One of the things that gets lost in the “cardio training” conversation is that cardio is very specific to how you train it.

This is why tri-athletes need to run, ride and swim – the cardio from one isn’t going to help in the other areas. They need to spend time training their cardio system to support the specific demands of each discipline.

While this extreme example is pretty obvious, things get a little murkier when we try to look at the cardio demands for mountain biking.

The problem is that we keep running into the basic pedaling = cardio equation.

You know, the one that tells us that if we aren’t pedaling we aren’t really working on our mountain bike specific cardio.

This simplistic equation – which actually works pretty well for road riders – is the reason that mountain bikers are told to focus cardio training almost exclusively on the lower body.

Here’s the problem, though.

Cardio built through the lower body has little transfer to the upper body.

Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if we were road riders and the upper body wasn’t used as much.

However, on the trail we use the upper body. A lot.

This is one of the big things that separates mountain biking from road riding as a sport – the upper body demands on the trail are many, many times higher than on the road.

In fact, despite many looks at it there is no direct connection between your VO2Max (which is primarily measured using lower body dominant methods like running or cycling) and performance as a mountain biker.

However, one study found that there was a connection between how fast you could ride downhill and your grip strength endurance, which ties in directly to what I call “upper body cardio”.

To me, this means that complete cardio training for the mountain biker includes both upper and lower body cardio training methods. In fact, most riders have pretty decent lower body cardio, making upper body cardio the real missing link in their program.

The problem is that our modern fitness culture has forgotten how to do this. Their attempts at “upper body cardio” have produced laughable contraptions like the upper body exercise.

But the ancients seemed to understand this need very well and had several training tools and systems that they used to condition the upper body. These tools are hundreds and even thousands of years old and were used to build wrist strength, shoulder stability and core strength along with the elusive upper body cardio…all things that we need as mountain bikers.

These tools include not only the Kettlebell but also the lesser known Indian Clubs and the Gada/ Steel Mace. When used together they allow you to build an upper body that is strong, resilient and able to much better handle the trail.

Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of work with these tools and have learned a lot about how they can benefit us as mountain bikers. And I’d like to share some of these exercises and training strategies with you in this podcast of a webinar replay.

In this podcast I’ll share more about why upper body cardio is so important, why grip training is the new core training and why I feel these training tools are the future of mountain bike training. I’ll also show you my 3 favorite exercises for each tool and how you can incorporate them into your routine.

Until next time...

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

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