Photograph: Dan Hearn/Red Bull Content Pool
A good core workout is something you’ll never regret doing. Whether you’re training for a certain sport or just trying to improve your posture when sitting at a desk, spending some time on your core is an investment that always, always, pays off.
According to mountain biker Dan Atherton, who has won international competitions in 4X (aka mountain-cross), Mass-start Downhill and Enduro, that’s especially true in his sport.
“As a rider I’ve never focused on big leg workouts, or the strength of my arms. Everything comes from the core,” says Atherton.
“It’s no use having a chiselled upper body and legs like pistons if the bit in the middle is as weak as water. Your core connects the upper and lower body and will help you to produce and absorb force, ensuring you get down the run without being thrown out of shape too much.”
When it comes to core training for MTB riding, Atherton says there are four main areas to consider – stability, strength and power, function, and flexibility.
“The key is to develop a strength programme that improves riding dynamics – that’s being able to control the bike through technically challenging terrain at the same time as maintaining your speed through pedalling and pressure control,” says Atherton.
If, like Atherton, you are used to building your own MTB courses, you’ll also get a great core workout from all the digging you’ll be doing.
“Everyone jokes that all I do is sit in a digger and pull the digger handle, but being out digging, lifting and carrying when building courses can be a bloody tough workout,” says Atherton, who has designed and built the course for the Red Bull Hardline downhill race this year.
Core Exercises For Mountain Bike Riders
To help improve your form on the bike, Atherton – who works with strength and conditioning coach Nick Grantham – recommends these nine exercises. There is no digging involved here, but feel free to add some
1. Bird Dog
Start on all fours, then raise your right arm and left leg so they point out straight in front/behind you. Then lower them and raise the opposite limbs.
The core classic. Support your weight on your forearms and toes, and form a straight line with your body from your shoulders to your ankles. If you can hold a plank for long periods with ease, mix it up.
“We only hold for 60-90sec before Nick starts to make the exercise more challenging with things like moving limbs and unstable surfaces,” says Atherton.
3. T Rotation And Hold
Start in a press-up position, then shift the weight onto your left arm and raise your right, rotating your upper body until you can point at the ceiling – forming a T-shape. Hold for a few seconds, then rotate back down. Then do the same with your other arm.
Strength And Power
1. Standing Band Hold
Either attach a resistance band to a pole, or use the cable machine in the gym. Stand perpendicular to the machine and pull the band taut so you’re holding it out in front of your chest in both hands, with your arms fully extended. The aim is to hold that position and not succumb to the pressure by rotating your torso back towards the machine and relaxing the band.
“This is a great exercise to develop the ability to resist rotation so you don’t get thrown out of shape on the bike,” says Atherton.
Kneel on the floor, lean forward and hold a barbell with both hands so the barbell’s below your shoulders. Roll the barbell forward, using your abs to control the movement. When fully extended, roll the bar back.
“This challenges the ability to maintain a stable trunk while the arms are moving,” says Atherton.
Lie on your back with your arms extended up towards the ceiling and your legs bent at 90° at the hips and knees. Lower and extend your arms and legs until they are just above the ground and pointed out straight, then bring them back to the starting position.
“Another great exercise for getting the arms and legs working at the same time while challenging the trunk,” says Atherton.
“These are a firm favourite – they challenge everything!” says Atherton.
The basic principle of the Turkish get-up – you lie on the floor holding a kettlebell and stand up – is simple, but nailing the form requires more instruction. Check out our five-point guide for the exercise.
2. Standing Plate Rotation
Hold a weight plate out in front of your chest in both hands and rotate your upper body to move it from side to side.
Grab a medicine ball and chuck it around, don't be afraid to mix it up.
“Throw from the front, from the side, up high, down low – build in lots of variety,” says Atherton.
The 4th Red Bull Hardline race takes places in Dinas Mawddwy in north Wales on 24th September
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.