One of the things I've realized is that being able to ride switch-foot is not an option, it is a must for good trail riding. Besides it being good for when you do find your feet switched for some reason on the trail it also helps to fight imbalances - you'd be amazed at how bad riding with the same foot forward all the time is for your hips and lower back. However, the most important thing in my book is how it helps you corner better.
Read on and become a better rider,
Here is a video demo I shot of some of these exercises and some more coaching tips on how to get the most from them:
The idea is that you can turn a lot of exercises into more "mountain bike specific" versions by using a split stance with them. I also like to use 1/2 kneeling variations (where you're down on one knee) as a way to introduce people to the core demands of this stance.
Lastly, it is vitally important that you keep your hips square when using the split stance position. I tell people to keep their belly button pointed forward - letting your belly button point off to the side lets your hips open up and this misses the core demand we're looking for. Working on the the movements you need on the trail while in the gym will help dial them in when you need them the most.
One of the keys to cornering is to separate yourself from the bike and lean it over into a turn. As you lean the bike over your outside foot should drop to help facilitate the lean. This works best if you set up for a turn with your inside foot forward - this will get your inside leg's thigh out of the way of the seat when you lean the bike over and also set your outside foot up for the drop.
If you try to corner with your legs switched you'll end up with your seat running into your inside thigh and your outside leg being in the wrong position to drop down and set the "edge" on your turn. This is why most riders aren't ambi-turners (50 bonus points for the movie reference) and find it much easier to corner one way than the other.
Being able to ride switch basically boils down to your stability in the split stance position where you have one foot stepped forward and one foot stepped back. I'll guarantee you that doing a simple exercise like a split squat will tell you a lot about yourself - you'll find that you're much more stable with one foot forward compared to the other and that most likely matches up with how you feel on the bike as well.
Working hard to get strong and stable in split stance exercises in the gym will work wonders for improving your ability to ride switch on the bike. Here are some of my favorite staple exercises for this:
- Split Squat
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Split Stance Shoulder Press
- Split Stance Row
However, I've been playing around lately with some new split stance exercises that advance things a bit:
- Split Stance Single Arm Swing
- Split Stance KB Clean & Snatch
- Split Stance Jump Rope
James Wilson is the owner MTB Strength Training Systems, the word's only company dedicated to developing strength and conditioning programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. His clients include the current US National DH Champ Aaron Gwin. James currently owns a training facility in Grand Junction CO and is the strength coach for the Yeti World Cup Team. You can find more tips and training info at his blog www.BikeJames.com