This is the link to the video that goes with this article:
Few things separate great riders from average ones like the ability to corner. Being able to glide into a turn, avoid overcooking it and sail out with maximum speed is a thing of beauty to watch. For a lot of riders it seems like voodoo black magic and it seems impossible for them to figure out how to go that fast in a corner without washing out or wrecking.
The good news is that cornering ability isn't magical and you can significantly improve your speed with a few pointers and some training. The bad news is that it will take more than reading this article; you'll have to actually put in some work. If you practice and strengthen some key movements needed on the bike you'll be amazed at how easily they can transfer to the trail.
First, some pointers about cornering:
- Cornering comes from leaning your bike, not from turning your handlebars or leaning your body. You have to be able to separate yourself from the bike so you can lean it over while maintaining a balanced position over the bottom bracket.
- Your hips need to shift laterally to stay balanced over the bottom bracket. If you lean your bike over you have changed its center of gravity (the bottom bracket). This means that you have to change your center of gravity (hips) to compensate.
- Pointing your belly button/ hips where you want to go also helps you turn better. Your hips are your guiding force – where they are pointed is where you body wants to go.
This makes lateral hip mobility important so you can get your hips into the right position. It also makes lateral core strength important because you have to be able to hold your hips in position and counteract the forces of cornering. These foundational movements make up an important part of cornering technique and can be improved and strengthened through strength training.
By using strength training as a chance to address these foundational movement components you make it easier to improve on the more complex movements needed for cornering. It can be tough to really think about the points above on your bike – you have a lot to think about and pay attention to in order to stay upright. But in the gym you can focus like a laser on how you are moving and really dial in these foundational movements. This makes it easier to apply higher level skills, like cornering, on your bike.
So, with that in mind here are my Top 5 Cornering Exercises (see video for demo of each exercise):
1 – Lateral Body Bend: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your core tall and thin. Bend side to side as far as you can without twisting your hips or shoulders. Drive the bend from the hips, not the shoulders.
2 - Side Plank: Lie on your side with your feet stacked and your elbow underneath your shoulder. Bring your hips up off the ground and hold for a count of 10. Lower back down and repeat for the prescribed number of reps (usually 3-6 holds on each side).
3 – Side Bridge: Just like the side plank except that you only hold for a count of 1 at the top and then come back down, repeating for the prescribed number of reps (usually 8-12).
4 – Side Press: This is a combination of a shoulder press and a lateral body bend. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart while holding a dumbbell in one hand. Raise the dumbbell up to a shoulder press position and brace your core. Press the dumbbell up and bend over to the side. Try to time it so that your reach the top of the shoulder press and the end of your bend at the same time. Bring your torso back upright by driving the hips back to the center before lowering the dumbbell back down and repeating for the prescribed number of reps (usually 5-12 on each side).
5 – Windmill: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and a dumbbell pressed over your head. Turn both feet away from the side that the dumbbell is pressed out. While watching the dumbbell slide your other hand down your leg towards the floor. Try to touch the ground next to your heel before driving your hips back under you to come back upright. Keep the dumbbell pointed up towards the ceiling the entire time and repeat for the prescribed number of reps (usually 5 – 12 on each side.
Most of the time riders don't see much from strength training because they don't understand how it really relates to what they need. When you do these exercises think about the points I've mentioned here and in the video about cornering technique and how these exercise relate to it. Only by being mentally engaged on this level can you turn a workout into the deliberate practice you need to noticeable results on the trail.
Lastly, this article is not a "workout". There are no recommended sets and reps for these exercises as they are meant to be a part of an overall program. The side press and windmill are also advanced exercises that may not be appropriate for everyone at first. I recommend having a plan on how to improve as a rider and then use these exercises and tips to help enhance that effort.
I hope that this article and video have helped you understand what athletes in other sports have understood for years – you can use strength training to enhance your ability to execute skills needed in your sport. However, it takes more than just riding your bike and doing some "training". You have to be mentally engaged both in the gym and on the trail if you want to really improve your ability to rip corners with the best of them.
James Wilson is the owner MTB Strength Training Systems, the word's only company dedicated to developing strength and conditioning programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. His clients include the current US National DH Champ Aaron Gwin. James currently owns a training facility in Grand Junction CO and is the strength coach for the Yeti World Cup Team. You can find more tips and training info at his blog www.BikeJames.com.