Applying the 4 Quadrants of Training to Mountain Biking

Last week I wrote on article on Dan John’s 4 Quadrants of Training (link to 4 Quadrants article) – I don’t know why but this concept really pulled a lot of things together for me. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on how we can apply this concept specifically to mountain bikers and optimal journey they should take.

Q1 riders are those who are just starting with mountain biking. They would want to gain exposure to a wide variety of trails and types of riding. Short rides, long rides, epic pedals and downhill shuttles – they should try it all. Same with their approach to fitness – it should be a pretty simple program that works on a broad base of mobility, strength and cardio needs like my DB Combos Program ( You don’t need a training plan based on finishing the Leadville 100 when you are still learning how to effectively pedal, shift and brake on the trail.

Q2 riders are those that have decided to get more “serious” and improve their riding. While the temptation is to hurry and pick a type of riding you want to focus on the Q2 rider is still building their base and needs to take their basic fitness and skills to a higher level before specialization will really help. This would be when you would want to take a skills clinic and get more serious with your strength and conditioning program, using something like my MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program ( As a side note, there are riders who may need to stay in Q2, especially if you compete in multi-day “enduro” type events where you race a multi-event format like the Trestle All-Mountain Enduro event at Winter Park.

Q3 riders are those that have several years of basic riding under their belt and have started to gravitate towards a specific discipline. This could be competing at a low to moderate level or even just wanting to focus on a certain type of riding, which usually corresponds with the types of trails you have around you. You would want to start to slant your training towards the specific needs of the advanced trail rider, using a workout like The Ultimate MTB Workout Program that addresses the both the general needs of mountain biking and the specific demands of your chosen “specialty”.

Again, the danger here is thinking that you need to have a high level of everything when the truth is that you just need a high level in a few things and maintenance of what you built on the way through the first 2 Quadrants in others (which is why you have to go through them or else there is nothing to “maintain”). Even within this quadrant you have needs specific to the type of riding you do and you don’t need the skills of a World Cup DH pro and the fitness of a 24 hour solo racer – trying to train too many qualities will result in mediocrity.

Q4 riders are the best of the best – they need a very narrow band of fitness and skills and they need to push them to the highest levels humanly possible. That is why an XC rider can have a puny upper body and a DH rider can have average steady state cardio – they push for one goal as hard as possible and let everything else go. Unless you race on the World Cup circuit, draw a paycheck as a pro rider or have a legitimate chance to do so then I’m sorry but you are not a Q4 rider.

So, again, the trick is to honestly assess where you are in the 4 Quadrants and then use that information to focus your training. If you have just started riding then strive to ride as many trails as possible and don’t starting using Q4 equipment and strategies too early (like clipless pedals and “base miles”). If you are a Q3 rider then don’t worry about a Boot Camp type program that focuses on everything and instead focus on what you need to excel on the trail while maintaining the other stuff. If you are a Q4 rider then don’t worry about being able to stack up against anyone in anything except your competition.

There is an ancient Chinese saying that I tell everyone when they first start training with me – To be different from what you are you must first know what you are. Using the concept of the 4 Quadrants is one of the easiest ways I’ve found to help riders more honestly assess where they are so they can start the journey towards the changes they really want.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Jason De Carlo says:

    Were can I get the q3 and the q4 workout.

    Reply • December 1 at 4:48 am

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