Using Your Bike for Training

Using Your Bike for Training

Some people use street bikes for building up their muscles but mountain biking has the distinct advantage of providing a mixture of anaerobic exercise for building muscles and aerobic exercise for burning fat. It can be a lot more intense than street biking and for that reason, it’s a particular favorite for sports enthusiasts and other people who want to train their bodies.

Discover a wide variety of training methods you can use to prepare for your bike ride and to use with your bike. Whether you’re just trying to lose a few pounds or want to strength train for a big race, there’s a training method that will work for you.

MTB trail in the woods

Warm-Up Exercises

Before every Mountain Biking trip, it is imperative to prepare your mind and body. Warming-up exercises are a must before every ride, whether it’s for a casual trip or an intense race, for they do not only prepare the body, but they also improve mental focus.

Physiologically speaking, warming-up makes the muscles more elastic, corollary preventing cramps and overstretching. Moreover, warming-up increases blood flow to the muscles and stimulates the energy systems of the body.

The warming-up routine can take around 30 minutes of your time prior to the Mountain Biking ride. In doing the warming-up routine, which involves two phases – general and specific, you can do it either on a stationary trainer or by biking down the road.

The general phase of the warm-up routine entails biking on a relaxed phase with minimal resistance. This will increase your muscle temperature, relax your legs, and direct the flow of blood to the working muscles. This phase, which should be completed between 15-20 minutes, should already involve deep breathing exercises and positive visualization techniques.
Between the general and specific phases, perform simple stretches involving the neck, shoulders, lower back, and the upper body.

Do simple stretching exercises that should last between 5-10 minutes. For the specific phase of the warm-up routine, spin for five minutes until your heart rate reaches below race effort. Do this twice with moderate resistance to avoid muscle fatigue. This phase of the exercise would help significantly in activating your energy systems and metabolic processes.

The length of the warm-up exercises actually depends on the preferences of the mountain biker and the type of the Mountain Biking event. For timed trials and downhill races, for example, participating mountain bikers have to do two minutes of intense exercises, followed by 10 minutes of low-intense ones.

The key here is to try varying lengths of the warm-up exercises, as well as different exercise routines to find out what mountain bikers are comfortable with.

woman cyclist training on an indoor bicycle race track.

General Bike Training

You need fitness to ride a bike, any bike be it road, track or MTB, the basic fitness is the same, but with obvious specialization for each different discipline of the sport. If you are intending to ride some long-distance endurance off-road races, then you will need to spend a lot of time in the saddle, nearly as much time as you intend to race.

Most, if not all, mountain bikers train on the road, either on a road bike or on their mountain bike with a set of slick road tires fitted for better handling and comfort.

With on the road training you can control the different aspects of your work-out; intervals can be measured as can the longer distance rides. Power training can be done either on or off-road, but it is more scientific and controlled on the road, not to mention the safety aspect, if you are making an effort on the boulder or on a loose surface then accidents can happen, this is less likely on the road.

For a mountain bike training plan you can follow a road training program up to a point, that point is where bike fitness has to be combined with mountain bike fitness training but to start with you must concentrate on that general bike training.

Long-Distance Training

You need to build up to doing around about four-hour bike rides, with or without stops, this gets you used to be in the saddle for the amount of time you may be racing for or a good part of it if you are intending entering enduros. These hours are best done with friends with the same aims and similar fitness, one rider who is stronger and wants to show everyone can ruin the group’s cohesion.

Long steady road rides over different terrain is a great way to lose weight and strengthen the whole body and help your bike riding ability. Long rides should be

Cross country cyclist set smartwatch in the forest

Speed & Interval Training

Interval training can be undertaken on or off-road, but as we have talked about before it’s more controllable on the road. Pick a hill that is rideable on a biggish gear and ride it as hard as you can, this is most easily gauged with a pulse monitor and you should be making efforts at over 85% of maximum, this is mountain bike strength training. Speed intervals are also very important for mountain bike racing as a fast start or having the ability to jump past another rider is very important.

Speed training is best done on a short stretch of road, sprint as hard as you can to take your pulse up again to over 85%, do this short interval as often as you can until your pulse will not recover or your speed drops too far that you are not training fast enough, when this happens its time to go home.

Training for Strength

Mountain Biking is a great activity that helps develop physical strength and endurance. Aside from being just a form of recreation, this sport is already part of major competitions and tournaments all over the world.

