men riding mountain bikes for physical fitness

Mountain Biking Exercises

Mountain biking is an incredible way to fulfill your daily exercise needs, in addition to a great way to improve and maintain physical fitness. Best of all, the full-body workout that you get from MTB can improve your health, specifically your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. MTB is both cardiovascular and strength-training exercises combined into one activity, and the thrill of mountain biking ensures you will never get bored. But are there certain MTB exercises?

Mountain biking improves physical fitness on its own, but if you are a serious mountain biker, there are some exercises that can help improve your performance. Jumping lunges, pushups, squats, and jogging can all improve the muscle conditioning required for serious mountain biking.

Are you curious about the health benefits of mountain biking? Maybe you want to know what exercises can help improve your performance when mountain biking? For either of these questions, this article is for you. In this guide on MTB exercises, we will take a look at the physical fitness attributes of mountain biking. If you like MTB as a leisure activity or are becoming serious about the sport, this guide will answer all of your questions.

Mountain Biking and Physical Fitness: An Overview

When it comes to riding a bike, exercise can be thought of as just another byproduct of physical exertion. But if you do set out to get physically fitter, then mountain biking can be the most perfect type of exercise.

With that in mind, mountain bikes are a great tool to boost your physical fitness. You can use a mountain bike if you are just starting out in a quest to get leaner and faster within a few short weeks, and let’s face it, riding a bike in the open outdoors can be way more satisfying than being stuck in a gym, and you can still listen to your favorite songs as you give your body a challenging workout.

Mountain biking can even be appealing on days when you are feeling lazy overall. Just basic strides and strolls with your mountain bike can burn calories and awaken your muscles, specifically in a low-impact intensity.

If you are looking to lose weight, a lean diet is important, but 45 minutes to one hour of MTB per day can fulfill all of your exercise requirements.

How To Warm Up For Mountain Biking

It doesn’t matter if you are a novice mountain biker who just enjoys an MTB workout or if you are a professional MTB racer, it is important to warm up before this activity. Warming your body up helps prevent strains, cramps, and soreness in addition to conditioning your body for exercise and calorie burning.

According to the Global Mountain Bike Network, effectively warming up for mountain biking can follow a method known as RAMP, which stands for raise, activate, mobilize, and potentiate.

The raise part of MTB warm-up is essentially getting your body temperature raised from a sedentary, non-exercising level. This can be done either with a brief 10-minute jog or, you can simply jog in place for about 10 minutes.

This not only increases your body temperature and elevates your heart rate, but it also awakens your lower body, which is the primary core of the body that is worked out during mountain biking. It may also help to swing your arms and shoulders back and forth or make punches in the air while jogging to awaken the upper body.

Both activate and mobilize of RAMP are done to activate the central nervous system, as well as the body’s muscular and skeletal systems. This process gets the muscles moving through a full range of motion and generally looks to bring all of the muscles and joints to a full range of motion to prevent any strains or potential injuries during the intensity of mountain bike riding or racing.

This can be done with lunges, full-body stretches, and push-ups. Any warm-up activity that can ensure all the body’s muscles and joints are awakened and stretched is feasible for these two sections of the RAMP warm-up.

Potentiate is the final part of the MTB warm-up and involves heavy and explosive activations of the body’s muscular system. This can be done with jumping lunges and practically any activity that activates the muscles at a forceful rate. A great way to potentiate is to add running jumps during a run or jog.

Even if you do not follow the RAMP warm-up protocol, it is important to do some sort of warm-up activity before you go out on your mountain bike. MTB requires a great deal of lower-body strength, and you will want to ensure your body is prepared for this.

mountain biking exercise warm-up

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How To Build Up Stamina For Mountain Biking

It takes time to build up stamina for mountain biking. Unless you simply take your mountain bike out for an occasional ride along trails in the outdoors, with no intensity, you will have to build stamina for this activity–certainly for the sport of MTB.

To build stamina, you will always want to give yourself a solid warm-up. If you try and go hard straight away, your ride will probably end up being cut short due to the severe exhaustion that can set in. Give yourself about 10 minutes to ride at a steady pace on solid ground before you dive into some of the rougher types of terrain on your chosen MTB path.

It is also important to never stop during your ride. While it is certainly tempting to stop at the top of every climb you meet, try not to do this no matter how tired you may feel. It is important to keep your heart rate up for the whole ride. You don’t necessarily need a heart rate monitor for this as you can get a general feel for this the more you ride.

