How much more do I need to ride?
This is by far one of the most common questions I get from people who are starting a strength and conditioning program for mountain biking. I understand their concern since the best way to improve on your bike is to actually ride your bike – or is it? Do you really need much more saddle time than what you are currently putting in?
While I could be wrong, the more I get into this the more I think that most mountain bikers “ride” enough already. If you are getting 2-3 rides per week and/ or logging 3-5 hours on the trail then I think this may be plenty of riding for the average mountain biker. To really increase your overall trail endurance you need something that trail time is not going to give you.
Here is how I have come to look at training for mountain biking – I use strength, mobility, power, anaerobic endurance and technical skills training to sharpen the tools I need on the trail and then use my riding time to learn how to apply those improved tools to my riding. This requires a paradigm shift to fully understand – you really don’t get better at riding the trail by actually riding your bike.
You get better at riding the trail by improving the raw physical attributes/ skills you need and then applying them to the trail. When you ride you are simply fulfilling the potential that you currently have.
Sure, riding can be used as a training tool, but it is a very limited training tool. You can only address a few performance components with it. Things like strength, power and mobility are critical to overall endurance and trail skills but they do not get used enough on the trail to really improve them.
This is why you must include strength and conditioning in your program if you want to really maximize your performance on the trail. You simply don’t get enough volume and/ or intensity to really increase strength and power and riding actually subtracts from your overall mobility.
Since strength and power are critical to redline climbing and sprinting efforts you will never get the overall endurance you seek by just riding your bike. Since mobility is critical to proper position for execution of trail skills you will never develop the “flow” you seek by just riding your bike. If you do not address these facts with your training program then you are leaving a lot of performance potential on the table.
This also means that you do not necessarily need to put in more volume based riding, or rides where you are simply going out to log some more miles/ hours. If you are already logging 3-5 hours per week on the trail then look to use your extra training time to address the true loose spokes on your MTB Performance Wheel. Then use your current trail to time learn how to apply you truer, stronger Performance Wheel to the trail.
In my experience this is the real way to increase your endurance and skills on the trail. Remember that more training time is not better, better use of your training and riding time is. If you only have 2-4 hours per week to devote to training then you may want to consider if adding in more saddle time is really the best use of that time. Perhaps getting stronger, more powerful and more mobile are really what you need to enjoy riding even more.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’d love to hear what everybody else think about this topic…