It’s a new year. Race season is about to kick off. You’ve decided to get fitter and faster on your bike.
To date, just riding around made you fit. But, although a lot of fun, even more riding won’t make you faster. Riding is exercise and exercise is great at burning calories and thus making you fitter. To progress further you need structured training.
But with limited time in your already busy schedule of daily life, how will you fit in training sessions without eating into the fun time on your bike? Because let’s face it, you’re willing to put up with training because you want to make your time spent out riding even more fun. If training means giving up on fun then no one is going to stick it out for very long.
The good news is that you can do some structured training while out on the trails. Here are three workouts you can do while out riding that will improve your speed, be it for fun, to beat your mates or to improve your race performance.
This workout is to build up your stamina.
Find a long steep climb, like a fire road up to your favourite trail. You’re looking for something that provides between 30 to 90 minutes of climbing. Failing that, use a long flat transition between fun trails.
Make sure you warm up before putting in maximum effort. Cycle from the car to the section of trail you’ll be using, for example.
Now cycle up the climb for about 30 minutes at about 70% of your maximum effort. If you’re using a heart rate monitor you are aiming for heart rate zone 3. This will feel relatively easy for the first half but don’t be tempted to put in too much effort, aim to be able to finish the 30 minutes. You should be breathing hard enough to only be able to talk in one or two-word sentences. Over several weeks work up to 90 minutes of non-stop effort without fading in the middle. Do this about once or twice per week.
At the top, have a rest, have a drink, then have fun descending on the trails.
Along with endurance you also need the power to get to the top. And the power to push through technical climbs or sudden increases in gradient.
For this exercise find a short loop or a section you can ride to and from, with a 3 or 4-minute climb. Make the trail as technical as you like, but you must be able to ride it non-stop up the climb.
Again, be sure to warm up. Then ride up the climb as hard as you can while still making it to the top. In heart rate zones you are looking for zone 5. An effort of 9 or 10 out of 10. Don’t stop at the top but ride back down to the start. Coast and recover for about 3 minutes. This is the first interval. Begin by repeating this four times and work up to six intervals over a few weeks, once per week.
Sprinting & Starting
Sprinting sections of your favourite trails to beat your times on Strava. Or get the best start in a cross-country or enduro race. Thats what this next exercise is aimed at.
Find a spot closest to the section that you want to apply this to. So the start of your favourite trail, or a section that mimics the race you are training for. Practice this with some friends to add some realism and a sense of competition. Make sure you are in the right gear, you don’t want to be shifting gears under load. Practice in different gears to find the one you are most comfortable with.
From stopped accelerate smoothly to your maximum pace and keep this up for one minute. Then drop to 80% effort, heart rate zone 4, for 9 minutes. You shouldn’t be able to keep this pace for more than an hour and you should be breathing hard. Go back to the start and repeat. Begin with two repetitions and work up to four once per week over the period of a month. If you’re training for a race, this should be the month before.
Mix these exercises into your regular fun rides and you’ll build your fitness as well as improve your performance.
Of course, you can do even more to improve. Many coaches recommend mixing your riding with strength exercises. If that’s something you are interested in, there are several plans you can buy and follow online like the MTB Strength Training 12 Week Dumbbell Program which can be done with minimal equipment and from home, the 12 Week MTB Training Programme which includes both body weight and gym routines, or if you have access to a gym the Strength Factory MTB Programme.