Stay Strong All Season Long
By Sylvie Allen, PT and MTB Coach
Just like your bike needs maintenance during the riding season, so does your body as it takes just as much abuse and punishment, especially if you’re one with the ground!
If you only practice one sport all the time, it will create imbalances and weaknesses, which can lead to overuse injuries. A great time to start a strength-training program is during the off-season, but it’s OK to get going at any time to reap the benefits. Wouldn’t it be nice to climb that hill in the middle ring, still be able to hang onto the bars after a long downhill, finish a ride feeling strong, and power through technical sections?
Suggested here are five strength-training exercises that can be done during the season to maintain your fitness and keep you strong for the physical demands of mountain biking or road cycling. Change this routine fairly often to challenge the muscles in different ways and to avoid boredom and plateaus. I recommend performing the exercises twice a week during the riding season and changing them at least every six weeks. Stretching regularly should also be part of your daily routine to keep the joints moving in their whole range of motion. I highly advocate seeking the advice of a personal trainer to ensure proper technique, mostly if you are new at this. Doing exercises incorrectly with poor form will not lead to any benefits. Should you be training for a specific event, a trainer can help develop a periodized training plan to help you reach your goal.
Below are some exercises to get your started.
These are essentially a single leg exercise, which is what we do when we pedal.
- Start with feet hip-width apart and do a posture check: standing tall, shoulder blades pulled down your back, core activated.
- Slide one foot back behind you and equally balance your weight between the front and back foot.
- Square up your hips and tighten your core.
- You will move straight up and down from this split stance, going down to a 90-degree bend in both front and back legs. The back knee comes close to the floor but doesn’t touch.
- Keep the front knee directly over the ankle as if that leg is standing in cement.
- Keep your torso straight like your going up and down in an elevator, shoulders staying over the hips.
- Make sure you use your glutes, pushing through the front heel on the way up and squeezing the back leg glute on the way down — you’ll feel a hip flexor stretch here if you’re tight. Keep the back knee tracking under the hip.
- When and if adding dumbbells, make sure your shoulders do not slouch forward as you lower.
The position of the dead lift is what we want when we hover low over our bike descending and climbing — hips shifting back, lowered torso, strong core.
- Start with the feet wider than hip-width apart, holding on to a kettlebell or the end of a dumbbell, and do a posture check — shoulders pulled back and down, core activated.
- Slide your hips back as you keep your neutral spine, going no lower than parallel to the ground.
- Lock your shoulder blades down and brace through your core to keep your back neutral. Do not hyperextend the knees. Keep your neck in line with your back, so check out your posture in a side mirror to confirm a nice neutral position.
- As you stand up tall again, push your heels into the ground and squeeze your glutes on the way up. Keep the core working so you do not arch your back as you move up.
Push ups give us upper body and core strength, which will help us maneuver over our bikes and absorb terrain while being in a neutral position.
- Start on your hands and knees, hands under shoulders, knees under hips. Spread your fingers on the mat with wrist creases parallel to the top of mat.
- Lock your shoulder blades down as you “corkscrew” your arms into the ground, which means turning your arms so your elbow creases face forward, this sets your shoulder blades in the correct position. Keep your hands were they are.
- Activate your core — belly button in and ribs pulled towards the hips while keeping the back in a neutral position.
- Now extend your legs, planting your toes shoulder-width apart and squeeze your glutes and quads. Keep pulling your shoulder blades down.
- Lower slowly, leading with your sternum and aiming your elbows back at about 45 degrees from your body.
- Breathe out as you push back up, not letting go of your perfect plank.
- You may want to do this on an elevated box or bench. You could also start with doing only negative push ups, which is simply focusing on the lowering phase and then resetting your position.
Bent Over Rows
This is a similar position as on your bike, strengthening the core and back for all the pulling we do and being able to maintain the seated position in good posture for those long climbs.
- Get yourself in a 1/4 squat position with dumbbells in hands, feet shoulder-width apart, hips back with weight in heels, knees not going past your toes, shoulder blades locked down and core activated.
- Do the row by bringing your elbows up towards the ceiling and squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top end. Dumbbells are near your lower ribs so you do not hunch your shoulders to your ears. Let the dumbbells go straight down with gravity, not letting the posture go from your shoulders.
This is one of the best all-round core exercises when done correctly. A strong core will help keep your hips level, therefore more power going into the pedals, less bobbing around, less back pain, and better balance.
- Place your elbows under your shoulders with your thumbs up (do not clasp your hands together) and plant your toes shoulder-width apart.
- Lock your shoulder blades down your back.
- Push yourself up into the plank position by thinking of pushing the floor away with your elbows. Activate your core — ribs to hips, belly button in, and squeeze your glutes and quads.
- Check yourself out in a side view mirror and make sure you’re not rounding the shoulders or arching the back.
- Hold for 10 seconds, lower for 5 seconds, reset and repeat six times, if you have perfect form.
- You will have better form and results by resetting every 10 seconds rather than trying to hold for a whole minute. It will create better movement habits and not use other muscles to compensate when the core ones have given up — that’s when you see people hanging off their joints in all kinds of positions. Think, every second is perfect.
Sylvie Allen is a personal trainer at Meadow Park Sports Centre in Whistler, BC, and also owns her own personal training and mountain bike coaching business Sweet Skills Mountain Bike Coaching and Personal Training. She’s been a trainer for 10 years and has been coaching mountain bike clinics for over 15 years. Racing has been a big part of Sylvie’s life with being the Canadian Downhill Champion as one of her many credits. You can reach Sylvie for advice or lessons by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.