long ways to helping you ride strong from your first ride this year to you last.

Second, once the riding season hits don’t neglect strength training your legs. You just have to look at “training” them differently and switch mental gears from working hard to build them up to working just hard enough to keep them strong and as fresh as possible.

Strength and mobility provide the foundation for your cardio and a good program will balance riding and training to help you get the most out of both. Don’t make the mistake so many riders make of thinking that just pedaling will train your legs because it won’t be enough, and you don’t want to find that out by dragging ass through the end of the riding season.

That’s it for now, if you have any questions about this concept please leave a comment below this post. And if you liked this post please click one of the Like or Share buttons to help spread the word.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

p.s. You still have a couple of days to get the all new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 with all of the bonus workouts for only $97. You’ll get the most holistic mountain bike training program on the planet with mobility, strength, cardio, nutrition, skills training and mental prep strategies combined into one seamless program.

You’ll also get all 3 of the new race specific versions including Enduro Racing/ Trail Rider, XC Racing and DH Racing plus my In-Season Training Blocks to keep you riding strong all year long. This is a crazy value at only $97 – that’s less than some overpriced program from another major training website that only gives you a 12 week cardio workout with no strength, mobility, nutrition, skills training or mental prep.

I mean honestly, how can it really be a “mountain bike training program” if it doesn’t address everything you need on the trail?

So click here to learn more about the new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 and get your copy of the special release bundle for only $97 before this special ends this weekend.

MTB DB Combos Program

I don’t know why but it seems like dogs and trail riding were meant to go together. A good trail dog can help motivate you to ride more and they make you smile more when you’re on the trail.

I’ve had 2 great trail dogs so far, the first was my original trail mutt Mojo Jojo (bonus points if you know the show that character is from). We got him when we moved to Hawaii and he was my loyal companion on countless rides, including acting as the unofficial guide on a mountain bike tour I led for a couple years.


The original trail mutt Mojo and me in Hawaii

Eventually age caught up to Mojo and after a good, long life we lost him. After being without a trail mutt for a while I decided it was time to get a new one and in stepped Aka. Aka means Shadow in Hawaiian and we got him for $50 from some random guy selling puppies in front of Wal-Mart.

They told us he was a Black Lab/ German Short Hair/ Rottweiller mix and I remember Aka was a little stand offish at first. I wasn’t too sure about taking him home but I took a chance.


Bringing Aka home


Lounging with my other mutt Shadow

Luckily he turned out to be the best trail mutt ever. It took some training to get him up to speed, including getting run over twice. Don’t worry, each time was a pretty controlled accident as I saw him about to screw up and I was ready for it. He never got seriously hurt but he did get the message – don’t get in front of the bikes.


The aftermath of a run-in with the bike tires.

Now he knows to not get in the way and he’ll readily get out of the way if you do catch up to him. That is a key skill for a trail dog and one that makes it possible to just ride without worrying if he’s going to try and kill both of us.

He’s also amazingly fast and it takes a good downhill grade for me to be the one setting the pace. Add in the endurance to easily last on a 2-3 hour ride and I’m never waiting for him to catch up. In fact, it is usually the other way around.


Aka waiting on me to finish resting.

Resting after a long hard ride.

Resting after a long hard ride.

In fact, I’ve got a video I shot with my GoPro of Aka and me ripping some sweet local trails you can check out below. Even though this was last year we just rode there yesterday, which is what made me think about what a great trail mutt Aka is.

So how about you? Got any great trail dogs in your life or had one before? I’d love to hear about them, just leave a comment below this post sharing some trail dog love.

That’s it for now, until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

p.s. You can still get your Ultimate MTB Workout Program Release Bundle for only $97 this week. This bundle is worth over $200 and contains the Enduro Racing/ Trail Riding, XC Racing and DH Racing specific training plans plus my In-Season Training Blocks to keep you riding strong all season long. Add in the skills training, mental prep and nutrition strategies and you have the most holistic training program ever made for the unique demands of mountain biking.

Click here to learn more about how the Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 can help you ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail.

MTB Ultimate Program

All I can say is “wow”…I was pretty speechless at the response I got to my comment contest I held over the weekend. With well over 100 responses, it was not only my most popular contest ever but it had some of the best stories I’ve ever read.

I really had no idea I was making such an impact on so many lives. I mean, I know it on some level because I get feedback and emails each week from riders sharing their stories but some of the stories I read over the weekend really blew me away.

