Some perspective on pedaling endurance…

The last week has been pretty exhausting. Between tying to play catch up on missing a week while at Mike Boyle’s facility in Boston and getting over a head cold that just wouldn’t let go I was trying to help people keep some perspective on articles and posts I had written.

On NSMB.com I had posted an article on the Bulgarian Split Squat and found myself defending it against some people who felt I was either saying it was the best exercise ever or were upset that I did not go over a different exercise that they thought was more appropriate. It was one article on one exercise and yet some people lost perspective and it resulted in a lot of confusion and wasted online hairsplitting.

On Monday I posted some thoughts I had on pedaling endurance for DH racing. Some people had a tough time keeping perspective on the situation – I am not saying that pedaling endurance is not important for DH racing. It is very important for all mountain bikers and will always be a part of a good training program.

In fact, I do a lot of “cardio” work with the riders I train and even have some of them doing 1 hr road rides (on their mountain bikes) that are essentially planned tempo rides (longer sub max intervals). These are riders that have a lot of time to train and are already doing strength work and intervals.

However, here is what I see when I do a needs analysis for a DH racer:

1. Technical skills – if they don’t have the skills to handle the courses and the speeds needed to win then all the fitness in the world is wasted.

2. Impact strength – the faster you can hit rock gardens and roots and the faster you can maintain control through them the faster you can ride. Strength to weight ratio is the key here. Weaker riders (like women) HAVE to slow down because they physically can not handle the same speeds without losing control. They physically can not handle the same speeds as stronger riders.

Plus, the less impact strength you have the more taxing the rough, technical stuff is going to be. When you get to the bottom and have to pedal your legs are simply taxed because they are worn out from absorbing impacts.

3. Pedaling Power endurance – If I am going to discuss pedaling endurance we need to be clear that I am talking about pedaling power endurance. All I care about is how much power can you lay down and maintain for the time fame being discussed. With that being said, your pedaling power endurance basically tells us potentially how fast your “engine” can propel you.

Taken together, these three things play the biggest role in the success of a DH racer. Actually, these factors apply to all types of riding in different proportions but that is the subject for another article.

As you can see there is really more to the equation than just being able to pedal as hard as you can for 3-5 minutes. You have to be able to handle those speeds from a technical and physical perspective. If you can not do that then you will never be able to fully apply your pedaling power endurance to the trail.

My approach is that you should establish the ability to go as fast as you want and then work on your ability to maintain that speed over the course of your race. This means that, for a lot of riders, gaining technical proficiency and physical strength will play a more important role than pedaling power endurance. They need to work on their ability to actually go fast on the trail, not in training.

Now, keep perspective…I am not saying to stop working on pedaling power endurance.

I am saying that if you have never looked at improving your technical skills (of which mobility and body control play a huge role) or increasing your impact strength (which strength training plays a huge role) then you may need to switch training priorities. Stop worrying so much about your “cardio” and start looking at your true weak links. It may seem counterintuitive but that is how I think you can make the most dramatic impact possible on your riding.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Dan McCormack says:

    Well spoken James. I have found that many of the top women racers have excellent technique, sometimes better than the men because technique and finesse can overcome some of the time lost by not traveling through the rough portions of the track as fast. We guys often try to muscle our way to the win but we could learn a lot by watching how the women improve their speed.

    Reply • February 14 at 7:05 pm
  2. Shawn Sinskie says:

    I find a lot of riders spend to much time over thinking the words of others. Train! mix it up! confuse your muscles with different routines and ride your bike! Your dead on the money here james. Let’s not forget the most important factor of all……..HAVE FUN ON YOUR BIKE!!!!!! There is nothing better than a sh.t eati..

    Reply • February 14 at 7:20 pm
  3. olivier bock says:

    Thanks for the great workouts. I’ve been slacking lately, but will get back on it soon. I also appreciate your perspective on training, even tough I’m more of an enduro/trail guy. When I was competing in XC I realized I was doing way too much endurance training – it was leaving me too tired to compete effectively, and this is the rule for the majority of training programs out there. Truth is, by the time you’re 30 or so, there is a TON of endurance built in and the focus should be on speed. I cut volume down, did brutal speed workouts, terrain-specific training, and I started to see the podium in Semi-Pro and Pro XC events. So I agree with you that endurance is way over emphasized. BUT, there is a point in the season when ever athlete should be doing some long, long rides to improve efficiency and ECONOMY. The difference in XC is the ability of an athlete to go at 90% for 3 hours and literally sip on fuel. This is only accomplished by doing big rides with little food (and NO bonking) for about 2 weeks each season. Not sure of the physiology of all of this but there are studies published somewhere…

    Reply • February 17 at 9:14 am

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