Better Biking

Exercises to improve your cycling season.

I’ve recently gotten back into mountain biking. I’m pretty fit, but very few things have worked me as much as a long climb in the saddle. As a strength-and-conditioning coach, my mind naturally starts to wander during some of these climbs, thinking up ways to train in the gym during the off-season to make things a little easier on myself. Yes, simply putting in more time on the bike will make you a better, fitter rider, but there are tremendous advantages to training in the gym and preparing yourself for the season.

First of all, the strength you develop will translate into more powerful legs, torso, and overall movement economy. Second, with proper strength training you can reduce risk of injury and improve recovery time between rides. If that hasn’t sold you, just imagine your buddy behind you trying to keep up as you clean your way through difficult switchbacks with your newly found strength.

Add these four exercises into your pre-season gym program and you’ll be ready to go come bike season.

Half-Pushup Isometric Hold
I love this exercise to help with control of the handlebars both climbing and descending. See how long you can hold without losing your back position! For those without the strength to hold this at least 10-15 seconds, I recommend scaling by moving your hands up to a 16- to 20-inch box to decrease the load on the shoulders.

Kettlebell Front-Rack Step-Ups
We spend so much time in a “split-stance” position while on the bike (especially downhill) that it’s important to train unilateral stability and power in the lower body. The kettlebell front-rack position also provides a great challenge for the midline and shoulders. These step ups are tough—make sure you drive all the way through to extension with your top leg, keeping control of the movement on the way down. If the front-rack position is too challenging, try holding just one kettlebell under your chin. Step to a box that keeps your knee angle at about 90 degrees.

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Single-Arm Single-Leg Plank Marches
Anti-rotational strength is important for biking because we cover so much uneven terrain at high speeds. These planks will help build stability and control across the body from the shoulders down to the hips. If moving the arm and leg at the same time is too difficult, try just marching with the arms and keeping both legs on the ground. Focus on minimal movement through the torso during the marching, and really fight to maintain slow, smooth movement.

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Split-Stance Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
Another split-stance movement. This one will work the posterior chain muscles, build strong shoulders, and help with some mid-line stability as well. Try to keep your back straight and tight, and minimize any movement except through the shoulder and arm.

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John Murie owns Altitude Athletics in Bozeman.