I mean, I had people who had used one of my programs or some of the info I publish for free on my blog to come back from back surgery, total hip replacements and personal tragedies as well as rediscover their love for mountain biking. These things went waaaay beyond just the results they saw on the trail and really meant a lot to me.

Of course, there were a ton of great stories about how my programs had helped people ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail but knowing that the impact I’m having goes beyond that really brought things into perspective for me.

So, while I said I was going to pick 5 winners I had to include a few more. I ended up randomly picking 10 people to win a free copy of the new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 Release Bundle ($200+ value), I posted them below…

 Laura M. Hann

Andy Nelson

 Jenai Robinson


Jenn C.


Alan Shelton




Congratulations to the winners, just send an email to and we’ll get you hooked up. In the meantime, if you didn’t win then you should  check out the special bundle I put together for the release of the new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5.

Since I last updated the Ultimate MTB Workout Program I’ve learned a lot, especially about how to best integrate all of the information and tools you can –and should – use to improve your speed, endurance and confidence on the trail.

Plus, I’ve gotten a lot of requests to create different versions for each of the main riding disciplines.

This newest version not only contains newly updated mountain bike specific strength, mobility, nutrition and mindset information but there are now Enduro Racing-Trail Riding, XC Racing and DH Racing versions.

Each discipline specific version comes with its own Energy Systems Development/ Cardio Workouts and Weekly Training Plans geared towards the specific demands of that discipline. These compliment the rest of the program to put a “race specific” edge on your fitness.

Oh, and for those of you who don’t race and just like to trail ride you can simply skip the extra race specific cardio workouts. The strength, mobility, skills, mindset and nutrition info will help you show up strong at any trailhead and be ready for whatever gets thrown at you.

Plus, this week I’ll be offering a Special Release Bundle.

While each version will be sold separately, when you purchase the new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 this week you’ll get a bundle with all 3 race-specific versions. I don’t want to make you choose which version you want plus I want to make sure that you are set up no matter what the future holds. You may find yourself wanting to train for something different next season and with all 3 of these programs you’ll be ready.

And to make it even better I’m also going to include my In-Season Endurance and In-Season Power Training Blocks. With these workouts you’ll be able to maintain – or even increase – your strength and fitness without excessive wear and tear on the body that can leave you too sore and tired to train. Again, these In-Season Training Blocks are not part of the new UMWP v5 and are only available as part of this special upgrade package.

But this Special Release Bundle is only available this week the price on this package goes up to $207 so don’t wait.

If you’re ready to get started with the best mountain bike training solution click here to get your copy of the new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5.

Thanks again for the great stories and I hope this new version of the Ultimate MTB Workout Program delivers even better results for everyone. Let me know if you have any questions about this special offer, until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

p.s. I know that some of you will want a bit more info about what you’ll find in this new version before you feel ready to make a decision. You can find out everything you need to know by clicking on the link below…

Click here to learn more about what you’ll find in the new UMWP v5 and how it can help you ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail.



I have to say that I forgot how sensitive the hard core Crossfit crowd is when I sent out my last newsletter relating my experience at a Crossfit gym. While I’ll admit that there are some great gyms out there flying the Crossfit flag, at some point you have to look at the overwhelming number of bad stories coming out of the average place and wonder if that is the norm and the great Crossfit gym is the exception.

Anyways, I’ll have more to say on the whole subject later but in the meantime I want to focus on those of you who feel that there is a better way to improve as a rider, one that integrates your strength, mobility, cardio and skills training with your trail riding to help you where it matters most, which is on the trail.

On Monday I’m releasing my newly updated Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 and I want to give you a chance to win a FREE copy it. Just post a comment below with your answer to this question and on Monday I’ll randomly pick at least 5 riders (if there are a lot of great entries I might pick more) from the entries:

If I’ve helped you out in any way over the last 9 years since starting MTB Strength Training Systems I’d love to hear it. It could be from a blog post, a video, an article or one of my training programs – just tell me how it has helped your training and/ or riding.

That’s it, just take a minute to post a comment below and you could win a free copy of the new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 release package, which is worth over $200 with all of the bonus workouts I’m including next week. I’ll be in touch on Monday with the winners and info on the special release package I’m putting together.

That’s it for now, thanks to everyone for your support over the years and I’m looking forward to introducing the next step in the evolution of mountain bike training. Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

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Mountain Bike Coach
James Wilson