4 Bodyweight Exercises You May Not Be Using…But Should!

So you can do a push up, but can you do a handstand push up? You can do a squat, but can you do a pistol squat? Bodyweight training is one of the most productive uses of your training time, but most riders have only scratched the surface of what you can really do with just your body as a barbell.

Bodyweight training is great for mountain bikers for two reasons. First, you obviously don’t need any equipment which means that you have no excuse not to do some strength training. As the saying goes, wherever you go there you are and so you always have access to some form of training, even when traveling.

Second, bodyweight exercises build body control and awareness which is essential for trail riding. Your body looks at controlling itself through bodyweight exercises differently than it does controlling an external object through weighted exercises which makes using both an essential part of your training program. However, a lot of riders who get into strength training quickly dismiss bodyweight exercises in favor of “harder” weighted exercises, which limits their overall development.

In this video I go over 4 bodyweight exercises that you may not have heard about before but you should be using in your program:

4 Bodyweight Exercises You May Not Be Doing…But Should on

Here is a sample workout program you can use with these exercises –

1) Single Leg Squat X 3-15 reps
2) Handstand Press X 1-10 reps
3) Lying Leg Raise X 5-20 reps
4) Bridge X 3-15 reps

Do these exercises in a circuit, meaning that you start with the first exercise and do as many perfect reps as possible, rest 15 seconds and then move to the second exercise. Keep going through the 4 exercises until you have finished 1 set of each, rest for 1 minute and then start the process over again.

I recommend going through the circuit 2 times to begin with and adding 1 circuit when you can do the max number of reps on all of the exercises. Work up to 4 times through the circuit.

For a lot of you some of these exercises will feel impossible to perform, which should send up a red flag in the back of your brain as to your true level of strength and function. In the video I go over some ways to work up to the exercises listed in the routine and if you find yourself unable to do the exercises listed above then substitute the “easier” variation. Once you can to the highest number of reps with the easier variation then move up to the harder one.

Something to keep in mind with this routine – I have listed a range of reps for you to do and the goal is obviously to build up to he highest number of reps listed. However, do not compromise form and focus for more reps. I make everyone in my facility start out at the lowest number of reps and learn how to make them as hard as possible through purposefully creating more muscular tension than is needed and then adding reps while maintaining that level of tension and intensity.

Pounding out sloppy reps may cut it for Crossfit style workouts that value quantity or “work capacity” over quality but remember than when you are tired on the trail you will revert to how you train. You don’t want your body to even know what a crappy rep feels like so that when it is tired it keeps on moving how you taught it, which should be with optimal form and maximum efficiency. As an athlete who’s sport is not “the gym” or “fitness” how you move matters far more than how much you do.

So there you go, 4 bodyweight exercises that are sure to challenge almost everyone reading this. The better you can move off the bike the better you will move on the bike and these exercises and the routine I outlined should keep you busy for a few months working on becoming a better overall athlete, which will help you ride faster, longer ands with more confidence on the trail.

No Gym, No Problem. — Bodyweight Program

No Gym, No Problem. — Bodyweight ProgramWho says you need equipment to get a great workout in? With this workout program you have no more excuses to not train- the world is your gym. Designed around the principle of Exercise Progressions this workout program allows you to create the perfect workout for your current fitness level. Perfect for starting your strength training journey or adding a new challenge to your current workout, this workout belongs in every rider’s toolbox.
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  1. WAKi says:

    Great stuff James. But the pistol squat is dreadful… I swear so much when I do it.

    Bodyweight exercises can be challenging enough to think twice before going for machines and weights. I remember these from gymnastics from gymnasium, really good stuff, too bad I can’t do it as well as back then, but well I still can! 🙂

    BTW, I just had my second ride of the season, UMTBW rocks! 3-4 times a week (end of Phase 2 now) you hit the trail after the winter and the power is already there! Another thing, I tried to apply your “there is no award for the rider with the most steady pace in the world” – huh that hurts, but I did attack all I could on this hour ride, the trail feels different than before and huh, there was some fuel left in the tank after I came home 🙂


    Reply • March 26 at 5:15 am
  2. Bryan says:

