TRX Training for Mountain Biking

Jan 11, 2011 at 11:46
by James Wilson  
Few pieces of equipment are as valuable to the mountain biker as a suspension trainer. I'll admit that when they first came out I was a bit skeptical and thought they were more of a gimmick, like standing on a BOSU Ball, than actually filling a genuine need.

However, since getting my hands a couple not a day goes by in my facility that they are not being used."Suspension trainer" is the term coined for long nylon straps with handles that you can hang from a chin up bar, a door jam or even a tree. The most common ones on the market are the TRX and the Jungle Gym, with the TRX being a higher quality version and easier to adjust. Whichever one you choose to use the basic idea is the same – by suspending your upper or lower body in the straps you can create some very challenging variations of common exercises.

I really like suspension trainers for a few reasons:

1) They allow you to make basic body weight exercises harder. As a mountain biker one of the most important things you can pick up from strength training is body awareness and control. These qualities are best trained through body weight exercises like push ups, inverted rows, split squats and planks, just to name a few.

Using a suspension trainer allows you to take exercise that you have grown strong on and add a degree of instability, which increases the core and body control demands. While free weight exercises like the deadlift will always be important, finding ways to make the basic body weight exercises harder is a great way to get more mountain bike specific results from your program.

2) They are extremely portable. Perhaps my favorite aspect for the mountain bike racers I coach, the ability to throw a single, lightweight piece of equipment in your bag which gives you access to dozens of high quality exercises can not be overstated. Maintaining your strength levels throughout the season is important in making sure that you finish strong and without a consistent strength training program you can not do this.

A suspension trainer makes it far easier to be consistent with your training since you can design an entire workout around it. This means that you are not dependent on what equipment you can find where you are staying and don't have to piece together a workout everywhere you go. Finding ways around excuses is a hallmark of great riders and this is an easy way to get around the excuse of not being able to train during the season.

3) They are fun to use and keep you focused. Perhaps the best part is that they are far removed from the mindless exercises that so many riders are used to. Even something as "easy" as a push up becomes a new adventure as you try to keep yourself from swinging around. If you break concentration for even a second the suspension trainer will smack you back into reality quickly and effectively – you literally can not complete the exercise without staying tight and focused. This not only keeps you engaged while training but it also works on the focus and mindset you need on the trail as well.

While I obviously think a lot of suspension trainers I do have to offer a few words of caution. First, a piece of equipment if not a "training system" and so you need to watch out for TRX Fanatics who will tell you that they all you need. While they are great tools, they are not the only tool you need.

Second, the temptation when starting out with them is to learn and try as many different exercises as you can. This is a big mistake and you should choose a few exercises to start out with in order to master some of the basics first. There are very advanced exercises that look cool but don't do much for you unless you have the basic core strength and body control developed with more basic exercises.

Here are 4 of the exercises that I use with new riders to teach them those basics.

- Assisted Single Leg Squat

- Push Up

- Single Arm Inverted Row

- Lateral Fallout

I recommend doing the exercises in a circuit (one set of the first exercise, one set of the second exercise and so on) and going through the circuit 3 times. Start with 8 reps and add a rep or two each week until you build up to 12.

Once you've got those exercises down you can start exploring some of the other great exercise options and seeing which ones work well for you. Suspension training is one of those popular fitness trends that can actually live up to the hype if you use them properly. Hope fully this article and video have sparked your curiosity enough to check one out and see what they can add to your training program and results on the trail.

Views: 15,902    Faves: 55    Comments: 3

James Wilson is the owner of MTB Strength Training Systems, the world's only company dedicated to developing strength and conditioning programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. James owns a training facility in Grand Junction CO and is the strength coach for the Yeti World Cup Team. Visit his blog to sign up for your free mini-course 10 Steps to Instantly Improve Your Riding and body weight workout.


  • 11 5
 "Unique demands of mountainbiking"? Seriously?

It's funny how every advanced training program is -according to them- better than another one, or best suited for that kind of sport...

My stepfather is a professional swimming coach and his club got 3 gold medals at the Belgian National Swimming Cup and he knows people in the fitness sector and they all say the same: there is not one way to be better, there are infinite ways to train your body and you just have to use the ones you like and change every once in a while.

By swimming you use pretty much all of your muscles, but with cycling you use less and different muscles. This does not mean you have to train for the major movements you're going to make on your bike, you have to train "secondary" muscles aswell to prevent injuries.

