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When cyclists reach out to me to help them, it usually comes down to two things: Gains (they want to ride faster) or Pains (something hurts keeping them from riding faster). The good news is the fix is usually a simple one. Notice I said “simple” and not “easy.” Similar to riding a bike, it’s a pretty straightforward thing. Unless, of course, you’re going uphill. Then not so much. To help you ride faster or reduce that pain, we’ll go through the mechanics and show you a mountain biking training program that will help you pedal off into the sunset faster and more confident.

Goldilocks and the Three B’s

Walnute Creek Park Austin Texas

There are three factors that go into riding:

  1. Your brain gives the command to “pedal.”
  2. Your body gets muscles to move bones.
  3. The bike goes forward.

Or, as I like to call it: Brain –> Body –> Bike. Simple, right? So why does any of this matter?

The S.A.I.D. Principle

A SingleTrack Mind Log Rider

The S.A.I.D. principle hard at work…

Because I S.A.I.D. so. Or rather, Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (1) are how we get better at something. For example:

Want To Ride Better Uphill?

Climb more.

Want To Descend Better?

Ride your bike downhill.

In our case, the S.A.I.D. principle looks like this:


Riding a mountain bike is the activity to improve.


You want to ride faster, corner better, etc.


You’re going to do hill repeats, etc. to impose a training stimulus on your body.


You are working on improving the required workload of riding a mountain bike better.

See… the body gets better when you apply a repeated stimulus to overload the system causing an adaptation response. Put simple, if you want to get better at something, do it repeatedly. (2).

Train Like You Ride To Go Faster

China Peak mountain bike race

Race at China Peak Mountain Resort

So, if we want to get better at riding a mountain bike, your strength workouts need to be programmed accordingly. With every exercise you do, you must try to apply the S.A.I.D. principle.  The biggest question to then ask with each exercise – “What does it look like riding a bike?”

You need to look for exercises that mimic the actions you’re doing. Things like:

  • Producing power with one leg to push a pedal down.
  • Applying diagonal loading patterns, similar to how you fly in and out of a corner or ride out of the saddle with strength and control.
  • Resisting lateral forces to meet the demands of constantly changing trail conditions (camber pitch, rocks, roots, etc.)

Simply put, you want your workouts to check each one of these boxes to help you as much as possible in the saddle. Does this mean goblet squats, deadlifts and hip hinging are not good to do? No, not at all. If you want to build general strength, these are great. If you want to ride better, you need to do the split stance, or better yet, single leg versions of these exercises. The biggest reason is because you’ll be producing power on one leg loading your diagonal patterns, while you resist lateral forces. Or more directly stated, riding a mountain bike!

Three Of My Favorite Mountain Bike Exercises

Here are three of my favorite exercises that will check off the boxes above and help you train like you ride.

Split Stance Bent Over Cable Chop

Half Kneeling Pallof Press

1/2 Kneeling Cable Lift

Riding a bike is a blast. Once you adjust your strength mountain biking training program to more closely resemble what you do as you carve up your favorite piece of singletrack, you’ll enjoy being on your bike that much more!

Al Painter, BA, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, TRX, Stick Mobility Coach and AFPA Triathlete Injury Prevention Specialist.

Photo of Al Painter from Integrate Fitness

He has 19 years of award winning training experience and is a NICA Level 1 Coach. This is in addition to having written the strength training chapter for their Coach’s Manual as well as speaking at the annual Northern California High School Mountain Bike Race League Coaching Summits.

You can see more of his training in action by following his Instagram account @doyouintegrate, as well as contacting him on his website – Integrate Fitness to get more information on Mountain Bike specific strength training.


  1. “Functional Training: Exercises and Programming  for Training and Performance ,” Juan Carlos Santana MEd, CSCS
  2. “The World’s Fittest Book,” Ross Edgley