5 exercises for a toned off-road cyclist body

There are many ways to get fit, especially with all the outdoors have to offer. Off-road cycling is just one of them, and it’s something that anyone can tackle. But before you hit the trail, hit the gym and get those core muscles prepped.

According to expert mountain biker Josh Moberg, a trainer at San Francisco fitness performance facility DIAKADI, mountain biking gives your body a dynamic workout.

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Josh Moberg, an expert-level downhill mountain bike racer, navigates the Sea Otter Classic enduro race in Monterey, California. Photo: Courtesy of Josh Moberg

“It requires so much eye, hand and body coordination to handle your bike, not to mention lift it and push it,” he says, adding that the beauty of off-road cycling is it’s open to all walks of life. “You can look like a football player or a skinny, lanky kid and can be just as fast up and down a hill.”

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The area where you’ll see the most significant gains in training specifically for mountain biking is the core region, according to Moberg.

To create a responsive mountain bike body, it’s crucial to strengthen everything from the abs to the lower back to the hips, while adding functional moves that increase flexibility and mobility so you can stay on your bike longer with less fatigue and pain.

Here are Moberg’s five favorite exercises to help both beginners and expert riders prepare for the next mountain bike adventure.

Dumbbell squats

“We do a lot of squatting on the bike and especially when we are racing down the hill,” says Moberg. “It’s super important to stay low when descending, especially off jumps.”

Beginner: Stand tall with shoulders back, chest out with dumbbells by your side. Breathe in before you go down in the squat. Keep eyes looking straight ahead and keep your hips back. Breathe out when coming up and squeeze your glutes as you get back to the starting position of the squat.

Advanced: Try this exercise on a BOSU ball (flat side up) or on a stability ball.

One-arm kettlebell press

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Moberg performs the advanced version of the one-arm kettlebell press, which builds core and upper-body strength. Photo: Courtesy of DIAKADI
“This exercise really challenges your core and upper-body strength. Pushing your bike through corners is a real technique that must be practiced, and I believe this one can help with that,” Moberg says. “Balance is key in this exercise and your wrist also has to work really hard to balance the kettle bell in your hand.”

Beginner: Place a dumbbell in each hand on a stable, flat bench. Lie face forward with the dumbbell at 90 degrees of flexion at the knees. Make sure core and glutes are stabilized and tight.

Extend the opposite arm with palms up. Slowly bring the dumbbell down until your upper arm is parallel to the floor and then back up.

Advanced: Get into a supine position (lying face-up) on a stability ball with 90 degrees of flexion at the knees. Slowly bring the kettlebell down until your upper arm is parallel to the floor and then back up.

Bent-over barbell row

“This is a great exercise for core, legs, posture and upper-body strength. We are often bent over on the bike, and having a strong core and legs to support that position is very useful,” says Moberg.

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“Also, the pulling action in this exercise is really useful on the bike when you have to pull up to get over obstacles, whatever the terrain might be. Overhand grip is performed in this exercise because that is the grip we have on the handlebars of the bike.”

Beginner: Bend forward at your waist with your knees slightly bent and your back flat, holding the barbell with arms straight. Lift the barbell up to your chest using your back and scapula retraction, then back down. Maintain good spinal posture throughout, using your abdominals to stabilize and support the position.

Advanced: Try this exercise on a BOSU ball (flat side up) or on a stability ball.

Stability ball push-up (with dowel)

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This functional move, which combines a dowel and stability ball, makes the core work extra hard. Photo: Courtesy of DIAKADI
“This one helps with grip, wrist, core, chest and triceps strength, which are all very important on the bike when handling through technical terrain and longer endurance events,” says Moberg.

Beginner: Do a push-up with the stability ball against the wall. Place your hands on the ball when you have moved away from the wall. If manageable, progress to the dowel (cylindrical rod) with the stability off of the wall.

Advanced: Position face-down with hands on dowel. While stabilizing your core, lower the chest toward the ball and raise up, pushing through the dowel.

Kneeling tennis-ball wall toss (with stability ball)

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Moberg, an assistant coach for the Berkeley High School mountain bike team, also shares his expert cross-country racing technique with up-and-coming cyclists. Photo: Courtesy of DIAKADI
“By kneeling on the stability ball, you activate your core, glutes, hamstrings and adductors,” Moberg says. “Eye-hand coordination is very important on the bike, especially when you run into obstacles and need to react quickly.”

Beginner: Kneel on a BOSU ball (round side up) first. Then try kneeling on the ball and balancing in a good upright posture before adding in the tennis-ball toss.

Advanced: Sit upright with good posture and slowly begin to toss the two tennis balls against the wall, with each hand catching the ball while maintaining balance on the stability ball.

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