Why weight (lift)?

I’ve been getting lots of questions about weight training, especially for downhill and 4X. This is a really complex topic, and everyone has a different idea. But here’s my approach:

“Anything a weak muscle can do, a strong muscle can do better.”

  — my high school strength coach

During the winter Steve Peat does a general circuit training workout. Nothing super intense, he says, he just hits every body part to build overall strength.

All bike riders can benefit from an all-around strength program. It seems the stronger you are at pedaling, the weaker you are at everything else. Imagine the legs on a Tyrannosaur, then picture his puny arms.

Brad Andress, the strength coach for the Colorado Rockies baseball team, spoke at a recent EAS seminar. He said there are three reasons to work out in a gym:

1. Injury recovery or prevention. That’s me. My shoulders need constant maintenance.

2. Performance enhancement. See No. 3.

3. Self-image problems. I swing between feeling puny/weak and fat/slow. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.

Aggressive riding demands total-body strength. You can get strong during the riding season, but it’s best to start the season with a strong base. Well-balanced musculature prevents injuries. Stronger muscles go longer faster. And if you can bench 300, chicks will dig you.

Years ago Brian Lopes lifted heavy and got huge, but now he does a lots of reps and “low” weight. Low for him — maybe not for you.

There are a ton of approaches out there, but here are some core truths:

– Train you entire body. Hands to feet. The more joints the motion uses, the better.

– Don’t train body parts. Train movements.

– Train the major movers. Stability training is all the rage these days, but if you push your major muscles hard (e.g. squats), your stabilizers do what they’re made to do — stabilize.

– You don’t need specific equipment of protocols. As Andress said, any exercise counts as long as you can 1. Control the workload, 2. Steadily increase the workload, and 3. Measure your progress.

– Be consistent! It’ll get you farther than Herculean but sporadic lift-a-thons.

– Your sport is the main thing. Don’t weight-train so much you jack up your riding. It makes sense to lift most in the off season.

I’m always changing things up, but here’s my basic approach. It’s kept my shoulders safe, and it’s given me decent overall strength. You can do these motions with your bodyweight, barbells, dumbbells, rubber bands, sand bags, or whatever. Your muscles don’t know the difference. The key is to work all of the major movement planes. I try for twice a week if I’m not too thrashed from riding.

Not super impressive, but it gets the job done.

Upper body push
Up – military press
Forward – bench press
Down – dips

Upper body pull
Down – pulldowns or pullups
Toward you – bent or seated rows
Up – upright row, power clean

Lower body push
Squats, deadlifts
Lunges forward, backward and sideways

Lower body pull
Straight-legged dead lifts (hamstrings)

Forward planks and crunches
Backward planks and crunches
Sideways planks and crunches
Downward dog/upward dog yoga sequence

The whole shebang
Power clean
Sun salutations (a simple yoga sequence)

I do between 10 and 25 reps, with light weight. I love lifting heavier, but my body can’t take it. Ideally, you’ll do this through the off season to build mass and strength. A month before the racing starts, bump up the resistance and do sets of 5-6. Move the weight as fast as you can. This builds power.

Ride your bike!

10 replies
  1. leelikesbikes says:

    1. Polite answer: It’s a good way to hone your spin. Real answer: It’s silly for a mountain bike racer who already has a good spin. I spent 6 months on a fixie, and all it did was make me keep pedalig through rock gardens. Kind of cool, kind of not. CRACK says Mr. Pedal.

    There’s a theory that people start riding silly bikes — fixies, single speeds, cross bikes — when they can no longer go fast on real bikes. “Dude, I’m slow, but I’m core!”

    2. Ha! The shirtless pump track action was at The Spring 2005 SuperFly DH Invitational Universe Championships after-party. I kind of lost my mind. Check it out:


  2. Trevor says:

    i dont do weights, just cross training, and i brought a road bike (singlespeed steel thing) its great fun blasting around and it has improved my fitness and leg strength!!

    as for upper body, try downhill skating and get into the slide scene!! its like trying to do push ups are 40 mph will being pulled in half! works every muscle in your upper body and once you start to do 360’s ect you look good to!

  3. Keith says:


    Good advice!!! Weight training is an important aspect of an effect overall training program. As for your theory about why poeple start riding other type of bikes I am going to call BS!!! I am a BMXer at heart and I happen to be somewhat sick and twisted becasue I like to put the hurt on roadies, CX dudes, and of course my MTB friends. This season I will be taking aim at the cross country dudes and hammer out some MTB tandems races with my woman. Don’t get too excited I will still be representing the old timers in the Semi-pro 4X. You may like bikes, but I ride all of them!!!

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    Mighty One,

    That’s not necessarily my theory — it’s “a” theory.

    Dude, I ride everything I can. I even ride a recumbent. Handmade cro-mo frame, full Ultegra, it’s SICK!!!

    … it’s a good rest after Rollerblading …

  5. Chargehouse says:


    I like to mix the weights in as well, you’re program looks pretty sweet, I’m gonna give it a go. The yoga’s been great as well, all kinds of new-found strength. I’ll see ya out there in the Super D lineup in a few months!


  6. Nate says:

    As someone who is much better at lifting weights than biking (just bought your book today; I’m hoping things’ll start to shift), I’d recommend http://www.t-nation.com as the best resource for all of your fitness-related needs.

    Really, as long as you squat, deadlift, bench, dip, and pull-up, you’ll be good to go.

    (Like the blog; it’s interesting. I may have to lurk for a while, see what I can learn.)


  7. Rich says:

    Plyometrics can really give you a boost with explosive power. It’s kind of funny how the core plyometric leg exercises come from the primary school playground – skipping hopping, and bounding.
    But it is a great way to get an injury if you’re not already fit and strong.

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