Adventure sports like running, hiking, and biking demand such high levels of endurance that athletes tend to forget about training for strength. “Most riders think they have to put in more time on the bike to get faster, but incorporating strength training will deliver greater results,” says pro mountain bike trainer James Wilson. Wilson, who trains downhill pros, singlespeed champions, and back of the packers alike, developed the MTB Strength Training System, a guide for bikers that puts an emphasis on full-body strength building exercises. “Strength equals technical ability on a bike, pure and simple,” Wilson says.
Most pro coaches from all endurance sports now incorporate strength training in their athletes’ routines. We’ve found some of the best strength training exercises geared to specific adventure athletes. Use the plan below to get stronger for your favorite sport, or combine the exercises for a full body shake down.
Single-leg squats: Bend your right knee slightly and raise your left foot off the ground in front of you so you’re standing only on your right leg. Bend your leg, trying to keep your back straight and left foot in front of you, so you drop into a squat. Go as low as you can, and return to a standing position. Repeat 10 times with each leg.
Works: Quads and glutes
“Some runners overlook strength training,” says running coach Jennifer Gill. “But strength training prevents injuries by providing running economy and keeping your form true when you get tired.”
Side Plank: From a push up position, pull your right hand off the ground while twisting your torso, and extend your right arm perpendicular to your body. Your entire body should be supported by your left arm and left leg. Keep your torso straight. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Works: abs, lower back, shoulders
Bulgarian Squats: Rest the top of your foot on a bench behind you, your other foot stretched in front of you. Drop down so your back knee touches the ground, then explode back up. That’s one rep. Do ten on each side and repeat.
Works: Quads, calves, and hips
Split Squats: Holding light dumbbells in each hand, stand with your feet split wide, one in front, one in back. Bend your front knee, lowering your body toward the ground, keeping your spine straight, and the heel of your front foot planted on the ground. When your back knee touches the ground, rise up. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps, then switch your front foot and do 20 more.
Works: Quads, glutes, core
Boat Pose: Sit on the floor holding a rock or weight away from your chest. Lean back and raise your legs so your entire body is balanced on your sitting bones (your body should look like the bottom of a boat). Holding this pose alone should activate your core. Next, rotate the weight to your right side, trying to touch it to the ground. Then rotate left. That’s one rep. Do 15, rest, and do 15 more.
Works: Core and shoulders
Side Press: Standing straight, with a dumbbell in each hand resting at your shoulders, bend your upper body to the left while pushing your right hip out. At the same time, press the right dumbbell toward the ceiling. Lower and return to an erect position. That’s one rep. Do ten on each side, rest, and do ten more.
Works: Core and shoulders
Angled Pole Climb: On a playground, sit at the base of an angled swingset pole. Wrap your ankles around the base of the pole and grip the pole with your hands at eye level. Pull yourself to the top, then lower back down. Do 5 repeats.
Works: Core and shoulders, back, hands
Swingset Push Ups: On the same playground, get in a push-up position with your toes resting on the seat of a swing. Do a push up, then pull your knees into your chest, hold, then extend them again. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps, rest, then do 10 more.
Works: Chest, core, shoulders, hips
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WORKOUT
Want to see serious gains in your endurance and strength and have fun in the process? Work out like an eight-year-old. Some of the classic gym-class exercises you dreaded as a kid employ key principles of functional fitness.
“The older you are, the better your school PE was,” says Dan MacDougald, owner of Crossfit Atlanta. Crossfit training uses a variety of basic movements, many of which are familiar to athletes from their school days. “There’s a lot of worth to the exercises we used to do in PE. Physical education has been dumbed down in recent years, but at one time, kids got a good workout.”
Try these three “old school” exercises for a full body shakedown.
The dreaded rope climb engages all of the workhorse muscles in your upper body, and builds muscle endurance as well as strength, which is key in succeeding at adventure sports like climbing, paddling, and mountain biking. Try five rope repeats, and gradually rely less on your legs to move up the rope. Can’t find a gym rope? Climb a tree instead.
10 minutes of jumping rope will burn as many calories as jogging for 10 minutes at eight-minutes-per-mile pace. For a simple workout, try jump intervals. Jump as many times as you can in 30 seconds, then rest for 30. Next, jump swinging the rope backwards for 30 seconds, and rest for 30. Do 10 minutes of intervals and build from there.
This gym-class staple builds speed, agility, and endurance. Place two blocks (in school we used erasers) or rocks 30 feet from your starting point. Sprint from the starting line to the first block, pick it up and sprint back to the line, set the block down and sprint back to the second block, picking it up and sprinting back to the start. Time yourself. In 1985, an eight-year-old had to finish the run in 11.1 seconds to be considered for the Presidential Fitness Award.