Top 3 Kettlebell Exercises for Mountain Biking

Most riders I talk to tell me that they face three big obstacles when it comes to starting a training program:

Kettle bells are not magical and just touching one won’t make you a better rider but the philosophy behind them is perfect for our purposes – do less stuff, but do it better.

1) Time: We tend to live busy lives and when we get extra time we want to go ride, not go hit the gym. This makes stuff that you can easily do at home when the chance presents itself important, especially during the riding season.

2) Equipment: We happen to love a rather expensive sport and when you have to drop $100+ on something as simple as a derailer, you don’t have a ton of cash left over for a bunch of training equipment or expensive gym memberships. Besides, where would you fit all that stuff in your garage with your bikes? You need something that is relatively inexpensive and takes up very little space.

3) Lack of strength training knowledge: Most riders don’t come from a strength training background and so having to learn a bunch of new exercises can be a daunting task. Getting up to speed on a bunch of new exercises also takes time, which we’ve already covered as an obstacle. You need a couple basic exercises that are easy to learn but deliver great results for a long time.

So, that leaves a lot of riders doing some push ups and planks when they feel really bad about their lack of fitness but with no real plan on how to start an actual training program. One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn about creating programs for the average mountain bikers is to take these 3 obstacles into account. The programs I would write for a hard core gym rat left most riders with a blank look in their eyes, meaning that I needed to find another answer.

In my quest for that answer I started to get more into kettle bell training and the more I did, the more I realized that it was the answer to all 3 obstacles. Kettle bells are not magical and just touching one won’t make you a better rider but the philosophy behind them is perfect for our purposes – do less stuff, but do it better. Instead of trying to teach you a bunch of different exercises, kettle bell training has you start with 3 basic moves that deliver great results by themselves but also lay the foundation for more advanced exercises should you want to get more into it.

Those three exercises are the Turkish Get Up, the Swing and the Goblet Squat. Let’s take a look at these three exercises and then I’ll show you how to put them together into an easy routine that you can start today:

– The Turkish Get Up: I have done many articles and videos where I covered it in more depth but I’ll touch briefly on why it is such a great exercise. The seven movements that make up this exercise will build core strength, shoulder stability, single leg strength and lateral hip strength. In mountain biking terms, it protects out lower back, helps us muscle our bike around the trail, increases pedaling power and helps us corner more effectively. Not bad for one exercise…

– The Swing: This exercise is the cornerstone of kettle bell training and for good reason. It will build core and hip strength, increase power, fight arm pump and take your cardio capacity to another level. It also reinforces good body position on the bike and teaches us how to effectively use the hips to absorb impacts and power lower body movement. It is as close to doing a hard, technical trail ride as you can get without actually throwing your leg over a bike.

– The Goblet Squat: Squats are great for building the lower body strength needed to grind through a higher gear on the trail and for building core strength. However, the traditional barbell squat is easy to do wrong and injure yourself. The Goblet Squat forces you to do this important movement correctly and, as an added bonus, builds a strong upper back to combat the forward sloping shoulder posture so common among riders.

As you can see, just about everything you need to ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail is covered in those three exercises. Sure, you can add some more stuff in but if all you did were these three exercises you’d be better off than the rider who did everything BUT these exercises. And the best part is that all you need is one kettle bell to get started (I recommend a 16 kg/ 35 pound kettle bell for dudes and a 12 kg/ 25 pound kettle bell for dudettes).

Here is a video demo I put together explaining how to perform these Top 3 Kettlebell Exercises for Mountain Bikers:

These three exercises are also cornerstones of my newly updated MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program v2. If you want to learn more about how the only kettlebell training program on the planet designed for the unique demands of mountain biking can impact your riding then click on the link below.

Click Here to Learn More About the MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program v2

-James Wilson-

MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program

MTB Kettlebell Conditioning ProgramThis workout program combines the power and endurance benefits of kettlebell training with the unique perspective of MTB Strength Training Systems to bring a workout program that is sure to challenge even the fittest rider. If you have some strength training experience and are looking for a new challenge that will noticeably boost your power and endurance on the trail then this is the workout you’ve been looking for.
Learn More

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  1. Markus says:

    James, I’d rather not buy a KB that will be too light for me in a few months time. I have access to dumbbells. Is there a movement which will show me what the maximum KB weight is that I could get away with. I suspect that the shoulder press would be that exercise (ie smallest muscle). I have been doing gym work for many years and think maybe 18kg or 20kg (I read somewhere that in the Russian Army 24kg is the standard).

    Reply • March 20 at 6:44 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You will never outgrow a 16 kg KB, even the strongest people can still use it for cardio and light workouts. I suggest getting a 16 kg and when you need something more get a 24 kg. For most male riders (for females I suggest a 12 kg and 16 kg KB) those 2 KBs will keep them busy for years.

      Reply • March 20 at 9:05 am
  2. Sean says:

    James, Thanks for great info as always. I have been working with KBs for a few seasons. I have also used your DB combo in the past and I have had some local KBs certified guys help me with my KB form. So there is just one thing that puzzles me… maybe I am doing something wrong but I just don’t feel like the getup is very beneficial to me. Being a cyclist (read less than fantastic upper body strength) I can’t seem to stabilize more than a 16kg KB when doing the getup – I am actually more comfortable with a 12kg KB and at this weight I just do not feel like the KB is a beneficial as the other 2 exercises you mentioned (which I have in my regular routine also). Do I just stick with it? Or do I just man up an keep trying with my 24kg? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    Reply • March 20 at 11:08 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You are only as strong as your weakest ling and if you can not do a 16 kg TGU with relative ease then that is an indication that you have some upper body and core strength issues. As much as your legs are involved with riding they can get held back by your core’s ability to create a strong platform. Remember that just because you hold a weight with you arm that your core and legs do most of the work and the arm holding the weight is just stabilizing, not actually creating any movement.

      So, your lack of upper body and core stability is being exposed by the TGU and this is interfering with your ability to use your leg strength. This is what is happening on your bike as well – your power and endurance is being held back by this large whole in your ability to create solid, efficient movement.

      You should avoid all overhead pressing movements simply focus on practicing the TGU every time you train. As Dan Gable said, if it is important do it everyday and the TGU is very important for you right now.

      Stick with the 12 kg and when you can do that move up to the 16 kg. Don’t go heavy and force the issue, learn how to move better. Right now your focus in all wrong and you have to learn to seek your weak links. You compete with your strengths but your gaps are what ultimately hold you back and a 12 kg TGU indicates a definite gap.

      BTW, check out this seminar I did where I broke down exactly how the TGU relates to riding and some tips to help you do it better:

      Reply • March 21 at 9:33 am
  3. Sean says:

    Just wanted to say thanks James! The seminar was great, I’ll focus more energy on the TGU as I gear up for the season.

    Reply • March 27 at 1:01 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad you liked it, I had fun doing it. Hope you get some some good pointers to help your TGU and good luck with your season.

      Reply • March 28 at 9:42 am

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James Wilson
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James Wilson