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  1. #1
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    Strength Training Specific to MTB

    I am 4 years in to mountain biking and approaching 40 years of age. I work out regularly about 2 (sometimes 3) times a week. I don't feel I am progressing at the rate I could. I'd like to incorporate some specific exercises to build strength in my legs so I can improve my climbing capabilities. Any suggestions, advice, links to other sources?

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    Not quite training specific to MTB, but you mention you work out 2-3 times a week - I'm assuming you're referring to gym workouts?
    In my experience, I've found that doing multiple 'pushing' leg exercises (eg. squats, leg press etc.) has immensely improved my climbing strength. I also work out 3 times a week, and I dedicate one of those days on legs with the aim of a weekly increase in weight. I've also found doing intervals exercises has really helped my climbing ability as well - I do this on the X-trainer. Sufficient protein in your diet is also important.
    Hope this helps!

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    Single Speed. Get one. Ride it.

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    Welcome to the site.

    Sounds like you've simply hit a plateau. The longer you've exercised, the more stubborn a plateau can be, both mentally and physically. For the very stubborn take 2 weeks off any and all exercise. For not too stubborn take a week. Sometime a change of routine or even the time of day you train can shake it.
    There's many exercise routines that may work great for you, but they all loose their effectiveness over time. Giving your body and mind the same challenges is the root cause for plateaus, so change it up with slower longer, less strenuous, and shorter, harder all or nothing go for the gusto stuff. Change it up every few days, weeks or months but change it up.
    Some things I like to do and cycle in and out of my training.
    -swimming, running, hiking, soccer, basketball, and of coarse mtbing and cycling
    -free weights, body weight, and machine exercise, used as whole body and sometimes split routines.
    -I also find cycling size, time, amount of meals per day, content and quality of diet helps keep progress going too.

    The general rule is to change things up every 6-8 weeks to avoid plateaus and over training issues. For me I change it up plenty and take a week or two off every 2-3 months. I hit it real hard before a break and feel i come back stronger.

    Oh, nothing will stimulate your whole/entire body to adapt to whatever, than working your bigger muscle groups.
    Last edited by theMeat; 05-04-2013 at 08:52 AM.
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    I'm 20 years ahead of you, so I can empathize. I'm just trying not to lose ground. Cross train...a bit of running wont hurt, and the comment about hitting a plateau is probably spot on. Leg specific exercises at the gym may or may not help with your biking, but they will at least prevent you from developing leg strength asymmetrically. Quads are called that for a reason, and mountain biking doesn't develop all 4 of the muscles equally.

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    I think it is a bad idea to train for specific activities like biking. It is much better to train for overall fitness so your body is in balance and will be much less prone to injury. I have found that training with free weights and sticking to the basics keeps me in great shape and even prevents injuries in the rare event that I crash. Stay away from all the silly machines and stick to the barbells and dumbbells. The most important exercises to do are the squat and the deadlift - just make sure your form is correct or you can hurt yourself.

  7. #7
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    I am almost 38 FWIW. My knees and back don't hold up to the same punishment as 20 years ago, but overall I am stronger all around and a much better rider. My advice: improve EVERYTHING about your riding, don't just focus on climbing. Part of being good on the climbs is recovering (relaxing) as much as possible while not climbing. That doesn't mean just going slow or coasting-it means using different muscles to pump terrain and keeping speed up over obstacles and through corners. The climb sucks no matter what for me-never gets "easier", I just grunt it out further. Will power is a big part of it, too.

    Here are a few threads I have contributed through that are related, I hope you may find a variety of info, not just from me...

    Training to climb: best methods?

    How do you train for Strength/Endurance?

    Is brute strength solution to every technique problem?

    Off season training

    As for your workouts, many people "workout", but fail to "train". If you aren't meeting your goals, you need to ask yourself what you should be doing differently in the gym to be ready for your rides (and whatever else life throws at you). Get ready to drop the biceps curls and lat raises (no matter what men's fitness says) and amp up the intensity. It isn't always pretty or glamorous to do squats, pull-ups, power cleans, push-ups, a variety of intervals, etc... but we aren't getting any younger, are we?
    You better just go ahead and drop that seatpost down to the reflector... the trail gets pretty rough down there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MTBFUN View Post
    I am 4 years in to mountain biking and approaching 40 years of age. I work out regularly about 2 (sometimes 3) times a week. I don't feel I am progressing at the rate I could. I'd like to incorporate some specific exercises to build strength in my legs so I can improve my climbing capabilities. Any suggestions, advice, links to other sources?
    Don't forget your core. A strong lower back goes a long way to supporting you through sustained climbing. I spend a lot of time on the Roman Chair, working the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. It feels great having power on both sides of your pedal stroke.

