Last Monday I posted an article laying out the Top 3 Off-Season Training Mistakes riders make when trying to see consistent improvements year after year. While I got a lot of great feedback on the article I also got a lot of questions, particularly about Mistake #2.

In case you missed it, Mistake #2 was focusing too much on cardio training. A lot of riders end up following programs written by coaches who have a very limited toolbox and tend to use cardio training as the answer to everything.

A symptom of this are programs that rely heavily on specific heart rate and/ or power zones. The hope is that by quantifying your effort levels you can design an almost mathematical approach to cardio training.

Unfortunately there are a lot of pitfalls to this approach, not the least of which is missing the real point of cardio training. What, you may ask, is the real point of cardio training?

Great question, and one I go into in this new episode of the MTB Strength Coach Podcast…

Download this episode (right click and save)

You can also listen to it now by clicking on the player below…

Notes from this podcast:

– Problem with HR/ Power based training: those are symptoms of movement, not a direct cause of performance.

– Body creates tension which then produces power and fueling that tension increases the HR.

– Fatigue is brought on by a mental state more than a physical state. 2010 study by Samuele Marcora showed compelling evidence that perception of effort and not physiological limitations were the true cause of fatigue.

– Training yourself to become mentally tougher and more focused should be the focus of your cardio training, not a secondary consideration. This way you can be dying metabolically but holding it together longer performance wise – sustaining the performance curve longer. Using breathing or performance cues.

– Use HR to see how your body responds to training rather than as your guide. Focus more on the mind-body connection than just logging miles at a certain HR.

How to use HR Training for MTB

Remember that heart responds to tension and that is ultimately what you are trying to manage. Once you’ve learned to manage tension better then your HR will respond accordingly. Simply training at a certain HR isn’t the point if you are not mimicking the tension demands of your sport.

That is why I don’t use HR as a guide but as a way to monitor progress. Seeing your HR drop faster during rest periods or being able to sustain a harder pace at a lower HR are all signs of improved fitness but only if the methods used are focusing not just on the HR but on the specific tension demands causing the HR on the trail.

In other words, if you train your body to push hard and then recover quickly when given the chance then you can push harder earlier in a race or climb knowing that you can quickly recover when you get the chance. Contrast this with the rider who is training a specific HR or power level and they will have to pace themselves more because that is what they trained themselves to do.

Asking “what HR do I need to train at” is the wrong question. You need to ask yourself what are the tension demands of the way you want to ride and then train them and your HR will follow. Lead your training with your HR and you can totally miss the tension demands that you are looking for.

If you have any thoughts on this I’d love to hear them, just post a comment below. And if you liked this new take on Cardio Training for Mountain Biking please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word to fellow riders who could benefit from it as well.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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