Let’s all hate the leg press

MTB strength trainer James Wilson has a post on his site called “Leg Press = The Devil.” What I’m wondering is, how does he really feel about the leg press?

James’s stance
Basically, because the leg press braces your hips and completely removes your core and upper body from the motion — not to mention omitting all stabilization and 3D motion — it’s useless for cycling.

James prefers deadlifts. They work you in a more integrated way. Not exactly like cycling, but much more applicable.

My experience
I the mid-90s, when I was terrorizing the middle of the expert downhill class, I spent a winter in the gym with a drill sergeant of a personal trainer.

Every Wednesday, we did legs — and we did them hard.

After a battery of ridiculously hard, heavy exercises, he plopped me down into the leg press.

I’d do 20 reps with just the sled. He’d add 45 lbs to each side. I’d do 20 more, and so on until the sled was fully loaded. At that point he’d jump on and yell even louder.

I was moving something like 1,400 pounds for 20 reps, then we’d step back down the ladder until I could barely move the sled.

I thought this was pretty impressive, and, judging by how sore I was for the entire week, it must have made me stronger.

Did it help my cycling? No. Not in the slightest.

1. My skills back then were horrible! I had no idea.

2. I was so ruined, my riding quality went down. Who wants to rock intervals after a session like that?

3. I now realize the motion just wasn’t right, and I was wasting my time, money and kung fu.

These days I’m way less young and structurally sound, but my skills are decent, and I’m strong enough to get the job done — thanks in part to careful but consistent application of James’ dumbbell exercises.

The one-legged deadlift rocks! Not only am I getting cleaner with the 45-lb dumbbell, but I feel the motion transfer to the bike. There’s so much power in your hips — you have no idea!

Pretty cool.

Have fun out there.

— Lee

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Learn more:

James Wilson’s MTB Strength Training System


3 replies
  1. Karmen says:

    I got a chuckle out of your intro to this piece. Thanks for the early morning smile! Good to hear your experience with the hip sled vs dumbell exercises. Makes alot of sense to me. I started doing the dumbell combos this Fall and am very curious to see how I ride this Spring. I too can see and feel how my hips are getting stronger and how I am applying different and better movement patterns. Still is a little challenge to my thinking about how lifting lighter weights in this way can be more beneficial, but yet I am learning and understanding it more and more.
    I appreciate your tips on website and YOUR BOOK ROCKS!!! There is alot to mountain biking skills and you break it down so very very well. The light-hearted statements with a bit of attitude are refreshing too.
    I’ve listened to a couple of your podcasts with James and heard you state how much effort it was for you to create the book. Thanks for your effort. I see it as a key piece for the mountain biking community.

  2. Chris says:

    I was a gym instructor back in the day and we’d never heard of a plank. For many types of athletes, I really think the ‘whole body’ exercises that have sprung up over the last decade are just great.

    Well, the good news is I don’t ever have to do leg presses again. Thanks James and Lee. The bad news is now I need to get something else to replace it.

    I wonder just how strong the legs on a mountain biker need to be?

  3. leelikesbikes says:

    >> I wonder just how strong the legs on a mountain biker need to be?

    The stronger the better! As long as you have good mobility, clean movement, etc … Those latter items are probably more important.

    As my high school strength coach used to say, “Anything a weak muscle can do, a strong muscle do do better.”

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