    James, I’ve been reading and reading, plus trying out a lot of what I’m seeing here. But I just can’t seem to put it all together. I got back to riding last year after almost 15 years off, plus I was never really in shape even back then. Last year I rode almost every day weather permitting and lost a lot of weight got better at my cardio but never really got to the point I could keep up with the other guys I rode with or really just felt like I improved after awhile. I plateaued pretty hard. Now I’m not expecting miracles. I know I’ve got a lifetime of work left to do but the question is how to get there efficiently. Over the winter I did some cardio inside rode outside when I could. (I live in the Mtns. of North Carolina so the weather doesn’t always cooperate but I’ve got great riding.) Started doing some core exercises and stretching to go with it.

    Now I’ve got to get going though. Started riding again, regularly in early March. Kept up with some core strengthening. Now I’ve picked up your Nightmare Before Christmas 1 workout. Today I’m looking at your bodyweight exercises I should be doing. But how do I put this all together and still ride? What’s your advise on how to fit it all together. My plan was ride every other day and then in the gym exercises in between and was thinking the NBC exercises would be good for those gym days but I could definitely tell that’s a pretty focused workout. Started looking at your books to get some direction but I have no idea which one to go with. I can work at least an hour in almost every day between teaching and going to my second job but that includes my time to ride. Get me started here. Can you give me just a little help to get me headed in the right direction? I’d be happy to buy one of the books if that’s what I need. I just want to get the right book/system and it may have to wait until the next paycheck but I really want to try to move forward.


    Reply • March 26 at 10:17 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      It can be tough to piece together a training program from all the info on my site, I do this for a living and it can be tough to filter all the info I have access to as well. To be honest, one of my programs is the best way to put it all together. Based on your description I’d say that my Kettlebell Program or DB Combos Program would be a good bet. The Kettlebell Program is probably your best bet but the DB Combos Program is a close second if you don’t have or want to get a kettlebell.

      Everybody needs a coach, including me – I pay someone to help me put my own workouts together and know how valuable it is to have someone taking the guesswork out of what to do. Hope this helps, let me know how it goes for you…

      Reply • March 27 at 2:24 pm
  3. John (aka Wish I Were Riding) says:

    What is the progression for single leg squats? I doubt that most people can actually pull off a real pistol squat (and you make them seem easy).

    Reply • March 27 at 10:23 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Set up a chair or bench behind you and work on single leg box squats, then take the bench away and work on single leg squats and then work on increasing the ROM to pistol squats.

      Reply • March 27 at 1:55 pm
  4. Wade says:

    First, I’m jealous – you did make them all look easy – congrats! Now, I want to see the single arm handstand press – I’m sure you’ll get there (if you can’t already).

    Any tips on keeping your tail bone on the ground during lying leg raises – I’m fine with knees bent but straightening out the legs at 90 d and keeping the tail bone on the ground is challenging – usually drop the legs so the tail bone stays down.

    Single leg squat – I’ll just say I’m trying.

    Are either of those even possible (with good form) without good flexibility? Any tips on flexibility – should you/I be able to rest you palms on the floor without bending your knees – or what do you consider ideal?



    Reply • March 27 at 5:43 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Flexibility and mobility are certainly part of the equation, but strength and stability play into your flexibility and mobility. You may find that as you get stronger your mobility will improve as well. Tight hip flexors tend to be a major problem area for riders and so if you want to do some extra stretching then anything that gets that area would be a good idea.

      Reply • March 28 at 9:14 am
  5. Robert says:

    Hello James,

    On single leg squats – thanks for pointing out the stress on the knees while shifting weight towards the toes.
    I never realized what was the problem, and I was avoiding this exercise because of too much apparent stress on the knees. From now on I’ll repeat “drive your heel into the ground!” 🙂

    Lying leg raise – tailbone raise: I do raise it on purpose, and I try not to push my palms into the ground. The exercise feels tougher and I feel the upper part of the abdomen working harder. Do you think that’s wrong in some way? I see your point in tightening the back while pushing with the palms, it makes sense
    I need to say I’m only progressing into this exercise so what I actually do is flat knee raise

    I was skeptical with the bridge. I was doing them a lot when I was a kid (I did gymnastics) and they never felt tough at all. Now they do 🙂

    Great article bye the way!

