Fitness for Mountain Bikers


Basic Bike Training


Upper Body Exercises

Trunk Exercises

Leg Exercises

General Workout

Part 1: Basic Bike Training

by Matt Flygare

It's a common idea: ride hard, and you get better at it. Meaning, the best way to get in shape to ride your bike is to ride your bike, right? Well, that may be true in principle, but it takes planning to become the best rider you can be. To reach your genetic potential, you can't just go out and ride at random. It doesn't work. So let's talk about what to do, and why you're doing it.

The author tests his training level on the Pine Hollow Trail.

There are three different energy systems that are used in any activity (including mountain biking). They are the aerobic, glycolytic, and the ATP systems. All of these systems are used, all of the time. But how much any one system is used depends on the duration and intensity of the activity.

We're going to focus on the aerobic system and its relationship to our mountain biking prowess. But first we'll talk briefly about the other two systems, the glycolytic and the ATP.

The ATP system uses adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to produce on-the-spot energy. This is the sprinter in us all. ATP is the power to give 100% effort -- maximal power, but only for a few glorious seconds. In this system, adenosine triphosphate is broken apart chemically, for a quick surge of energy. 

Once the ATP is gone, usually around 10 to 30 seconds, we cannot sustain the surge. Your body must replenish the stores of ATP. The time to replenish ATP is called the recovery time.

The ATP system -- for quick bursts of power.

To train the ATP system, we do maximal effort for a short duration, followed by a complete recovery. This is "burst" exercise, such as sprints. Since these exercises require maximal effort, they must be used sparingly in your exercise routine.

The glycolytic system is also called the anaerobic system. Glycolytic effort lasts longer than the ATP system, but it's not as intense. That is, it can't produce the same output of energy. The average person can work his muscles 2 to 10 minutes on the anaerobic system. In this system, glycogen is broken down to lactic acid in an oxygen-poor muscle. Those burning quads after that long hill-climb -- lactic acid.

Anaerobic effort -- like those grunt climbs at Slickrock.

You can increase your anaerobic capacity with training, but there is a limit. You're training your body to deal with increased amounts of lactic acid, so you can function longer at a higher intensity. This is "resistance" exercise, such as weight-lifting, or that sustained grunt climb to the top of the ridge.

The aerobic system is the "bread and butter" of cross-country biking enthusiasts. This is the system that's the power behind the pedals for those long days on the mountain. In the aerobic system, blood delivers oxygen to the muscle, which uses that oxygen to break glycogen completely down to carbon dioxide. This is a more efficient, and more sustainable, source of energy for your pedals.

Aerobic -- effort you can maintain for a while.

The aerobic system is for activities that are longer than 5 minutes in length. This is the system that we'll spend a lot of time training. So how do we do it?

The Plan

I'm always reviewing really good training programs, but in most cases, they require huge amounts of time and resources. So you want a program that's beneficial, without having to quit your day job.

To be really useful, a fitness program must be written for a specific person, using his own starting point and his own goals. With that in mind, I'll give some general guidelines to help you out. These guidelines are meant for us weekend warriors who have a wife, kids, and a full-time job.

The most important thing is adherence. If you can't do your exercise program, it won't help you. You must be able to fit it into your own situation and schedule. You need to work on your aerobic ("cardio") fitness at least 3 days a week. You can use biking for a cardiovascular session. I like to mix in some running and stair-climbing. These are weight-bearing exercises to promote strong bones and healthy joints.

Trail Training

If you have the luxury of a good trail that's close-by and varied, you can custom fit a training regimen to the the type of biking performance you desire. The key is creativity: if you have a great trail you ride all the time, your body will grow accustomed, and you won't develop as a rider as fast as you could. Instead, use the trail like an exercise machine to improve your biking performance.

Repeat the hill climb as "intervals." Set up sprints at certain sections of the trail. Use that gnarly downhill as a technical "climb and bomb." See the trail as a set of free weights. Your only limit is your own lack of creativity.

Use your favorite trail as a training course.

Set up your ride with specific training goals and areas of focus. Throw in some sprints, technical work, and training intervals within your ride. Mix up your rides. Do the trail backwards. Have fun.

Make your training rides long and intense enough to test your endurance and skill. But don't come away completely nauseous. You can wear your body down ("reverse training") if you work at it too hard. You know what's a comfortable length and intensity for a training ride.

Stationary Bike Training

If you have a stationary bike, it's a great way to train. It's easy to sit in front of the TV and crank during the news. (Hint: there are thousands of overweight couch potatoes who have recently given their unused stationary bike to the local Salvation Army or Deseret Industries. I can always find a half-decent stationary bike there for around ten bucks! Just be sure the crank-arm length is similar to your bike.)

As a guideline, I try to get in the saddle at least 3 times a week. I set specific goals that I want to work on. For example, I might work on hill-climbing power. Even if I have a specific area of focus, I try to mix various riding styles into every workout.

I do some off-the-saddle hill climbing (high resistance, low r.p.m., standing on the pedals), some sprints (lower resistance but cranking as fast as possible), and some cruising (moderate resistance and slower revolutions). I aim for a workout of 20 to 90 minutes.

I know several high-level XC racers who will plop down in front of the TV and burst out a two-hour training ride on the stationary bike. If you aren't hitting the trails regularly, like during the winter when time and day-light are scarce, this type of ride is especially good.

Don't automatically add time to your routine. Any increase in duration or intensity of effort needs to be gradual. Don't burn yourself out. Also incorporate some easy recuperation rides into your regime.

Click here for page 2:  Cross-training and Strengthening


"and on the eighth day he UTAH"