Designing an In-Season Strength Training Program

Training, June 14, 2022

Strength training during the summer isn't on every mountain bikers schedule. Keep reading to learn why continuing to work on strength in the gym is important year round.

The benefits of strength and conditioning (S&C) training has been well established in many competitive team sports. However, it has yet to be fully embraced by both competitive and avid recreational mountain bikers.

Understandably, there is a concern that strength training will further tap into limited energy resources that are needed for on bike training, racing and epic adventures.

A properly designed program can completely eliminate any negative effects of fatigue from strength training and help mountain bikers progress more than just their endurance and skills over the summer.

By following a well designed S&C program during the summer, mountain bikers can maintain or even make progress in their strength. Other benefits that occur are increasing injury resistance, improving recovery, reduce psychological and physical burnout.

If an in-season S&C program is not followed, riders risk losing a significant amount of strength and power gains they made during the off-season. Forcing them to make up lost ground during the next winter training period. Spending a few months every year to make up lost ground will limit the ability for a rider to reach their full potential.

Designing an In-Season Mountain Bike Training Program

There are unique challenges to designing and implementing an in-season S&C program for a mountain biker who has a high volume of riding during the season. Depending on a riders goals and discipline, they could be spending anywhere from 5-20 hours on their bikes each week. 

For strength training to be effective for a rider, strength sessions must not further deplete energy stores that should be going to on-bike training and competitions while still being able to stimulate gains in strength. This is a big challenge even for an experience professional to design. Get it wrong and you are left with a rider who is tired, sore, and performing poorly.

There are several things that must be considered when designing training session and placing them into a riders schedule.

Intensity and Volume

With on-bike training being the most important aspect in the schedule, S&C training must be low to moderate intensity and low volume to not tap into too much of the riders limited energy and time. Intensities of 60-80% of max rep maximums. Ranging from 7-8 rate of perceived exertion (RPE) for a workout.

Exercise Selection

Lifts that are not, by nature, very taxing on the body (ie. Back Squats, Bench Press) such as 1 Leg Stiff Leg Deadlifts, Reverse Lunges and Push up variations. As well combining multiple parts of the body to train multiple things at once are great choices. Examples are a Squat Press or 1 Arm Squat Row.

Workout Design

With volume and frequency of strength training being low in-season, full body session will be the most effective in increasing strength and keeping time spent training in control. A isolation body part focus will not benefit a rider in-season. The only time to work on a body part in isolation is when a rider has a very specific weakness or injury they must work on to improve performance and prevent further injury.

Frequency of Training

How often to strength train is likely the hardest variable to figure out and the most important to make the program successful. Traditional advice for S&C programs is to before strength training for 3-5x/week to see the best results. This is for best results when the ONLY or at least primary activity is strength training. An in-season mountain biker does not fit this mold. 

To see benefits in strength and power the minimum effective dose is 2x/week. This does not mean a rider must strength train 2x/week every week during the summer. When the riding volume is high +10 hours/week, or there is a race the weekend or the riders race schedule is quite busy some weeks not strength training or only strength trining once in a week is totally acceptable. Small micro doses of strength training in times of a high volume of riding help maintain the training stimulus and makes it easier to get back into a routine of 2 strength sessions per week when the riders schedule allows.

When to Schedule

Understandably, a strength training session scheduled at the wrong time can negatively effect performance. A full body strength session wouldn’t go over so well the day before a race. Early in the week prior to a higher volume of riding on the weekend is a good time to get strength training in so the muscles and nervous system have had a chance to recover.

Can your strength train and ride on the same day? Yes! If the strength training session isn’t designed to beat you down and exhaust you like some training systems it can be a great way to get 2 different training stimulus’ in and double up on the recovery period after the workout.

When riding and lifting on the same day, I generally suggest the ride be a longer low intensity ride or a short high intensity sprint type workout. The former allows you to train 2 different energy pathways without over exhausting either one. The later, sprint and lifting, workouts anaerobic systems hard, but keeps the riding short to not over exhaust the anaerobic energy systems and require a very long recovery period after.

Sample Weekly Schedule

There are many things to consider for each rider including on their unique goals, riding volume, training history, etc... Below is a sample week schedule for a rider who spends 8-10 hours/week training on their bike. Plus a sample strength session.

Sample Strength Session

Power Circuit
A1 2 Arm Swing - Sets: 3 - Reps: 5
A2 Power Push Up - Sets: 3 - Reps: 5 
A3 Windmill - Symmetrical Stance - Sets: 3/side - Reps: 8

Strength Circuit
B1 Goblet Alternating Reverse Lunge - Sets: 3 - Reps: 12 - 7-8 RPE
B2 Rotating Push Up - Sets: 3 - Reps: 12 - 7-8 RPE
B3 Suspended Rows - Sets: 3 - Reps: 12 - 7-8 RPE
B4 Kneeling Swiss Ball Roll Outs - Sets: 3 - Reps: 12 - 7-8 RPE


I hope this article has help you realize the benefit or continuing with an appropriate amount of strength training and leads you starting a program of your own.

Even with the above information, deciding how to strength train and design a program on your own can be a daunting task.

I have an in-season training plan that is 12 weeks long ready to go. Just click here to purchase it and gain access to the Training Tilt platform and get started.

If you would like 1-on-1 coaching support to achieve your goals you can work directly with me by clicking here and scheduling a call to see if we are a good fit to work together.