One of the biggest concerns I get from mountain bikers about adding strength training into their regimen is that they do not have time for it. Family, work, personal lives and (most importantly) riding all add up leaving some of us with less than 2 hours per week for any other type of training. Because most programs (including my Ultimate MTB Workout Program) require 2-3 hours per week to complete these riders end up doing nothing.

However, this does not need to be the case. There is a training technique that will allow you to build strength, power, endurance, coordination and burn some fat, getting it all done in only 20 minutes. I’m sure that this sound too good to be true, huh? Well, this is one time the reality really does live up to the hype.

This “magic” technique is called combination lifts. This method has a few applications that I will discuss but they all have a few things in common. First, combination lifts string several exercises (usually 3-6) with each exercise being done for 5-6 reps each. Second, the exercises are done in a non-stop circuit fashion using the same implement and load. For example, if you chose to use 30 lb. dumbbells for your combination lift series you would use them for all of the exercises, not putting them down until you completed all of the reps of each exercise in the series.

Let me give you an example to better illustrate these points. Here is a good combination lift series that I use a lot in my facility:

  • – Jump Shrug (jump off the ground and shrug while holding 2 DBs at your side)
  • – Front Squat (raise DBs up by the front of your shoulders)
  • – Push Press (shoulder press with a little leg drive to help)
  • – Reverse Lunge (bring DBs back down by your sides)
  • – Stiff Leg Deadlift
  • – Bent Row

For this combination series I will assign 5 reps to each exercise. This means that you will pick up your DBs, do 5 reps of jump squat, immediately raise the DBs up to do the front squats and immediately go into your push presses, etc. until you have done 5 reps for each exercise. At that point you rest 60 seconds and repeat the combination lift series 3-4 more time.

One thing to consider with the combination lifts is that one exercise will always be the weak link in the series, meaning that you will have to pick a weight that allows you to complete the 5 reps for it. In the above example I have found that the push press tends to be that limiting factor for a lot of people. While we make some provision for this by putting the limiting exercise early in the series you still need to be aware of this and choose your weight accordingly. You must be able to complete all of the reps for every exercise using good form or else you must drop the weight down as to avoid an injury.

Also, while combination lifts are a great way to squeeze a lot of quality work into a short time and quickly produce some dramatic results, it does limit you in a two key areas. Basically, you will never develop as much raw strength and/ or power as you could by using a more traditional approach that will spend periods in each workout and in the overall program concentrating on these qualities. Combination lifts are a compromise in these areas, developing them but not to the same degree a dedicated program will.

Despite this compromise, though, combination lifts offer a lot of bang for the buck, giving you great results in the least amount of time possible. Plus, they can be done at home using only a pair of adjustable dumbbells or (preferably) Kettle Grips. This means that they are the perfect option for those that do not have a gym membership and have very limited equipment options.

Another thing that mountain bikers tend to enjoy is that this technique does not put a lot of muscle mass on the user. This is good for those that feel that too much extra weight could hurt their riding or adversely affect their suspension performance. While you may put on some, it will be minimal and what is added is highly functional muscle and is needed to support your increases in strength and power.

Lastly, I mentioned that there are a couple of different ways to employ the combination lifts and while all of them are outside the scope of this article I will share on more with you. You can take the exact same sequence of exercises listed above but instead of doing 5 jump shrugs, 5 front squat, 5 push presses, etc. you can do 1 rep of each exercise and run through the circuit 5 times. You will do the same exercises for the same amount of reps but you will get a greater conditioning and coordination challenge by going through the exercises this way.

So there you have it, a great workout that will take you less than 10 minutes to complete. I will usually do have people do 2 different combination series, one relying more on explosive movements and one relying more on strength movements in order to give a complete workout in less than 20 minutes. Even if you have the time and desire to devote yourself to a more involved workout program you can still use these combination lifts are a great way to get some anaerobic conditioning in at the end of your workout.

Give this a shot at your next workout and see what you think. If you are anything like me and my clients you will come out of the workout knowing that you just added a highly beneficial and fun tool to your training toolbox.

-James Wilson-

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