This may come as a shock but Mountain Biking is very different to Road Cycling.
I know! Who knew?
The tyres are different….
The helmets and gloves are different…..
The skin tight lycra outfit is ditched for more relaxed, baggy clothing…
The riding surface has way more dirt
Plus the dangers of riding in the traffic have been replaced with the dangers of rocks, steep descents and fitting those awesome, super wide handlebars between the not so awesome, super narrow tree gaps
But probably the main difference is the physiological demands of Mountain Biking are very different to road riding.
Mountain biking ( MTB) is fun but it is hard.
Obviously to do well on a mountain bike you a need certain level of skill ( that’s why you come to one of our skills clinics!) You also need a high aerobic capacity, similar to road riding, but anaerobic power (those gut busting efforts between 30 seconds and 3 minutes) plays a more significant role in performance on a MTB compared to on the road.
Research has shown that 80% of a MTB race time is spent above lactate threshold and the average heart rate during a race is 90% of max. We are talking a seriously epic suffer score on Strava!
The higher intensity of MTB compared to Road comes down to
The first four points are easily understood but what about isometric contractions? An isometric contraction is when your muscle is producing force without a change of joint angle or muscle length. “Showing your biceps” is an example of an isometric contraction. As you brace with your arms and legs when riding the MTB, these isometric contractions increase energy expenditure and increases heart rate response at sub maximal efforts. This is why your heart rate will remain high even when descending a gnarley trail compared to how quickly your heart rate recovers when rolling down a hill on your roadie.
Due to this need for isometric muscle action there is potentially a greater positive effect of upper and lower body strength training on performance for the MTBer compared to our roadie friends (we will cover strength training for MTBers in another article - stay tuned)
Some recent research compared the effects of sprint and high intensity aerobic interval training on Mountain bike performance. What they found was intervals of 4 mins with sprinting the last 30 seconds of the interval was slightly better than doing intervals of 30 seconds sprinting followed by 4 minutes of rest – which intuitively makes sense. But they concluded that both high intensity and sprint training may be effective at increasing MTB race performance and other physiological variables.
So what does this all mean for your MTB specific training? Ditch the some of those distance rides and focus in on those race winning, high intensity efforts.
Start by incorporating short sharp intervals twice a week into your training schedule on non-consecutive days and add a slightly longer threshold session into the mix on the weekend.
A MTB specific training week might look something like this:
Tuesday – after a 10 minute warm up, complete 5 x 3 minutes hard efforts with 3 minutes recovery between intervals. You should be feeling the pinch at the end of effort. Push yourself to really nail those 3 minutes.
Thursday – after a 10 minute warm up, 8 x 30 seconds sprint, flat out, as fast and hard as you can go with a 4.5 minute recovery between efforts
Saturday – after a 10 minute warm up complete 2 x 8 minutes, solid effort really pushing in the last 30 seconds. 5 minute of easy pedalling recover between intervals.
Smart, specific MTB training - that’s what needed. Focus in on the efforts that really count. You will see rapid improvements in your fitness and will ensure you get the most bang for your training buck to be smoking it on the trails.