Upper Body Exercises for Mountain Bikers

You’re riding down the trail when suddenly you hit a rock garden. Your arms spring into action absorbing the extra bumps. One bump catches you off guard and you start to go over the bars. Your arms pull you back to center. You lift your front wheel over a root and send it off a drop. Your arms keep your chin from coming down and hitting your stem. Our arms don’t get much love when we’re on the bike. That is, unless you’re complaining about arm pump.

As a cyclist, it’s easy to give your legs all of the attention. They turn the pedals after all! We spend so much time strengthening our legs, that we are either too tired to strengthen our arms or we just consciously choose to forsake them all together!

If you are a road cyclist then you may be able to get away with this bottom-heavy muscle balance, but any off-road cyclist is sorely mistaken if they think that they won’t benefit from a strong upper half.

In off-road cycling, upper body strength helps delay fatigue, keep you from crashing, hold your line, take hard impacts, and can prevent injury if you do suddenly find yourself hurdling toward a tree….

Here is a list of the muscles you should focus on strengthening, exercises to help you feel the burn, and how it will translate to the bike:

Triceps Brachii

  • Action:
    • The tricep muscle straightens the elbow and extends the shoulder.
  • Exercises:
    • Tricep dips, Rope Tricep Pushdown, Overhead Tricep Extension
  • On-the-Bike Application:
    • Your triceps are secretly working the entire time you are riding. Your arm is slightly bent and slightly straight. Your tricep helps keep your arm that way. Without your tricep your body would collapse toward the bars. Strengthening the muscle will help reduce the sensation of ‘arm-pump’ and it will keep your arms from collapsing when taking a large impact off of a drop.

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

  • Action: 
    • The lats extend the shoulder, move the arm toward your body, and rotates your arm inward
  • Exercises:
    • Pull Ups, Lat Pull Downs, Rows
  • On-the-Bike Application:
    • Your lats are especially helpful in positioning your body on the bike. On the mountain bike we are rarely stationary. We move our weight forward and backward to adjust to the terrain around us. Your lats help pull on the bars to bring your body back to center when you get a little wonky. They also help pull up on the bars when climbing or sprinting.

Pectoralis Muscles:


  • Action:
    • Move the arm toward your body, elevate the throat during forced inhalation, flex the shoulder
  • Exercises:
    • Push Ups, Bench Press, Band Chest Fly
  • On-the-Bike Application:
    • The pectoralis muscles not only assist with heavy breathing (which we do a lot of while we ride) they also help with stabilization. They help keep our hands on the bars instead of drifting off of the sides.


  • Action: 
    • The biceps brachii flexes the elbow and the shoulder
  • Exercises:
    • Bicep curls, push ups, curl ups, bicep curl with TRX
  • On-the-Bike Application:
    • Just like the triceps, the biceps are activated almost the entire time you are riding. They allow you arm to remain in that slightly bent position. The biceps are also responsible for absorbing bumps, cushioning your ride, and are especially helpful on washboard style dirt roads. Strengthening your biceps can also help reduce arm pump.



  • Action: The traps are a huge muscle! They begin at the base of the skull, go over to the tip of our shoulders, and down the back. The lats do a lot of things. Here are some highlights.
    • Extend the head and neck, stabilize the shoulder blade, and rotate the head and neck.
  • Exercises:
    • Shoulder shrugs, farmers carries, I’s on a TRX or Swiss Ball
  • On-the-Bike Application:
    • The traps are great for injury prevention. The muscles surrounding the neck can help prevention neck injuries and in some cases even prevent concussions. The upper trap muscles are help prevent neck fatigue since we are looking up for hours on end.


  • Action: 
    • The deltoids flex the should, move the arm away from the body, extend the shoulder, and more
  • Exercises:
    • Deltoid Flyes, T’s with TRX or Swiss Ball, Push-Ups
  • On-the-Bike Application:
    • Since the deltoids have so many actions the deltoids are used in some degree with almost every shoulder movement that you do. That means that you are constantly using your deltoids when you ride even though you might not feel it. Strong deltoids can help take some of the burden from muscles the fatigue more quickly such as the bicep. Additionally, the deltoids protect the shoulder! If you slam into a tree with your shoulder, a strong deltoid could protect your from a broken collarbone or arm.

What Else?

There are so many other muscles that are used while riding. The above muscles are just the short list to get you started. Other upper body muscles are used when mountain biking or riding off-road are:

  • Rotator Cuff Muscles
  • Tere Minor/Major
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Rhomboids
  • Levator Scapula
  • And more!

The upper body is often an unsung hero for off-road cyclists. Don’t be afraid to put in a little extra work and sing its praises!



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