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Strength and Conditioning for Mountain Biking

Compared with many other sports, mountain biking isn’t typically associated with strength and conditioning and the weights room. But all styles of riding are physical, and since strength forms the foundation of all physical activity, it stands to reason that being stronger will make you ride better.

I coach a number of mountain bikers who all attest that with a very small amount of targeted gym time, strength and conditioning can make you a faster, more robust , rider who can keep riding harder for longer each day.

Read on to learn more, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you wish to explore things further.

‘Having ridden for 15 years I felt my riding had definitely begun to plateau. The training I’ve done with Sam over the last 9 months has really improved my speed and control, and continues to do so. I would highly recommend Sam to anyone who wants to ride quicker and more safely.’Alex

Your questions answered

Everyone, from pro to beginner, from DH to XC racers, from weekend trail rider to bike-packer!

Whatever kind of rider you are, most of your improvement on a bike will come from riding your bike, this is how you make the biggest improvements in your skills and your endurance. But the physical aspects of all types of riding cannot be ignored. Strength and conditioning for mountain biking isn’t just lifting a few weights. A well designed programme will:

Improve your strength and power, all the way from your hands to your torso, to your thighs to your feet;

Improve your mobility and flexibility;

Improve your balance and coordination;

Improve your endurance;

What will this mean for your riding?

Stronger arms, back, hips, legs and chest will help you keep control for longer on the fast technical descents or, for example, when you case a jump;

Stronger legs will help your endurance. People often struggle to understand how this works, but see the road riding page for details. Almost every type of mountain biker will benefit from improved endurance (not just XC riders) – it means that at any given time you have more energy and control from head to toe, and you can sustain that energy for longer;

Stronger legs will help your power and sprint speed;

A stronger body will help you execute your tricks and handle fast changes of direction better;

A stronger body is more robust when you hit the deck;

This is a widely held misconception that prevents many riders from even considering strength training.

The physiological reasons are a little complex, but the the real-world evidence is clear: strength training with the correct, scientifically-based protocols does not add significant amounts of muscle mass that are detrimental to endurance.1,2

In fact done correctly, strength training has the opposite effect: it improves endurance (see above). This is principally because adaptations to correct strength training are not driven by muscle growth (hypertrophy), but by changes in neuromuscular systems (how your nerves and muscles communicate and coordinate), musculo-tendon stiffness (how much elastic energy is stored in your muscles) and energy systems (how your body produces energy).

Simply, strength gains suitable for mountain bikers can be made with just 1-3 short gym based sessions each week. Effective strength training is simple and efficient. In fact, depending your physiology, during spring and summer when you’re riding more, we might only strength train for an hour or two every 7-10 days. If you’ve never strength trained before the bottom line is that you’re missing out on a very easy way improve your riding with relatively little time investment.

Like all good training plans, we periodise strength and conditioning based on the needs of the individual, for example by doing heavier more frequent lifting in the autumn & winter. This allows us to get the tiring work done when you’re not riding as much, and also helps keep the psyche when the days are short and the weather is rubbish. Unlike endurance gains, which we lose relatively quickly, the wonderful thing about gaining strength is that done properly, consistently, over long periods, you don’t lose the gains when you reduce the lifting frequency. This is because the physiological mechanisms that determine strength and endurance are different.

I have spent my whole life juggling the demands of sport, outdoor adventures, training, work and life. I know just how tricky it is to fit everything in! Originally a scientist by trade, my approach to coaching is science-based, highly personalised and consultative – none of my athletes has exactly the same plan because we all have different physiology, different goals and different life situations.

I like to take my athletes on a journey in which we work together, not only to help you improve, but where you also learn about the skill, art and science of training and learn about how you personally respond physically and mentally to training.

After our first consultation session we build a plan from the appropriate starting point, ensuring that you’re sufficiently well conditioned for the programmes that we embark on. Over time we progress and regress exercises and programmes appropriately so that your strength and form is developed properly and sustainably for the long-term.

Training, coaching and programming will be a blend, according to your personal needs, of face-to-face coaching and/or virtual face-to-face coaching. Your personalised training plans are delivered and tracked using my web-app platform and we normally have contact every week, whether it be face-to-face, on the phone, or via email and messaging.

Every exercise I prescribe and session I programme is about giving you the biggest return for your time in the gym. You’d rather be riding than in the gym, so lets make the gym sessions really effective and efficient.

So, if you would like to start getting strong for mountain biking, drop me a line and we can make a start!

  1. STØREN, Ø., HELGERUD, J., STØA, E.M., HOFF, J., 2008. Maximal Strength Training Improves Running Economy in Distance Runners. Medicine Sci Sports Exerc 40, 1087–1092.
  2. Rønnestad, B.R., Hansen, J., Nygaard, H., 2016. 10 weeks of heavy strength training improves performance-related measurements in elite cyclists. J Sport Sci 35, 1435–1441.