This is an excerpt from an upcoming article on www.strengthcoach.com. In it I cover the 3 main physical differences between road riding and mountain biking and why these difference mean we need a very different approach to training…
Here are three things that must be considered with a mountain bike training program:
1) Slower RPMs require more muscular strength:
One of the foundations of the famous Carmichael Training System is that higher RPMs require less muscular strength and more aerobic capacity to keep going. That is why 90-110 RPMs is goal for a lot of road riders – spinning that fast produces the most power in the most energy efficient manner possible. What this means for the mountain biker, however, is completely different.
While you can keep a good, consistent spin on the road it is impossible to do on the trail. Rocks, roots and loose dirt all conspire to steal your momentum and traction and you can not just “spin” your way through them. You have to stop pedaling in certain areas, slow down in other and accelerate in yet others.
This means that, on average, a mountain biker uses a lower RPM than a road cyclist would over the same distance. The lower RPMs require more muscular strength to produce and more anaerobic strength endurance to maintain. For this reason strength training and intervals will have a more direct impact on a mountain biker’s performance than a road cyclist.
2) Standing pedaling requires more core strength:
One of the reasons that mountain bikers use a slower RPM is because they are forced to stand a lot more than a road cyclist. Standing up to navigate a technical trail section or to sprint up a short, loose climb are common occurrences for the mountain biker. Because they spend more time standing, they need to gain more core strength and hip drive to be efficient in that position.
When you are sitting down the seat and seatpost help support your weight and provide a point of stability for you to drive against. When you stand up you lose those things and your core is asked to make up for it. Most riders lack the core strength to hold themselves up and provide a platform for the legs which is why they always feel “slow” on the trail when they have to stand up and lay down the horsepower.
The other thing to consider is that standing pedaling is more hip dominant than seated pedaling is. In the standing position your hips are driving straight down, making this movement more of a sprint than a jog. Because it is powered differently than seated pedaling you have to emphasize that in the mountain bikers training program.
3) Hip mobility and control is the key to technical skills:
The thing that really separates mountain biking from road riding is the technical skill required on the trail. Many a super fit roadie has been smoked on the trail by a less fit but more skilled mountain biker. More than just helping you go fast, good technical skills also keep it rubber side down, a.k.a. keep you from crashing.
The fluidity, balance and control needed to flow through technical single track require a lot of hip mobility and control. This all starts with the “attack position” where the rider is standing up with their hips back and chest down. This is the base position and from here they are balanced and neutral on the bike, setting them up for everything else.
However, most riders are locked up in the hips and lack the foundational core strength and hip mobility to get into that position. This means that instead of sliding their hips back and getting their chest down, they drop their hips down and keep their chest upright. They are essentially off balance and spend most of their time riding defensively instead of being able to let it flow.