Training: Get fit for mountain biking, part 2

Tips plus in-depth plan

To help get you in shape for summer, last week we asked several of the biggest names in British mountain biking what gets them fired up to ride. Hopefully that's helped with the motivation side of things, so now we're looking at ways to get fit.

First off are some tips, followed by an in-depth training plan that's perfect if you're gearing up for a race or other event, but will still be useful if you just want to get faster on a bike.

Get fit tips

Mix it up: If you do the same hour-long loop all the time, you’ll get good at riding for an hour. But if you really want to improve your fitness, surprise your body and challenge yourself by throwing in longer rides too. The duration will depend on your time and fitness; you might do two hours, you might do four, but the key is to keep it varied.

Ride to work: Okay, if it’s just a 10-minute hop you won’t get much benefit but, seeing as you’re on the bike anyway, you can always go the long way home.

Pick up the pace: Ride with people who are faster than you – they’ll drag you out of your comfort zone. You don’t have to turn every ride into a race, but putting everything in to stick on the wheel of someone who flies up the climbs will soon improve your fitness.

Play with speed: Change your pace at random on rides: go as fast as you can to the trees, recover until you reach the bridge, stay seated and spin up the long climb, sprint to the gatepost… you get the idea. You’re challenging your body in different ways in order to boost your fitness.

Play catch-up: When you’re out on the trails with a bunch of mates, take it in turns to go off the front. Give the leader a 30-second headstart and then try to catch them as fast as possible. It’s a fun way of getting in some hard riding.

Set regular ride times: If you and your mates know that Wednesday night is always ride night, you’re far more likely to get out consistently than if you leave it unplanned.

Boost your recovery: Get an early night. Your body does most of its best work when you’re asleep so switch the phone off and hit the hay a couple of hours early once a week.

Prep ahead: Prepare your post-ride food and drink before you go out. You want to kickstart your recovery as soon as possible after getting home – not after you’ve sat on the sofa for half an hour or hit the shower.

Load up the carbs: Take in at least one gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of your bodyweight for every hour that you ride. This can be in the form of carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks, gels, bars, normal food such as bananas and fruit cake, or a combination of these.

Set a challenge: One way to stay motivated is to set yourself a challenge, like taking part in a race – for example, the What Mountain Bike Dirt Crit Champs at this summer's BikeRadar Live festival.

Take it to the next level

Just getting out there and hitting the trails will improve your mountain biking, but if you really want to take your fitness to the next level you need to ride at the right intensity. Investing in a heart rate monitor (HRM) will help you do this by telling you exactly how hard you’re working.

Like most training plans, ours is based on zones calculated from your maximum heart rate (max HR) – although you can also follow them using perceived exertion, which is a matter of judging how hard you feel you’re riding.

You’ll often read that you can work out your max HR by subtracting your age from 220. Forget it. The only accurate way to get your figure is to push yourself to the limit – assuming you’re fit and healthy and have got the okay from the doctor. Make sure you have a friend with you.

It’s best to do this indoors on a turbo trainer because that’s a safe environment. If you don’t have a turbo, find the longest stretch of junction-free road you can with the least amount of traffic, ideally on a slight slope. Strap on your HRM and get cracking…

1 Start steady: Warm up thoroughly for 10-15 minutes. Start in a fairly low gear and gradually increase your effort, pedalling at a comfortable cadence.

2 Go up a level: Change up a gear, maintaining your cadence, and stick at this level for two minutes.

3 All-out sprint: Change up another gear and keep repeating this until you can’t go any harder. Then sprint all-out for 20 seconds, throwing everything you’ve got into your final burst, and take your max HR – it’ll probably be a few seconds after you’ve finished. An HRM that records your max HR is really handy here.

4 Warm down: Get those legs moving again as soon as possible. Spend several minutes spinning the cranks easily, drinking as you go, until you come back down to earth.

If you want a larger version of this plan, simply click on the image in the thumbnail gallery at the top of the page.

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