Use this simple workout to get stronger and quickly improve your endurance on the trail.

A lot of riders waste time trying to “ride themselves into shape” after an off-season of either doing nothing or spending too much time on a road bike. They find themselves struggling to find their groove and have to spend a few weeks or even months getting their riding legs back under them.

The take home point is that if you’ve never spent any time getting stronger then it is the fastest and simplest way to see improvement on the trail.

For me, this is a giant waste of precious riding time. Who has trail rides to waste feeling like crap on the trail when you can hit the trails much better prepared to deal with the physical demands of trail riding?

If you find yourself among the thousands of riders every year who fall victim to this problem then there is something you can do to see results in just a few weeks. And it is pretty simple to do.

Getting stronger is the fastest way to see an immediate impact on your riding.

floor press

Doing some double 32 kg/ 70 pound kettlebell floor presses

The first question I ask riders who come to me with questions about how to improve their performance is how much can they deadlift. It doesn’t matter if they race DH, Enduro, XC, 24 Hour, Marathon or simply want to ride the trail with more fitness and confidence – the answer to that question tells me what we need to work on.

If they look at me without blinking and tell me that they deadlift somewhere in the 1.5-2 X BW area I know that while they may still need some work in specific areas, their overall body strength is pretty good and I need to look at what they are doing on the cardio side of things that isn’t working. Here’s a hint – most of the time they don’t use their trail rides properly and just ride as hard as they can for as long as they can with no real plan.

On the other hand, if they look at me with a blank stare of tell me that they don’t really deadlift I know that they need to get stronger before the cardio stuff will start to work. I’ll still want them to use their trail rides in a smarter way but the focus isn’t on adding more cardio yet.

The reason is that strength levels give us a good idea of how stress-proof a movement pattern is. A rider might have a good looking hip-hinge a.k.a. deadlift with just bodyweight or a light weight but terrible looking technique when trying to pull 2X bodyweight. In this case the movement pattern is there but isn’t stress-proof enough to handle that weight.

On the bike this rider may look good at low fatigue levels but starts to break down easily after a few High Tension Cardio efforts. They end up wasting a lot of energy through bad breathing and posture on the bike because they weren’t able to maintain it as the movement patterns were stressed with the realities of trail riding.

A stronger rider will be able to sustain their breathing and posture better because they have it mastered at such a high level that what they do on the trail seems easy by comparison. When you’ve pulled a double bodyweight deadlift trying to turn over a hard gear to crest a steep climb suddenly doesn’t seem as “hard”.

Once this physical and psychological strength has been built you can get more out of cardio training in the off-season to improve the ability to sustain those efforts longer.

So if you want to quickly improve your trail riding and skip the whole “ride yourself into shape” thing this year then get stronger. I’ve posted a lot of great articles over the years on methods I like to get stronger but Rep Ladders continue to be one of my favorites.

Here is a workout you can do that will quickly increase your strength and performance on the trail:

Workout 1

Deadlift – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Floor Press – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Chin Ups – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Workout 2

DB Clean & Press – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Single Leg Squat – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

Renegade Rows – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders

You want to rest for 5-10 breathes/ 30-60 seconds between exercises and rounds. You can do these workouts as a circuit or you can finish all of your sets before moving on to the next exercise. Either way you only want the last set to feel “hard”, and even then your form should still look as solid as on your first set.

As you add a little weight each week you’ll find that you are getting stronger but the workouts still don’t feel any “harder” than they did when you started. After 4-6 weeks you’ll be significantly stronger and feeling much closer to mid-season form on your bike.

The take home point in that if you’ve never spent any time getting stronger then it is the fastest and simplest way to see improvement on the trail. If you want to hit the trails feeling like you never took any time off of your bike then get stronger using the routine I posted above or something like the new Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 for a longer term approach.

And remember that strength training is more about the journey than the destination. It may take you a couple years to achieve a double bodyweight deadlift and even then that isn’t the real point. Focus on getting a little stronger every day and you’ll see benefits, if you force the issue you’ll just get injured.

