When you ask people why they don’t work out, you’ll usually get one of three answers: it’s too time consuming, it’s too painful / boring, or it’s too expensive to join a gym or buy a Bow Flex. And while I won’t argue that working out can be painful or boring at times, getting in shape for mountain biking doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost a lot of dough. Here’s how to get faster on the mountain bike without wasting your time or your money.
Build up your endurance
You don’t wanna be huffing and puffing on the trail this spring and telling your buddies to wait up for you gets old really quick (for you and for them). Fortunately a little dedication now will pay off big time in the spring. Getting out on the trail can be time consuming for most of us and it’s even tougher when the days are so short. Instead, why not walk out the door and go for a jog? I like to run about 3-4 miles a few times a week (about 30 minutes) to keep in shape for mountain biking and the time commitment is actually pretty minimal – about an hour including a shower afterwards.
Some folks truly detest running and for others running may not be an option due to joint problems so I have an alternative: ride your bike on the road. Believe it or not you don’t need a special bike for riding on the road – your mountain bike will do just fine 🙂 Seriously though, everyone has access to roads outside their front door and by skipping the drive to the trailhead you can save a ton of time. If you’re using biking to build endurance you’ll need to commit a little more time than if you were running – generally 45 minutes to an hour a few times a week.
Focus on the legs
After endurance, leg strength is the second most important aspect to dominating the mountain bike trail and you don’t need fancy machines to get results. Some of you may know I served in the Air Force for several years and during that time I learned a number of great exercises that require zero equipment. To get a good leg workout, start out with lunges – hands on hips, step forward keeping your front knee above your toes and alternate back and forth. Start out doing 20 lunges (each leg) as a part of your fitness routine and increase as you feel comfortable.
Another great leg and glute’ workout is the squat. Squats are similar to lunges but for this exercise you’ll keep your feet together and lean your butt back as you move up and down. Be sure to keep your knees in front of your toes to avoid injury and do as many as you feel comfortable with to start out. Along the same lines, try a wall sit – place your back against a wall and “sit” as if you had a chair underneath your butt. See how long you can hold it before falling down!
A lot of mountain bikers ignore upper body workouts but expert riders will tell you upper body strength is almost as important as leg strength. Upper body strength is important for climbing and also for technical trail riding – plus the ladies like guys with big guns. 🙂 Getting Popeye arms is as simple as adding push-ups to your workout routine and with some simple modifications you can get a full arm workout using just gravity.
To build muscle mass and endurance, I recommend doing three sets of push-ups with 30 seconds rest in between. Start out doing three sets of 10-20 push-ups daily and within no time you’ll see definition in your arms and your bike will feel 5 pounds lighter on the trail.
“Diamond style” push-ups are great at building your pecs and will give you better bike control on the trail. Pull-ups are basically inverted push-ups and are great for building both arms and abdominal muscles. If you can do 20 pull-ups (chin all the way above the bar each time) you’re well on your way to dominating the mountain bike race circuit!
Working out your body’s core will translate into better bike handling on the trail – faster cornering, higher jumping, and of course, more graceful landings. Abdominal workouts are probably my least favorite but they are super important for building a base for technical mountain biking skills. Crunches are basically modified sit-ups you can do without a partner and they’re great for working your abs and back at the same time. I also like to do an exercise the Air Force calls “flutter kicks”: lie on your back with hands under your butt and your feet about 6 inches off the ground. Alternate kicking each leg up about 12-18 inches off the ground and back. If you’re doing it right you’ll start to feel the burn in your abs and your legs pretty quickly which means it must be a pretty good workout 😉
Put it all together
All of these exercises can be done anywhere and they really pay off when completed on a regular basis. Most weekdays I like to do my run then push-ups and sit-ups while I cool down and I save bike workouts for the weekend when I have a little more time. The important thing is to find a routine that you’ll stick to and one that maximizes your workout time so you’ll have fewer excuses to slack off. Keep it up this winter and you’ll be kicking ass on the bike in time for spring!