Whether you are an elite or recreational mountain biker, strength training should be a regular part of your summer exercise program. Cycling is a repetitive sport; moving certain muscles in the same movement pattern over and over, sometimes for many hours. What happens is that those specific muscles get stronger but everything else gets tight or weaker (including your bones).
In order to stay healthy and strong for the duration of the season (typically April – November) you should incorporate at least one strength training day a week (but no more than 2 days) to maintain, or even improve, strength gained during the off-season.
For many, the off-season is a time to ride your bike at a low intensity for many hours and build the aerobic engine. Some are fortunate enough to do this in a warm climate, while others in the northern hemisphere aren’t as fortunate. Recent research has shown, however, that there are benefits of strength training for cyclists; pushing a bigger gear, having less injuries during the season, and preventing burnout.
Newer pieces of fitness equipment make it easier to train the aerobic system and build strength without fatiguing the body or reducing on-bike performance during the peak racing/riding season. Equipment such as TRX and Kettlebells are great because they can be used as bilateral (both sides of body moving together, or unilateral (one side of the body at a time) during training
Strength workouts during the summer season should be secondary to on-bike training. So especially on high intensity training rides, perform the strength workout AFTER the ride. This can be immediately or a few hours after the ride.
If you keep a training log, (and you should) remember to count the strength workouts as training hours when factoring in your recovery days. This will help to prevent over-training.
Here are 5 exercises to maintain strength during the mountain bike season:
1. TRX Sprinter Starts
Start with straps positioned under each armpit. Keeping your chest up, lean forward and move one leg into a reverse lunge. Begin by bringing the back leg forward and lifting the knee up in the air. To build power for pedaling, add a little hop forward and backward before each time moving the back leg into reverse lunge.
*Repeat 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps per leg
2. Half Kneeling Straight-Arm Pulldowns with Ropes
For this exercises you will need two rope attachments for the cable machine. Begin in a half-kneeling position (one knee up in front and the other on ground behind) and grab the ropes handles. Keeping your torso tall, pull the ropes down using your lat muscles while the arms remain straight. Keep your core muscles engaged during the movement at all times and control the weight. This is great for teaching you to keep your upper body relaxed on the bike and not shrug.
*Repeat 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps on each side
3. KB Double Lunge (L/R)
Begin with one Kettlebell racked at shoulder level. Your wrist should remain flexed, do not allow the wrist to fall back while holding he weight. Keeping the weight at shoulder height, step forward into a lunge, and then immediately step back into a reverse lunge with the same leg. The goal is to not step the feet together before moving into the reverse lunge. This will challenge your balance and coordination and will make you more secure on the bike when riding in a pack.
*Repeat 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps on each leg
4. Pushup with Knee Tucks and Abduction using Sliders
For this exercise you will need two Sliders (or a piece of paper works as well). This is a great upper body exercise that can simulate riding out of the saddle while cranking on the handlebars. Begin in pushup position with each foot on a slider. Lower down and as soon as you begin to push back up slide one foot forward bringing your knee towards your chest. Extend the leg back and then lower down again and this time bring the other knee forward, then lower down and bend both knees forward together at the same time, and finally with legs straight spread them apart and back together. This series counts as 1 rep.
*Repeat 2-3 sets of 4-8 reps
5. TRX Single Leg Hip Press
Lie on your backside and place one heel in the lower loop of a TRX Strap. Bend knees to about 90 degrees. Push your foot in the strap down as you lift your hips at the same time. Keep the foot that is not in the straps elevated as well. This is great for working the hamstrings to “pull” on the pedals.
*Repeat 2-3 sets 8-12 reps on each leg