It is also important to try changing your cadence as much as you can. The key is to try and get away from your natural cadence after a week or two of mountain biking as this can allow you to slowly but surely increase your stamina. Consider walking back to your car once you reach the end of your trail, or even practice carrying your mountain bike back to your vehicle. Basically, anything that keeps the strength training going after the ride can increase cadence.

Also, it is important to try and change up the sort of riding that you do. If you normally only do one or two-hour trail center types of rides, challenge yourself to go even further. One way to do this would be to try a cross-country ride that lasts for about 3-5 hours to see just how far you can last in this advanced type of MTB. Never give up on increasing your stamina by starting slow in the more advanced type of rides.

Sooner or later, the advanced riding will start to feel normal, and then you can try the next challenge.

Speaking of challenges, you should never stop trying to challenge yourself. A great way to do this would be to challenge yourself to ride up short steep climbs. This can be really good for your fitness because you’re putting in a really hard, short sharp effort, but also really good for your skills by trying to get up a climb.

You can also consider timing yourself. You can use a device like Strava or something similar to keep track of how long it is taking you to traverse a path or a climb. Timing yourself can help you maintain endurance when you are feeling really tired and feel like you cannot go any harder. Always follow the time to ensure you complete the task you set out to do.

You can also try and build interval sessions into a normal trail ride. Depending on how big the hill or slope is that you need to get up, you can practice interval training on short climbs to build your stamina in interval training. Consider timing the intervals in one-minute bursts in sessions of 5 intervals.

It goes without saying that one of the best ways to increase your stamina with MTB is to ride often. Try to ride your mountain bike 3 to 4 times per week and do not ride until you injure yourself or need a long recovery after an intense ride. Vary your efforts across these 3 to 4 rides per week and focus on sprint intervals and maintain a good average heart rate the entire time.

Lastly, it is important to stretch before and after a hard ride. This can really help keep away any aches and pains that can occur from even low-intensity bike rides.

How To Build Endurance For Mountain Biking

With MTB, stamina and endurance are two separate concepts altogether. This is because there is an actual sport of endurance MTB known as Enduro Mountain Biking. While endurance MTB races often take over four hours to complete, they have little in common with long, steady base miles on the road.

Most races are normally hilly, discontinuous efforts on steep grades. Rather than a set number of hours in zone 2, the races tend to be chunks of near-threshold efforts followed by rest periods. Sometimes, a race effort is so discontinuous that it looks more like a series of bursts than it does an endurance ride. You can use this as reassurance that getting away from your base miles is not sacrificing the specifics of a race.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at ways you can build endurance to perform well in Enduro MTB.

Tailor Your Exercises

You can tailor your workouts to match the dynamics of a specific endurance race. Taking individual components of your races and breaking them down into workouts can be a productive way to plan your early season sessions. Most mountain bike races have sections of above-threshold riding (often at the start), low cadence efforts (on the climbs), and punchy efforts (traversing on singletrack).

You can use these efforts to design sessions that are achievable either on the trainer or can be completed during a shorter ride outside. Completing two to three appropriate and well-planned workouts each week will be attainable even for athletes with the minimum amount of time to train.

Keep an Eye on Your Weight

A big concern for those who perform endurance MTB is excessive weight gain that will be harder to budge come the summer when most Enduro races are held. This shouldn’t be a concern if you’re eating the right diet; use this part of the season to focus on how to improve your eating.

Certainly better than riding mindless miles on the road, controlling your portion size is the simplest way to get started, and provides the easiest method to alter your calorie intake based on the day’s energy expenditure on the bike.

Use Nasal Breathing Only

Always remember to breathe through your nose when you are riding. For most people, as soon as they get on the bike and start breathing intensely, they begin to breathe through their mouths. Nasal breathing helps you to improve your endurance, efficiency and helps to keep you in a relaxed and calm state of mind while on the bike.

Mouth breathing has a tendency to put people into a stressed-out, fight-or-flight mode of thinking, and this is because our respiratory systems were designed for nasal breathing primarily and only mouth breathing as a backup emergency method of taking in oxygen. Nasal breathing can not only improve your MTB endurance, but it can also improve your overall cardiovascular and respiratory health in general.

getting in shape for mountain biking

Image by Gianni Crestani from Pixabay

How To Get Better At Mountain Biking

We have talked about building stamina and endurance to excel at MTB, but what are some specific things you can do to get better at mountain biking?

