Terrified To Turn? 5 Strength Exercises To Help Mountain Bikers Core-ner With More Control
Updated: Aug 11
There are very few things that can instill shear terror in a mountain biker than a stretch of trail that curves to the left or right. Even more than spiders, which I will also get into, so keep reading.
Oh sure, some riders can corner like they launched out of the womb on fat tires t awarp factor six. If that's you, well done, I'm going to show you five ways to get stronger to be able to do it even better.
If the mere utterance of the word "switchback" causes you to go anaerobic without turning over a pedal, stay tuned because you're going to learn five ways to get stronger off of your bike that will drive your stress levels down and core strength control through a turn up. That's a pretty bold statement, but I've seen this strategy work since 2006 (both on and off the bike coaching workouts and skills clinics) so I'm pretty confident it will work for you too.
Batman had the Joker, on "Schitt's Creek" David had Alexis and a lot of people have pumpkin spice lattes (why the hate of the warm fall caffeinated elixir of life people???). Meaning? Everyone has a nemesis, and for many mountain bikers that comes in the form of corners and switchbacks. Unless you're riding a straight fire road the entire time you're on your bike, which would be boring as hell btw, you're going to encounter twists and turns in a trail.
The good news is, I want to help you do it better, increase your chances of survival (emotionally AND physically) and more fun. Which is the point of riding a mountain bike in the first place, right?
The process to improve is pretty simple. I didn't say easy, I said simple. It entails getting stronger when you're not riding with basic movements to solve a seemingly complex problem.
If you want to have more fun in the saddle, here are the keys to kicking glutes through corners:
Get yours stronger. If you corner better one way than the other, you've got a muscle imbalance that's causing this to happen. Very often its the cause of one hip being stronger than the other. Loosely translated, you're aren't a horrible human being who can't perform a skillset, you may just need a little more mmmmph in your hips to even things out.
BREATHE!!! If you follow every inhale with an exhale when you enter a turn, your chances of survival will go up quite a bit. That's a sarcastic way to say that the more relaxed you are when you ride, the higher the chances you'll have more fun while you do it. Tight muscles, white knuckles and locked out joints can't flow through a wide turn let alone a sharp angled switchback. So, inhale, exhale AND RELAX FOR YODA'S SAKE!
Strengthen your ability to BOTH resist and produce lateral force through your core. This is a fancy way of saying the stronger your core is, the better you'll resist what a trail is trying to do to your bike and your body when you corner.
Do anti-rotation exercises. Ideally in multiple planes of motion. Double ideallier (yes, for our purposes this is now a word) This will help you increase control of your brain-->body-->bike--> connection turning as well as help you undo the lower body +repetitive stress that riding can cause. Which you want to work on at least 2-3 times a week to ride your best btw.
Like I mentioned in "Cyclists: 9 Ways To Workout Without Cooking Your Legs For Your Next," the more tightly connected your arms and legs (the spokes) are to your core (the hub) the better your wheel (the body) spins. The stronger you are, the more you'll move with strength, balance and power.
Train the core then do it some more. In order to pull off the above mentioned keys to turning better, you'll need the right exercises to do it. Again 2-3 times a week works best. Keep reading because you're about to the goods delivered and get five incredibly effective exercises to do off your bike to corner with more control when you're on it.
But first, because science.
Why The Core Gives You More
In previous posts, I've talked about the S.A.I.D. Principle which states:
"The body will specifically adapt to the type of demand placed on it. The degree of adaptation that occurs during training is directly related to the mechanical, neuromuscular and metabolic specificity of the training program (1)."
So read that thusly:
In order to reduce the terror of taking turns, increase the strength of the connection between your right hand to your left foot and vice versa diagonally through your core. Your nervous system will have a much better chance of coordinating your brain-->body-->bike--> signals to keep you from becoming a fat tire fitness fail video star.
