When it comes to building MTB specific cardio, the best method is to actually ride your bike – that is the most sport specific training you can do. However, there are times when you can’t ride as much as you would like or you want to focus on specific qualities that you need on the trail but don’t use enough on the trail to continue to improve.

There are also health benefits that you can get from a smart conditioning program that you can’t get from riding alone. This means that if you want to maximize your performance and your health then cardio training has to be part of your overall plan.

In this episode of the Riding For A Lifetime Podcast I share a new cardio training method that I feel has a lot of potential for the 40+ year old rider. You can stream this episode or download the MP3 file by clicking the link below.

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Click Here To Download The MP3 File

As part of the evolution of mountain bike training the use of interval training has become a popular way to improve conditioning. Interval training, though, also has its drawbacks due to the nature of the energetic system it uses, namely the Glycolytic Energy System that breaks down glucose for energy.

Breaking down glucose is not very efficient and it creates a lot of metabolic byproducts that can have short term and long term negative side effects. For example, it produces acid which interferes with the strength of muscle contractions and contributes to fatigue/ failure. This type of training also produces more free radicals, which leads to cellular damage that has to be repaired, which increases recovery time and can impair gains from training.

Typically you find “cardio training” to fall into either long, steady state sessions using lower efforts to build your aerobic base or shorter, high intensity intervals sessions to work on your ability to tolerate the high acid environment from glycolysis. However, there is another way that is a great fit for mountain biking and can lead to better performance and health.

Called Anti-Glycolytic Training (AGT) it instead focuses on improving your Alactic and Aerobic energy systems so that you rely less on the Glycolytic energy system. The more power you can produce without going glycolytic the harder you can push and the longer you can go before having to deal with the acid bath produced by glycolysis.

Understanding how your body powers work can help with understanding how this works and why it is effective.

Inside your muscles are little power factories called mitochondria. The more mitochondria you have and the more efficient they are the more power you can produce aerobically and the faster you can recover from glycolytic efforts.

A focus on endurance training should be to improve mitochondrial density and efficiency since this leads not only to better performance but also to improved health and longevity. Interval training that leads to high levels of acid have the opposite effect and can actually damage the mitochondria in the muscles.

Your body also has 3 different energy systems – alactic (1-10 seconds of effort), glycolytic (20 seconds – 2 minutes) and aerobic (2+ minutes – multiple hours). The alactic and aerobic energy systems are very efficient at producing energy, creating little to no lactic acid and clearing out any acid so that little to none of it accumulates.

So, the goal of AGT is to train the alactic energy system with short efforts and then using the aerobic energy system to recover from the effort so you can repeat it over the course of 10 – 60+ minutes. If done right, these short efforts are also perfect for recruiting your fast twitch muscle fibers, helping to strengthen them and build their endurance.

This also creates an internal environment that improves mitochondrial density and efficiency.

While there are several ways to do this, the one that I’ve been using with a lot of success is Pavel Tsatsouline’s Kettlebell AXE method. He has instructions in his book of the same name but here is how I got started with it and how I’ve been using it.

I started with a relatively easy weight and started doing 4 pass off swings every minute on the minute (EMOM) for 20 minutes. I added 2 minutes each workout until I had built up to 30 minutes/ rounds.

I stayed there for a couple of weeks and then added 2 reps and dropped back down to 20 minutes. I followed the same time progression until I had done 30 minutes/ rounds for a couple of weeks and then I increased the weight, dropping the reps back down to 4 and going down to 20 minutes/ rounds again.

I’m still working my way through this new weight but I’ve followed the same progression, building up to 30 minutes/ rounds before increasing the reps to 6 and decreasing the time to 20 minutes.

I do this 2 times a week and then once a week I do an easier workout of 5 reps of regular two handed swings for 10 minutes/ rounds. This has worked out really well for me because I can do a lot of volume without tearing up my body and lower back in the process.

By doing such a low number of swings each round I can really focus on good form, lots of power and I don’t get fatigued in a way that starts to compromise form or put a lot of stress on a sensitive area.

On a side note, I plan on following a High/ Medium/ Low volume approach going forward, where I have my top number of swings and then do 80% of that on the second day and 60% on the third. I expect this will help me maintain my quality and freshness as the workouts get harder.

In the categories we all care about the most, I’ve seen a really impressive carry over to the trail as well as some indications of health benefits. I didn’t ride much over the winter and I started doing this workout a few weeks before getting out on the trail for the first time this spring. I felt really strong and hit some climbs that I know give me early season trouble like I was in mid-season form.

I’ve felt really good doing them without any residual fatigue. I’ve also seen an increase in my HRV and a decrease in my morning resting heart rate, indicating some good health benefits as well.

I’ve been really impressed with Anti Glycolytic Training and the science behind it is pretty compelling. I think that it is going to make a valuable addition to a lot of 40+ year old rider’s workout programs.

Let me know if you have any questions or need help getting started with this workout. This is just one way to go about it and I’ll be sharing more workout ideas with you as I get a chance to test them.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson
MTB Strength Training Systems

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