The term “MTB Specific Training” gets thrown around a lot but what does it really mean?

At its core, it means using a training program that helps you ride faster, longer and with more skill. While the most “MTB specific” thing you can do is to actually ride your bike, there are certainly things you can do off of the bike that can help.

In the gym this takes the form of strength training that improves your strength and movement quality in ways that help your riding. Strength is one of the more general physical attributes, meaning that what works for an athlete in one sport will generally work for another.

About 80-90% of what you do with an athlete will be the same from sport to sport but there are some MTB specific things you can do to enhance your results. And no, this doesn’t mean using light loads and high reps because you need to build more endurance.

In general, getting stronger in the 2-4 sets X 5-10 reps range will get you what you need. You can benefit from time spent outside of this range but this should make up the bulk of your strength training. You should also focus on the basic movement patterns of Push, Pull, Squat and Hinge.

But once you have the basics covered there are some exercises that will help your MTB specific results.

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Show Notes:

1. Windmill

  • If there was one exercise that I wish every mountain biker would add to their program it is this one.

  • This movement is the core movement pattern behind cornering on your bike and the #1 reason that most riders struggle with this skill is because they lack it.

  • It is also an essential skill for riding switchbacks and, coupled with track stands, would make it much easier for riders to execute this skill as well.

  • You can do it with no weight using a stick on your back.

  • You can also weight it by holding a weight over your head or by using a Steel Mace on your back.

  • I recommend checking out the videos I have posted at https://www.bikejames.com/strength/carving-faster-corners-with-the-stick-and-kb-windmill/ to learn more about how to execute this movement in the most MTB specific way possible because there is a lot of bad instruction around this movement.

  • In general, you are getting into a pedal stance position with your feet and shifting your weight to the back leg while rotating your shoulders as you hinge back.

  • If you do this movement and struggle to keep your weight on the back leg then you are “tipping” over instead of “corkscrewing” your way down, which is how you end up leaning too far inside of a corner and crashing.

  • BTW, the lack of this movement pattern is what has led to the “lean your bike and not your body” advice, which is wrong. You have to lean your body but you have to do it in a balanced way.

  • This is also a great way to work out the differences between right and left cornering that most riders have.

  • I recommend doing 2 sets of 5 reps for this exercise although you can also do the Stick Windmill on a daily basis as part of your mobility plan.

2. Elevated Lunge

  • This is something I started using a few months ago and I really like it for improving a rider’s Standing Pedaling ability.

  • It has you using a box that is 6-12 inches high and stepping back into a lunge.

  • It is a cross between a step up and a lunge and it really works on the range of motion in the hip flexors.

  • Lunging is the movement pattern behind Standing Pedaling and elevating your front leg helps build the movement skill of being able to stand up and pedal without rounding the low back to make up for a lack of ROM in the hip flexors.

  • Plus, it targets the glutes a bit more since you are getting more of a stretch at the bottom, which helps with pedaling power and looking good from behind.

  • I recommend doing 2-4 sets of 5-10 reps with this exercise, starting with a 6 inch box and working up to a 12+ inch box as another way to progress the movement.

3. Bent Press

  • This is a forgotten exercise from the history of strength training.

  • It used to be a contested lift in strongman competitions in the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s but fell out of favor with the popularity of bodybuilding.

  • It is a hybrid exercise that combines the Windmill Movement with a Shoulder Press.

  • You basically have a weight in one arm at the bottom of the Shoulder Press position and then perform a Windmill as you straighten your arm before returning to the upright position with the arm still locked out overhead.

  • Again, check out the video demo I have at https://www.bikejames.com/strength/the-bent-press-for-mtb-how-this-forgotten-exercise-can-improve-your-riding/ 

  • This exercise is great for improving your cornering and your shoulder stability.

  • I recommend doing 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps with this exercise.

4. DB Cheat Curl

  • This is the best exercise you can do to improve your MTB specific explosive hip hinge, which is important for manualing, bunny hopping and jumping.

  • You set up with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet shoulder width apart before driving the hips back and exploding back into the starting position, using the momentum to swing – or “cheat curl” – the weights up to shoulder level.

  • You can also do this movement kneeling, half kneeling or standing in a pedal stance.

  • The position of your legs makes this much more MTB specific than the vaunted KB Swing.

  • Check out the video demo I posted at https://www.bikejames.com/strength/db-cheat-curls-for-better-mountain-bike-hip-power/ to see how to do this exercise.

  • I recommend doing 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps to work on explosive power/ Higher reps and sets work on conditioning which has a place but most riders simply need to get more explosive.

By adding these exercises into your routine you can make sure that you are getting the most out of your gym time. If you need a program that incorporates these things be sure to check out the Ultimate MTB Workout Program and the 40+ MTB Rider Workout Program.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

One thought on “RFAL Podcast – MTB Specific Exercises You Might Not Be Using…But Should

  1. Les Gamble says:

    Cheers for another quality podcast!
    I’m 53 this year and three strength+mobility journey becomes more important every season!!!!
    Have a great holiday break and all the best for 2024.
    Les
    Christchurch NZ.
    (PS: Santa brought me my first steel mace. Spending my holiday selling those switch patterns !;)

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