XC MTB Strength Training - Part 1: Legs

We've teamed up with JM Fitness and Health to bring you a series of simple exercises that you can do at home, all with a Cross-Country Mountain bike focus, to help you build or maintain specific areas of fitness over the off-season. Over the coming weeks, Jon from JM Fitness and Health - a pretty handy endurance and XCO racer himself - will take you step-by-step through a range of simple exercises that cover legs, core and upper body. Combined with some efficient winter riding, this could be your ticket to some amazing 2015 results!!


Over the next few weeks we are going to look at how we can strengthen our bodies specifically for XC racing during the off-season or when time is short, or even when doing something is better than nothing. Firstly we will look at body weight exercises that you can do in your home or office and also how to add resistance (weights) when at the Gym.

In my opinion strength training should be part of every XC Racers training programme. You will only become so strong by just riding your bike. The strength and conditioning exercises that we will look at over the next few weeks will ensure that you skeletal and muscular systems, joints, ligaments and tendons etc are far more prepared for the demands of XC racing than if you just rode your bike

The first muscle group that we will concentrate on are the Quadriceps. There are four (quad)... muscles that make up the quadriceps they are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and the vastus intermedius.

To keep thing simple I will refer to them as Quads from now on. The Quads are responsible for allowing us to straighten the leg by extending the leg at the Knee joint. So by having strong, conditioned Quads we will be able to apply more downward force when straightening the leg and this force will be put through our pedal strokes making us ride further and faster.

The Squat

The first and in my opinion best exercise for the Quads is the Squat. The squat is the most functional exercise there is, just think how many times you bend down and then stand up during the day. By performing body weight and resistance squats correctly you are targeting the quads and allowing them to work under force making them stronger and more efficient which in turn will lead to you putting more power though the pedals.

Let’s look at the squat in more detail

Start position

Head up, stood tall, chest out, pelvis slightly rotated forward, feet shoulder width apart with toes pointing slightly outwards


As we drop into the Squat we travel directly downwards, keeping our head up, our backside out, chest up, shoulders back, and most importantly feet flat on the floor. A good tip is to imagine you are feeling for the edge of a chair with your backside as if you were going to sit down.

Lowered position

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When your quads are at least parallel with the floor, and you have reached a 90 degree bend in your leg, stand back up ensuring again that your feet remain flat on the floor and you travel directly upwards and don’t lean forwards of back.


Arms can either be positioned straight out to your front, or across you chest to allow your Core to work a little harder.

Basically that is all there is to it. I would suggest a tempo of 2 seconds for the lowering phase, no pause at the bottom and a 1 second upward phase ensuring you breathe in as you lower, out as you stand.

Repetition wise I would suggest an amount of 15 – 20 and do 3-4 complete sets of these, with a two minute rest period between sets so you will perform 45 -80 Squats per session.

The Lunge

Another exercise you can perform to strengthen your Quads that also involves the Hamstrings and Glutes is the Lunge.

The Lunge is basically an over exaggerated step forward or back and can greatly increase you leg strength and power.

Start Position

Stand up straight, feet together, again arms can be positioned across the body or out the side to help with balance.


Take a slightly larger than normal step forward, ensuring you don’t over reach and that the knee stays behind the toes. Keep your head up and your upper body vertical. Allow the leading leg to bend to 90 degrees or the quads to become parallel with the floor. Do not allow the knee to bounce off the floor, stop it just before.

Lowered Position


A brief pause should be taken here and then return to the standing position. Try to not lose your balance or sway to one side as this will put lateral pressure on the knee joint. Then repeat the movement with the other leg, this is the forward lunge.

Again repetitions should be around the 15-20 mark and aim to complete 3-4 sets per session, with a two minute rest period between sets.

Tempo should be 2 seconds to drop into the lunge, and 2 seconds to return to the standing position.

As an alternative to the forward lung, you could perform a rear lunge, essentially the same exercise but instead of stepping forward, you take a step back. The same tempo and form are to be used

The Step up

The third exercise we will look at is the step up. Step ups can be performed onto a chair or other stable platform that is preferably about knee high. They heavily rely on the Quads but also like the lunge involve the Glutes and Hamstrings

To perform the step up stand up straight behind a chair/bench etc and then step up onto the platform by placing your foot flat and applying force through your Quads. Stand up tall on the platform by bring your trailing leg up and ensure knees are locked out.


To step down, use the opposite leg first to lower to the floor and then lower the other leg to resume the standing position.


Ensure your head is held high, you’re stood up straight and that your legs are locked out at the end of the exercise.


As with the other exercise, keep the same reps and sets so 3 -4 sets of 15-20 repetitions, with a 2 minute rest period between sets.

These exercises can be performed up to 3-4 times per week with a day’s rest in between. Weight can be used to provide extra resistance and further strengthen the legs but ensure that you can comfortably perform the above reps and sets before adding weight and also make sure your technique and form are correct.

Weight can be either a barbell, an Olympic bar, a set of dumbbells, medicine ball, power bag or whatever else you have available at your local gym. Keep the weight close to the body and ensure that you are not causing any unnecessary stress by holding it in position.


Join us next week as we take a look at how to work one of the most important areas of the body... the core!

Be sure to check out JM Fitness and Heath - www.JMFitnessandHealth.co.uk - and why not follow Jon via Twitter - @JMFitnessHealth