    Reply • March 28 at 1:25 am
  6. Martin says:

    Great testers of all the strength most of us really need James. Thanks.
    Years ago I did A LOT of full on yoga which basically included these exercises. The result – I wasn’t muscle bound ( didn’t work out at the gym ) but I was mega strong and felt great – resistant, core strength, flexible and probably best of all confident when up against a physical ordeal.
    These are great reminders of what count.
    Keep it up.

    Reply • March 28 at 12:50 pm
  7. Pat says:

    Great exercises James! I am a big promoter of your thoughts and ideas on mountain biking and exercising. I was inspired by your myths about clipless pedals and have transformed the way I ride with FLATS. Although not specifically designed for mountain biking, (and I am not trying to promote another company) Advocare has a great workout series called Can You 24, Level 2. It has a ton of core and leg specific exercises that have helped me stay strong and balanced. And just for the heck of it, you should check out some YIN yoga if you have not done so already. My wife is an instructor and I hated that she made me do it. But, after about 4 sessions, I had flexibility in my hips, hamstrings, and back that I’ve never had before. Keep up the great work.

    Reply • January 31 at 11:07 am
    • Pat says:

      Not sure what’s up with that picture, but that ain’t me! Must be my daughter!

      Reply • January 31 at 11:08 am
  8. Nate says:

    James, I remember awhile back you did some single leg squats (at least I think that what they were) with the loose leg behind you instead in front of you. Whats the difference between the two? I find it much easer to do with the leg behind me and have been practicing that to build up to an actual pistol. Is that alright to do or could I be hurting something?

    Reply • January 31 at 11:42 am
  9. Staffan says:

    Great video James! I must say that after first doing your Bodyweight program “no gym no problem” learning all the progressions and then moving into your kettlebell program was the best thing I have done for my riding and overall fitness. I didn’t think that I would learn the exercises so fast but with your coaching videos and progressions I found it easy to learn.

    Looking forward to a strong season of mountain biking 🙂

    Reply • February 1 at 1:07 am
  10. Brett says:

    G’day from Brisbane, and thanks James for identifying the great exercises I feel confident to now do without having to go to the gym… not that my local gym will be happy about that! My two daughters do the same exercises as part of their strength training, and they (and their teammates) make it look too easy (much the same as you) as part of their 4 hour training sessions each day. 2014 is my year to return from injury and many ‘dad excuses’ and I am keen to try these (and other) exercises to get me back into condition and back on the bike and the long-missed single tracks I used to love. Thanks again and wish me luck, and here’s hoping by the end of the year I will be training like a bunch of girls!

    Reply • February 1 at 11:32 pm
  11. Roddy says:

    All these excercises are brilliant and having following The No gym no workout programme I can manage them except for the Pistol squat. It is great to see feedback and James always goes over everything meticulously.
    I have started practising the pistol squat at the local swimming pool when I take my 3 yr old daughter to the Toddler pool as the water is only waist deep but this gives enough bouyancy for me to do the movement without collapsing or straining ; hopefully I’ll be able to do it soon (dry)

    Thanks for Everthing James your programs are inspirational


    Reply • February 14 at 7:30 am
  12. Alex says:

    Great video. You make handstand pushups look easy but continuing the narration while upside down without skipping a beat takes it to a whole new level.

    Reply • August 5 at 2:14 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad you appreciate the fine details in the difficulty level of the video, it did take some concentration.

      Reply • August 10 at 1:38 pm
  13. Mauro says:

    Hi, James;

    Thanks to your strenght programs I can do all of them. Just got two imperfections:
    – Pistol squat: i still need holding a light weigth in front of me to complete the move
    – Lying Leg Raise: I cannot keep my tail bone down to the ground when elevating the legs.

    Any suggestions especially on the second movement?

    Thank you for making me a BETTER rider. Mauro

    Reply • August 5 at 8:26 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      It sounds like you might be tight in the hip flexors. Make sure you are doing some daily mobility stuff and quad/ hip flexor stretches should be on the list. I’m glad I can help with your riding, thanks for you support.

      Reply • August 10 at 1:41 pm

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