There are many reasons why people go Mountain Biking. Some do it for fun, as a form of exercise, while some are serious mountain bikers who train and practice for competitions. There are two types of riders: the recreational rider and the competitive rider.

A recreational rider is someone who usually rides three times a week at moderate intensity while a competitive rider pursues a race schedule and pushes his or her competitive level to the highest point. No matter what type of rider you are, strength training is very important.

Like in all types of physical activity, you need to train your body to avoid getting injuries and to be able to handle any difficulty. Most riders already follow a program either professionally made for their body’s needs or a program that they have created.

Male Cyclist Mountain biker

There are many benefits of incorporating strength training into your program

  • Strength training helps prevent injuries.
  • It is a great way of increasing bike strength and power.
  • It is important in hill-climbing, time trailing, and sprinting.
  • Strength training can prevent and even reverse the loss of muscle mass.
  • It can greatly decrease injury potential to your lower back, knee, and shoulder areas.
  • You can have better bike control and less chance of ejection after hard landings.
  • Your body can recover fast and experience less post-ride muscle soreness.
  • Strength training builds power for getting through obstacles.
  • Strength training can increase leg strength and help you ride faster and with fewer overuse injuries.

More and more people are realizing the great effects of strength training. Mountain biking demands more use of your upper body strength due to changes in posture, riding, tempo, and terrain. This is where strength training can be of great help.

A good form of strength training is a program that emphasizes on weight training. You can do this anywhere and with minimal equipment and supervision. This does not only include push-ups or crunches. It also involves challenging exercises and variations as you really need to build up your strength and muscles.

Here are some exercises that you can do as part of your strength training:

  • Crunches, Squats, Leg Press, Squats
  • Push-ups/Pull-ups
  • Step-ups on a platform with weight on shoulders
  • Upright rowing

Be careful during training as you can seriously injure yourself if you do not perform the exercises properly. If you are designing your own program, it is important to have specific goals in mind. But before anything else, check with your doctor first to see if you have any medical problems that will prohibit this type of training. Seeking professional advice from fitness and health experts is also a good option. They can assess your current cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, muscle strengths, and weakness prior to beginning a training program. With these things in mind, you can be on your way to improving your race results in no time.

Female Cyclist Riding on a bike trail in the woods

Basic Off-Road Training

If you are lucky you might have a dedicated MTB Circuit in your area. These are the best areas to go to. Otherwise, you need to use a course that you know well with as many different types of terrain as you can find. If you have a circuit with a hard climb this is perfect for interval training as you can make your effort on the hill and rest on the descent, be very careful, as you get tired you can make mistakes and fall. If you are slowing and getting tired, it’s time to go home.

Fast fire tracks and tricky wooded sections are a must for training yourself for bike handling, one of the best mountain bike training tips you will ever receive is that if you are descending through a forest between trees, don’t ever look straight at any of the trees, if you do this you are bound to crash into it, this is the same for any obstacles that you might come across on a descent.

High Altitude Training

Mountain bike enthusiasts and athletes alike are always looking for new ways to improve performance whether it is from a new training method, a nutritional strategy, or the latest equipment. One method that has been used with success for decades is altitude training. However, there are many misconceptions about altitude training and few people actually know how to correctly implement this type of training.

So what are the physiological effects of altitude training? When exposed to high altitude, less oxygen can be absorbed into the bloodstream, not because there is less oxygen, but because there is a lower barometric pressure driving the oxygen into the circulation. Less oxygen in the bloodstream means less oxygen for your working muscles. This results in a lowered aerobic capacity and ultimately a slower ride. In order to offset the lower oxygen levels in the bloodstream, the body produces more blood cells in an effort to maintain adequate oxygen transfer levels to the tissues.

Because of this well-known adaptation, researchers first theorized that training at altitude would improve exercise performance at sea level because the body would be able to transport greater amounts of oxygen. However, the problem with this concept is that, although red blood cell concentration does increase with chronic altitude exposure, athletes cannot train at the same intensity at elevation as they can at low altitude. Exercise performance is not affected at altitudes below 4500 feet.

Cyclists on Sport Bike Rides in Mountains

However, for every 1000 feet about 4500 feet, performance declines by 3%. Practically speaking, if you can cycle 30 miles in two and one-half hours at 4500 feet, it would take you about 2 hours 50 minutes to cycle this same distance at 8000 feet altitude. Therefore, there is little benefit of traditional altitude training since the negative impact on training intensity counteracts the benefits of more red blood cells.

