Endurance Training Tips
Mountain biking is an incredible, multi-faceted sport requiring not only technical skill, nerves of steel and muscle power, but also the physical and mental capacity to overcome fatigue. Measured through the body’s aerobic and anaerobic capacity, endurance is all about staying strong and focused in the saddle – the greater your endurance, the longer you ride. It’s key to any mountain bike training plan and especially important in preparation for a mountain bike challenge, XC race or big mountain ride.
So how do you build endurance for mountain biking? Check out these seven endurance training tips. The results might just surprise you.
1. GET OUT THERE
It’s all about riding regularly, at least twice, ideally four times a week. Increasing your ride time tells your body it needs to adapt, to build muscle and improve aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Upping the cardio is especially important and for that you need to elevate your heart rate for a sustained period. If access to bridleways and trail centres is limited, connect with your inner roadie (yes you do have one!) and get pedalling!
2. PUT THE TIME IN
Always aim for a minimum of two hours in the saddle. Riding after work is the perfect way to unwind. Come to the office prepared – bring a whole grain packed lunch and some easy to digest portables for the evening ride. On weekends, aim for a half day four hour ride and build upwards from there. Tools like Strava are a great way to set goals and monitor progress.
3. GO FOR THE CLIMBS
It’s not just about a sustained period of effort, it’s also about intensity. Climbs and gnarly uphill sections take interval and plyometric training to the next level. With practice they’ll give you access to power reserves your never knew you had! Start off with roots and rocks on the flat and work your way up steeper terrain. If you can find something really steep, hike-a-bike sessions add another dimension. Check out this post for tips on climbing.
4. FUEL AND HYDRATION
Fuel and hydration are an essential part of endurance training. Rides longer than 2 hours need a bit of forward thinking. The night before, avoid eating out. Instead prepare a healthy meal with a balance of proteins and complex carbohydrates (no need to carb load). Prep your ride portables for the next day aiming for high GI foods like rice or pasta and stick to natural sugars – dried fruits like dates, banana cake or protein balls. Avoid high fibre foods whilst riding. In the morning, breakfast oats supply the body with slow release carbs and important minerals – try a multi-seed blueberry porridge, Bircher or a quick Berry Smoothie. During the ride, keep your energy levels and fluids topped up rather than waiting until you’re hungry or thirsty. If you’re sweating a lot, bring an isotonic drink, best if homemade. At the end of your ride, ideally within 30 minutes of stopping, help your body to repair with a protein rich almond, banana and chocolate shake.
5. TRAIN YOUR LUNGS
Learning to breathe correctly is fundamental to any form of endurance training. Often when the going gets tough and we feel we’ve reached our limit, we have a natural tendency to hold our breath. Rather than helping, we are in fact starving our body of the fuel it needs to build endurance – oxygen.
The efficiency of the lungs of top athletes compared to the average individual borders on superhuman. Athletes use breathing techniques to train their lungs, strengthening the diaphragm, increasing lung capacity and the efficiency of oxygen and CO2 exchange. To get started, focus on breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth whilst riding. Resist panting or short sharp breaths. Instead try to take deep breaths – focus on expanding the chest through the shoulders and extend the breath. This will be challenging to begin with, especially on climbs but keep at it. After a couple of weeks of practice, start to master the art of holding your breath for a fraction of a second before exhaling. This takes a while to get used to. Your lungs will feel like they’re bursting but with time, they will adapt and expand. The result – increased lung capacity and optimal oxygen intake.
We all know about the runner’s wall. For bikers, the wall is more of a mountain. When we get knackered, strange things start to happen. Focus fades, we follow the wrong lines, our balance is thrown, control melts away, disaster! However, the mind is a powerful organ. In situations where you can safely push your limits, really battle to maintain focus, give yourself a good talking to! With practice the mind learns to overcome muscle fatigue and gains stamina.
7. DOWN TIME
The body must rest. A good night’s sleep is one thing but you also need at least one day off per week, ideally two for your body to repair and for muscles to develop. On these days, a healthy diet is essential to support recovery. Focus on proteins, whole grain foods and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables both raw and cooked. Multigrain meals like whole wheat pasta mixed with barley and spelt work well. Brown rice mixed with pulses such as lentils and beans are especially nutritious. Dietary nitrates in beetroot are great on recovery days – simply blend 1 large beetroot with apple juice and fresh ginger for a mid-afternoon pick me up.
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