Strength training for long race durability

Hi folks, a few years back i started doing epic distance MTB races (so like 60 to 100 miles, up to 10,000 feet of climbing, sometimes technical, sometimes less so).

Something i noticed is that in the latter half of these races, i started to feel pretty beat up. E.g., once i had to pause to rest on a downhill because my arm and leg pump was so bad!

I know i can mitigate this by (i) working on skills (be more smooth), (ii) better pacing and (iii) better nutrition, but what type of strength programming would be recommended to help here?

Simplistically, any strength training should help: e.g., if you go from benching 155 to benching 185, you will be able to do 95lbs for more reps than you could before (this is guaranteed). And also of course, core endurace will help.

but what else?

I’m a big proponent of strength training and am constantly trying to figure out the best combination of strength training to support my riding.

For long distance rides, I think exercises with high levels of time under tension (isometrics and slow reps) would be really helpful.

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that makes sense! Thanks, will definitely look into that.

I think for MTB there’s a complication in that you’re not just holding, you’re also absorbing, repeatedly, for hours and hours. gotta think about what else. maybe like squat half-jumps or something kinda like mogul skiiers do

Vibration plate for your trainer? Improves vo2max and prepares for the rough road ahead :rofl:

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I have been training with a strength coach during the off season for MTB racing for the past couple of years. As a 60+ MTB racer, core strength and overall muscular resilience has helped my move up in the results each year.

Everyone is different, but for me the areas that have helped the most have been:

  • Core/ torso/ back strength
  • Functional strength
  • Balance work

Here are some examples of what I have had success with:

Core/ torso/ back strength

  • Swiss ball dead bug crunches
  • Swiss ball toe touches
  • Swiss ball mountain climbers
  • Swiss ball push ups

Functional strength

  • Lateral box step overs
  • Single leg RDLs while balancing on a bosu
  • Lunge step ups to a high knee on a bosu
  • Pistol squats
  • Inverted row lat pull ups on a squat bar
  • Push ups

Balance work
Kneeling balance on a Swiss ball - add a tennis ball toss hand to hand
Single led knee raised balance then Russian twists tossing a ball against the wall


@BikerBocker and others kinda surprised and yet kinda not surprised there’s not much response here regarding this subject. I feel this platform and most coaching ones are focused on the minutia of physiology and fitness but often overlooks some of these very specific applications.

As a pro mtber, coach of >20yrs, and a dabbling Enduro racer and a CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist) with the NSCA since 2000, this is a spot that often can be overlooked or overly complicated in my eyes. My approach has always been to work on gaining general strength with major multi joint exercises and loading the body fully (think squat over leg ext) over doing a bunch of buzzword “functional” moves. Those do have a place but shouldn’t be primary focus.

From what I’ve seen personally in the data (wko overlay of two athletes doing same races) is that the ones that are strong have more resiliency and the cardiac output drops or is lower when descending with those that have focused on getting strong and skilled.

So my basis is get strong so each RPM or musclular support requires less total muscle activation. So this requires going heavy at times and going to volitional failure. It may not be complex or “sexy” to sell, but the best plan I’ve seen is the one that the athlete will stick with and complete.

I’ve had good results both personally with podiums at Enduro nationals as a Masters as well as some mathenyendurance athletes with defending National champs, u23 EWS top 5-10 finishes, etc.


Hi @eg1 and @dimatheny,

Thanks for the messages! Great input and feedback. Also, I fully agree with you. I think core strength work and time in the weight room are both essential. That’s something we’ve harped on in the show, but you’re right that we haven’t touched on it in a while.

Though one of my favorite recent episodes was the one where we got the king of strength training research, Dr Bent Ronnestad, on the show to talk about whether we should strength train all year. I personally think we should for many of the reasons you raised, but there’s a lot of opinions on that: Does Strength Training Hurt or Help Endurance Sports Performance? with Dr. Bent Rønnestad - Fast Talk Laboratories

I really liked Daniel’s response and fully agree. My one comment to EG1 is that the list you gave is some pretty advanced work - especially with all of the exercise ball inclusion. Great stuff once you get to that point, but I do think it’s important, as Daniel was saying, to make sure you’re including some good basic strength work.

