You've waited all winter for this a long, winding ribbon of road that weaves downhill and screams around corners.
But halfway down, it's not your bike-handling skills that are weak. It's your grip strength. You're panting by the side of the road with a forearm burn the size of a California brush fire.
No need to let a limp-fish grip stop you. Let John Graham, director of the Allentown Sports Medicine and Human Performance Center and strength coach to Olympic sprint silver medalist Marty Nothstein, show you how to develop the clenching power of a snapping turtle's jaws.
The Free-weight Solution
You may not need specific exercises to build a vice-like grip, Graham points out. "Your regular resistance training routine may be enough if you lift with free weights. You're increasing your grip strength just from holding onto the bar, especially with pulling movements like dead lifts or power cleans."
One-arm dumbbell rows are another Graham favorite. To be sure you're doing all exercises correctly, including the ones described below, consult a knowledgeable trainer such as those certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association .
Start by kneeling next to a bench. Rest one forearm across the bench with your wrist hanging over the other side.
Hold a light dumbbell with your palm facing down to duplicate your hand position on flat mountain bike bars. Moving only your hand and wrist, alternately raise and lower the weight.
Switch hands. Then repeat, with your palms facing up. Do three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
If you need added grip strength, wrist curls are the best exercise.
Throw in Some Slurcs
Reverse curls (a "slurc" in the parlance of some gyms) are like regular arm curls but with your palms down to duplicate your grip on the handlebar.
Graham recommends a curved barbell designed for curls to prevent wrist strain.
Stand erect, holding a barbell at waist level with your palms toward your body and your arms hanging straight.
Curl the bar up to shoulder height keeping your elbows in. Lower the bar slowly.
Do three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
Slurcs can also be done with dumbbells, which adds difficulty because your stronger arm can't help out.
Rock 'n Roll
Use a commercial wrist roller or make one from a one-inch diameter pipe about two feet long.
Dangle an 18-inch rope from the middle, and tie a light barbell plate on the other end of the rope.
Stand, holding the bar straight out in front of you at arm's length with your palms down, about body-width apart.
Then, by alternately curling your wrists, rotate the pipe so it rolls up the weight.
Roll the weight back down. Repeat three times.
If you don't have time to hit the gym for these exercises, Graham suggests the old reliable: squeezing a tennis ball.
"Modeling clay is good, too," he points out. "Squeeze and mold it into different shapes."
However, he advises against another standard grip builder, fingertip pushups, because they put too much strain on your fingers and wrists.