Training for mountain biking can be pretty tricky. While everyone knows that you need great endurance, it isn’t always pedaling based endurance that is most important.
In fact, when trying to get down the trail as fast as possible it is actually your grip strength endurance that has been shown to have the biggest impact on your performance, not your pedaling based endurance (Characteristics Explaining Performance in Downhill Mountain Biking - Int. Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2015, 10, 183-190
On a side note, right after I wrote an article on this study for this site
highlighting those conclusions Aaron Gwinn won a World Cup DH race after breaking his chain right out of the gates. It just seemed to reinforce the conclusion that, while important, pedaling based fitness is limited in same areas and that we need to find other ways to improve our endurance for the unique demands of the trail.Enter the steel mace.
Now, if you have never seen a steel mace it is exactly what it sounds like – a long steel handle with a ball on the end of it. In fact, it wouldn’t look out of place on a medieval battlefield.
While it looks like something you could use to brain zombies with, the mace is actually based on the Gada (basically a stick with a rock on the end
). It has been used by Hindu warriors and Indian Kushti Wrestlers for over 2000 years to build upper body and grip strength endurance.
Old school wrestling matches could last for hours, requiring levels of conditioning and endurance that we can learn a lot from today. In fact, one of the guys that Bruce Lee studied and looked up to was The Great Gama
, an undefeated Kushti Wrestler from the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s.
After coming across enough references to it to pique my interest, I ordered some through the company ONNIT. After they showed up I realized I quickly realized that 1) holding a mace felt pretty bad-ass and 2) I severely misjudged how heavy these things would feel.
I had ordered a 10-pound and 20-pound mace, figuring that I could use the 20 pounder and my little girl, who trains with me, could use the 10 pounder. But the 10-pound mace was tough to pick up and handle and the 20-pound mace was almost impossible to do anything with.
So after fashioning one for my little girl out of some PVC pipe and a stick and starting with the 10-pound mace myself I started to play around with it to see how it felt and what it could do.
What I found was that, when coupled with the kettlebell, you have an amazingly effective way to train for that all-important grip strength endurance you need on the trail. In fact, with a simple combination of Kettlebell Swings (already one of my favorite grip strength endurance building exercises
) with the Mace 360’s you have a unique way to work on this important type of fitness.
Here is a video of me showing you the Mace 360’s, plus how I like to combine them with the Kettlebell Swing to build your grip strength endurance.
- Single Arm Kettlebell Swing X 10 reps each arm
- Mace 360’s X 10 reps each way (switch hand on top each round
- Repeat 4-10 times
I’d recommend doing this workout 2-3 times a week in the off-season and 1-2 times during the riding season. As a bonus, the Mace 360 is also an excellent way to open up the chest and upper back, improving your posture and helping to combat the hunched-shoulder syndrome so many of us have.
I’d also like to point out that while this article is aimed at DH riders/ racers this is something every rider could benefit from. Last time I checked most trails had downhill sections on them and when the trail points down, grip strength endurance becomes an important factor. This is especially true for the Enduro Racers since they get timed on mostly downhill sections, meaning that their DH performance plays a big role in their overall rankings.
The Mace definitely represents something of a lost art in the world of strength and fitness. Besides the 360’s I cover here, you can do Spear Stabs, the Grave Digger, Barbarian Squats and all sorts of unique exercises that really challenge your grip and core strength like few other tools I have ever used.
If I’ve piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more about mace training, then here are a couple of resources for you. The first is the ONNIT website where you can buy a mace
and/ or learn some more exercises and routines using it
You can also check out this guy's website
, where he shows you how to make a mace out of a clay pot and bamboo stick in case you prefer to build your own.
And just in case buying a mace or building one isn’t something you are willing to do then check to see if you have a 10-pound sledge hammer…or at least, check one out next time you are at the store. Look for one with a round, straight handle but at the end of the day, a sledge hammer is just a modern day mace made for pounding rocks instead of heads.
Training for a sport like mountain biking requires a dynamic blend of upper body strength and mobility and I haven’t found a tool that targets this better than the mace.
So I hope you’ll get yourself mace and try these exercises out for yourself. While it may take a little practice and your neighbors may look at you like you’re nuts (mine are used to crazy stuff like this by now
) I think that you’ll find the mace to be a valuable addition to your toolbox.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems
MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for World Cup Teams and 4 National Championships ranging from DH to XC, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit www.bikejames.com
to sign up for the free 30 Day MTB Skills and Fitness Program and get started on the way to riding with more power, endurance and confidence today.