But in the end, just ride? Train on your bike while you ride and you don't even notice any effort you have to make, except cardio perhaps, and it's a lot more fun than being in a sweaty smelly room Smile
  • 3 0
 agreed !
  • 4 0
 You can speculate Bobby as much as you want. James along with Gene Hamilton and Lee McCormack work and train with the best MTBers in the world. This is where reality comes to play. You can argue with marketing directors of bike companies, but not with someone who is at ground zero of MTB strength and skills training, with Gwin, Lopes, Ropelato, Weir, perhaps even Minnaar. Cheers
  • 1 0
 WAKIdesigns is right on the money. James is an amazing training coach. Just riding your bike is NOT quality training unless you are actively working on specific results. I would reccomend a skills camp with Gene Hamilton. He's awesome and has worked with the best to get real results.
  • 1 0
 you both have really good points but for an average guy thats just out to ride some trails he dose not need to pay for a camp or a trainer but to set up some kind of rutine that you can flip arround on different days doing different things... to build indurance like riding longer distances and riding on different terrains..time your self on runs you know and try to progressively get faster i think thats wut Robby's trying to point out thats all
  • 1 0
 if i had the money for a trainer damb rights I'd use it
  • 1 0
 They train the best in the world as well as simpletons from the village. Check their sites, sign up for their newsletters you will see that they help everyone, and they are ones of only few that say that you can't just ride your bike in order to become a better rider. Lots of training takes place off the trail. You will be amazed how much trail skills you can train on parking lot. I bought James training program and not to do too much marketing for him: it's great, and it doesn't make you reduce or empliyment or quit studies just to become a bit better. It is actualy fun to train according to it.
  • 1 0
 can't hurt
  • 4 0
 Thats fantastic, I recently bought a TRX, for my dancing and climbing strength... nice to see the application for mountainbiking too!
Do you have any more material on different excersises for the TRX? I'm just making them up the best I can at the moment!
  • 3 0
 I am a Fitness Trainer myself, and I use the TRX as well, and all these exercises, with the exception of the push up in ground near position, are all very beginner level exercises. The TRX can do so much more... @Timfrancis: There is a guy called scott hermann on youtube with plenty of good TRX exercises. :-) Have fun with your TRX...
  • 3 0
 I guess James shows it so people can begin with something and later on if they like it they can get deeper into it. Lots of MTBrs don't train at all - they just ride their bikes, eventually go to the gym just doing pseudo-body building exercises. I only guess that as a trainer you well know one of the most common stupid mistake of people is to see some difficult exercise on internet then they do it with wrong technique. Not only that does not do the job but in some cases can lead to overuse injuries.
  • 1 0
 Thanks Chrisbee, I'll look him up
  • 1 0
 I have been using TRX for the last few months its very effective. The lateral fallout works well, you can get a TRX book, its expensive but it has some more options.
  • 1 0
 Yeah all the material is well over priced though, its sweet that people are willing to give you advice on how to make the most of of the equipment, and point out how your allignment should be to avoid injury. I've been considering mixing the TRX with a Yoga ball, get some hard stability training done, have to wait till can sus out a ceiling attachment or something first
  • 2 0
 I agree that it's all about the flavour of the month. The great thing I love about new flavours (or gimmicks) is they keep my workouts fresh. I've been working out for years and years and enjoy changing things up, not only with equipment, but by targeting muscles is a unique way. Another current gimmick is the kettle bell, but again, I love my work-outs as a result of this "gimmick".
  • 1 0
 KB's have been around forever. Its just started catching on.
  • 1 0
 Yep, just another trend (like shoulder pads) being revitalized Smile
  • 1 0
 haha are we talking mom's 1980's shoulder pads??
  • 2 0
 James Wilson has an amazing youtube channel which shows almost all the exercises I listed. He also has many of the shoulder exercises I had in mind. James, seriously..that channel is an absolute gem to the MTB community. Thanks
  • 2 1
 How is a Bosu ball a gimic? Last I checked pretty much the entire WC ski team uses them. My last master trainer was a staunch advocate, and there is mos def an advantage to using one correctly. Just try curls standing on one and see how it feels and how well it'll translate to additional core strength for riding.
  • 2 1
 madocreg2, I don't diss anything here. I'm saying there is no better training than another, you just have to train all muscles in different ways. If this helps, fine, but it's not the best way. There is no best way other than the one you prefer.

atrokz, i never said it's a gimic.

Do you guys even read what I say?
  • 4 1
 Why would we read what YOU wrote? We didn't even REPLY to what you wrote. Our comments are obviously directed at the article, and have zero indication to being directed at you. Thanks for the negative props though!

