Can Resistance Training Improve MTB Performance?

Words by Natalie Fraser

The purpose of resistance training is to increase muscle strength and endurance by forcing the muscles to work against an external resistance.

This resistance can come from a variety of exercises and you may already be working hard in the gym, squatting and lunging like a beast. But have you considered specific resistance training on the bike? The thing is, if you want to get stronger on the bike, the one foolproof way to do it is by riding your bike but if you want to maximise your power training opportunities, here are a few things for you to try…

Hill Repeats

One of the most basic types of training you can do on the bike is hill repeats. Quite simply this involves finding a hill and riding up it repeatedly, using the time to ride down as your rest. How long your sessions are and how steep a hill you choose will depend on your goals, fitness level and what elevation you have to play with. A good starting point is to choose your training ground and see how many times you can ride up, this will give you a benchmark to try and beat in each session.

How to tackle steps and roots uphill

Once you are comfortable with basic hill repeats and find yourself needing a bigger challenge, there are a few ways you can up the ante. Firstly, you can use your gears; riding up in the highest gear you can manage will really increase your muscle strength. Depending on what gear you choose, you may need to stand up and pedal for this but that will bring your whole body into play rather than just isolating your quads and glutes for climbing. Standing demands more oxygen due to involving more muscles and so increases your heart rate quicker than sitting, so it’s also a good way to increase your aerobic threshold.

Turbo Hill Repeats

Another way to make those hill repeats even harder is to increase the weight you are carrying. You can do this in two ways;

Weight your body: Weighted vests come in a variety of weights from 2kg right up to 30kg and beyond. Personally, I use an 8kg vest and I find that once the vest is on, it doesn’t feel as heavy as you might think.

The weight is evenly distributed and there are lots of muscles working to hold it up. Wearing the vest is an easy way to add more resistance to your workouts and really makes a difference especially when pedalling out of the saddle as your upper body comes into play more at this point and your arms are working just as much as your legs.

When looking into getting a vest, bare in mind how much your riding bag weighs when you’re fully loaded with water, snacks and other essentials. You need to go for a weight greater than this to get the most benefit. You can get vests that have variable weight, so if you are unsure, these may be worth looking into.

If you don’t fancy investing in a weight vest, you can always load up your hydration pack with weights!

Weight your bike: If the idea of carrying additional weight on your body isn’t appealing, why not try and strap your kit to your bike. There are a number of great bags and straps on the market for you to laden with weights, but if you want to go full-tilt, consider some panniers and really pack them up.

Brow Sprints

Photo: Saskia Dugon Photography

If you are looking to work on your power output after a climb, brow sprints may be worth a try. Essentially for these, you ride up the hill at a decent pace, conserving energy while maintaining a good cadence. Once you reach the top (the brow) you put the power down and go for it! Changing to the big ring to add resistance until your legs are burning and might drop off at any second. These are great for budding racers who want to gain the advantage at the top of climbs when the other competitors might slow down or freewheel to catch their breath.

Power Starts

Fed up with hill talk? Ok here’s one that can be done on the flat. For power starts you start from a dead stop, with your bike in a high gear and then set off pedalling out of the saddle and keep going until you get on top of the gear. Try to keep your upper body relatively relaxed and still as you peddle, you want the power to come from your legs. Aim for around five efforts per workout with full recovery in between.

Remember before you do any training, you need to be fully warmed up so spend 15-20 minutes pedalling gently, getting the muscles warmed up and the blood flowing. Then feel the burn!

By incorporating resistance work into your training schedule, you should notice an increase in your strength in a few weeks. Those hills will be a breeze in no time!

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