A lot of riders waste time trying to “ride themselves into shape
” after an off-season of either doing nothing or spending too much time on a road bike. They find themselves struggling to find their groove and have to spend a few weeks or even months getting their riding legs back under them.
For me, this is a giant waste of precious riding time. Who has trail rides to waste feeling like crap on the trail when you can hit the trails much better prepared to deal with the physical demands of trail riding?
If you find yourself among the thousands of riders every year who fall victim to this problem then there is something you can do to see results in just a few weeks. And it is pretty simple to do.Getting stronger is the fastest way to see an immediate impact on your riding.
The first question I ask riders who come to me with questions about how to improve their performance is how much can they deadlift
. It doesn’t matter if they race DH, Enduro, XC, 24 Hour, Marathon or simply want to ride the trail with more fitness and confidence – the answer to that question tells me what we need to work on.
If they look at me without blinking and tell me that they deadlift somewhere in the 1.5-2 X BW area I know that while they may still need some work in specific areas, their overall body strength is pretty good and I need to look at what they are doing on the cardio side of things that isn’t working. Here’s a hint – most of the time they don’t use their trail rides properly and just ride as hard as they can for as long as they can with no real plan. The real secret to improving your cardio is learning how to use your trail time better
On the other hand, if they look at me with a blank stare or tell me that they don’t really deadlift I know that they need to get stronger before the cardio stuff will start to work. I’ll still want them to use their trail rides in a smarter way but the focus isn’t on adding more cardio yet.The reason is that strength levels give us a good idea of how stress-proof a movement pattern is.
A rider might have a good looking hip-hinge a.k.a. deadlift with just bodyweight or a light weight but terrible looking technique when trying to pull 2X bodyweight. In this case the movement pattern is there but isn’t stress-proof enough to handle that weight.
On the bike this rider may look good at low fatigue levels but starts to break down easily after a few High Tension Cardio
efforts. They end up wasting a lot of energy through bad breathing and posture on the bike because they weren’t able to maintain it as the movement patterns were stressed with the realities of trail riding.
A stronger rider will be able to sustain their breathing and posture better because they have it mastered at such a high level that what they do on the trail seems easy by comparison. When you’ve pulled a double bodyweight deadlift trying to turn over a hard gear to crest a steep climb or pedal out of a blown corner suddenly doesn’t seem as “hard”.
Once this physical and psychological strength has been built you can get more out of cardio training in the off-season to improve the ability to sustain those efforts longer.So if you want to quickly improve your trail riding and skip the whole “ride yourself into shape” thing this year then get stronger.
I’ve posted a lot of great articles over the years on methods I like to get stronger but Rep Ladders
continue to be one of my favorites.
Rep Ladders have you stick with the same weight each set but step up the number of reps each set. Once you reach the highest number of reps you drop back down to the first rung on the Rep Ladder and repeat.
For example, if I wanted to use a 2/3/5 Rep Ladder sequence and go through it two times it would look like this…
Set 1 – 2 reps
Set 2 – 3 reps
Set 3 – 5 reps
Set 4 – 2 reps
Set 5 – 3 reps
Set 6 – 5 reps
You want to rest as long as you need to in order to give a high quality effort on the next set. Don’t make the mistake so many riders do and try to turn everything into a form of cardio training.
With this workout you are able to get in 20 high quality reps with only a couple of sets feeling “hard”. You're increasing your strength from the volume of work done but you're doing it in a way that doesn’t take your body to the edge every set.This means you won’t feel nearly as beat up as if you had maxed out every set and tried to do something like 4 sets of 5 reps, which would give you the same 20 reps but would leave you far more sore and tired the next day.
Here is a workout using Rep ladders that you can do to quickly increase your strength and performance on the trail:Workout 1Deadlift
– 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep LaddersFloor Press
– 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep LaddersChin Ups
– 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep LaddersWorkout 2DB Clean & Press
– 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep LaddersSingle Leg Squat
– 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders
Renegade Rows – 2-3 rounds of 2/3/5 Rep Ladders
You want to rest for 5-10 breathes/ 30-60 seconds between exercises and rounds. You can do these workouts as a circuit or you can finish all of your sets before moving on to the next exercise. Either way you only want the last set to feel “hard”, and even then your form should still look as solid as on your first set.
As you add a little weight each week you’ll find that you are getting stronger but the workouts still don’t feel any “harder” than they did when you started. After 4-6 weeks you’ll be significantly stronger and feeling much closer to mid-season form on your bike.
The take home point in that if you’ve never spent any time getting stronger then it is the fastest and simplest way to see improvement on the trail. If you want to hit the trails feeling like you never took any time off of your bike then get stronger using the routine I posted above along with your usual trail riding instead of trying to add more cardio to the mix.And remember that strength training is more about the journey than the destination.
It may take you a couple years to achieve a double bodyweight deadlift and even then that isn’t the real point. Focus on getting a little stronger every day and you’ll see benefits, if you force the issue you’ll just get injured.
If you have any questions about this workout or why getting stronger should be your first priority please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
And if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word to fellow riders who could benefit from the info.
Until next time…
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 3 National Championships, 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 Trail Rider Fundamentals Video Mini-Course.