A mountain biker does a push-up with twist variation.
© Hanna Jonsson

7 pain-for-gain exercises for mountain bikers

Get stronger and more explosive out on the trails with these strength exercises – including a step-by-step guide on how to do them correctly.
Written by Hanna Jonsson
5 min readPublished on
Riding a bike is an amazing (and fun!) way to exercise, but it also means that some muscles are being overused whilst others are completely neglected. Giving the body some extra love and attention in the gym is not only important to keep it strong and well-balanced, but also to give it the best chance to stay injury-free.

Why riders need a full body workout

Annie Söderberg is the Head Performance Coach for the Swedish MTB Team and, with over 10 years of experience working with pro athletes, she knows the ins-and-outs of different rider-specific gym routines. She believes in exercises that work different parts of the body simultaneously, especially those that work diagonally, as they mimic the movements used on the bike.
“It’s not only about having the strength to push into a corner, it’s also about having the strength to hold on and resist the forces out of the corner. Mountain biking is all about counter-forces – you have to be able to pump the bike to carry speed but also be able to absorb an unexpected bump in the trail. Those two are opposite movements, but equally as important. Keeping your body position centred on the bike at all times requires countless counter-movements as you have to move your body backwards and forwards, and side to side, as well as push up and down when new features come at you on the trail.”
Short-term pain can lead to long term gain – in this case, a gain in performance out on the trails. Try these seven exercises that will make you stronger for riding.

1. Overhead squat

Why? A strong full-body exercise with a special focus on the shoulders, lats, core and legs and full-body flexibility.
  • If you struggle with ankle mobility, put some small weights under your heels (to raise them up slightly) to make it easier to squat.
  • Grip the barbell so that your elbows are at a 90º angle and then push it up over your head so that you’re holding the barbell with straight arms parallel to your ears. Lock your arms and back into this position.
  • Squat down as far as possible whilst holding in your core and keeping the arms straight over your head.
  • Push back up using your quads and glutes. It's easy to let the arms fall forward a little bit, so focus on keeping the arms parallel to the ears to make sure you’re working the right muscles.

2. Deadlift

Why? A strong full-body exercise with special focus on glutes, hamstrings and core.
  • Have the barbell just in front of your shins.
  • Bend down by pushing your bum back and keeping your back as straight as possible.
  • Grab the barbell with your hands, push your shoulders back, engage the core and look forward.
  • Lift the bar up as close to your body as possible by standing up.
  • Put it back down again. Remember to keep your core and back equally as engaged going down as going up.

3. Banded side plank with leg lift

Why? A strong core exercise with a special focus on obliques and strengthening and stabilising the hips.
  • Put on a resistance band just above the knees and get into side plank position. Make sure you're straight and not leaning forwards or backwards.
  • Raise your top leg straight up as far as possible in a controlled motion and then lower it back down again.
  • Focus on 'lifting' your core the entire time, so that your waist and shoulders don’t slump down, and keep the hips from rotating backwards or forwards.
  • If it's too hard, do the exercise on the knees instead.

4. Jumping lunges

Why? An explosive exercise that works both leg and core strength and stabilises and strengthens the hips.
  • Take a step back and bend straight down so that the rear leg is at a 90º angle.
  • Make sure that the knee on the front leg is in line with your second toe.
  • In one explosive movement, jump up and swap legs, so that you land in the same position but with your back leg forward and vice versa.
  • Focus on keeping the core engaged the whole time so that the hips and knees are kept from rotating.

5. One-legged push-ups

Why? A strong core and arm exercise with a special focus on hip stabilisation and core engagement.
  • Get into push-up position on your hands or knuckles (if you have sore wrists).
  • Raise one leg whilst keeping the hips level and look forward.
  • Keep the leg raised while you lower your chest down and then push back up again.
  • Alternate the legs.

6. Plank variation with TRX

Why? A strong core exercise that mimics the pedal movement of riding a bike on uneven surfaces.
  • Use a rod or a bar and place it over a half moon ball. Place your feet in the TRX (suspension training) straps.
  • Push up on the bar into a plank position keeping your hips level, bum down and back strong.
  • Alternate bringing the legs into the chest whilst keeping the hips level and core engaged.

7. Plank variation with dumbbells

Why? A strong core exercise with a special focus on back and shoulders.
  • Get into a plank position. Keep your hips level and make sure you don’t sink into the shoulders, rather push out to keep the back strong.
  • Alternate arms pulling the dumbbells up on each side.
  • Remember to pull the dumbbells up close to the body to engage the back muscles as well as the arms.
For all you gym bunnies that don't need instructions on how to do each exercise, these are the seven moves that Annie says will make you stronger and faster on the bike.
  • Overhead squat
  • Deadlift
  • Banded side plank with leg lift
  • Jumping lunges
  • One-legged push-ups
  • Plank variation with TRX
  • Plank variation with dumbbells