Maybe next time be aware that comments below yours don't mean they are replying to yours. They will be tabed over like this one is. And maybe a little discression on where you slather your 'props' too.......
  • 2 0
 i think the readers will take care of my props now haha. As I said in your PM, sorry.
  • 2 0
 Thanks for the msg. Classy guy right here.
  • 1 0
Great ideas and clear explanations. And in response to Rob B...I think James made it pretty clear the exercises shown are intended to improve awareness while riding. They are great exercises for that.
Rob!..I do agree with you about the injury prevention component of cross training, very much so. These exercises, other than the inverted rows and lateral fallout, don't train the muscles which are IGNORED/seldom used in cycling. Just as your stepfather has told you, training the muscles that are secondary to the primary muscles used in cycling is the ultimate training component. Keeping that in mind, during the cycling season and throughout your off season, incorporate these muscle groups/exercises into your routine:

Starting w/ CORE/TRUNK: in order to build a stable base.
1) Planks- dont allow your lower back to sag down beyond its normal curvature! Always draw in your abdomen muscles to help support your lower back. This will ensure you are not placing unnecessary strain on the lumbar region. Hold for 15-30 seconds, maintaining that drawn in and flexed abdominal position. FYI- your friend who claims he/she can do a 3 min. plank is most likely not doing it correctly.

Pelvic Tilts- an overly easy exercise, but thats not the point. The point is gaining awareness of pelvic rotation when doing exercises like the plank. This exercise is about learning how to engage the transverse abdominis (which can be applied to the plank) as well as building the neuromuscular connection with the pelvic floor muscles. Training these muscles is not about building them up, but gaining an understanding of how they operate so they can be utilized for stabilization.

3) Obliques on a Swiss Ball aka Side Bend
Look Down v v
  • 1 0
 Hamstrings: To achieve balance in reference to overly developed quad muscles, and to align the pelvis. A strong hamstring will also prevent certain knee, hip, and lower back conditions from arising. Lets also remember the quads can only grow in proportion to the hamstring, so no matter how much squatting you do, your quads will only get so far.
Note: The following exercises are body weight. A common misconception is "body weight exercises wont make me stronger, but will just increase muscle endurance". WRONG. They are a great way to make strength gains in a safe and effective manner.

1) Swiss Ball Hamstring Exercises.

One of the most neglected:
Hip/Leg Abductors + Adductors: Cycling is a "single plane" activity. Ignoring the muscles which control sideways movements (like running sideways or the side to side agility ladders rugby/football players use) will open one up to certain hip, lower back, and knee problems. A strong hip will facilitate proper direction to the forces we endure while cycling. This translates to less degenerative action over the years. The hip muscles are smaller than the larger leg muscles, and if they lack stamina, no benefit will come from the extra leg training you do. Ex: If you find that during long climbs, your hip muscles tire out before your legs, building your abductors would be very beneficial to improve stamina.

1) Monster Walks (Abduction)
2) Adduction
  • 1 0
 To wrap up the lower body: Always remember, we want to keep the muscles opposite to one another in the ratio they were meant to be. Ex: Quad vs. hammy. Your strength gains are limited if you ignore this basic rule, and your path to injury is an abbreviated one. Balance is also key. Invest in a wobble board, BOSU ball, or maybe even get into slacklining.

I may write about upper body latter if people request it. Much more complicated area to explain, the scapula is an amazing piece of our anatomy and has to be fully understood. Thanks for reading..hope the info was easy to understand.
-Pete A.
  • 1 0
 It's darn cold where I live right now and the gym is heated, so guess what we go there to get a work out. This will work in nice to break up the normal routine. I agree thou, If I could ride to train all the time I would.
  • 3 1
 Hey man don't diss the bosu. After years of pain from injuries my knees have improved greatly from using one.
  • 1 0
 Has anyone looked into CrossFit? the workouts are insane and are a good all around cardio and dynamic lifting programs. check them out
  • 1 0
 I'm an avid Crossfitter.
  • 1 0
 My friend at work got me hooked a few weeks ago. It's really amazing how some of the workouts use simple exercises and they kick your butt. I've noticed that my balance and fast twitch muscles are much improved from typical workout routines.
  • 2 0
 Im sure i must be missing something here - it looks like 2 handles on some rope?
  • 1 0
 My uncle is a cert. personal trainer and TRX trainer in Abbotsford, BC anyone interested in deals on the TRX classes or a TRX itself PM me
  • 1 0
 interested persons with any questions on the trx feel free to go to
  • 1 0
 great exercise options .......but it's much funny on a real bike

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