Over the last 5-10 years my cardio training program has changed a lot. 

My old plan was to ride 5+ days a week and hit some hard intervals after my workouts. But now I can’t ride as much as I used to and my body can’t take the wear and tear of hard interval training for very long. 

With this new reality I’ve found myself using different training methods that I did in the past to not only keep me fit for trail riding but also to improve my health and longevity. I’ve posted some podcasts and blog posts about these different training methods but I’ve never gone over them all together and explained how I combine them all into a comprehensive program.

In this episode of The Riding For A Lifetime Podcast I explain why I use the training methods I do and how you can use them as a part of your training plan. You‌ ‌can‌ also find the podcast ‌on‌ ‌‌Itunes‌,‌‌ ‌Podbean‌,‌‌ ‌‌Spotify‌‌ ‌‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌other‌ ‌major‌ ‌podcasting‌ ‌platforms.‌ ‌

Click Here To Stream This Episode or Download The MP3 File

Worrying about cardio training comes from wanting to improve your cardio. So what is your “cardio”?

Cardio refers to the Cardiovascular system, either in terms of how it impacts your performance or how to improve it so you can improve your performance.

I prefer the term endurance because it encompasses everything that goes into fueling your efforts on the trail.  “Cardio” refers to one part of the equation but a lot of people use the terms interchangeably.

Either way, the goal is to improve your ability to create energy on the trail without gassing out or needing to stop to catch your breath.

A big part of endurance is the ability to take in oxygen and deliver it to working muscles and to be able to deal with metabolic byproducts of high level energy production like CO2 and lactic acid.

The goal with cardio training is to improve these things specific to the type of riding you do the most.

There are 4 things that I like to focus on to improve and maintain my MTB specific cardio/ endurance.

Breathwork Drills For Breathing Efficiency

Everything starts with the ability to breathe efficiently. If you aren’t doing that then cardio training is just reinforcing bad breathing habits, which is inefficient and potentially unhealthy.

Efficient breathing helps you take in oxygen and exhale waste products from energy production with less effort.

A good breath is going to be driven by the diaphragm and will use a 360 degree expansion into the lower ribs, pressing down on the abdomen and helping to create pressure and stability in the core.

It also allows for better movement on the bike when executing different skills since you aren’t using other muscles to help stabilize the core instead of helping with the movement skill.

I do some type of breathwork/ breathing drill each day. I cycle through a few different types, mainly Box Breathing, Paced Breathing and the Wim Hof style breathing/ hyperventilation + holds.

I’ve posted a lot about the benefits of better breathing and what goes into it. You can find a great resource to help you learn more by clicking here.

CO2 Tolerance Training

One of the metabolic byproducts of using oxygen to create energy is carbon dioxide. 

Carbon dioxide does several things in the body, like help to release oxygen from red blood cells.

But it also triggers the panicky “holy crap, I can’t catch my breath” feeling that has to be one of the worst feelings on the trail. 

Because of the good things that CO2 does you don’t just want to blow off more of it, you want to train to tolerate more of it. 

To do this you have to put yourself in a low Oxygen, high Carbon Dioxide environment and let it trigger changes to that effect.

You accomplish this through breath holds while exercising in a very specific way that maximizes safety and minimizes risk from blackouts or blood pressure getting too high.

My favorite method is to 

  1. Take a strong inhale
  2. Let out a relaxed exhale
  3. Run in place – start slowly and pick up the pace until you are running
  4. When you feel a strong air hunger/ need to breathe then stop running and start breathing through your nose to recover
  5. Once you’re O2 saturation levels have recovered back to 95-99% then repeat the process until you have done 5 breath holds

I recommend wearing an O2 saturation meter from online or a drugstore, they are an inexpensive training tool that will ensure that you are getting the most from this training.

Anti Glycolytic Training

A big part of avoiding fatigue is to limit how much you rely on the Glycolytic Energy System.

It is not very efficient and produces a lot of lactic acid, which your body then has to deal with while also having to work harder to do work while it’s around.

A great way to do this is to work on building up the other two energy systems, especially while working together to minimize how much you rely on the Glycolytic Energy System.

This type of training supports better mitochondrial efficiency and density, which is also helpful with longevity and health.

There are a lot of different ways to accomplish this goal but one way is to perform an explosive exercise for around 10 seconds and then resting for around 50 seconds, repeating for 20-40+ minutes.

You want to avoid fatigue, the “burn” or a feeling of congestion in the muscles as the goal is to repeatedly activate the highest twitch muscle fibers without switching on the Glycolytic Energy System.

A method that I find works extremely well for mountain biking is to do 5 kettlebell swings every minute, on the minute (EMOM) for 20-40 minutes.

This means you set a round timer for 1 minute and hit start, doing 5 swings and then resting for the rest of the minute before repeating the process for 20-40 minutes.

You can use two handed or pass off swings for this workout.

Do this workout 2-3 times a week, starting with 20 minutes and adding 2 minutes each week.

Use High (top number of rounds), Medium (80%) and Low (60%) days to vary your training volume throughout the week.

If you don’t have time to do this separately, do 10 rounds as part of your regular workout program.

You can learn more about Anti Glycolytic Training by checking out this post/ podcast.

Zone 2 Cardio

This type of training is basically your aerobic base training of years past.

It is associated with heart rates below your anaerobic threshold where you can carry on a conversation without needing to take deep breaths along the way.

You still have to watch the volume that you are doing since more isn’t always better for mountain biking but you’ll gain some endurance and health benefits from doing it.

Relating to the last one, it strengthens the heart in a unique way and builds mitochondrial density and efficiency.

The more you are riding your bike the less you need to do as a workout but in general you want to get 2-3 hours a week between riding and training.

But keep in mind that your rides aren’t all Zone 2 efforts and the harder you push/ the more you push into breathing hard the less of it you are getting on the ride and the more you need to compensate through training.

Personally, I like to do 1-3 sessions a week of 20-30 minutes to supplement my riding.

What This Looks Like For A Training Program

Putting this all together looks like like this:

  1. Daily breathwork/ breathing drills
  2. CO2 Tolerance Training 3-5 times a week
  3. AGT 2-3 times a week
  4. Zone 2 Cardio 1-3 times a week

I alternate AGT with strength training throughout the week.

I do CO2 tolerance training at the end of AGT and strength training sessions.

I do Zone 2 cardio whenever I can fit it in, usually on Sunday when I don’t have anything else going on.

You’ll notice that this is a pretty simple program without any need for power meters or long, complicated workouts taking you through different training zones.

It also doesn’t use intervals, which can be effective for short periods of time but has some impacts on the body that can be counter-productive for longevity and shouldn’t be used as a long term training method.

While those types of programs/ workouts can work, I’ve found that as a 40+ year old rider that this approach is more sustainable, more enjoyable and works really well for the goals of feeling better on and off the trail.

It also lines up nicely with practices that can help improve longevity, which achieves our goal of Riding For A Lifetime.

Let me know if you have any questions or need help with figuring out the best way to implement this info into your own training program.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *