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  • Writer's pictureAl Painter Jr

One Exercise To Help You Ride Every Switchback Better

Here's a revelation for you mountain biking type humans: the bike goes forward when you push a pedal down. I tackle the tough issues so you people don't have to, you're welcome.

It seems pretty obvious, right? Its a very basic concept, pretty simple to grasp and really easy to do.


  • You're going up a steep hill. Especially if Mother Nature had the audacity to put rocks and roots on said climb.

  • Its time to maneuver a tight switchback.

  • You need to put in a hard charge out of the saddle.

  • You don't have rock solid hip stability as your movement platform. Dial this one in, and the other three get a hell of a lot easier.

Other than that....

The key to all of this is how much power you can drive into a pedal to create the aforementioned forward momentum. There is, however, a critical component to this (probably the most important one you can get for your bike), and here it is:

  • Your nervous system will only allow you to put out the amount of power your joints can stabilize.

Meaning? The tighter your spokes (arms and legs) are at the hub (your core), the truer your wheel (the body) spins.

Essentially, the more stable your movement platform is, the more power your nervous system allows your legs to drive into the pedals. If there's a strength gap somewhere between your hips and your feet, you will:

  • Leak power

  • Fatigue faster, which degrades your handling skills btw.

  • Potentially develop repetitive stress joint aches and pains.

  • Give your friends a hell of a lot more rest at the top of each climb. You may also get an email that you are no longer the fastest rider on a particular stretch of trail. How awesome are these soul crushers btw?

One of the best ways I've found to move with more power is to master standing still. Increase your body's ability to stabilize on one leg while your glutes fry isometrically, the more strength you'll build off your mountain bike, the more horsepower your engine has when you ride it.

The Good News About Cycling

Before I give you the holy grail of faster gear grinding go go giddyup, I feel obligated as your fat tire fitness friend to let you know why it is glute-solutely (yes, for the purposes of our conversation here, this is now a word) critical to build the most important component on your bike.

You can't get it in a shop. You won't find it online and it can only be improved off the mountain bike.

It's your posterior chain (the back half of your body) and it is where a ton of your power comes from in and out of the saddle. The good news about cycling of any kind is that the mere act of sitting down can shut off the set of muscles (the glutes) largely responsible for having the best time possible each time out and remaining injury free (barring a bad roll of the dice from physics and gravity).

Not only will this rob you of power, speed and efficiency but it can set you up for a whole host of aches and pains as the whole operation goes south.

If you think about it in these terms, it makes more sense to get stronger off the bike:

  • You most likely sit down all day to work.

  • A lot of you probably sit to drive to the trail head.

  • Then you move your knees up and down seated.

  • Post ride, you sit to drive home.

  • The post ride meal is most likely eaten sitting down.

  • That's a ton of sitting and oddly enough, riding your bike more won't fix that.

  • The bottom line is sitting can shut down the glutes and the only thing you gain by losing glute function is an accelerated chance of getting injured. Exercise accordingly.

And this my fat tire friends is why building a stronger backside is the key to your bike moving forward (READ: beating your friends uphill, I see you!), having a blast on your favorite trails and remaining injury free.

The incredibly simple (I didn't say easy) exercise below is one of the best ways I've found to increase the lower body's ability to stabilize the hips (remember, joint stability is the key to power output) so they can drive the pedal down with more power to help you mountain bike faster.

Here's all you have to do. Keep in mind, when a trainer says "all you have to do," the chance of experiencing muscular discomfort is typically not too far away. Put another way, have you ever made an omelette without breaking some eggs? Me neither.

1) Standing on one leg, push a foot into a wall behind you.

2) The knee of the foot that's pushing should be at a 45 degree angle BEHIND the hip.

3) As you push, the front foot drives forward causing you to "spread the floor" with your feet.

4) You should feel both glutes activate isometrically.

What does this look like? I'll give you a hint: it rhymes with riding a mountain bike and it works because I S.A.I.D. so.

If you take into account Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (the S.A.I.D. Principle) this exercise very closely mimics what you do riding a bike. Fitness pioneer Paul Check said the more an exercise looks like the activity you want to improve, the faster that improvement will take place and I agree 100%. Do the thing to get the ring my friends!

Simple. Basic. Pretty damn effective.

If you in the Treasure Valley Idaho area, and want more information on the best ways to workout off your mountain bike to go faster when you're riding it, reach out and let's set up a time to talk about how I can help you have more fun on your rides!

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