Dumbbells are one of those training tools that we tend to take for granted. Almost everyone who has spent some time in the weight room has ended up with a pair of them in their hands. You can find them in just about any gym you end up in and they’ve been a staple of strength training programs for a long time.

In fact, dumbbells were one of the favorite training tools of the old time strongmen. I’ve read a lot of books by turn of the century strength training experts – guys like George Hackenschmidt, Arthur Saxon and George Jowett – and every one of them used dumbbells to help them build their impressive strength. These were guys who could bend iron rods and put 300+ pounds over their head – with one hand! – so they knew a thing or two about what it took to get strong.

They’ve helped countless athletes in a wide variety of sports improve their performance, and they are a great option for us as mountain bikers. I personally remember getting great results with dumbbells in my early training days, and I still use and recommend them today.

Advantages of DBs for MTB

I’ve been working out with dumbbells for over 25 years – 15 of them as a mountain biker – and I’ve found that dumbbells offer some unique advantages, especially if you need to train at home and/or travel a lot. On top of that they help us train what we need to ride faster and longer on the trail.

Here are the top 5 reasons you should consider using a dumbbell based program to help improve your riding:

1 – Dumbbells allow you to train your balance and coordination.

As we all know, the trail is a very dynamic place that requires a lot of balance and coordination to navigate. Dumbbells are one of the best ways to train not only for increased strength but also balance and coordination as well. By allowing you to train one limb at a time you can make sure that you don’t have any strength imbalances – which can lead to balance and coordination issues — and the single leg exercises are also excellent for improving balance.

2 – Dumbbells let you train at home so you can be consistent and not have to deal with a gym.

One of the biggest obstacles that riders face when trying to start a strength and conditioning program is a lack of time. Between work, life and riding your bike, getting to the gym can be tough. This makes a workout solution that you can do at home important for a lot of mountain bikers.

Dumbbells are one of the easiest ways to train at home, allowing you to get workouts in at your convenience. You also save the time that you would usually spend driving to and from the gym, all of which makes it much easier to fit your workouts in so you can see the results you want on the trail. Plus, they take up minimal space and are easy to stash away when not in use.

3 – Dumbbell training is extremely versatile and allows you to build both MTB specific strength and cardio.

It can be tough to safely train cardio with a barbell or strength training machines. It is impossible to build strength on an indoor trainer or cardio machine. However, the types of strength and cardio demanded by the trail can easily be trained with dumbbells. Instead of needing one tool for strength and one for cardio, you can easily use dumbbells for both. In fact, a good dumbbell based program can help you out more on the trail than a gym full of machines and spending hours on a trainer or road bike.

4 – Dumbbells are great for travel because it is easy to find a gym with DBs.

Like I mentioned earlier, consistencyy is one of the most important factors when it comes to seeing results from a training program. This means you need to be able to use training tools that you can find almost anywhere. While I love things like kettlebells and the TRX, the truth is that they can be tough to find in a lot of gyms – especially hotel gyms. When you have a workout program based on dumbbells it is easy to continue using it while traveling so you can stay consistent and see the best results.

5 – Dumbbells are an investment that will last you a long time.

In a world of throw-away products and things designed to break down over time, dumbbells stand out as something that will last you practically forever. You’ll go through a lot of bikes and countless tires, chains and other things that wear out on your bike, while your dumbbells will work as well as they did the first day you bought them. And since the strength and fitness you build with them will carry over to every bike you ride they are one of the smartest investments you can make in your riding.

Top 5 DB Exercises

While there are countless dumbbell exercises that you can do, I’ve found that focusing on a few key movements is the best way to go. This is especially true if you are new to dumbbell training or haven’t used them for a while. Each of these exercises targets an important movement skill that we need both on and off the bike:

– Kneeling Cheat Curl

Cheat Curl 1 and 3  Cheat Curl 2  Cheat Curl 1 and 3

This exercise works on the all-important Hip Hinge movement pattern that we need for proper body position on the bike. It also works on the explosiveness we need from the hips to do a proper manual and bunny hop.

– Goblet Squat

Goblet Squat 1  Goblet Squat 2

This exercise works on the Squat pattern, which is essential for Standing Pedaling. In fact, most struggles that riders face with Standing Pedaling usually stem from a weakness in their squat pattern.

Kneeling Shoulder Press

Shoulder press 1  Shoulder Press 2


While it doesn’t look like something you do on your bike, this exercise is excellent for building upper body strength, shoulder stability and core strength. The strength you build in this exercise will improve your upper body stability, injury proof your shoulders, and improve your ability to support yourself properly when standing up to pedal.