    D

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    Strength Training Specific to MTB

    Core is awesome, I'm 45 and I stopped gym stuff 3 years ago and instead work core, and flexibility stuff.
    Huge difference in everyday life. All that weight stuff is fine, but core strength and flexibility is very important as you get older.
    Bill

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    Core for sure. That's ^ one way of looking at it. There's also if you're gonna be lifting weights you should especially do core to avoid problems. Most that do core work do front, fewer do sides, and hardly anyone does back, meaning your core's back, i.e. spinal erectors. I don't get that, i mean you wanna talk about functional strength, not to mention bike strength.
    Round and round we go

  11. #11
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    Strength Training Specific to MTB

    My riding is always strongest when I have been concentrating on core work.


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    Quote Originally Posted by MTBFUN View Post
    improve my climbing capabilities. Any suggestions, advice, links to other sources?
    Ride more and climb more.
    Sometimes, I question the value of my content.

  13. #13
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    Strength Training Specific to MTB

    Quote Originally Posted by Bro View Post
    Ride more and climb more.
    Yep. And mix up the way you climb when training. Do some low cadence standing climbs. Do some ~60-70 rpm seated climbs. Do some higher cadence seated climbs (~90-100 rpm).

    Once you do that, then do what I am trying to do--lose weight.
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  14. #14
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    Check out the bikejames dot com web site. There is a wealth of free information, videos and blogs/posts.
    Yes, he also sells training programs and distance coaching, but what is available on his Web site really gets you thinking about how fitness, cardio, strength, alignment and other elements all work together.

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    This guy has a bunch of different programs:

    http://www.bikejames.com/

    I bought the DB Combo program. It's really well laid out and he has videos of all the exercises. He explains what each exercise has to do with MTBing and how it will help.

    I've been a bit lazy doing it, so I can't say I've seen much improvements, but that's my fault, not the program's.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mbco1975 View Post
    This guy has a bunch of different programs:

    http://www.bikejames.com/

    I bought the DB Combo program. It's really well laid out and he has videos of all the exercises. He explains what each exercise has to do with MTBing and how it will help.

    I've been a bit lazy doing it, so I can't say I've seen much improvements, but that's my fault, not the program's.

    I did the 12 week Dumb Bell program this winter and it made a huge improvement for me. I'm on a heavier full sus bike instead of a hardtail, and I'm running a 36 tooth front ring instead of 32 and am so far having no issues. This program helped me a lot. I did it four days a week for the full 12 weeks during the winter. I did no riding to speak of during the winter but I feel stronger than I did at the end of last season.

  17. #17
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    I don't do specific strength training for mtb, but squats, barbell lunges and good mornings have given me much more power on climbs. I agree with the previous post, both about sticking to the free weights and checking your form, especially avoiding using your back. Maybe start with loads on the conservative side.
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    I drop doing any quad or calf work outs during rdiing season, hamstrings can still use a workout not a widely used muscle for cycling I don't know how many days a week you ride but for me if I ride at least 3 days a week I see huge gains that far exceed anything I do in the gym for cycling. I am crowding 50 myself.
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  19. #19
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    In the off season try and go to a class once a week that does some kinda of core boot camp idea. I just did one and after an hour i could barely move. Three days later i feel fine but god it was amazing and the only weight involved was a 12 lbs medicine ball.

    I also suggest working on your climbing in different manners. Your body adapts quickly to a given course and knows how to be efficent riding it. But efficent isnt what you want when you are training. You want to shock your muscles and make them stronger. So changing out how you climb, doing things differently will help you out alot.

    Bill

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    I am 37 and have been lifting since high school. I do feel that when my legs are recovered, I have good power reserve for climbing but if there is fatigue from leg training, my riding really suffers. I love lifting as much as biking so it is a constant conflict.

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    Zercher Squats:



    Work your shoulders, back, core, arms, glutes, quads, toes, and everything in between.

    Also make sure you are still doing pull ups.

  22. #22
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    I've found road riding has really increased my mtb capabilities.
    It works your body in a much different way and really forced you to shut up and pedal.

    In short, pedal farther. Pedal more. Pedal harder. Pedal new routes with new people on new bikes.


    The sheer increase/variety in biking is the only thing that has had a direct correlation with an increase for me.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by fahza29er View Post
    I drop doing any quad or calf work outs during rdiing season, hamstrings can still use a workout not a widely used muscle for cycling I don't know how many days a week you ride but for me if I ride at least 3 days a week I see huge gains that far exceed anything I do in the gym for cycling. I am crowding 50 myself.
    I greatly disagree with this.

