The 3-Exercise "Clear The Clutter" Workout For Mountain Bikers
Updated: Apr 4
I've been working with the two-wheeled pedaling humans since 2006, and there are two things (among 100's of others) I've learned since then about their view of strength workouts:
1) The more exercises in a workout the better.
2) The NEXT workout program will always be the best one.
Both of which are FALSE btw and you're about to learn why.
Thinking about this puts a wee bit of lactic acid in my brain when I ponder over the amount of times I've had to slow someone down off their bike to help them go faster when they're on it. Meaning? I usually cut out at least 40-50% of the "workout" people are doing when we start working together.
There's a twofold reason for this:
1) I'm an evil human being who enjoys seeing the sheer terror on someone's face when you tell them they'll be doing LESS work to get MORE results. Seriously, its the best!
2) The other one is that by cutting out the crap and focusing on the basics, they get a hell of a lot stronger, handle their bike better at speed through corners and have a lot more juice in the tank at the top of a climb as they wait for their friends to join them.
So what is this magical movement sequence that will make you the envy of all of your fat tire fitness friends? I don't know if you're ready for it because the answer is so simple, you'll be shocked that you didn't see it earlier.
Are you ready? Here you go.
When you workout, all you need to do to get stronger is pick a variation of the following three exercises and progress them over time:
1) A Pull
2) A Squat
3) A Push
There you go, that's the key to getting stronger. I will now drop the proverbial muscular musings mic and walk off stage. Which would be pretty rude, leave you hanging, and make a pretty big emotional withdrawal in our relationship. I'm not that trainer, and I'm all about emotional deposits!
It seems WAY TOO simple to be true, and that's the beauty of it. When you're working out, more is not more. Its just additional movement (thank you Dan John!) that might work, might not.
Now, just because there are only three exercises, it doesn't mean that's all you get on the menu. Here's what I'm getting at broken down to drive the point home that much more:
Doing less is the beginning of achieving more. It works, trust me, I'll bring it all home for you by time you finish the post!
A long time ago, in a Juan Carlos Santana (no, not the guitar guy) workshop and in his book "The Essence of Band And Pulley Training Companion Guide," he broke down the following as a way to put seemingly limitless progressive variety in someone's workout. Its actually pretty brilliant, and it works incredibly well for new exercisers to the most advanced athlete all people in between.
Lower Body Exercise Progressions
If you change your base of support from the ground up, you can challenge a whole host of things you didn't think possible or ever thought you'd want to do. To spice up your next leg workout, you can work from these to increase the challenge of what you're doing:
Examples of this would be:
Two Legs: Goblet Squats
Split Stance: Bulgarian Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats
Single Leg: Single Leg Squat/Hinge Movements
Upper Body Progressions
Training the top shelf follows the same pattern and looks like this to push and pull regardless of the plane of motion you use:
Two Arms Moving
Alternate Arm Exercises
Single Arm Patterns
Examples of this would be:
Two Arms Moving: Pushups
Alternate Arm Exercises: Crawling (which is also a dynamic split stance base of support)
Single Arm Pattern: Single Arm Kettlebell or Dumbbell Bench Row, which is another double win because you're pushing AND pulling at the same time. HOLY OBLIQUES DE FUEGO BATMAN!!
From here, you can combine those progressions into movements that involve both the upper and lower body moving at the same time. For instance, starting with two legs as your base of support, you can push/pull the following way standing on two legs:
Two Legs + Two Arms (Most Stable)
Two Legs + Alternate Arms (Less Stable)
Two Legs + Single Arm (Least Stable)
After this, as you get stronger, you can begin to plug in the split stance position and then single leg base of support with the same upper body movement patterns, and then, as my father would say when he got excited: "HOT DAMN BOY HOWDY WE'RE OFF TO THE RACES!"
Be warned though, split stance and single leg bases of support with alternate and single arm movement patterns can hammer the glutes and core (especially the obliques) and this is a good thing. Its how we are meant to move when we're awake, and it will absolutely optimize the way you move when you ride, especially cornering.
So plugged into a workout, it can look like this:
Split Stance Cable Pulley or Band Press
Single Arm Suspension Strap Row
It can also look like this:
Turkish Get Up (which hits four of the six movement progressions)
Single Leg Single Arm Band or Cable Pulley Row
One more for good measure:
Two Leg Hip Hinge + Single Arm Band or Cable Pulley Row
1/2 Kneeling Band or Cable Pulley Press
But Wait! There's More!
And we haven't even talked about how you can combine the lower body base of support movement patterns with the upper body movement patterns:
Two Leg/Split Stance/Single Leg Squats hinges mixed with Two Arm/Alternate Arm/Single Arm pushing and pulling.
To further illustrate combining Lower Body and Upper Body movement progressions, I discovered with an exercise band alone, there are 600 (yep, 6-0-0) possible movement progressions with the six permutations from each lower body base of support + the three push/pull patterns above for a workshop I coached. And that's just one piece of equipment!
Now imagine if you combined those movement progressions with bands and added in suspension straps and a kettlebell? A kettlebell and bodyweight? Bodyweight and bands? Bands and straps? A sandbag, bands and bells?
You'd be the envy of all of your friends because you mastered monotony, got strong as hell and started beating their PRs.
The workout world would be your proverbial oyster, and like Santana says you'd only be "limited by your imagination." This scheme really is a damn near limitless way to get stronger using simple movements (I didn't say easy, I said simple) if you know how to program them correctly.
So, again, you need only need three exercises progressed correctly to set your own PRs and shatter those of the people you ride with over time. Clear the clutter, master monotony and hammer simple!
So from the convenience perspective, it would be hard to beat using the Pull, Squat, Push movements as your foundation and the lower and upper body base of support movement progressions as your fat tire fitness strategy. This is something I can help you with if you want to impress your friends with your new found strength as you fly by them going uphill and carve corners faster than they can on the way down.
Like I mentioned in the first sentence, I've seen this work since 2006, and I have no reason to believe it won't for you too. So if you'd like to see how this can help you, drop me a line and let's team up to help you have more fun riding!