How to Improve Your Mountain Biking

By Ryan Carr, EdD, CSCS, CMPC | Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Mountain biking is an exciting sport with a variety of physical and psychological demands. On Tahoe’s world class trails, riders maneuver their bikes at fast speeds, corner within inches of obstacles like trees and boulders, drop off elevated pitches, and rumble through rock gardens. It’s a sport that requires technical skills, quick decision making, cardio fitness, power, total body strength, and confidence.

Mountain biking is also a high-impact sport, with a heightened risk of injury. Cuts and abrasions are the most common injuries, with concussions and fractures not far behind. The clavicle (collarbone) is the most commonly broken bone from riders going over the handlebars. Joint injuries can happen to the ankle, knee, hip, and elbow, however, shoulders are most commonly injured, highlighting the importance of full-body training and injury prevention.

Though known for the downhill excitement, mountain biking can be 50% uphill climbing, and both directions demand endurance, strength, and power. Training in these areas not only contributes to a more efficient ride, they are important for injury prevention. A strong and prepared body and mind will also translate to more enjoyment in the saddle.

Biking with any level of difficulty can increase your heart rate and get you breathing hard; a result of your body turning oxygen into energy and propelling you forward. Over time, as you train and your cardio fitness improves, you spend less energy using the same amount of oxygen, resulting in better endurance. A rider's endurance baseline can be tested through tests such as maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 Max) and anaerobic transformation threshold (AT). This data is used to help guide training and improve a rider’s oxygen intake during exercise. The more oxygen available to the muscle, the more efficient the athlete will be. A rider with good muscular endurance will be able to climb farther, faster, and recover more quickly.

Though crucial to longer rides, too much endurance can actually hinder power, so when building a training program, balance is key. A friendly match for endurance is power and strength.

Power is critical to mountain biking performance. Power is the force your body creates when approaching a difficult section, such as a punchy climb or a hill sprint. In mountain biking on varied, natural terrain, repeated efforts of power and the ability to recover quickly are necessary. When you train to exert powerful bursts in quick succession, you'll master those steep climbs and technical sections. Power is improved through a combination of strength training, weightlifting, plyometrics through jumping, and exercises with large force exertion, such as medicine ball throws.

Strength is important with a full-body approach. Lower body strength helps climbing and sprinting, while upper body strength helps stabilize the bike and climbing leverage. Core strength is important to reduce strains, maintain balance, and maximize efficiency, and grip strength is important for traversing and critical steering downhill. 

Time in the saddle, with exposure to many different features, will help fill any gaps of muscular endurance, power, and strength. Additionally, exposure to a variety of trails will build the confidence and mental toughness needed to manage anxiety, maintain confidence, and stay in the present moment.

Mountain biking is a rewarding sport that unites fitness, outdoor adventure, and adrenaline. Discuss your goals with a performance coach and get started on a program that will improve your performance on the trails while maximizing your fun.


About the Author Ryan Carr, EdD, CSCS, CMPC
Ryan Carr, EdD, CSCS, CMPC is the performance supervisor and a certified mental performance coach at the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness.