Key Workouts For Early Season Mountain Bike Racers

If you are a mountain bike racer in the northern US, the competitive season is upon us! The base miles are wrapping up, you have cut back on the gym work and should have some structured intervals under your belt. Now is the time to hit the dirt; and some specific race-focused workouts are in order. The great thing about these workouts is they can easily be introduced into your training regimen. While working on this article, I considered numerous workouts I could discuss, and chose the two I consider most crucial. The first is "hard starts" and the second is "Fartlek". These workouts should be performed on your mountain bike to get the full training effect. Beware, the first few mountain bike rides can leave you fatigued in a different way than you are used to, as your whole body will be used for balance and stability; the pounding from the trails might require a bit of additional recovery.

"Hard starts" might at first seem like sprints that you have been performing on the road bike. The main difference is these require that you start at a near stand still or stopped with a foot on the ground. This workout will help in a couple of ways. Mountain bike starts are very fast, getting clipped in and "on top of the gear" quickly is important. This will also benefit you in situations where you get caught behind another rider who falters on a steep, narrow (single track) trail. If you are forced to unclip, it is important that you have the technical and physiological skills to get back up to race pace quickly and easily. "Hard starts" can be performed within the context of a mountain bike endurance ride. Recovery should not be an issue as the intensity factor is low. Warm up should consist of 10-20 minutes of easy riding and possibly some light stretching (if this is part of your normal warm up routine). Another 10 minutes of Light (tempo) will get all systems going. Optimally, you should find a slight uphill section free of significant obstacles. With the bike in a gear slightly too big for the terrain, roll to a stop, place your unclipped foot on the ground then GO! Clip in and accelerate, shifting as necessary. This effort should last 8-15 seconds. Resume riding at a pace that is comfortable. Beginner riders should perform 8-10 starts, while Sport and more advanced riders should do upwards of 15. Mixing it up between complete stops and slow rolling starts, as well as varying the terrain, will keep the workout fresh.

One of my favorite summer activities is the after work mountain bike ride with my buddies. These rides are the perfect time for some Fartlek. Fartlek is a Swedish word for "speed play". Fartlek workouts are easy to perform on the mountain bike, and if you ride with people of like ability level, are great for small groups. On the mountain bike, Fartlek should be used to practice skills while close to race intensity. By definition, Fartlek has little structure to it (thus the "play"), but based on your group (or lack thereof) you may decide in advance where the speed will take place. It may be something as basic as sprinting the uphills or something along the lines of Indian Sprints. The Indian Sprint is where the last rider in line sprints past the group and accelerates till the last person catches on. Then a recovery phase is initiated, this could be set beforehand or you can "play it by feel". The warm up should be similar to above and the speed phase should last at least 30 seconds and upwards of 15 minutes. Intensity should stay very close to Middle (threshold) with the exception of the very short efforts that should be near maximal effort. Because you are doing these workouts on a mountain bike, and downhill is part of the terrain, your bike handling skills will be tested while at an elevated intensity level. If you are doing these rides with multiple people, don't let group dynamics take over and turn the whole ride into a 2-hour "hammerfest." The point is to intersperse sections of race-type intensity with adequate rest. If you decide to do these on a trail network that is shared by other users (hikers, equestrian), please slow down and yield when you encounter them. In fact, waiting for slower buddies intermittently or going until you encounter the next set of pedestrians/hikers/equestrians is one way to "set" the fast parts of the ride. Make sure to warm down adequately and have an extra bottle light snack, and clothes in the car for afterwards.

The competitive mountain biker needs to keep their skills sharp and the body prepared for the demands of today's race courses. These are just a couple of simple workouts to incorporate into your training plan. Train smart, be well.

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