If you have any questions about this workout or why getting stronger should be your first priority please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word to fellow riders who could benefit from the info.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

The Ultimate MTB Workout Program

The Ultimate MTB Workout ProgramThis workout program is designed with one simple purpose – to be the best mountain bike training program on the planet. When you are ready to take your training program to the highest level possible then you can’t do better than this workout program. Based on my years of working with some of the best riders on the planet, this truly is the Ultimate MTB Workout Program.
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  1. Calvin Leport says:

    This has to be your best article to date. Thanks James! Your insight has changed my way of training forever. Simply because it works!

    Reply • March 17 at 3:50 pm
  2. Graeme says:

    Hi James,

    I’m wondering if you can suggest a substitute for the dead lift? Although I can do it, I run into back issues easily. The last time I had worked up to 80 to 100 lb dumbbell dead lift and a few days later my back was out for a week. This is a recurring issue as I have had herniated disc before.
    Thanks ,

    Reply • March 17 at 7:58 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sorry to hear about your back, I’ve had mine go out before as well and it isn’t any fun. However, the ironic thing is that the deadlift is the best exercise for you to master in order to keep it from happening again. When done correctly it is literally learning to lift with your legs and not your lower back and shouldn’t bother your lower back at all.

      If you feel pain from a 100 pound deadlift then there is something off with your form. To steal a quote from Dan John – deadlifts don’t hurt your lower back, what you’re doing hurts your lower back. Check out Dan’s book Intervention or a program like the Ultimate MTB Workout Program v5 to see how you can re-pattern the movement so the exercise doesn’t cause pain.

      You could also use Stagger Stance Deadlifts and Single Leg Deadlifts as those versions are pretty lower back friendly since you can’t do as much weight.

      Hope this helps, don’t shy away from the deadlift because it is one of the best things you can do to strengthen your core and hips to avoid future back injuries.

      Reply • March 18 at 11:39 am
  3. Cisco says:

    James, I been working out on the gym a lot 6 times a week at least, I do it all squat deadlift and now one month ago I started mtbing …my first bike 🙂 so I switched from heavy squats to one leg stuff to improve my balance and simply to lower spine compression, Iam 45 and a heavy squat day always comes along with a bit of lower back pain …since i started ridng I have a lot of upper back pain, traps shoulders its all just screwed up …. would you say the Ult. MTB WP 5v is something i should look at ? I used to ride a lot of vmx in my teenager years and riding my bike i can spot the one or other habit and “skill” my body has memorised from the days…I just wanna get better so I can hit the trail …here in malaysia we have some really awesome trail if you didn’t know 🙂 Thanks for all the great posts Cisco

    Reply • April 2 at 8:07 pm
  4. Cisco says:

    Never Mind I just bought your program and will start working on it – excited to put all this new stuff into action specially the Mobility stuff Iam stiff like a broccoli 🙁 see ya

    Reply • April 3 at 2:27 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I would think that the UMWP v5 would be perfect for you since it works on movement quality first, which will probably help a lot with the back pain. Let me know if you have any questions as you get into it and keep me posted on your results.

      Reply • April 3 at 9:50 am
      • Cisco says:

        Alright thanks – here some questions

        Intro phase pdf has 4 weeks on it but only 1 tab for each week so does it mean i just do that course 1 time a week?

        What is phase 1 a an b ?


        Reply • April 3 at 6:53 pm
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          Would you mind emailing me at with program questions, I’d like to keep the post comments directed to the post and it will be easier for me to help you as well. Thanks for understanding, I’ll keep an eye out for your email and get back to you ASAP.

          Reply • April 4 at 10:49 am
  5. Jim says:

    Would you just do a warmup and the workout above or would you add some core work before and a cardio circuit after?

    Reply • August 20 at 1:48 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      For the purposes in this article this is all I would do. I assume that you don’t have as much energy to recover because it is the riding season so you want to do as little as you can in the gym to see the best results.

      Reply • August 20 at 3:42 pm

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James Wilson
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James Wilson