Everybody loves a good core training exercise. A strong core can help you perform better and stay injury resistant, something every rider can benefit from.

And while we’ve come a long way since the ‘80’s when crunches and side bends were the staple core training exercises, there are still a lot of core training exercises that look fancy but do little to help us on the bike.

For core training to be effective for us as riders it needs to address our needs on the trail. In my experience working with hundreds of riders I’ve found that the biggest weak links for most of them were…

  1. Cornering: Yeah, that’s right…poor cornering technique is usually tied to bad core strength in the “corkscrew” movement pattern. Without this specific type of core strength you will always struggle to consistently apply good technique on the trail.
  2. Standing Pedaling: Being able to get a long, strong spine and minimize movement through the core is a key to strong standing pedaling technique. Once you have the right core strength, though, you can stand pedal at will, crushing hills and dusting singletrack in your wake.
  3. Sustained Core Tension: One of the main things that separates mountain biking from other types of riding is that the trail demands a much higher level of tension in the muscles. Whether it is grinding out a technical climb or working hard to flow through a rock garden on the way down, being able to create and sustain core tension is important to your performance on the trail in a variety of areas.

With this insight and some new tools at my disposal I decided to put together my new list of Top 3 Mountain Bike Core Training Exercises to help you get more out of your training and riding time.

1 – Stick/ Steel Mace Windmill (2 sets of 5 reps each side): This exercise is my go-to choice for improving (Stick Windmill) and strengthening (Steel Mace Windmill) the “corkscrew” movement pattern needed for cornering. By teaching you how to lean your body while staying balanced over your feet you will learn the fundamental movement pattern behind driving your bike through the corner like you would when skiing instead of trying to ride on it like a motorcycle (related: Why Cornering a Mountain Bike is NOT Like Cornering on a Motorcycle).

Stick Windmill

Mace Windmill

2 – Bear Crawls (2 sets of 20 paces forward and backward): While it may not look like it at first, getting down on the ground and doing some Bear Crawls works your core in a lot of the same ways you do when standing up to pedal. By encouraging a long spine and working on the same type of upper body – lower body linkage you rebuild this primal movement patterns that most riders are lacking.  Looking for an extra challenge? Try the Beast Crawl variation to really work your core strength.

Bear Crawl

Beast Crawl

3 – Ramping Isometric Plank (1 set of 30 sec. 50%/ 30 sec. 75%/ 30 sec. 100%): Using the Ramping Isometrics concept with planks takes this ordinary exercise to a new level. By increasing the tension you are actively creating every 30 seconds (ramping up from 50% to 75% and then 100%) you are able to create and sustain higher and higher levels of tension in your core. This gives you a stronger “tension base” to build your other movements from.

I suggest doing this routine as part of your overall program once a week. If you really want to improve quickly then bump that up to twice a week but remember that consistency is the most important thing.

Having a strong, functional core is the cornerstone for being a better rider and I hope these exercises help you have more fun on the trail. And who knows, in 10 years I might have a totally new list so check back in then. In the meantime, give these a try and let me know what you think.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems & Pedaling Innovations

p.s. While it may not seem like it, the foundation for a strong and functional core is your feet. If your feet are unbalanced and/ or unstable then the rest of your body will struggle to make up for it.

The key to a strong, stable foot on the bike is the ability to apply heel pressure. Without heel pressure your brain can’t recruit your hips and you have an unstable arch, both of which make it impossible to recruit and use your core optimally.

Which is why I developed the Catalyst Pedal.

As the only pedal on the market that lets you apply heel pressure into the pedal body itself it supports the foot in a more natural way. This lets the rest of the body – including the core – move and function more naturally.

If you are going to do core training exercises off of the bike then you owe it to yourself to check out the video at www.pedalinginnovations.com and learn more about how a strong, stable foot can help you move and feel better on the bike.

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