DB Combo Drills: Improving Your Cardio Through Strength Training

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 3 hours per week for any other type of training. Because most training programs require far more than 3 hours per week to complete these riders end up doing nothing at all.

Combination lifts offer a lot of bang for the buck, giving you great cardio conditioning results in the least amount of time possible.

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 less than 3 hours per week. 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 or, as I prefer to call them, combo drills. This method has a few applications that I will discuss but they all have a few things in common. First, combo drills string together several exercises (usually 3-6) with each exercise being done in a non-stop circuit fashion using the same implement and load. For example, if you chose to use 25 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 how this works. Here is a good combo drill series that I use in my facility:

– DB Front Squat (raise DBs up by the front of your shoulders)

– DB Push Press (shoulder press with a little leg drive to help)

– DB Reverse Lunge (bring DBs back down by your sides)

– DB Romanian Leg Deadlift (a Stiff Legged Deadlift with a little knee bend)

– DB 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 the DB Front Squats, immediately do 5 push presses, drop the DBs to your side and do 5 reverse lunges on each leg, do 5 Romanian Deadlifts and then finally 5 Bent Rows. At that point you put the dumbbells down, rest 60 seconds and repeat the combo drill 2-3 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 you can 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.

While this example is the most traditional use of comb drills, there is a lesser know way to use them that is actually my preferred method. You can take the exact same combo drill listed above but instead of resting at the end of each complete sequence you can pick a work and rest interval, increasing the work interval or decreasing the rest interval as your conditioning improves.

For example, you can choose a work interval of 90 seconds and a rest interval of 60 seconds, meaning that when you get done with the last exercise in the sequence you start over at the beginning and keep running through it until the 90 seconds have gone by. At that point you drop the dumbbells and rest for 60 seconds, starting over at the beginning of the sequence when it is time to start to next work interval. When doing it this way I usually have people do 3 work intervals, adding 10-15 seconds every week until they have built up to 2 – 2.5 minutes.

Either way you use them combination lifts offer a lot of bang for the buck, giving you great cardio conditioning results in the least amount of time possible. Plus, they can be done at home using only a pair of adjustable dumbbells. This means that they are the perfect option for those that do not have a gym membership and have very limited equipment and space.

However, there is one thing I want to point out – 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 couple areas. Basically, you will never develop as much raw strength as you could by using a more traditional approach that will spend a period in each workout concentrating on these qualities. Since strength is very important for mountain bikers I like to combine combo drills with a simple 4 exercise circuit that allows you to focus on building strength in specific lifts that emphasize the movement patterns you need to improve your skills on the trail. I will then have you finish up with a combo drill to hammer home the strength endurance and cardio conditioning so you can ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail.

So there you have it, a great workout that will take you a minimal amount of time to complete. Even if you have the time and desire to devote yourself to a more involved workout program you can still use combo drills as a great way to get some anaerobic conditioning in at the end of your workout. Give this combo drill shot during your next workout and see what you think. If you are anything like the riders I have introduced this ride changing training method to you will come out of your workout knowing that you just added a highly beneficial and fun tool to your training toolbox.

BTW, don’t forget that this weekend is your last chance to get the 31 bonus Punisher Conditioning Circuit Workouts when you get your copy of the MTB DB Combos Program. These hard-core cardio circuits are the perfect complement to combo drills to build trail crushing cardio.

You can use the Punisher Conditioning Circuits as a replacement for a hard trail ride on days that time or weather don’t let you get out for a regular ride, making them the perfect addition to your off season training plan.

Click here to learn how you can get 31 of these amazing workouts for FREE when you purchase the MTB DB Combos Program…but don’t wait, this offer ends this weekend.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Joe says:

    Hey James! I’ve been using your “No Gym, No Problem” workout in my small apartment for 6 months with good results. I am about to move into a house where I will have more space. I am considering buying either adjustable dumb bells and getting your DB Combo program, or buying some kettle bells and getting your Kettle Bell program. For reference, I have taken a few weights classes and had various gym memberships over the past 12 years, but right now I only have 3 sets of dumb bells (10s, 15s and 25s) and a bench with a cheap lat pull down. I’ve been riding about 20 years (I’m 30 and started with BMX), getting serious into MTB about 6 years ago. I don’t race, but love long (25-50 mile), technical rides where I can rail the tough stuff and finish strong without having to walk my bike. I don’t have much time to train, but I ride a single speed mtb for my daily 5-10 mile commute. I also run with my dog, and try to work in intervals.
    Which program should I upgrade to?

    Reply • December 7 at 10:33 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I think you’ll really like the KB Conditioning Program, it will make a nice change of pace for you if you have some gym experience.

      Reply • December 9 at 5:40 pm

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James Wilson
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Mountain Bike Coach
James Wilson