One of the hardest things for a mountain biker to admit is that they can’t just go out and ride as hard as they want every time they hit the trail. In fact, this is probably the #1 reason that riders invest in one of my programs – they feel like they are being physically held back from riding like they want. While this is a great reason to start training, this mindset can also backfire on you once you achieve a better level of fitness.
The reason for this is that as your ability to produce tension in the body (strength and power are a result of muscular tension) improves, the amount of stress you put on your body increases. While your first few rides as a mountain biker may have felt impossibly difficult, the truth us that your strength and fitness weren’t high enough to place as much stress on the body as you can now. After a while on the trail – and a good MTB strength & conditioning program – you reach the point where you have to be conscious of this fact and cycle your ride intensity levels.
While most people can appreciate the need to cycle Hard, Moderate and Light efforts with their workouts few think about their trail rides in the same terms. If you ignore this fact and continue to hammer hard rides every time you hit the trail you will start to overtrain and burn out – your body needs lighter, easier rides cycled in to keep you fresh and fit. You also need to think about how your rides fit in with your workouts and try not to schedule hard rides and training sessions on the same day or on back to back days.
Just so we are on the same page, here is a rough idea of what I mean by Hard, Moderate and Light…
– A Hard Ride or Training Session is something that would be very tough to repeat the following day.
– A Moderate Ride or Training Session is something that you could probably repeat a couple days in a row but you’d have to dig down a bit the next day.
– A Light Ride or Training Session is something you could easily repeat several days in row with little problem, often times with you ending the ride or training session feeling a bit better than when you started.
While this is a very unscientific explanation I find it works well because the terms Hard, Moderate and Light will mean much different things to a DH rider compared to a 24 Hour Solo racer and this way they can plug in the specific types of riding that fit their goals and fall within these parameters. The easiest way to do this is to rate your rides and workouts on a 10 point Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale –
– Hard efforts are 8-10 on the RPE scale
– Moderate efforts are 4-7 on the RPE scale
– Light efforts are 1-3 on the RPE scale
Just jot down the number that you felt corresponded with your ride/ training session and you will start to notice some interesting patterns. Here are some guidelines I use to both plan a training week and to make adjustments as needed during the week:
– Look to one ride to be your main effort for the week and mark that as your Hard Ride. If you race then this ride should be on the same day you usually race and mimic your race conditions as much as possible. Think of this as a mini-race/ time trial and make sure that your other training efforts support it or at least don’t interfere with it.
– Don’t schedule a Hard or Moderate Training Session the day before a Hard Ride.
– Don’t schedule more than 2 days in a row of Hard or Moderate Rides or Training Sessions. In other words, if you play/ train reasonably hard for two days in a row look to take a rest day or do a Light Ride or Training Session.
– Keep your weekly RPE score under 50. If you add up your RPE scores from the week and find yourself near or over 50 then odds are you are training too hard and too often.
Again, these are just some general guidelines that I have found work well. This is the reason that I cover how to cycle both workout and ride intensities in the Weekly Training Plans that come with my programs but hopefully this article will give you the tools to apply this important concept to your training and riding. While you want to be able to ride faster and longer you can’t do it every time you hit the trail, making a balance between efforts a necessary component to your long term success.