6 Proven Ways to Improve Your Mountain Biking (That You Haven’t Tried Yet)

Improve your mountain biking skills

If you’re anything like me, cycling, specifically mountain biking, is a major part of your life. So much so that winter is just a means to an end. With us being in the dead of winter, now is the perfect time to learn new tips and build skills to get ahead of the competition before race season! So, here are 6 things you can implement that will undoubtedly level up your mountain biking. These are proven strategies I’ve learned from both experimenting on myself through the years and from training my clients to see success in getting a podium. It may sound too good to be true, but as with all sports, success follows hard work. These tips should just get you started.

1. Create a strong mental fortitude

  • Embracing the hard things in life and athletics will mentally set you up for success. Hills never get any easier, you just get stronger.
  • Long grueling climbs and punchy kickers are half of mountain biking. You might as well embrace the hard part. Always taking the easy road has quite a long-reaching set of consequences, ranging from cycling inability to debilitating laziness at home and work.
  • We want to train ourselves to do the hard thing constantly, and that doesn’t just mean taking the brutally-straight-uphill service road; it means neglecting our own desires sometimes.
  • Don’t take that extra cookie, ask for water at a party, meal prep at home, or wake up at a seemingly ungodly hour to sweat your tail off with a bunch of other people just as mental as you. Hard? Absolutely. Giving up extra sweets and late nights SUCKS, but diabetes, obesity, and laziness suck more.
  • When you take the high road, not only will it get easier, it will become natural. You’ll be one of the few who actually like climbing uphill! We’re a very small subset of athletes, but after a while, the climb becomes an opportunity to leave your buddies in the dust, all the while getting more time to point toward that oversized fork down the hill–and who doesn’t like some well-earned steeze?

2. Get off your bike - get in the gym

  • Before you gather the mob to burn me at the stake, hear me out: You've already got your MTB legs under you, you’ve already had years of experience teaching your legs to spin, and how to hold your body in the correct position. Doing more of the same just results in plateauing.
  • Look at the people who get paid for a living to race–the pros spend a significant amount of time in the gym prepping their bodies for the upcoming season. If you really want to see massive gains, get in the gym and challenge your muscles with resistance. Cross-train with running, rowing, a few powerlifting moves, and a whole ton of functional training (more on that in a bit).

3. Focus on your core

  • Your control and power originate in your abdominal muscles first and foremost, especially when it comes to mountain biking, primarily a muscle group called your Transverse Abdominis. Cycling in general demands a lot of balance in and of itself, but then add varying terrain, constant body position changes (on and off-center no less), and a whole body workout demanding mental focus and you have, quite honestly, one of the most physically demanding sports. Because of all of this, we need a core that is not only powerful, but also strong in endurance.
  • After changing my own workout program to include a very core-heavy bias, I noticed within just a few weeks that my times on the bike both up and downhill greatly improved. Most importantly, however, I felt the most in control of my riding that I’ve ever felt. Confidence breeds speed, and boy did the speed come.

4. Do functional exercises

  • When we talk about functional exercises, we’re talking about movements that correlate to the sport at hand. These should primarily be compound movements, meaning moving more than one joint at a time (pull-ups vs a bicep curl). We want to mimic the type of movements we’re doing in our sport.
  • For example, a barbell squat may add a bit of strength training, but when do you ever go down on your pedals with both feet in line at a slow pace? Literally never! So, instead, do weighted lunges, pistol squats, jump lunges, and the worst/best exercise of them all - Bulgarian split squats.
  • For core specifically, get off your back and challenge your balance. All of the aforementioned exercises hit the abdominal complex, while others, like windshield wipers and plank variations, target it specifically.

5. Get clipless shoes

  • Yeah, the name is a bit weird and misleading. To save a history lesson, I am talking about the “clipped-in” style of pedals and shoes.
  •  Not only do they add complete stability, they use the full range of motion in your legs, allowing you to pull up on the pedals as well as push down, adding a massive amount of power and predictability.
  • Worried about crashing? Welcome to mountain biking!  It’s an occupational hazard. Don’t worry though, almost all will have a retention spring in the pedal to help tighten or loosen the mechanism.

6. When you do ride, ride with purpose.

  • Finally, like working out, have a goal for each ride. Don’t just set out for a half-baked whimsical idea.
  • Out for a fun ride with friends? Tell yourself that. It’s a chill rest ride. Or, if you're the SCE Fitness Race Team, it’s a chill ride until we leave the parking lot, and then it turns into an all-out race by accident. Every…single...time…
  • Either way, have an idea of why you’re riding and set a goal to accomplish it. It will give you an accomplishment as well as a way to look back and see progress!

There is so much more to be talked about that I just don’t have the space for here. Form, programming, supplementation, and diet are all subjects I could write essays about. For now, these tips have and will help anyone looking to improve their ability! Don’t know where to start? Want to know more? Send me an email or drop by the gym in downtown Spokane, I’d love to help get you there!

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