How To: Building strength for mountain biking

Professional mountain bike skills instructor Lindsey Voreis shares 8 great moves to get you ready to ROCK on your mountain bike this summer

How To Women's

Spring is in the air. Time to dust off those mountain bikes and prepare for a shred-happy summer. But first let’s make sure your body is strong and ready to slay single-track like the warrior princess that you are.

As the trails dry out we can’t just jump on and go without some proper prep. Even spin class and road rides don’t totally prepare you for wild, dirty fun. Some bike enthusiasts may live in a place where the sun shines year-round, but for those of us who live near snow-covered hills, our bikes sit in the stable and hibernate for much of the winter. So if you have taken time off the mountain bike, care for your body so you can be strong like ox when the trails beckon.

If you don’t crash often, mountain biking is a fairly low-impact sport. Low-impact is good, but it’s smart to mix in some cross-training moves that pound the bones a bit to help keep them strong. Here are a few tips to ease you back into mountain bike season with a strong body, mind and spirit.

Lower Body

  1. Box Jumps: Use a box at the gym, a park bench at the playground while your kids play or use the lowest bleacher at a school. Whatever you can find, jump everybody! Jump! Jump! With feet hip-width apart jump on and off and land lightly in a squat position. Do three sets for one minute each. Strengthens quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes which creates power for strong climbing and stable descending.
  2. Run (creatively!): Personally, I don’t love running. It just hurts sometimes but in small doses it can be oh-so-good. You don’t have to run often and you don’t need to run on pavement. Get creative and run trails, run up and down bleachers or run stairs. Do run/walk intervals or get that cardio up with some longer runs if you can handle it. In reality, a few short (35 min) creative runs per week should keep your bones solid and ready to rock.
  3. Jump Rope: Want happy bones? Who doesn’t! Jumping rope is something you can do anywhere and it’s great for your bones. Not much more to say about that. Get a rope and start jumping. Do 10 one-minute intervals. Push yourself, I promise you’ll feel great when you’re done.

Upper body

Don’t forget your upper body. Mountain biking is not just legs. Many people don’t realize how much upper body is used in mountain biking. Especially in technical terrain, the upper body needs to be strong, fluid and ready to react.

  1. Push-ups: I know push-ups are hard. I tend to give up before my sets are done when my wimpy side takes over. However, push-ups are a great way to strengthen the shoulders, arms, back and core without needing a gym or weights. Do it! Start slowly and gradually work up the numbers. Try three sets at one minute each. If you get stuck, hold plank position, but suck in that gut, tighten the butt and keep the back flat.
  2. Medicine ball toss: Tossing a medicine ball with someone is a good way to strengthen the shoulders, back and your reaction time. Find a partner and a heavy ball. Bring the ball into your chest and toss straight ahead without hyper-extending the arms. We do a lot of pushing down and pulling up on the bike so this is a great way to prepare to put that front wheel where you want it to go!
  3. Yoga: Yoga is a great core workout. It’s wonderful for mind relaxation and helps you practice staying in the moment. I’m a bit of a spaz, so relaxing without racing thoughts and a fidgety body is difficult for me. When I’m on my bike I feel Zen and in the moment, otherwise, I have trouble slowing down my thoughts. I use Yoga to balance the body and mind. It’s good stuff. Like I always say in my clinics: “Don’t allow thoughts that sabotage you, only thoughts that serve you.” And don’t forget to breeeeeathe…
  4. Abs: Strengthen those abs so you don’t use the handlebars to hold you up! Our core should be what holds us up so our arms can move freely with the bike and the ever-changing terrain. Crunches, old school sit-ups, plank, and boat pose (on your back with arms at your side lift legs, chest and arms, suck in gut and hold) are great ways to strengthen that core.
  5. Take a lesson: (From me of course! *wink*) Taking a lesson is a great way to understand fundamentals that you my never have heard before. I find that beginners as well as people who have been riding and racing for 25 years always learn something new to apply to a better, more efficient, safer and stronger mountain bike experience.

We all want to ride for life so take good care of your body and let the bike take good care of your soul. – Lindsey Voreis / RIDE BIKES. BE HAPPY.

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About the author: Lindsey Voreis

Lindsey Voreis is a professional mountain bike skills instructor through PMBI (Professional Mountain Bike Instruction), and IMBA’s ICP (Instructor Certification Program), and she spreads her passion for mountain biking across the globe. In 2003, Lindsey and her professional mountain biker husband, Kirt Voreis developed the AllRide Tour where they traveled North America promoting mountain biking as brand ambassadors, skills instructors, and racers. For more information visit and

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  • Stavros says:

    the box jumps exercise is a very good indeed, but not for persons with knee problems. it hurts them a lot. For a beginner that has now started the gym and trains legs, this is an exercise that should follow after 5-6 months of proper and regular training.

    • Lindsey Voreis says:

      I agree Stavros! This article was merely to help people with little time, no gym membership or access to a professional trainer how to strengthen their core to feel stronger on the bike. Most of the lower body exercises are not great for people with knee issues. I suggest people with knee issues see a professional for proper form and exercises to strengthen the quads and hammies slowly and carefully. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Justin says:

    along with some core work, I have focused heavily on stretching. Not just before rides but everyday to keep my IT bands and other leg muscles loose. This is suppose to relieve the stress on my lower back and help with muscle imbalance.

    • Lindsey Voreis says:

      Oh absolutely Justin!! I completely agree. I am so lazy about stretching sometimes so I do pilates and yoga to force me to slow down, take a breath and stretch it out! Rubbing out those IT bands with a foam rolling works great too. But man oh man does it hurt like Heck!! 🙂

  • Lindsey Voreis says:

    Oops: ‘foam roller’. but I guess we do this to keep on rolling along. 🙂 haha

  • Ray says:

    Don’t forget the more intense bike-specific exercises!

    Seated or bent row is great for tri’s, back, and grip strength. You wheelie or manual or bunnyhop? These are the muscles you need to get those bars up. Generally, 3 sets of 10 is a good place to start.
    Deadlift’s? Proper technique and experience is required, but few exercises do so much for so many muscles (not to mention, build raw strength, deadlift is often the highest weight exercise in a routine). Builds legs, core, shoulders, back, arms, grip, glutes. Everything you need for the next climb. I usually shoot for 25 reps over 3 sets (7, 8 ,10, or something similar.) Switch up your grip every set (wide, narrow, reversed, one hand reversed, etc. You need strength in every position.) You realize how effective it is when you’re doing 150% your body weight after a few weeks. Form over reps and weight. Repeat that. Technique is everything or you will hurt yourself.
    Dumbell benchpress (not a machine or barbell, free weights only!) not only builds chest and arm strength, but also forces you to use the smaller “balance muscles” throughout the movement. Those same muscles let you hold onto bars, while hitting the brake, and steering through a line. Usually, you’re looking at 50-75% of the weight you do on a normal bench press, 25-30 reps over 3 sets.
    My personal favorite, calf raises. Shoulder a barbell like you’re doing a squat, stand on a raised pad (1-2 inches) with just the balls of your feet. Drop your heels, and use your calves to extend to tippy-toes. 3 sets of 15, with 50-75% of the weight you would use for a squat is a good place to start.

    Of course, feel free to drop the weight and up the reps for endurance, or drop the reps and raise the weight for strength.

    I’m a big supporter of a gentle warm up (jog/row/spin for 15-20 mins), stretch, workout, and another stretch. Do it backwards once in a while, just to keep it different. You recover noticeably faster.

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