Mountain biking is a demanding sport. The dirt and inevitable hills make fitness and skills necessary for enjoyment, safety and speed. This four-week plan will prepare you for the trails by incorporating very fast mountain bike efforts, increasing your time climbing and adding purposeful technical training in isolation and while fatigued.
Because mountain biking is so fun, it’s often hard to remember to push yourself as you might on the road bike with intervals. Often, mountain bikers seek coaching advice because they are tired and want to be fast and snappy.
The following plan includes one off-the-bike-day each week to recover and prepare for another awesome week of mountain biking. Time is spent going very fast uphill by doing intervals, sprints and off-road time trials. Finally, this plan includes targeted technical training. Each athlete has different abilities and goals, but the following intervals and technical training can certainly help any athlete find success in mountain biking.
The following is a month of training that you can follow to incorporate these aspects into your weekly training to be ready for your best summer of MTB yet:
Workout 1: Hill Intervals (Tuesday)
Make sure you’re well-rested. Use a hill that takes at least 3 minutes to climb. Ride up at an intense pace. Ideal setup lets you ride up a hard climb then descend a fun trail so that you can combine hard intervals with skill training. Using the same hill will aid in safety, workout quality and your ability to track progress. Breathing will be very noticeable and heart rate will push into the 90% range or higher.
Workout 2: Short Hill Sprints (Thursday)
Ride your mountain bike off-road, warming up well before arriving at a very short hill with good traction. Ride into each hill with some momentum, then attack up and over the top of the hill for 15–20 seconds. The key to sprint workouts is to be fresh and make sure that you really attack. Keep your head up, and try to accelerate for the whole duration of the interval by stomping on the pedals and moving the bike side to side under you with each pedal stroke. Recoveries should be very easy; sitting still or spinning in circles may be necessary to recover properly for the next interval. These should be maximal effort but are short, so breathing and heart rate are not great indicators of true effort.
Workout 3: Race-Pace Intervals (Saturday)
These are very specific intervals meant to challenge you to ride faster than your normal comfortable pace and get you more comfortable at high speeds off-road. Because they are off-road, focus on riding smooth and avoiding obstacles while also working very hard. These are best done on a short loop you can repeat one or more times during the interval. Ideally, you would do these on a course that has a lot of climbing and/or sections where you can pedal steady. Push yourself to ride your sustainable limit, and cover the same or more ground each repetition.
Workout 4: Steady Endurance (Wednesdays and Sundays)
These days are best done on the road, as it is difficult to ride steady and easy off-road. It is important to let your body recover from the intensity and pounding that off-road riding requires. If you prefer to ride on mountain trails or don’t like riding on busy roads, a flat rail trail or a flat trail system is OK. The important thing is that you can pedal most of the time to keep a steady but light or aerobic load on your legs. A big mistake is not riding steady, letting heart rate drop by coasting and then spiking too high. Aim to stay below the level where your breathing is noticeable or you can’t talk in full sentences. If you use a heart-rate monitor, work within the 60–80% max heart-rate range.
Workout 5: Skill Rides (Fridays and/or any extra time)
Skills are essential for mountain biking fun, safety and speed. Spend all of your extra time and energy on getting better at the skill basics in a field, parking lot or cycling skills park. My YouTube channel has many videos that can help you develop your skills. This plan focuses on the front-wheel lift, progressing toward a log hop and bunny hop. This video demonstrates the basics of what you will do over these four weeks. Don’t overthink it, but do get in the attempts.