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Coach's Column: Weight Training for the MTB Racer

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |February 20, 2014 3:36 AM

Coach's Column with Lynda Wallenfels: Weight Training for the MTB Racer

Question: Are you a strong proponent of strength training in the off season and if so how would you structure a program to maximize benefits going into the race season?  What are your favorite/most beneficial exercises?

Answer: I am a strong proponent of year-round strength training for mountain bike racers. Cycling does not strengthen the core or upper body, but paradoxically requires a very strong core and reasonable upper body stability. During the race season, MTB racers should perform dedicated core training sessions three times per week for 30 mins on non-race weeks, and less on race weeks.

During the off-season athletes have the opportunity to allocate more of their weekly energy balance to strength training. Strength training priorities for MTB racers in the off season are: rehab, prehab, establishing resilience, correcting movement patterns and alignment. Building muscular hip and leg strength for performance benefits on the bike should be the last strength training priority.  I estimate this last strength training priority is appropriate for roughly only 10% of my racers.

Riding a bike is horrible for posture. A season of training and racing creates an unbalanced physique. Strength training increases speed on the bike by creating injury-resilience and subsequently avoiding injury-induced interruptions. Training interruptions due to injury always have a detrimental effect on fitness development and timing of peak performance at key races. Knee tendonitis three weeks before a peak race undermines everything. Strength training in the off-season is like buying insurance.


Rehab: Fix any lingering injuries, nags and aches with physical therapy.

Prehab: Correct muscle imbalances, strengthen weaknesses, release tight areas and establish correct movement patterns.

Core: Increase core strength with a large variety of exercises.

Upper Body:Increase upper body stability strength with planks, push-ups, pull-ups and other body weight exercises.

Only when the above four priorities are truly taken care of is it appropriate to progress to #5.

Full Body:Increase full body strength and power.

The most beneficial exercises to add in the off-season are athlete–specific, depending on rehab and prehab needs. In general, most cyclists have weak glutes and tight hamstrings and should include exercises to address those areas.

Lynda Wallenfels is a Category 1 certified USA Cycling coach. She coaches mountain bike, cross country and endurance athletes to personal bests and national championships. Lynda has been coaching off-road athletes for 16 years and racing for 18 years. Contact her through her website for information on mountain bike training plans, coaching and consulting at


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