This can range from certain sites to practice and some key tips to keep in mind for increasing performance. Let’s take a look at some steps to take to get better at mountain biking.

Step 1: Practice at Tracks Where Available

If you can find a pump track, be sure to use these tracks to your advantage and practice every day through trial and error. Anywhere where you can practice jumping, cornering, and pumping is ideal for this type of practice. You can also find an area of wilderness to do that has a lot of small hills and slopes.

It is so easy to transfer all the skills you learn on a pump track or applicable track when out on the trail. Especially jumping and cornering.

Step 2: Change Up Your Routine

It is also important to mix it up a bit. Meaning, go away from where you ride your mountain bike the most and find somewhere that is rocky or muddy to start to increase your challenges.

This will allow you to hone in all of your acquired skills that you do not get from your local trail. Also, do not shy away from rain or muddy conditions as this is all part of becoming a better mountain bike rider.

Step 3: Always Prioritize Physical Fitness

MTB does indeed increase physical fitness, but it is important not to rely solely on mountain biking to be your entire physical fitness plan. It is also important to do strength training and other cardio exercises to increase your physical fitness outside of your MTB riding.

This is also important on days and certain times during the winter months when it will not be easy to go mountain biking. Always prioritize physical fitness outside of MTB as this will increase your endurance and make you a better rider overall.

Step 4: Tailor Your Bike

Make sure to spend a good amount of time maintaining your bike. Be sure to always check and maintain the tire pressure of your bike. Always make sure you check and maintain the suspension of your bike as well since this is the one feature of a mountain bike that increases the maximum capacity and longevity of your bike.

Maintaining the correct tire pressure and suspension will give you a lot more grip out on the trail, which will also help you to maintain an increased performance output in getting better at mountain biking overall.

Step 5: Use Trail Centers

Trail centers are crucial for any mountain biking enthusiast. If you happen to live near MTB trail centers, you will have your work cut out for you. If not, you can always scope out your local nature trails on the outskirts of your region to see if there are any viable trails for mountain biking; chances are there will be.

Trail centers are a great place to hone your skills, and trail centers can also double as sites for races and competitive racing with friends or other mountain bikers as well.

Step 6: Start Racing

Speaking of racing, you should try to start racing after you have put in some appropriate time learning the basics of MTB. In addition to being the centerpiece of MTB as a sport, racing is also a great way to go out into the wilderness and have some overall fun with your mountain bike.

Racing under the clock is also a great way to help you get out of your comfort zone and shake off any nerves and anxieties you may still have about advanced mountain bike racing. You do not have to start strong, that is only for professionals, but you do have to start somewhere, and starting racing is the best way to start increasing your endurance for MTB racing in general.

Step 7: Eat Healthily

We touched on this above but it is worth repeating since a healthy diet is within your best interest as a lifestyle choice to take seriously. Healthy eating can also build your endurance with MTB as well. It is not feasible to expect to get better at mountain biking if your daily diet consists of heavy and high-calorie junk food.

Instead, start eating a diet that consists of 75% vegetables, fruit, and grains, as well as lean meats and some dairy. Stay away from excess sugar and carbohydrates, and make sure you make water your main and number one source of hydration every single day.

Step 8: Stay Organized

Staying organized, and this goes for every facet of your life, is the best mindset and habit to get into when you also want to get better at mountain biking. Apart from MTB, staying organized is a great way to ease stress and anxiety and to better overcome the occasional woes we all have in life.

In terms of MTB, good organization is key to becoming a better racer. You can begin by organizing all of your race dates in a calendar that allows you to know exactly when the races are and allows your brain to prioritize practicing to ensure you do well in a race. Organization is key when it comes to racing because if you are not organized, you are not going to be in tip-top shape.

Getting things organized before you go for a ride, everything from your garage to your home that may be messy helps to free up the cluttered feeling you may have in your mind.

Exercises For Mountain Biking

Exercises for MTB will typically prioritize work on the lower body, which is the part of the body where most of the work of MTB is concentrated.

Most of the exercises that work well for preparing for mountain biking and maintaining adequate physical fitness to ensure you perform consistently with MTB are cardio-based exercises. Running, jogging, and lunges and squats are all great exercises to do to stay in tip-top shape for mountain biking.

But the main types of exercises that directly correlate to the physical fitness required for mountain biking are bodyweight exercises.

Bodyweight Exercises For Mountain Biking

You should begin bodyweight by warming up first. This is important to prevent the pulling of a muscle. You can warm up by doing between 5-10 arm circles in both a forward and backward position.

