One of the most confusing terms in training is the moniker “sport specific”. While we can all agree that it is important to follow a sport specific program, how it best applies to you can be a bit fuzzy.
The reason for this is because the term applies differently to each of the 4 Training Elements that make up your overall program. These 4 Elements are:
Mobility – Your range of motion, ability to control that range of motion and the ability to sequence things to produce basic human movement.
Strength – Your ability to produce tension while maintaining efficient postures and movement.
Power – Your ability to quickly produce tension (power) while maintaining efficient postures and movement.
Endurance – Your ability to sustain tension and power while maintaining efficient postures and movement. This is different than “cardio” because we are worried more about how the entire organism comes together to help you go as hard and as long as you need to for your sport.
Each of these elements exists on a continuum between General and Specific.
General ————————————————————————————— Specific
Mobility Strength Power Endurance
The more General a quality is the less it has to look like your sport for you to see results. The more Specific a quality is the more it needs to look like your sport.
For example, if a mountain biker and a runner both had to improve the mobility of their hips you could use the same basic stretches and mobility exercises for both of them. You don’t need to change things up based on the sport as much as on the individual needs of the athlete.
If that same mountain biker and runner needed to improve the strength of the hips you could also take a very similar approach – Glute Bridges, Deadlifts and Single Leg Deadlifts will work miracles for both. You may need to emphasize some movement patterns more than others based on the demands of the sport but 80-90%+ of what you do with one athlete to get them stronger will also work with another group of athletes.
Moving along, if the same mountain biker and runner needed to improve the power of their hips we start to see the need to get more “specific”. While there is still some general carryover from other power based movements, you get the best results from things that require similar joint angles and movement speed as your sport. In other words, the rider will get more from sprints on a mountain bike than sprints on the track and vice versa for the runner, although there is still some value for each of them in doing both.
Lastly, if our mountain biker and runner needed to improve the endurance of their hips you’ll see that we’ve come to the most specific training element. The most important Endurance Training you can do is practicing your sport. This is why runners run, swimmers swim, roadies ride road bikes and trail riders ride mountain bikes – your endurance is very specific to how you train it and doesn’t carry over efficiently from one activity to another.
So how does all of this apply to your training program? It’s pretty simple really…
First, your Mobility Training should follow a general approach to addressing your specific problems areas. Most of us will have to deal with hip and upper back mobility issues from our time in the saddle and you may have some other areas specific to your situation. The approach you want to use to address your problem areas and to prevent future ones should focus on improving basic human movement and not be overly concerned about being mountain bike specific.
Second, Strength Training time shouldn’t be spent doing things that try to mimic riding a mountain bike. Practice and strengthen the fundamental human movements and understand how they relate to the bike but don’t try to find ways to “practice” riding in the gym. Stick to the basics and don’t worry about how much something looks like riding your bike.
By making sure you have all of the 4 Elements covered in your overall program and understanding how to apply the General vs. Specific Continuum to each, you can create the most effective “sports specific” training program for you.
Third, your Power Training should include a healthy dose of Specific training. While there is value in things like Kettlebell Swings and Sprinting, spending time on your mountain bike doing sprints needs to be a big part of this element.
And last, you need to spend the majority of your Endurance Training (what most of us think of as Cardio Training) on your mountain bike. You also don’t need a lot of General Cardio when you are able to hit the trails 2+ times a week. If you do need to add in some extra “cardio training” then make sure you use your mountain bike. Things like spin classes and riding a road bike simply aren’t specific enough and your best bet is to use your mountain bike on the road or a trainer.
By making sure you have all of the 4 Elements covered in your overall program and understanding how to apply the General vs. Specific Continuum to each, you can create the most effective “sport specific” training program for you. By going too Specific in the wrong area (like Strength Training) or too General in another (like Endurance Training) you can waste a lot of time and energy. But get it dialed in and it can feel like cheating with how easy it is to see results.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems