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.