Harder, better, faster, stronger

How to train in the gym for enhanced riding performance. Coach to the pros Alan Milway shows us how to do the best gym moves for mountain bikers.

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Gym facts

  • A good coach will help you build a realistic session that you can follow.
  • Exercises should help improve weaker areas, and be scaled to your skill level and mobility.
  • Lifting weights will not make you big and bulky, or put on weight. I hear this as a reason people don’t want to lift weights, but in reality you need to be training and eating like a bodybuilder for this to happen.
  • Getting stronger in a safe manner is the answer to most injury or performance problems.
  • Improve mobility and stretch – tight hamstrings, tight hip flexors and weak backs cause a lot of problems on a bike but can all be easily addressed.

You probably don’t think of gym traing as something we mountain bikers should do; it’s for people who want six packs, or sprinters who want to get huge thighs, right? Well not quite — improving your posture, control and strength will reap huge benefits on the bike, and improve your overall health too.

Why should I go to the gym?

Strength shouldn’t be seen purely as a function of muscle size, but as an ability to deliver force — to either maintain a stable position or to put the bike where you want it to be. Strength training is the gold standard for this, and the easiest place to do it is the gym. Gym training can also help reduce imbalances, recover from previous injuries and improve mobility, which may reduce soreness on the bike, improving control when things get rough, and help us deliver bursts of power up or down hill to break away or close a gap.

Gym training should be seen as a way to keep you injury free, pain free and to make you stronger and more ‘robust’. The more you understand about your specific strengths and weaknesses, the more you can direct training sessions and for the most part using body weight movements or free weights will improve function much more than moving from machine to machine.

Gym moves for mountain bikers

Prepare for the session

Stretch calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back and shoulders through a combination of foam roller, trigger point massage with a ball and stretching.


Lunge walk, calf raise, hip bridge, overhead squat with light bar, press up and TRX pull to improve these patterns, and act as a warm up. I like to do all walking, squatting and calf raise work in bare feet or socks to start with as often issues in tightness and poor movement actually come from the feet themselves.

Increase strength

Lower body strength can be improved through leg press, squat pattern, hinge pattern (deadlift) based on experience or coaching. Upper body strength can be improved via pushing/ pulling movements – single arm presses, single arm pulls and bodyweight movement such as chin ups, press-ups and dips.

Trunk control and posture

Use trunk exercises carefully to improve posture – not just try and get a burn and a six pack. Kneeling on hands and knees and ‘deadbug’ variations (flat on your back, limbs in the air), as well as plank and side plank variations are all very worthwhile and will aid not only trunk strength but probably help reduce back pain and soreness.

Feedback loop

Gym Sessions should inform you of any specific limitations you have — is one leg stronger than the other? Is one side weaker than the other in a side plank? Do I wobble when lunging forward on one side and not the other? You may not be able to answer the reasons why, but it will help you understand where strengths and weaknesses are.

Who is Alan Milway?

Alan is the best mountain bike coach in the business. He’s steered riders like the Athertons and Brendog to success, and helps regular riders like us get the most out of our riding.