Mountain Bike Fitness for Beginners: Your Essential Guide

Mountain biking is an exhilarating sport that not only gets you out in the great outdoors but also offers an excellent full-body workout. If you’re new to the world of mountain biking and want to boost your fitness, you’re in the right place. In this beginner-friendly guide, we’ll walk you through the essential tips and exercises to get you in top shape for the trails.

Why MTB Fitness Matters

Strength and fitness give you more freedom on your mountain bike. Freedom to develop your skills, to ride further, and to ride all day. It gives you more potential to enjoy yourself on a wider variety of trails through increased endurance and power, all whilst maintaining a good body position on the bike. As your riding progresses, you don’t want your MTB fitness to hold you back, reducing your confidence and potential to develop as a rider. Instead, a strong rider will be able to focus on improving their fundamental skills, confident that they are fit and strong.

To learn more about how strength can improve your riding, you should check out this article that goes into more depth:

Set Some Goals

Where do you want to be riding in six months to a year from now? Is it a certain trail, race, or trip, or do you just want to ride your local woods faster and with more confidence? Once you know the goal it makes it a lot easier to set out a plan to improve, as you know where you are going and what you are aiming for.

Now it is time to break the big goal down into smaller, more manageable chunks, like distance, elevation, technical climbing, the grade of trail and so on. All the parts that make up the bigger goal need to be accounted for. Now it’s time to start working…….

MTB Fitness Areas To Work On

The two key areas for a beginner rider to focus on are aerobic fitness, and whole body strength. Aerobic fitness is the ability to ride all day at low intensities. It forms the foundation of your mountain bike fitness, and will let you ride further, with less effort as well as being the platform on which you build your high intensity fitness later on. To develop aerobic fitness, you will need to spend time riding at low intensities, or Zone 2, if you use a heart rate monitor. The key is to keep it easy, as most riders tend to go too hard and fast, missing the benefits of these sessions. You can learn more about aerobic fitness training in this video:

Strength on the MTB is all about two main areas. First of all, the strength in your legs, back and core to pedal all day, putting in bouts of power and acceleration as well as dealing with long climbs. The second is the strength to hold a proper standing position (often called Attack Position) on the bike over rough and varied terrain. This requires strong hips and back as well as upper body strength to support your torso and posture.

When you start strength training, the focus should be on quality movement, good technique and developing control. I use a lot of bodyweight exercises for riders of all levels, in particular single leg work like lunges, step ups and other balance focused movements. For the upper body, be sure to balance out pushing and pulling exercises in order to look after your shoulders and posture. So, as well as doing press ups (push ups for my American friends), you should do some kind of pulling exercise like a pull up or bodyweight row.

There are extensive articles on this site as well as on my YouTube to learn more about how to develop your aerobic fitness and MTB strength.

Consistency Is Key

Riding and training consistently will make the biggest difference to both your skills and your fitness. Simply accumulating hours on the bike in a wide range of conditions and on a wide variety of trails will do loads to improve your skills whilst giving you a solid base of fitness to build from.

In terms of actual training, you will need to carve out time from your schedule in order to consistently strength train twice per week, and ideally get at least one aerobic training ride in every week as well. If you can do those things over a period of months (sorry – there are no quick fixes!) then you will see real progress out on the trails.

Too many people charge into a new fitness regime with tonnes of enthusiasm, at 100 miles per hour, doing insane workouts several days per week, only to burn out, get bored and eventually stop. This short term intensity is the total opposite to building a consistent routine that actually gets results. Even small changes, done regularly over a period of months can make a big difference to your performance out on the trails.

Ride With Faster Riders

This can be daunting at times, but simply getting out with fitter, more experienced riders can be a great way to improve your MTB fitness. You will need to work hard to keep up, and at first you may even get dropped, but if you work consistently and give plenty of effort then you will be rewarded when you start to see improvements.

The same goes for skill development too. Just make sure you don’t get taken down double black diamond trails, risking injury and destroying your confidence!


If you are starting a new training regime, then you will need to play closer attention to your recovery, otherwise you will simply end up tired and not any fitter or stronger. The basics of recovery that will make the biggest difference are:

  • Sleep – 8-9 hours per night.
  • Nutrition, including adequate protein (about 1.5-2 g per kg of bodyweight).
  • Hydration.
  • Stress reduction.
  • Movement and active recovery, like walking.

The more effort you put into your wider health and looking after yourself, the more effective any training you do will be. Healthy, happy humans make the best mountain bikers, so do your best.

Keep It Simple

Training does not have to be complicated. You don’t need a £400 smart watch with 126 features. You don’t need a ‘perfect’ plan, meticulously laid out. You don’t need advanced techniques that you have seen a pro do on the internet. You just need to focus on mastering the basics and being consistent.

Have Fun

It is easy to think that you need to follow a strict training plan to be a better rider, but the fact is that mountain biking is meant to be fun, and getting fitter is part of that fun for me and thousands of other riders. Remember to sometimes simply ride for the joy of riding, without any thought to fitness, improvement, or performance. Just get out on the trails, back to nature, and log off.

Get Some Help

Finally, if you want to avoid common training mistakes and ensure you are doing the right things the right way, then get some help from a knowledgeable rider, coach or through an online programme. The Strength Factory has a range of MTB programmes for different abilities, with options for gym or bodyweight training depending on your circumstances. To find out more, hit the link below, or fill out the contact form with any training questions, and I’ll get right back to you.

Cheers. Ben.

Online MTB Training Programmes