“Training ride” is a funny term – most riders tend to sell it short and not really appreciate all of the different ways they can use them to improve as riders. The most common use of the term is to describe a ride that focuses on improving a fitness component, with “cardio” or “endurance” being the most common things targeted. However, if those are the only types of training rides you do you are not targeting everything you need to improve as a rider.
Too many riders are worried about riding 25, 50 or even 100 miles before they can even ride 1 mile efficiently and effectively.
I personally use and recommend two types of training rides to help improve as a rider, the first being the fitness ride that most are familiar with and the other being a skills/ technique training ride. While you can, and should, be focusing on proper execution of your skills on the trail on every ride, the truth is that if your goal is to pound out a long, hard ride then you simply can not focus on really perfecting your technique on any of the essential skills needed on the trail.
For this reason I recommend that riders fit in a few shorter rides where the goal is not to get tired but to stay relatively fresh so you can focus on improving the execution of a specific skill. These rides will usually be an hour or less and you will choose one or two things that you are going to keep bringing your attention back to so you can pay attention to what you want to do better.
These rides are especially valuable for those riders who have been following one of my programs and using strength training as Metabolic Skills Training – essentially connecting a better way of moving in the gym to the skills you want to improve on the bike. While you’ll see improvements on the trail simply from the improved strength and mobility you’ll really see your results on the trail take off when you purposefully go on a ride where your goal is simply to apply that better movement to the trail.
For example, using deadlift, single leg deadlifts and swings in the gym to help improve your hip hinge movement pattern is great but you have to spend time on the trail thinking about making your body position on the bike feel like the body positions and movements you have been practicing in the gym. Simply hitting the trail with no real thought about what you are doing or how you are doing it will never get you the best results on the trail.
Here are a few more examples of my favorite things to focus on during Technique Training Rides:
– Slam your seat down and force yourself to stand up as much as possible. Pay attention to how the core position and leg action of the squat (both the two legged and single leg varieties) apply to your standing pedal stroke.
– Play a game of “how little can I pedal”. By forcing yourself to rely on everything else at your disposal to keep your momentum going (pumping the trail, cornering efficiently, manual/ bunny hopping momentum stealing rocks, etc.) you really open your mind to all the ways you can go fast without pedaling.
– Try not to use any brakes in corners. This will force you to slow down entering the corner and pick a clean line through it. As my friend and skills coach extraordinaire Gene Hamilton likes to point out it isn’t who enters the corner the fastest but who exits it the fastest that wins. Often the key to exiting with more speed is often slowing down a bit before it so you don’t have to hit the brakes when you start to overcook the corner.
All of these things are very impossible to do if you are mainly worried about surviving another death march. This actually brings me to a side point…
Too many riders are worried about riding 25, 50 or even 100 miles before they can even ride 1 mile efficiently and effectively. If new riders where encouraged to focus on skills and technique before worrying about going on long, epic rides the skill level of you average rider would skyrocket. With that increase in skill would come an increase in fun and confidence on the trail as well.
The point is that since mountain biking requires a high degree of fitness and skill you have to have training rides that focus on both elements. Try getting two to four Technique Rides in each month and see how fast your skills improve.