Doing between 10-20 squats and another 10-20 side squats to stretch out the inner thighs are also beneficial to warm up the body. You can finish with another 10-20 jumping jacks to fully warm up the entire body.

The main types of bodyweight exercises you should do to align with MTB are side step squats, leg squats, bicycle crunches, push-ups, and side planks.

All of these movements should be done with anywhere between 20 to 30 repetitions each, and you can increase the repetitions depending on your overall level of physical fitness and endurance.

You can also work on doing bodyweight exercises that use your core muscles throughout the body. The key to these exercises is that you will be holding compromising positions with the entire weight of your body. Core exercises engage all the muscles within your body, and when it comes to MTB, it’s all about muscle strength.

How To Recover From Mountain Biking

A great way to recover after an intense mountain biking session is to rest of course, but you do not want to be 100% sedentary between each MTB ride that you do. High-intensity exercises like what you perform during mountain biking actually damage the body’s muscles, but the muscles are instantly repaired if you give them the type of recovery they need.

One great recovery activity after MTB is swimming. You do not have to do intense swimming, but doing some light reps and rotations in a pool or body of water is a great way to condition and activate your muscles, but not to the degree that damage will occur.

Getting 8 hours of sleep per night, 7 at an absolute minimum, is also crucial to recover from practically any high-intensity physical activity. It is also important to stretch as much as you can and always remember to stretch immediately after waking up and right before you start riding.

exercising for mountain bike performance

How To Prevent Leg Cramps When Mountain Biking

Leg cramps are to be expected when you do long bike rides, particularly MTB. Additionally, as we age, cramps are much more common and can happen in even the most physically fit as a fact of life regarding the aging process.

You can prevent common leg cramps stemming from mountain biking by ensuring that your bike fit, which is how well you comfortably fit and adapt to your bike, is in tip-top shape for maximum riding comfort. It is also important to ensure that you stay hydrated during a ride or race which is also a common cause of leg cramps.

Strength Training For Mountain Biking

Strength training can be crucial in ensuring that you have the required upper and lower body strength to hold up during an intense MTB ride or race.

If you find that you lack a bit of upper body strength, using a bench press is a great way to build and strengthen muscles in the upper part of the body through weight lifting for mountain biking. You can also do pushups as well which will directly aid your riding when you take heavy hits or begin to feel tired during a ride or a race.

Additional exercises for strength training include practically any type of lunges and squats which we mentioned above. You can also do side planks and Russian twists which will also work both the upper and lower body and increase strength in your body’s muscles.

Best Leg Exercises For Mountain Biking

When determining how to strengthen legs for mountain biking, squats are one of the best exercises you can do. Doing squats is beneficial for cyclists because it helps to keep the hamstrings balanced by working them in a different way to the pedaling action. As a mountain biker, you should aim to squat down fairly low, so that your thighs are roughly parallel with the ground, which is an angle your legs will be used to through pedaling.

From the squat position, jump up as high as you can, as hard as you can, but keep your hands as close to your hips as you can so you don’t create artificial momentum. Repeat this 15 times in sets of four, doing them quickly and powerfully to build up strength.

Another leg exercise to consider for MTB is lunging. Lunges are an excellent all-around exercise for improving leg strength. Lunging engages your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles so they are an excellent all-round exercise for improving leg strength. They also help iron out any minor imbalances in thigh strength.

Start by standing with one leg slightly in front of the other, then step forward with your right leg so the bend at the knee is 90 degrees. Keep the weight towards your heels and then bring your body back to a standing position, pushing off the front leg, before repeating on the opposite leg. Repeat this 16 times.

Practically any exercise that uses your legs is great for increasing leg endurance when mountain biking. You can also even consider running or jogging if you wish to take a more streamlined and simplistic approach to leg exercises.

Does Running Help With Mountain Biking?

Running certainly does help with MTB as a whole. Running is one of the only exercises that offer a complete and full-body workout in the most rudimentary of physical fitness activities.

Going for a daily run can increase your lung capacity, strengthen your heart, and of course build muscles, trim fat, and improve bones and joints provided you run safely and efficiently.

Running directly correlates to better mountain biking stamina and endurance threshold, and just a simple 2-3 mile run a day is enough to increase your MTB endurance tenfold.

If you do not want to go by miles, you can also go by a set amount of time spent running each day. Aim for one hour to get the maximum benefits from running.