5 Exercises to Improve Strength for Mountain Biking

20-minute MTB Strength Building Routine

with Olivia Smedley, Trail Squad

Mountain biking is a dynamic sport. It requires full-body engagement to stay balanced, in control and powerful on the bike, so it is important to build strength in different muscle groups.

As I train toward completing the 2018 Absa Cape Epic, developing my strength and power on the bike has been a top priority. With the help of Fryer Performance Coaching, I have been performing the following exercises to build strength for mountain biking.  The great thing about these exercises is that they require minimal equipment and can be completed just about anywhere! Watch the video for a quick demo and check out my additional tips below.

Always Warm Up!

Make sure you get warmed up before you start the exercises. A warm-up can be anything that gets your heart beating – a quick jog, a 10-minute ride around the neighbourhood, or just playing around and practising those wheelies on your bike!

Lower Body Power and Strength

On endurance rides, my quads are the first muscle group to start aching. Improving my strength and power in these muscle groups will help me tackle day after day of climbing during the Cape Epic.

  1. Squat jumps
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Have your hands on your hips to start.
  • Sit into the squat – look ahead and keep your back straight.
  • Pause and burst up with as much power as you can.
  • Land stable with both feet.
  1. Body weight squat
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with your feet facing forward.
  • As with the squat jumps, sit into the squat as if you are sitting in a chair – look ahead and keep back straight.
  • Place hands out in front to stabilize yourself.
  • Pause for a moment.
  • Exhale and squeeze your glutes as you lift up.

Upper Body Strength

Developing upper body strength is important for effective bike handling and it also helps to prevent injuries from crashing. When the fatigue starts to set in on longer rides, arm and shoulder strength will keep you in control.

  1. Push Up
  • Start in plank position. Hands just a bit more than shoulder width apart, core engaged, butt tight, shoulders strong.
  • Keeping your body in a straight line from head to toe, lower chest toward the ground until your elbows create a 90-degree angle.
  • Push against the floor and explode back up to plank position.
  1. Shoulder circuit
  • Using dumbbells or whatever you have as weights (even water bottles work). Start small. If you are unsure of weight, start with just body weight creating a fist with your hands and work your way up.
  • Lateral Raise: Stand tall with dumbbells at your sides, palms facing inward and feet hip’s distance apart. Pinch your shoulder blades together to engage. Raise your arms out to the side, palm to the floor, until the weights are at shoulder level. Pause and return to starting position.
  • Front Raise: Stand tall with dumbbells in front of you, palm facing your thighs. Pinch shoulder blades together to engage. Lift dumbbells out in front of you until your arms are parallel with the floor, palms facing down. Pause and lower with control.
  • Bent Over Lateral Raise: Hinge at hips with a slight bend in your knees, back flat and chest parallel to the floor, arms hanging straight to the floor and palms facing each other. With a slight bend in your elbows, raise dumbbells out to the side until your arms are parallel to the ground. Pause and return to starting position with control.

Core Strength

What exercise routine would be complete without the classic sit up? It is an important one for mountain bikers as we rely on our core strength to stabilise through corners and when biking over rough terrain. Start building your abs of steel today! Yes, it will hurt, but it will be worth it.

  1. Curl-ups
  • Roll down slowly, one vertebra at a time.
  • Knees fist distance apart.
  • Exhale as you sit up and inhale as you lower.

With advice from my coach, I started by doing 10 repetitions of each exercise per set for three sets (or 3x10). This routine generally takes around 20 minutes to complete. (By the way, there is no need to rush between exercises. Focus on completing each one with strong body posture rather than the time in which you have done it.)

I hope you find that repeating these exercises regularly will improve your strength and power on the bike! Enjoy.


Hailing from different countries, with different backgrounds, careers, and obligations, the women of the Trail Squad are just like you: they are moms, nurses, designers and teachers, and they love mountain biking. Together, these women are setting out to complete the most EPIC mountain bike stage race of them all, the 2018 Absa Cape Epic.