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Anatomy of an Elite Mountain biker

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

This fall, I have the opportunity to participate in the design and execution of a series of performance testing camps for professional and aspiring professional mountain bikers. I am eager to compare the results of the pros with those of my regular clients who follow my performance program.


I have enjoyed discussing the advantages and disadvantages of various testing methods with expert coaches from across Canada and from coaches who have trained some of the world's best riders. We have reached a consensus on most of the testing components.


No matter what methods we use, the data we intend to collect from these camps should reveal three things about each athlete:


1. How much they have improved since last year.

2. How they rank among their peers.

3. How should they balance their training focus moving into next season


So what are these tests and can they be applied to regular Jo’s like you and I?


If you want to measure your fitness level as a Mountain Biker, you need to test some key qualities that reflect your physical abilities. Here are some of the qualities you should test and how to do it.




Endurance - This is your ability to sustain a high level of power output for a range of durations. You can test your endurance by doing these protocols on a bike with a power meter:

- Peak power seated: On a bike, pedal as hard as you can for 30 seconds while sitting on the saddle. Record the highest power you can achieve.

- Peak power standing: On a bike, pedal as hard as you can for 30 seconds while standing up. Record the highest power you can achieve.

- 5-minute best effort average watts: On a bike, pedal as hard as you can for 5 minutes. Record the average power you produced.

- 10 min rest: Rest for 10 minutes after the previous exercise.

- 20 min best effort average watts: On a bike, pedal as hard as you can for 20 minutes. Record the average power you can maintain.Tip, multiply this number by .95 to estimate your 1 hour power. Then divide it by your weight in Kg to calculate your FTP in W/kg. The pro’s are all scoring 4-6! I’m working my butt off to live between 3 and 4.


Strength - This is your ability to produce force against resistance. You also need strength endurance, which is your ability to maintain strength over repeated efforts. You can test your strength by doing these exercises:

NB - maximal strength tests are not only irrelevant but also potentially dangerous if you are not properly coached. So seek the advice of a fitness professional (like me) before undertaking them.

- Lower body: Perform 1 rep max test for both the squat and the deadlift.

- Upper body: Perform a 1 rep max test for the bench press and see how many consecutive pull-ups you can perform.

- Core: How long can you hold a plank for? How long can you hold the Superman position for?

I found some useful benchmarks from Trainer-road, a reputable source of cycling training advice. They have suggested some standards for different types of cyclists, based on the main lifts, such as squat, deadlift, and bench press.

For male sprinters, they recommend a squat of 2.5 times bodyweight, a deadlift of 3 times bodyweight, a bench press of 1.5 times bodyweight, and an overhead press of 1 times bodyweight. That's pretty impressive! For female sprinters, the numbers are slightly lower but still challenging: a squat of 2 times bodyweight, a deadlift of 2.5 times bodyweight, a bench press of 1 times bodyweight, and an overhead press of 0.75 times bodyweight.


- Strength endurance: The Blueprint Athlete crew use a method called "until death" to test their strength endurance and cardiovascular fitness. They do 3.5-minute consecutive maximal efforts separated by 5 minutes of rest on a rower, ski erg, assault bike or jump rope. We suggest that pro and elite level riders should be able to do in excess of 1000m on both the ski erg and the row erg, 50-90 calories on the echo bike, and 400+ single unders on the jump rope. These are not easy feats, but they show a high level of aerobic capacity and muscular endurance.


Explosive power - This is your ability to generate force quickly and explosively. You can test your explosive power by doing these exercises:

- Vertical jump:

.

- Broad jump:

.

Power numbers - Vertical jumpAverage jump height for untrained males: 40-50 cm

Average jump height for untrained females: 30-40 cm

Average jump height for trained males: 60-70 cm

Average jump height for trained females: 50-60 cm


Of course, the above are all just guidelines, and you don't have to compare yourself to others. The most important thing is to find out where you are today and progress gradually and safely. You don't have to aim for the highest level. Just getting a little better than you were before will make a huge difference on the bike and in your overall health.


If you want to improve your cycling performance, I recommend testing your strength and power annually or semi-annually. On a well-planned training program that pays attention to the numbers, you'll be getting regular feedback from your own performance that will indicate if you're moving in the right direction or not.

And speaking of well-planned Training Programs, if you’re interested in improving next years on-bike performance this off-season, or anytime for that matter. I’d love to speak to you and see if we’re a good fit - email me here


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2 Comments


Shawn Arni
Shawn Arni
Oct 06, 2023

You list both Vertical and Horizontal jump but I can't seem to find the Horizontal Jump Power Numbers. How do they compare to the Vertical? Any idea how these compare to skiers?

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Alex Ackerley
Alex Ackerley
Oct 13, 2023
Replying to

Hey Shawn! that's because i couldn't find any specific numbers for the cycling population. I DID find some data from the 2022 NFL Combine though. Athletes ranged from 1.5-1.99x their standing height. Now this group was Wide receivers, so we can assume that it's a pretty freaky population and as such we can scale down our expectations. BUT cyclists should be able to produce large amounts of force from their lower bodies, and at explosive rates. So let's find out where we're at, and go about trying to improve it

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