Friday, 6 November 2015

Training for the trails: Getting started

In the first of my series on mountain bike training, here are some tips to get you started... whether it's to get fitter or to target a big race.

It’s bad enough we count down the weeks to Christmas, but I’m already counting down the weeks to my first race of 2016! Why? Well, without a structured plan and a clear set of goals, you won’t achieve the most from your training. As I start on my training for next season, I’ll keep you updated with how it’s going, and aim to give you a few hints and tips you can apply to your own mountain biking along the way. To get going, let’s begin with goal setting 
and some basics that people often forget when planning their training.

Goal setting

Not everyone reading this will be competing in mountain bike races. You might have decided you want to do your first fun event, perhaps at the Tweedlove Festival in May. Or perhaps you’re just fed up struggling up the climbs and would like to get a little bit faster... or just want it to hurt a little less!

To get started, regardless of where you want to end up, you need to be clear on your goals. These can be broken down into three types of goal:

  1. Outcome goals – the main 2 or 3 things you want to achieve . . . Complete your first mountain bike race; finish in the top 20 at an XC race; or just to beat all your friends around your favourite trail!
  2. Break your outcome goals into performance goals – things you can actually measure. For example, you can measure progress with heart rate or power but you don’t even have to be that scientific. You can measure yourself using Strava, Runkeeper, or a similar app on your phone and monitor your improvements on your favourite trail. Just make sure you have a baseline at the start of the season and check your progress monthly
  3. Finally, you need to break it all out into the small steps you will take in your training to improve your weaknesses: process goals. This could be as simple as saying you will practice skills once per week or that you’ll aim to improve technical climbs. Think of it as something you can spend a training session working on in isolation


It’s a well known human trait to practice what you’re already good at. But it won’t help your mountain bike riding progress!

When setting your goals and building your plan, focus on your weaknesses. If you’ve raced this year, what let you down? Climbing? Technical descending? Did you always start too fast then fade towards the end of a ride or race? Whatever it is, include it in your process goals, along with some performance goals to measure it, and practice it every single week.

If this is your first year and you’re only just getting started, the main thing to do is just increase your time on the bike. Just try to ride more frequently and for gradually longer durations.

Rest and recovery

Something a lot of people get wrong with training is that they do too much! Make sure you build adequate rest and recovery days into your training plan. I monitor this daily using the graph below. The troughs you see in the pink (fatigue) line are my rest days each week and you’ll see larger drops every four weeks.

You don’t have to be as geeky as I am though! Just listen to your body and follow these bits of advice:

  • Ensure you have one full day off the bike every week
  • Alternate easy days and hard days – easy doesn’t have to be a day off; it can simply be a really easy ride, spinning your legs gently, after a day that had lots of hard climbing
  • Every four weeks, build in an easier week where you reduce the volume and intensity of your training – this is when you actually get fitter; not when you’re on the bike!

Have fun!

It might be called training but it definitely should not become a chore! Make sure it’s still fun, no matter what you do. My best tip for this is to combine a steady endurance ride with some skills practice by just doing a ride with your friends. They won’t even realise you’re training when in fact you’re keeping an eye on your heart rate and practicing your cornering skills on every descent. I had loads of fun in the spooky Halloween mist at Glentress last weekend, practicing my descending skills!

You'll maybe notice I've got flat pedals and a dropper seatpost on the bike . . . Things I would never have on the bike in an XC race.  Even if you ride all year clipped into SPD pedals and with your saddle right up as us XC racers do, it's really good to get back to basics on flat pedals for a month or two in the winter.  I'm doing this throughout November and December - it reminds you to drop your heels and not to use the fact that you're clipped in to stay attached to the contact points on the bike.  

The dropper seat post also helps when challenging yourself on steeper, more technical terrain; especially in the winter when it's very slippy and muddy.  Then, as Spring approaches, you can put your normal seatpost on again and get used to doing these trails with the saddle up.

So, that’s just a few snippets of advice to get you started. I’ll be providing a few updates on my own training over the coming months and will include more specific advice as I go along, so check back soon!

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