    Heavy squats are the single best thing you can do for improving power and strength while climbling or coasting.

    I'd say a heavy squat session to the point where you cant walk the next day is good once every 2 weeks during season. Plan it out so youre not riding the next day and make sure you have an increase calorie intake and lots of magnesium in your diet.

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    I agree heavy squats are a great workout but they take there tool. I was doing 300 lbs squats and that weight pinched a nerved in my back, lost all the strength in my left tricep, was in agony for 2 weeks, 4 months of physiotherapy and just about 8 months out of the gym. I will never do squats again.
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  25. #25
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    Strength Training Specific to MTB

    Squats are good, but most riders' VO2 max is surpassed before leg strength is exceeded. Increased cardio respiratory fitness will make a bigger difference than tree trunk legs.

    If you have access to stairs in a tall office building, simply do stair runs up. This will work your cardio fitness while building leg strength. No gym required.
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  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by heyyall View Post
    Squats are good, but most riders' VO2 max is surpassed before leg strength is exceeded. Increased cardio respiratory fitness will make a bigger difference than tree trunk legs.

    If you have access to stairs in a tall office building, simply do stair runs up. This will work your cardio fitness while building leg strength. No gym required.
    I 100 % agree with that but when you have stronger legs it becomes beneifical to stay in lower gears long while climbling.

    And yeah Your repsirotary fitness is the number one thing to train or just come naturally from riding.

    Supplementing your riding with squats will be greatly beneficial. No there not unecessary but if you want to ride fast and climb harder then theyre the way to go.

    Also your increase vo2max will help with your weightlifting and power output and its worth taking advantage of that if youre serious about lifting.

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    I would recommend deadlifts before squats. When properly executed, they recruit more of your hamstrings and glutes which are key to a strong pedal stroke. If you wanna get fancy and work some balance into it, do single leg deadlifts.

    Upper body just do some single arm shoulder presses and pullups. If you can get strong in these 2 (3)lifts, you will see an improvement in your riding.

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    I agree with doing squats in the off season and in the beginning of the race season.. In the off season I like doing drop sets of squats and leg press. I also found using a stationary recumbent bike worked different parts of my legs then a regular bike so I did that in the gym and rode my bike outside. I also love the rowing machine.

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by LaXCarp View Post
    I would recommend deadlifts before squats. When properly executed, they recruit more of your hamstrings and glutes which are key to a strong pedal stroke. If you wanna get fancy and work some balance into it, do single leg deadlifts.

    Upper body just do some single arm shoulder presses and pullups. If you can get strong in these 2 (3)lifts, you will see an improvement in your riding.
    I could see rotating squats and deadlifts but not eliminating squats completly for deadlifts

  30. #30
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    Never lift a weight unless it's in your way and/or needs moved. Life is short. Ride more>get faster!

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    Defintely not, I would just choose to do deadlifts vs squats if I had to pick one exercise. I would also recommend a front or goblet squat as opposed to a back squat...easier on your lower back, isolates the quads better, requires more core stabilization.

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    Quote Originally Posted by J.B. Weld View Post
    Never lift a weight unless it's in your way and/or needs moved. Life is short. Ride more>get faster!
    I used to subscribe to this philosophy, but I wound up with muscle imbalance problems and several related injuries. Plus, when your primary movers are nearing failure, effective muscle recuitment is a beautiful thing.

    -Ryan

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    Quote Originally Posted by jarwes View Post
    I agree with doing squats in the off season and in the beginning of the race season.. In the off season I like doing drop sets of squats and leg press. I also found using a stationary recumbent bike worked different parts of my legs then a regular bike so I did that in the gym and rode my bike outside. I also love the rowing machine.
    500m rower intervals are killer!

  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by LaXCarp View Post
    Defintely not, I would just choose to do deadlifts vs squats if I had to pick one exercise. I would also recommend a front or goblet squat as opposed to a back squat...easier on your lower back, isolates the quads better, requires more core stabilization.
    Deadlifts do not hit the same range of motion that squats do.
    Front squats are good but more of an advanced technique and its harder to get up to your max power.