– ½ Turkish Get Up

Half TGU 1 Half TGU 2 Half TGU 3

This exercise works on the foundational core strength and shoulder stability you need to support your other training. When we lose this foundational strength and stability we end up moving less efficiently and increasing the wear and tear on our body, making this one of the most important core training exercises you can do.

– Renegade Rows

Renegade Row 1 Renegade Row 2 Renegade Row 3

This is a decievingly tough exercise that will strengthen not only your back and also your ability to resist rotation through the core. This means that you won’t end up with a big “energy leak” when trying to lay down power to the pedals, especially when standing up to pedal.

30 Day Intro to DB’s for MTB Routine

So now that I’ve told you why dumbbells are a great option for you and have given you some exercises that you should start with, it’s time to tell you how to put it all together. Here is a routine that will help you get familiar with the 5 exercises I just went over. It is perfect for riders who are new to dumbbell training or just need a simple program to help them get back into a routine.

Workout #1

Core Exercise  

½ TGU 2 sets X 5 reps each side

Strength Circuit

A1 – Renegade Rows 2-4 sets X 5 reps

A2 – Kneeling Cheat Curl 2-4 sets X 5 reps

Workout #2

Core Exercise

½ TGU 2 sets X 5 reps each side

Strength Circuit

A1 – Goblet Squat 2-4 sets  X 8 reps

A2 – Shoulder Press 2-4 sets X 8 reps

Alternate between these two workouts for 4-6 weeks, aiming for 2-3 workouts each week. Focus more on mastering the movements instead of how much weight you are lifting. As a mountain biker, how you move is more important than how much you move.

Advanced DB Training Techniques

Once you’ve done this workout for 4-6 weeks you’ll have the movement and strength foundation you need to move on to using more advanced dumbbell training techniques. These techniques center on building what I call High Tension Cardio, which is the type of cardio you need to efficiently handle trail impacts, standing pedaling, low RPM grinds and other high tension realities of trail riding. These are things that are not trained effectively with low tension, high RPM cardio training and need to be addressed through other methods.

Two of my favorite advanced dumbbell training techniques for building High Tension Cardio are:

– Combo Drills

This technique has you combine 2-5 exercises into one continuous flow where you don’t put the dumbbells down until you are finished with the last exercise. For example, combining 5 Cheat Curls, 5 DB Front Squats, and 5 Shoulder Presses together would be a good Combo Drill. You can do all 5 reps of each exercise before moving to the next or do 1 rep of each exercise until you have completed 5 reps of each…the options are endless.

– DB + BW Cardio Circuits

This technique is similar to a Combo Drill but instead of only using dumbbells based exercises and not putting the dumbbells down the entire time you’ll use some bodyweight movements, and the dumbbells will get put down for them. For example, combining 10 DB Cheat Curls, 5 Push Ups, 10 DB Bent Rows and 5 Mountain Climbers would be a good Cardio Circuit.

Combo Drills are great for working on your short term, higher intensity cardio and the Cardio Circuits are great for working on your longer term, moderate intensity cardio. These are the types of efforts that most riders tend to struggle with on the trail and as a result they burn far more energy than they should, leaving them gassed out towards the end of their ride. By using these advanced techniques you can build the complete High Tension Cardio base that you need to dominate the trail instead of just surviving it.

The next step

By now I’ve shared a lot of information with you about dumbbells and how they can help you ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail. You’ve got a routine that you can get started with and you’ve learned about some advanced techinques that can help you when you’re ready. Hopefully you’re feeling like you have the tools you need to take the first step towards using dumbbell training to help your riding.

But I also know that there is a lot more information out there and it can start to get confusing about the best exercises to use and ways to put your workouts together. Trust me, I know – I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to learn and sift through it all.

That’s one of the reasons that I created the MTB DB Combos Program. I wanted to give riders like you access to a dumbbell based workout program that would take all of the guesswork out of the process. This means that you spend less time researching and wondering about the best things to do and you can just start doing it.

If you’re interested in the DB Combos Program and how it can help you then can click here to learn more. I’m also having a special deal to celebrate the release of the latest version of the DB Combos Program where you can save over 25% off the regular price and get $224 in FREE bonus workouts. Plus you get my 60 day money back guarantee so you have nothing to lose.

But this special deal is only good for a few more days. After this weekend the price goes back up and the special bonuses go away. So don’t wait – click here to learn more about the new DB Combos Program v5 and get your copy before this special deal ends.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

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