Further research into altitude training has shown that it can be helpful if executed in a particular way commonly referred to as “live high, train low.” The advantage of this training method is that living high chronically stimulates red blood
production and training low allows maximum intensity workouts to be performed. It’s the best of both worlds.

For a mountain biker who is looking to use this technique, living at an elevation of 7,000 to 9,000 feet is ideal since it is sufficiently high to stimulate red blood production but not so high that acute mountain sickness is a great threat.

This means living in the western United States since the only states with cities above 7000 feet are Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada.

Male Cyclist on Mountain bike

For example, hundreds of world-class athletes “live high and train low” in Flagstaff, AZ each year because the elevation is 7,000 feet and it takes only a 30-minute drive to get on trails below 4,500 feet in elevation.

Unfortunately, some people do not respond favorably to the “live high, train low” approach. Performance is enhanced in about half of those who use this method, but the other half of people will see no improvement in their sea-level performance.

To make matters worse, you can’t predict who will respond well and who won’t. One thing is for sure, with this method, altitude training will improve your mountain biking performance at altitude.

There are several things that you can do to improve the acclimatization process and increase your chances that altitude training will work for you.

First, eat plenty of iron. Iron deficiency, a problem common in endurance athletes, interferes with red blood cell production.

Second, hydrate well. Exposure to altitude dehydrates the body and results in performance declines and muscle tissue is burned for energy.

Third, eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables which also offers an abundance of natural vitamins. You can supplement your diet with phytonutrient supplements such as concentrated aloe vera juice. Try to avoid vitamin supplements given the body functions best on natural whole foods.

Altitude exposure lowers antioxidant concentrations in the circulation. These antioxidants must be replenished in the diet since they are important in strengthening the immune system to ward off infection and they hasten recovery time between exercise sessions, and antioxidants simply come from green foods.

In summary, altitude training definitely improves your mountain biking performance at altitude. For performance below 4500 feet in elevation, traditional altitude training has little effect. However, the “live high, train low” works well for some people. Adequate hydration and a nutritious diet will enhance the training effect.

General Mountain Bike Training Tips

  • Practicing all different kinds of conditions will help you later in races or on rides; the more you know how to handle your bike the better. Mud can have some very different properties form very slippery to sticky and clogging. Wet mud can be impossible to ride on and can be worse than ice and has to be taken carefully, whereas the thick stuff just slows you down and needs lots of strength to push through.
  • Rough tracks with boulders and different size stones deserve a lot of respect. If you are climbing out of the saddle on a hill your back wheel will slip. There are different ways of dealing with this; it can be best to either keep your weight over the back wheel as you climb standing up or changing down to smaller gear and riding upon the saddle.
  • Cornering is an art on a mountain bike. Different terrains and conditions each have a unique effect. If you have a grassy bend on a descent you will slide and fall; this where you need to keep the bike under control with the brakes and your balance. On a sharp graven bend you can lock up the rear wheel and skid round and if it is really tight you can brake with the front wheel and bounce the rear wheel around.

Read more about Mountain Bike Trails

4 thoughts on “Using Your Bike for Training

  1. I love riding bikes, its been a long time since I rode a bike. When I get a chance I would love to get back into biking. I was not aware biking can be considered a part of strength training but it does make sense. I have rode a mountain bike on the streets but I have never been mountain bike riding. It’s something I would be interested in trying.

  2. Wow, you really know a lot about mountain bike training. Even though I ride bikes on some trails just for fun, you taught me how they can help me. I think I should try strength training while riding my mountain biking. It looks really tasking and I like the idea! Altitude training isn’t something I’d like to try. I have fear of heights so that’s a big no for me. Thank you so much, I like your style of writing too.

  3. Interesting! Since you have outlined every bit of things that I need to put into consideration before engaging in mountain riding, thanks so much. Getting the right bike too can help in getting the training right. Since I’m just starting off, I will be using my husband’s second bike just for training until I understand everything that has to do with MTB. But I got my sight set on the fat tire bike. It looks great and might make riding a lot easier for me besides, the pricing seems to beam of quality embedded in it. Thanks

  4. Hi Tracy! Thank you for being here today! Oh that is exciting! I think you are going about selecting your new style of bicycle in an excellent way! And I applaud you for not waiting until you get yours and still getting out on the bike path for bike rides. I am excited for you and your new fat tire bike!! FUN!!! 

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