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    Re: Strength Training Specific to MTB

    See training subforum

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    At 44 years old - I'm fighting the sands of time... In the off season I skate ski and downhill ski. All year I hit the gym a few times a week, one day a week is with a trainer who switches the work out around to fit the season. Work the core - Planks, burpees, kettle bell routines, off balance push ups (1 footed, feet on a swiss ball, 1 foot on a swiss ball, clapping)... Do very little with a barbell - go for dumbells instead - it forces the smaller muscles to come into play. Do the movements of cross training but go for form, not reps against a clock. When all else fails - do lunges, stiff leg dead lifts, or more push ups.

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    Cross training is great. Gym work is really helpful.

    "Strength" training my legs increases the speed i can grind out in big ring, but actually tends to hinder me when i hit a steep grade spin section of a climb. High twitch is not low twitch. If you train your legs to squat 300lbs 12 times, it will not necessarily help you when you ask you legs to spin 50 lbs 100000 times.

    Want a specific way to increase your climbing strength? Deny your self granny gear on those sections you are usually in g1. Force your self to climb those hills in g2. Start using g3 as your climbing gear with g2 as your bail out. Stay in middle ring on rolling hills and stand up to crest rather than downshift.

    Dont stop the gym work, we all need overall fitness. Just know that gym strength does not directly transfer to ride strength (at least not in the way you are looking for).

  38. #38
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    To maintain the "outdoors" theme, I would go with:

    Swimming: Endurance, cardiovascular training, core strength
    Rock Climbing: Endurance, strength training
    Kayaking: Endurance, Cardio, upper back strengthing

    The trick to being a better performer is to train other muscle groups.. you don't want to focus 100% on only 1 area.

  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by RandomGuyOnABike View Post

    The trick to being a better performer is to train other muscle groups.. you don't want to focus 100% on only 1 area.
    I'm figuring this out the hard way. Long story short- for the last two years I went from running 6-9 miles/week and moto/offroading riding and racing on the weekends to MTB intensely riding 50 miles/week and occasional sprint XC racing, with little to no running and no moto.

    Now when I try to run I get IT band pains, but that seems to be easing with shorter slower runs. And very oddly, on a whim and after being off of the KTM for 1.5 years I decided to do a 2 hour hare scramble last weekend. My skills were OK, aerobics good, quad/standing strength was great, cranial tibials were sorta weak, and my grip strength was definitely the weakest link. But for the two days following my glutes feel like they'd been kicked by a horse! I have no butt muscles despite all of the cycling I've done!

    My take home- different disciplines, different muscle groups. DUH Time to mix things up!
    On the upside and on my recovery ride yesterday I set a PR on one segment of my regular trail and felt very strong pedaling my bike that weighs 1/10th of the other

  40. #40
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    I was just going to post about having the same problem. I have been riding for about 1.5 yrs now. It seems I have gotten to a point of not getting any faster and in need or more on climbs. I ride about 2 times a week and have not been going the gym for the past few months. Sometimes I think it is a mental thing riding the same old trail (week days anyway). But when I do ride the same trail in reverse I can keep up mostly with the other guys. I will say that I am riding a 26 FS bike and every one else is either on a 29 ht or 29 FS.

    I am about to start (actually today) doing a 5k run once a week and maybe do some leg exercises such a dumbell dead lifts.
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  41. #41
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    Gym lifting wise...the best to go with is Deadlifts, Barbell Rows, and Squats.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirty $anchez View Post
    Single Speed. Get one. Ride it.


    ^^^^^^This^^^^^^^

    Compared to riding a geared bike, the SS is more of an all body workout....especially at first. You wil see a difference in a very short period of time.
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  43. #43
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    Try CrossFit

  44. #44
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    Check out Jimmy Wilson's MTB strength training program as well as the 'New Rules of Lifting' series. Both of these are tried and true all around fitness guides, and Wilson's focuses on bike-specific workouts.
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  45. #45
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    A buddy and I do a stair workout at one of the taller buildings in my city. 21 flights. Multiple reps
    First time we single step it. Starting off slow and building speed. Then walk down as a cool-down.
    Second rep we do double steps. Starting fast and usually slowing a bit as we get higher. Thin air and fatigue.
    Third rep we hop the stairs. 1 Flight single stair hops, Next flight is 2 stair, then 3 stairs. Repeat up to the top. This is by far the most brutal. I consider myself in decent shape and I almost puked at the top.

    The workout is great because it gets the cardio going the whole time. It works the explosive quick twitch muscles as well as the endurance. You feel it in your core from doing all of the longer hops. It is a great supplement workout to add to biking.

  46. #46
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    One thing you should do is shock you're muscles,how, we'll changing seat night can make a huge difference. I lower my seat to what I call off road position(slightly lower) OMG it can be a workout as you're using slightly different muscles, and it is harder to ride with the seat lowered.

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