Simply put, when you enter a corner, your brain gives your muscles a command to move your bones a certain way a to control your bike. The brain says "do the thing." Muscles move bones. Things happen accordingly. It really is that simple and looks like this:
You have a thought. And no, it shouldn't be "AUGHHH A CORNER!!! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!" Something like "ok, time to turn" would probably be better. I'm just saying.
Your brain gives command for muscles to move bones to do the thing. In our case, turn on your bike.
You perform said thing.
The turn is completed. Again, this is a super simple process.
And no, I don't apologize if I just completely shattered your world view of how incredibly difficult of a process you've made cornering to be. I write words to inform and entertain. If journeys of self-discovery are embarked upon, all the better.
Back to the adults controlling the room...
Done correctly, the foot on the outside of the turn and the hand on the inside of the turn work together diagonally through a strong core to produce joint angles conducive to your bike being in the right position to get you through a turn/corner/switchback unscathed. The MORE RELAXED you are, the better this process works and the better flow you have down a trail.
The more strength you have when the movement command is given by your brain, the more control you have over your muscles moving bones on your bike, and more times than not, it will increase proficiency while reducing what I like to call "arachnid anguish-itis" through a turn. This turn of phrase (see what I did there!!!) means I hate spiders. With a passion. Even though I could easily turn one into modern art on the bottom of my shoe.
To further illustrate this completely illogical and irrational point, whenever I see an 8-legged entity one of a few things happen:
I may or may not scream in terror and go into oxygen debt from my respiratory rate elevating.
Every muscle in my body tightens up.
I am momentarily no longer capable of logical or rational thought.
Is this normal? No, not at all.
I share a little piece of what strikes fear into my heart to let you know if you're terrified to turn, I see you and I get it! Because of course there's a straight line between "arachnid anguish-itis" and "slight cornering concern-itis."
If you're still reading, thank you. If you can't read this sentence because the above mentioned "arachnid anguish-itis" vignette sent you elsewhere, I understand and quite frankly, don't blame you.
If you're still here, let's get you those five exercises promised in the title of the post!
5 Exercises To Reduce Your Turning Terrors
The exercises below all have one thing in common.
Diagonal force is being absorbed, controlled then produced through the core to be able to "stay in the center of the movement".
Single Arm Suspension Strap Row
This is one of my favorite exercises. It works really well, torches the lats (a critical core muscle, yep it is) and really connects an opposite and foot.
Anti Rotation Band Lunges
Lateral force resistance and production while mobilizing the hips in ways that undo the repetitive stress of riding your bike. Not a bad combo!
Split Stance Bent Over Exercise Band Chop
This will torch your tookus, connect the inside hip to the opposite upper back and increase your ability to anchor yourself to the ground to resist and produce later force across the body.
The Turkish Get Up
This exercise works on strength, balance, single leg hip stability, lateral force resistance, hip hinging for the glutes, hip extension for the glutes, grip strength, mid/upper back muscles and shoulder mobility. Its essentially a one stop shop to get stronger off your bike.
THIS IS A COMPLEX EXERCISE AND REQUIRES BEING COACHED TO LEARN IT AND DO IT SAFELY. So find a Coach, learn the movement, get the benefits.
The bodyweight version is also a great pre-workout warmup.
monkii Bars Archer Press
If you notice the angle of the upper body, it looks similar to the way you'd be positioned on your bike. As a hand goes out to the side, there is a ton of core stability grounded through the hips that you need to stay in place. Suspension equipment is great at throwing forces at your body from multiple angles at once and is the a great pairing for MTB specific core strength training.
Ok, people, if you got down this far, you should be feeling better about your chances of survival taking a turn. If anything else, we may share a common "disdain, dislike and disgust" of the 8-legged critters that stalk this planet.
If you need more help getting stronger to increase the control of your bike through corners, want to generate more power uphill or want to learn ways to increase total body mobility, drop me a line and let's team up to create your plan.
If you liked this write up, have some friends who can also benefit from the information, it would be greatly appreciated if you shared this with them. Thanks a ton for reading, have an amazing week!
1) "Cyclists: Get Off The Floor To Train Your Core And The Science Behind It, Part I"