These challenges will help you check your strength, power output, balance, stability and coordination, and identify areas that need more work, in turn boosting your on-bike performance
We’ve put together seven performance metrics that every mountain biker should meet, or at least aim to achieve. Chosen specifically with mountain biking in mind, by completing the seven challenges outlined here you’ll be testing your strength, balance, power output, stability, coordination and mental fortitude.
Some riders will breeze through all seven challenges, while others will find holes in their ability, which in turn will provide areas for improvement that will ultimately make you a better rider.
In terms of the muscles used, some of the tests overlap, so you wouldn’t want to perform deadhangs right after pull-ups or deadlifts, as your grip strength will be pre-exhausted. To set yourself up for success, we recommend starting at the top of the list and performing one challenge each day over the next seven days. The benchmarks are all based on the average rider, not the elite, but given that very few of us are average, don’t be disheartened if you suck at some of them, as it presents an opportunity to improve off and on the bike.
1. Single leg balance 30 seconds
This one sounds simple, but if you have any instability in your ankles or hips, the single leg balance will instantly raise a red flag. To begin, start a timer and raise one leg off the ground, holding the raised leg slightly in front or behind you, whichever is comfortable. Your arms shouldn’t be flailing around to maintain balance, as it is more about having an active foot.
If you can’t hold the 30-second balance, try standing on one leg when brushing your teeth to strengthen your ankles.
2. Ten push-ups
No physical test would be complete without the strict push-up. Just don’t think of them as punishment, as being able to support most of your weight with your upper body is critical for mountain biking, especially for descenting or absorbing big g-outs and compressions. And by strict, we mean a flat back, hands under your shoulders and chest to the floor in the bottom position with arms locked out in the top position.
If you struggle to do push ups, start by placing your hands on an elevated surface and as you get stronger, slowly work your way down to the floor.
3. 1.5 x bodyweight strength test
The barbell back squat and deadlift are both gold standards in strength training. But if you typically have good body proportions for the deadlift, your leverages will be less advantageous for squatting and vice versa. So we like to combine both lifts. Work up to a 3 rep max in each lift, and the combined weight should be 1.5 times your body weight. So let’s say you are an 80kg rider with no experience in barbell training.
On your first training session you work up to a 60kg squat for three reps. After some rest you then work up to a 90kg deadlift for three reps. The combined total from both lifts is 150kg so almost 2x bodyweight. And while well above our 1.5x standard, there’s plenty of room for improvement as it’s well short of the standards used in the dedicated barbell sports.
4. Side plank – 30 seconds
Core strength is of critical importance for riding and the side plank is the best way to challenge it. You’ll want to maintain a straight centerline throughout, so avoid raising or lowering your hips as the seconds tick away. Test one side first, rest for five minutes, then test the other side.
There shouldn’t be more than a 5 second difference between the duration of both. If you notice that one side is weaker than the other, you can bring up the weak side by always starting and ending your side plank training with your weakest side, so you perform an additional set where it’s needed most.
5. Five bodyweight Pull Ups
Pull ups are hard, there’s simply no way around it. But they are a great adjunct to all of the horizontal pushing we do on and off the bike. So if you want to keep your shoulders healthy, you should have pull ups in your fitness regime.
If you currently can’t perform a single pull-up, don’t worry, you’re not alone. With time, you’ll get there however. Simply scale the exercise back to ring-rows, band-assisted pull ups and jumping pull ups until you develop the strength needed to perform pull ups.
6. Twenty burpees in 2min
FTP and VO2 max are great ways to measure cardio/metabolic fitness but you need pretty high ended equipment to get the data. An equally painful, but much simpler and shorter sufferfest to ascertain your cardiac output is to perform as many burpees as possible in 2min. It’s also a good test of coordination as you fatigue. The target number is 20, and typically you should be able to get 12 in the first minute and 8 in the second minute as you begin to gas out.
To perform a burpee correctly your chest should touch the floor at the bottom of every rep, and your fingers should touch behind your head as you jump off the ground at the top of the movement.
7. Dead-hang for 1min
The importance of grip strength for riding can’t be overstated, but there’s also a growing body of research that shows grip strength correlates well with other health outcomes. It’s also inversely related to fatigue, so if you want to maximise your dead hang time, don’t take the challenge at the end of a strenuous workout.
To perform the dead hang, take an overhand grip on a pull up bar or gymnastic rings and simply hang, relaxing into it. The 1min dead hang challenge doubles as a great stretch that will help decompress the spine.
And if 1 min seems like an eternity, spare a thought for Jonas Vilikovsky, winner of the 2022 Rogue Fitness Cliffhanger Challenge, who managed to hang on for 60 minutes and 20 seconds. Simply amazing.