How to avoid being too sore to mountain bike.

A common concern from mountain bikers about strength training during the riding season is the soreness they usually get. This is a valid concern and one I wrestled with early on when trying to figure out good training strategies for our sport.

If you are too sore to ride is your workout really making you a better rider? Probably not. However, you don’t have to get sore from strength training. Soreness is not to be confused with effectiveness…how sore you are means nothing in regards to how effective the training was for you as a mountain biker.

The best way to avoid the “too sore all the time” problem is to avoid the bodybuilding influenced programs. Using body part splits (where you train different body parts on different days) and using a lot of different exercises to “attack the muscle from different angles” are tactics that bodybuilders use but really have limited use for mountain bikers.

Doing total body training splits where you train an upper body pulling, upper body pushing and lower body exercise in the same routine is a good way to go. You can not do as many set and reps per exercise this way which will keep the overall volume low and limit how sore you are the next day.

Excessive muscle soreness is caused by doing too many different exercises and too many sets and reps on one body part/ movement pattern. If you are too sore then do a little less. Again, if your weight lifting causes you to be too sore to ride well then it is not helping your riding.

A routine like this would work well –

Workout A: Push Up/ Cable Row/ Deadlift  4 X 6 reps each

Workout B: DB Shoulder Press/ Chin Up/ Single Leg Squat  4 X 6 reps each

Do this as a circuit and you’ll get a decent cardio effect as well. Just alternate these two workouts as often as you lift each week (I recommend 2-4 days per week) and you’ll find you’re not as sore and you will get much stronger on the trail.

BTW, weight lifting is a MUST for mountain biking. We can debate whether it impacts performance on the trail (which it does) but you can not escape the fact that mountain biking causes strength imbalances in the body. These imbalances will result in overuse injuries over the years so if longevity is important to you then you need to do some strength training to help restore and maintain the balance your body needs to function properly.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Mike says:

    Solid advice as usual. Took me many years of experimentation to come to the same conclusion. Personally I flip the sets and reps on the leg work as I find doing 6 sets of 4 reps better for me.

    I wonder how many will just gloss over this as being too simplistic and miss out on the benefits such a simple routine can give.

    Reply • April 24 at 2:41 am
  2. Nate says:

    Well this gives me something to think about. When I work out I always wanted to hit my muscles from different angle so I would be ready for the varying stresses I would be feeling on the trail.

    Reply • April 25 at 9:20 am
  3. Maxwell says:

    I’ve been trying to figure this one our for about 20 years myself. The only reason I’m sitting at my computer right now is because I decided to take the day off from riding due to fatigue and soreness –yesterday I rode twice, lifted and did yoga. I hope it pays off tomorrow in Gov’t Canyon.

    Reply • April 25 at 2:09 pm
  4. Rodney says:

    True, but James only advices the type of exercises that offer a more natural, complete movement using full-range of motion. I find that these type of movements are a lot more effective than for instance biceps curls.

    Reply • April 26 at 12:26 pm
  5. Karmen says:

    I’m curious if you were still recovering when you hit Gov’t Canyon Maxwell? I think I would be if I did all of that with only one day rest before a big ride. @Maxwell

    Reply • April 26 at 7:18 pm
  6. Nate says:


    Ok I’ll take “Workout B: DB Shoulder Press/ Chin Up/ Single Leg Squat 4 X 6 reps each” for an example. I would normally change it to Part 1: Military Press/ Pull up/ Squats 2 x 6 and then part 2: DB Shoulder Press/ Chin Up/ Single Leg Squat 2 X 6 reps each. So in my understanding the difference between the two workouts would be that the major muscle groups would be hit by the same amount of work but minor muscle groups would be hit from a different angle. I am willing to try James Idea for a month and see how it goes, he is the professional here right 🙂 .

    Reply • April 28 at 6:34 am
    • bikejames says:

      The more familiar your body is with a movement with more efficient it will be at that movement. The more efficient it is the less muscular microtrauma will occur which is one of the main factors in the delayed muscle soreness you can get from strength training. Bodybuilders want this microtrauma since it is a trigger for muscle growth. That is one of the reasons that they use a lot of different exercises and tend to judge effectiveness by soreness.

      Since we don’t want soreness or excessive muscle growth this strategy will not work well for us. By sticking with the same exercises you will incur less microtrauma and soreness. That is not to say that variety is not important – it simply means that you can use a basic routine like I outlined for a short period of time in order to minimize soreness while still working on gaining strength in basic movement patterns.

      Everything is simply a tool to be used – the better you understand what the tools do and how they are best used the better you can make training decisions.


      Reply • April 28 at 10:14 am
  7. Interesting information, I love anything relating to becoming muscular and generally healthy, how I can benefit myself etc. Thanks.

    Reply • April 30 at 1:59 pm

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