Since it seems that every traditional training concept I challenge, sometimes I feel that people must think I say stuff just to be different. While a lot of riders are starting to see the light when it comes to things such as avoiding machines like the leg press and incorporating more interval work into their cardio programs, there is one thing that I feel I have not done a very good job explaining my opposition to.
Of course, I am referring to using a road bike for off-season training. While the biggest problem is that road bike riding tends to be used in an attempt to build the mythical aerobic base we have been told we need to succeed, there is much more to the story than just that. Even if you buy into my concepts of “intensity over volume” and avoid excessive base mileage, you would still do well to avoid road bikes during your training.
I do need to make a quick point here – there is a difference between riding for fun and “training”. If you enjoy riding a road bike and want to do it then fine, under most circumstances I would not discourage you to have fun. However, you do need to recognize the difference between fun and training and use sound strategies when deciding how to spend your precious training time.
Now, onto part 1 of The Top 3 Reasons to leave the skinny tire riding to the roadies:
1) It creates a competing neural blueprint – This is an interesting concept that is rarely discussed, especially in mountain bike training. In order to simplify it let me give you this analogy.
You’re brain is like the processer in your computer. It basically tells everything what to do and how to do it. Your muscles are like the hardware in your computer. They do the actual work but need the brain to tell them what to do and how to do it. Your nervous system is like the software your computer uses to bridge the gap between your processer and hardware. How well your processer can make use of your hardware depends in large part on the quality of the software you have installed.
This analogy explains how your body works. Every time you create a movement your brain is using the nervous system to tell your muscles how hard to contract, what order to contract in and how long to contract for. Your nervous system starts to create a “software” program for that movement so that it becomes more instinctual. The more you repeat a movement the better your brain and nervous system learns that movement and the more refined and ingrained the “software program” for that movement pattern becomes.
Because a road bike puts you in a different position and it tends to be far lighter than your mountain bike your nervous system will actually creates a different “software” program for your brain to use in creating that movement. While they look similar, from your brain and nervous systems perspective riding a mountain bike and riding a road bike are two different tasks.
Any time spent training on a road bike is not spent ingraining and refining the movement patterns needed for riding a mountain bike. In fact, since they are similar you may be creating a competing software program – one that is close to but not exactly like the one you need on your mountain bike.
Some top strength coaches in other sports think that this may lead to inefficient movement over the long run as your body tries to figure out which of the two similar movement patterns to use at any given time. This is why you don’t find a lot of baseball pitchers throwing heavy baseballs or golfer swinging lighter clubs in the off season than what they compete with. These other coaches recognize the impact of the nervous system on training and either have their athletes doing the exact same thing they do in their sport or engaging in cross training.
Since mountain biking and road riding are not so far apart you can not consider road riding to be cross training, which also leads me to my second point…