Specialized fitness equipment is a dime a dozen. There are gimmicky devices produced in mass, for niche purposes, and some are marketed to an even more specific pool of potential customers. Most of them work – to an extent. Some are more functional and versatile than others.
Praep, a company based in Germany, has a new device pointed directly at mountain bikers, that’s intended to help riders develop core strength and stability, and provide a workout that replicates the forces we experience on a technical downhill. The Praep website is short on words, but their copy for the product says, “Turn your handlebar into the most effective training tool you’ve ever had! The award-winning ProPilot® was developed by bikers for bikers and takes you to a whole new level where Training becomes Gaming with our App!”
The Praep ProPilot turns a 31.8 or 35mm handlebar into a pushup device, which rocks and rolls, calling on extra muscle fibers to help stabilize the user. Tired of trying to handle a 35 pound DH or enduro bike down a 20% grade gravity trail, with boulders and drops? The ProPilot wants to help. As an entire system, the ProPilot Moto Kit costs $200. That includes a 780mm wide, 31.8mm handlebar, a set of slide-on grips, the teardrop-shaped device which holds the handlebars, and a mounting kit so that users can mount a phone on the ProPilot and watch GoPro footy or the workout videos via the Preap app. The ProPilot’s teardrop-shaped centerpiece has three positions, with the most difficult position being in the belly of the drop.
Praep also sells just the ProPilot, sans grips or a handlebar, for $100. They included a grip-strength trainer, shaped like a brake lever. The TRGGR (makes me want to say T-R-Double-Guh-er), can be used to strength train braking fingers, using middle and index fingers, or just pointers – which is how most people brake these days.
The TRGGR feels more suited to general forearm grip strength exercises, unless you are using some seriously stretchy cable-actuated brakes.
So, this is just an expensive way to do pushups?
This was my first thought. Why would anyone pay $100-200 for something they could easily do for much less money, or for free. There is a little more to the ProPilot than just pushups, though that’s the primary and most effective exercise that comes from the device.
These exercises are best illustrated by the ProPilot app, but the caveat is that they require more gear. Pushups are pretty instantaneous with the ProPilot – after installation that is. Other exercises require additional resistance bands, which are relatively inexpensive.
My initial, eyes-on impression of the ProPilot is that it seems like Praep wants to create a device that will get mountain bikers more excited about functional fitness because training your core, arms, shoulders, and so on can be easily forgotten by a lot of us, especially when the weather is good. But, being faster on a descent or having a solid defense against crashes is enough of a reason to regularly resistance train.
Anyways, yes, there is more to the ProPilot than pushups. The ProPilot app lists a few helpful workout videos; six to be exact. A morning routine has riders doing squats and split-squats with the ProPilot extended out in front of them – definitely not necessary, modified Russian twists; maybe helpful for a reinforcement on actually twisting your core, and then pushups and mountain climbers – two obviously challenging exercises with the device.
So, basically, any modified plank or pushup with the ProPilot is going to be highly effective. Praep has core workouts which utilize these exercises, and with the the aid of a resistance band, the bars can be used for curls, upright rows, tricep presses, shoulder presses, squats, and quite a few other exercises – though the same can be done by using a broom handle or a pipe/bar and a resistance band. Resistance bands can also be quite light for compound exercises like presses, or even curls. It is great though, that they offer these workouts on video for consumers.
By using something like the ProPilot which challenges your stability, versus doing pushups on a solid platform like the ground, you recruit more muscle fibers for the activity, especially those in the core as the trunk must control more of your movement.
Benefits can include better balance, and core development, which could contribute to better athletic performance. Some studies have found a reduced likelihood of injury amongst athletes who train on unstable surfaces, too. Like most anything in the science world that can be measured and studied, there are debates about the effectiveness and if instability training should be paired with resistance training, which is exactly what the ProPilot does.
The should and shouldn’t of this depends on the athlete’s goals however. If you’re trying to max on bench press strength, the ProPilot isn’t going to be very useful. But, if you’re trying to develop core strength and even prevent injuries, it could be very helpful. Muscle and Fitness sums up some of these studies, and pros and cons well.
Put more clearly, an advantage of balance training and a more developed core, according to a Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study says, “Because sports skills are often times performed off balance, greater core stability provides a foundation for greater force production in the upper and lower extremities.” Basically, if you have a stronger core, your arms and legs can work more effectively.
ProPilot setup and take off
The ProPilot can be used for both 31.8 and 35mm handlebars, and they include a shim to accommodate both sizes. Setup is pretty straightforward, but I found this video more helpful than the paper instructions. The most important part is to ensure that the bars audibly click into place, as shown, otherwise you’re in for a rough time. My kit included a set of slip-on grips, but since I had a pair of lock-on grips, I used them instead.
I was a personal trainer for a number of years through college, so I’m familiar with a lot of instability pieces like the BOSU ball, and TRX straps. I haven’t been certified in quite a while though, and my knowledge is pretty rusty, so I reached out to mountain bike Coach Mike Durner of Mind Right Endurance for his opinion on the ProPilot and what folks should be able to do before using the handlebars. Durner says he is a fan.
“I feel like it’s really useful for core and shoulder stability and shoulder/chest strength. As for progression up to using the ProPilot, I would say, start with standard push ups, the next step would be push ups with a TRX, then push ups on something like a Bosu, and finally moving to the easiest position on the ProPilot. Then you could get totally crazy and put your feet in the TRX while you use the ProPilot.”
Mike also commented on the TRGGR grip strength device. “In theory if you have better strength in your forearm you can obtain better feel for the bars/grips and stay more relaxed and have better endurance in those muscles for long descents.”
Even in the easiest position, the ProPilot takes some work. Personally, I love this kind of training and find it way more exciting than trying to lift really heavy, maybe because the benefits are more relevant to my primary sport, mountain biking.
One semi-annoying feature about the ProPilot is that it requires the 4mm hex wrench every time you want to change the angle. I suppose this isn’t a problem since it’s changed as a matter of progression, rather than a varying intensity for workouts, however some users who fatigue themselves on the toughest ProPilot setting and want to sort of drop set the workout might want a quicker way to change it.
Overall though, the ProPilot does offer a challenging and fun method for stability training, if used in a plank or pushup position. I’m not sold on the idea of mounting my phone to the ProPilot to watch the videos, but it is an option.
But, do we really need the ProPilot?
To reiterate the previous sentence, the ProPilot is really useful for exercises in this position. Modified pushups or plank exercises are heinous, yet fun with the ProPilot. Using it for much more though is unnecessary, since they require resistance bands, and you can do those same exercises without the device, with a substitute bar, or just with the bands.
I have a set of TRX straps gifted to me by my partner and I have been a fan of them for a long time. For a much lower price than the full ProPilot kit, the TRX accomplishes much of the ProPilot’s job and can be utilized for so many other different exercises. Seriously, the TRX is one of the most versatile and functional pieces of workout equipment out there, especially for core and stability exercises.
But, everyone has their own motivations and for some mountain bikers, the ProPilot might be exactly what they need to get motivated. I will also say that it’s a fun piece of workout equipment. If you’re someone who needs specific motivation, and a really intense and challenging chest, tri, shoulder, and core workout which could enhance performance on the trail and maybe even prevent injuries, then definitely check out the ProPilot.