by Robynne Stastny

Personal Trainer to some of your favourite elite mountain bikers, Alan Milway shares his top exercises for Downhill MTB.

Downhill racing is like the ‘Formula 1’ of mountain biking. Riders strive for every advantage in their bike and body to attack rough and fast tracks quicker than anyone else. Being physically fit and strong is vital and I work closely with riders to help them achieve this.

A lot of the exercises we do are aimed at building strength and power and transfer between sports – a rower, swimmer or boxer may well employ a lot of the exercises we use and quite rightly so. However, there are some that we use to condition for the specific demands of the bike and can be included into your training too!

Upper Body exercises:

1. Plyo Press Ups

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Training season 👊🏼

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Exploding up from a press up generates a lot of power and this high rate of force generation is what is demanded during a race. The landing phase of this exercise is also important, as controlling the body under landing is like a simulation of hitting the track on steep runs. Holding your body in a strong position is key.

2. Ball throws and catches

Another great way to generate high power movements, experience a high rate of force development and be more explosive in nature is by throwing balls into a wall, a floor, or the air. To add more fun and control, do this with your back on the floor and have a partner catch the ball from above and drop back down onto you! Fire it back up as high as you can and then prepare for the next catch.

3. Wrestlers

These are a great way to replicate the arm pump felt during long downhill runs. I took this name for the exercise as we saw a team of Olympic wrestlers doing this as they didn’t have a rope in the gym. I realised it was ideal for mountain bikers! Hold 12kg dumbbells in a bent over row position and reach them forward and row them in an anticlockwise direction, forming large circles as you do. Stay bent over with a flat back and pull back towards armpits each time. This will really challenge the grip and forearm strength when done for times approaching a minute!

Lower Body Exercises:

1. Squat Jumps

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Barbell Squat Jumps are a form of plyometrics that are designed to bring you both strength and explosiveness. ———————————————————— Benefits of the Barbell Squat Jump: – 1️⃣ Improves explosiveness off of 2 feet – 2️⃣ Improves your vertical jump – 3️⃣ Strengthens the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and even your core! ———————————————————— To perform the Barbell Squat Jump: – 1️⃣ Get into the position that you normally would to perform a standard squat. – – 2️⃣ Perform a standard squat and then explode up into a jump from your lowest point (This will require strength of your legs and your core). – 3️⃣ Land back into a standard squat position, making sure that you hinge your hips backwards and dont allow your knees to go past your toes. – 4️⃣ Repeat “X” amount of times, depending on what your purpose of performing the exercise is. ———————————————————— To maximize the strength and explosiveness you gain from this exercise, add more weight and do either 3-5 reps. – To maximize the stamina of the body parts listed above, perform the exercise with lighter weight and do either 10-12 reps. This will still help you add strength/explosiveness, just not as much. ————————————————————— #squat #squatjumps #squatjump #explosive #explosiveness #explosivetraining #plyometrics #plyo #vertical #verticaljump #hipmobility #grind #strengthtraining #strength

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A variation of a common gym movement, jumping high with a weight across your shoulders will help reach peak velocity and power outputs – not only helping you to drive the pedals at speed but control the landing on your bike. This is an area that anyone returning from an injury will have noticed is very weak and causes poor technical form or more crashing as they struggle to land from drops in a strong body position. We are not looking for heavy loads on the bar for squat jumps, with rarely any more than 30 percent of max squat. I have a friend who trained in Russia with some cyclists using well over 100kg on their backs for these exercises – I wouldn’t want to deal with the possible spine problems from this!

2. Box Jumps and Landings

As mentioned above, controlling the bike from drops and rough terrain needs control from the legs and arms, and landings are crucial. High eccentric landings are great, but often pose a high injury risk or aggravate previous injuries. Can you drop from a box in a controlled way when the box is higher than your max vertical jump? Try a 60cm box to start with and see with the help of a coach!
Box jumps with a step down are another great way to train this, but without the hard landings.

3. Pistol squats to box

I use these during rehab but they are also a great way to build fatigue and the ‘burn’ in the legs – single leg squats to a box at mid-thigh height to maintain control and form. Five feel fine but turn these to 35 reps and you will be shaking! Compare left and right legs to see if there is weakness is one over the other.

Trunk / Core

On the bike, the trunk is the foundation for all movements and control of the bike, and if you are flopping around half way down the track, you won’t have this foundation from which to pull and push against. Build a strong core with your classic exercises, but also these bike specific ones:

1. TRX straps

These straps build instability in your exercises, and help spice up planks, press ups and rows to challenge the trunk as you go. Maintain a strong position throughout any movements – as you can quickly be pulled out of a solid foundation into a sore back position without focus!

2. Hanging leg raises

Riding bikes can often lead to tight and weak hip flexors. These can then affect your lower back, making it sore and tight. Hanging leg raises are ideal to build their strength as well as work the abdominals – straight leg raises with a pause at the top for advanced athletes, knees bent and up to 90 degrees to start with.

3. Side plank holds

Using a GHD machine, or having a friend hold your feet on a bench, have your hips at the edge and face across the room in a side plank position. Hold a nice flat position for 10 seconds before resting for 10 seconds. Then repeat. This takes you out of the sagittal plane (almost like your ‘halfway’ point in the body), where we often do a lot of our core training and helps build robustness in the frontal plane (the plane that divides your stomach and your back) where you often end up on a mountain bike – things never point straight down!

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