Chris Case and Jess Elliot actually put together a good basic core routine for people who don’t have access to a weight room: Does Strength Training Hurt or Help Endurance Sports Performance? with Dr. Bent Rønnestad - Fast Talk Laboratories

We also just filmed a six-part weight training instructional video with Ryan Kohler that should be coming out soon. Daniel, I’ll be very interested in your response once it’s up!

FYI, you’d appreciate this story. Many years ago I had the chance to have dinner with Roland Green (two time world mountain bike champion.) I asked him what his secret was and he said “simple, I do four things: eat, sleep, ride my bike, and core.”

Hope that helps!

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I agree with @dimatheny . For strength training, I focus on multi-joint full load exercises for the lower body including various kinds of squats and deadlifts with a heavy barbell or dumbbells at low reps (5-7 reps). As far as I know, these also work the core. Then I do a few multi-joint exercises for the upper body at moderately higher reps (8-10 reps), including bench press and rows. Both the upper body and lower body work have really helped me tolerate the riding position and repetitive joint stresses on the bike as a middle-aged athlete. The one mistake I’ve made is, sometimes I don’t realize I need a week off from heavy lifting to let the body really rest. That is super-important.

I also do yoga which is where my core work is more focused, in additional to flexibility work and even balance work. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to focus on endurance or functional training with low weights/high reps in the weight room. I think we get plenty of endurance work on the bike. In my opinion, the weight room is for strength work – and not just for the muscles. Heavy weights really make the joints more robust and tolerant in my experience.


thanks folks, this is all super helpful. I’ve been doing pretty much the basics: for the leg bois, squat, deadlift, a unilateral lower movement like single-leg RDLs, split squats, or lunges, and for the upper body, bench press, overhead press, pushups and some pulls, and then assorted core (tons of high plank variations and what have you).

In the winter I do two times per week both upper and lower (a selection of exercises each session, not every singe one listed above), then in the spring i switch to once a week (except core, which is more like 3, and mobility, which is more like 2ish)

but i was kinda curious are there any magic bullets or anything i’m missing and it sounds like, as usual, the answer is “no not really” :slight_smile:


So many … exercices.

I would add a step-up. The Russian Step-Up

Here is the closest video to the way I like them done.

I would hold the top position for 1-2 seconds, with awesome stability coming from the leg on the box.

I would weight the exercise using a kettlebell, on the opposite side the working leg, so left leg stepping on box, kettlebell on right shoulder in a front rack position.

you can move this to front squat barbell position, and back squat barbell position, but I like to keep it kettlebell and one sided as heavy as the athlete can go before I switch.

I can’t find the perfect video quickly.,vid:T0aGAd4z8_g


I do those, but I use a fallen tree. The other thing I like to do is make sure to get walks in on uneven terrain. There’s all the small ligaments, tendons, muscles etc. that stabilise the legs, that I don’t think get much work on a bike. A good off road walk helps to keep niggles away (due to those being weak) I think.

I just finished the art of resilience (the guy who swam around Britain) and Ross focused on:

  • SPEED OF MOVEMENT - box jump
  • RANGE OF MOVEMENT - split squat
  • CAPACITY OF MOVEMENT - sled push

He would always do this in the afternoon after his main swim session in the morning.

He did it over the course of 157 days without injury and accredits his success to his strength program, so yeah… I’m thinking there must be something to this for endurance exercise…

This is a good one for sure. I try to not get too bogged down with excessive exercise selection and with strength Rx from abroad, not being present to check form and aid in safe execution, more complex exercise carry an additional risk. I didn’t know this was a Russian step up, but always called it Step ups with knee drive. Will have to update my terminology.