Power Training for Mountain Bikers - Part 2

Previously we've examined the body’s energy systems and the different sources of power for successful cycling performance - How to Improve your Power Part 1. This time we’re going to look at the kind of mountain biker you want to be, which energy systems are most appropriate and most importantly, how do you train them as part of an overall plan. This information is worth millions, I’m telling yer…

Make sure that you read part one of our introduction to power training. Even if you read it before, it’s worth going back to it as a refresher. As a brief recap, we explained that there are three energy systems through which the human body produces power; the phosphocreatine or PC system, the lactic acid or LA system and the aerobic system. Each of these power systems is trained in a different manner as explained previously.

Also discussed was the perceived exertion or RPE. In lieu of a full physiological lab test to accurately establish your aerobic zone, the RPE scale provides a surprisingly accurate guide for your training effort. Reference this table when the RPE is mentioned in the training plans that follow.

Now, let’s begin by splitting everyone into three rider categories and then we’ll address the kind of training each one might want to perform to get maximum benefits:

• Gravity enduro or downhill specialist

• XC race snake

• Endurance/marathon rider

So I think you’ll agree that these look like distinctly different disciplines and it may be that you sit somewhere in between these categories. For this I’m sorry, it’s not your fault and if you want to drop us an e-mail we can talk about it—the stress of not being compartmentalised might just be too much to deal with. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll get a pretty good idea of what you should be doing based on these three scenarios.

DH/Gravity specialist

From a physiological perspective, the main energy systems in use here are the phosphocreatine (PC) and lactic acid (LA) systems—that’s the explosive power of PC and the more enduring, yet still quite short-term power generation of the LA system. We’ve covered the basic principles of training these systems before, but here’s an example of a more structured week of training for a DH/gravity enduro specialist:

 

Monday

Rest Day

Tuesday

Warm up well for 10 min

Eight 15-second maximum effort sprints with three minutes’ recovery between efforts (PC Intervals)

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: N/A (PC intervals don’t hurt)

Wednesday

Warm up well for 10 min

Six one-minute efforts with two minutes’ recovery between (LA Interval)

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: 10-11 (these really do hurt!)

Thursday

Off-road mixed paced ride for two hours

RPE: 4-11

Friday

Rest Day

Saturday

Warm up well for 10 min

Four three-minute efforts with one-minute recovery between (LA Interval)

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: 10-11

Sunday

Off-road mixed paced ride for as long as takes your fancy

RPE: 4-11

As you’ll notice, most of the training set here revolves around high intensity intervals, which are key to performance in explosive events like gravity enduro and downhill. The mixed paced rides condition the aerobic system sufficiently too and perhaps one of them could be on the road at more of a steady pace if that’s an easier option for you.

Over time, you can look to increase the number of intervals you perform on each session. With the 15-second PC intervals, you could work up to as many as 20 intervals if you’re really committed to the cause. The one-minute intervals could grow from six to 12 and the three-minute intervals could increase to eight. If you get this far and you’re committing yourself 100% to every interval, you’re going to be pretty damn fast!

Devising a plan over a long period of time is slightly more complicated than this and it’s not just a case of following the same structure every week, but this does give you a good general idea on how to progress. There’s a little piece on ‘periodisation of training’ at the end of this article that is relevant to this.

If you had a race on the Sunday, you’d basically look at following a similar race week plan to the XC race snake and that would taper and energise you nicely.

XC Race Snake

Now these are slightly more complicated creatures, because they have lots of ‘power’ wants and needs. As well as needing the anaerobic snap provided by the PC and LA systems, there is also a need for the consistent strong sustainable power provided by the aerobic system (A).

The LA system is incidentally vital as a supplement to the aerobic system during race-paced efforts to enable a high sustainable power output (called anaerobic threshold). Training a race snake is slightly more complicated than training a gravity specialist, but here are a few example training weeks. Week one is for the off-season, where the main objective for the race snake is to build some base endurance by focusing heavily on the A system. Week two is more of a pre-competition phase as the race season gets closer and is more intensity-based. Week three shows a taper up to a race on a Sunday.

 

Week One (Off-Season)

Monday

Rest Day

Tuesday

Anaerobic threshold intervals (A + LA)

Warm up well for 10 min

Two 10-minute efforts with five minutes’ recovery in between

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: 8-9

Wednesday

Strong consistent aerobic road ride for two hours (A)

RPE: 5-6

Thursday

Steady consistent aerobic road ride for two hours (A)

RPE: 4-5

Friday

Rest Day

Saturday

Off-road mixed paced ride with mates for two hours (A)

RPE: 4-11

Sunday

Steady consistent-paced road ride or off-road in a flat area (like a fire trail ride) for three hours (A)

RPE: 4-5

As the off-season progresses, you can look at progressively elongating these rides, with the main focus for the off-season being ‘volume’ of aerobic training.

 

Week 2 (Pre-Season)

Monday

Rest Day

Tuesday

Warm up well for 10 minutes

Eight 15-second maximum effort intervals with three minutes’ recovery between (PC Intervals)

Six one-minute efforts with two minutes’ recovery between (LA Interval)

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: N/A

RPE: 10-11

Wednesday

Off road mixed paced ride for two hours (A + LA)

RPE: 4-11

Thursday

Rest Day

Friday

Warm up well for 10 minutes

Four three-minute efforts with one minute recovery between (LA Interval)

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: 10-11

Saturday

Off-road mixed paced ride for two hours (A + LA)

RPE: 4-11

Sunday

Steady consistent-paced road ride or off-road in a flat area for three hours (A)

RPE: 4-5

Once again, as you progress, prolong the aerobic rides and increase the number of intervals you perform (within reason).

 

Week 3 (Taper for Race)

Monday

Rest Day

Tuesday 

Rest Day

Wednesday

Warm up well for 10 minutes

Eight 15-second maximum efforts with three minutes’ recovery between (PC Intervals)

Six one-minute efforts with two minutes’ recovery between efforts (LA Interval)

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: N/A

RPE: 10-11

Thursday

Steady-paced road ride for two hours (A)

Friday

Rest Day

Saturday

Warm up well for 10 minutes

Two 15-second maximum efforts with three minutes’ recovery between (PC Intervals)

One five-minute effort at race pace (A + LA)—these intervals could be during your practice lap

RPE: N/A

RPE: 8-9

Sunday

Race

Endurance/Marathon Rider

It’s not quite as complex as the XC race snake if you’re a marathon rider, because you should have a lot more emphasis placed on the aerobic system (A) with no training of the PC system at all. Some development of the LA system can also help.

Training of the A system helps to develop fat burning and is a much more efficient way of generating power over long durations than using the LA system, so it’s bound to be a focus.

From a weekly training plan perspective, week one as illustrated for the XC race snake is a good example to follow generally through the off season with less interval emphasis as the competitive season approaches:

 

Monday

Rest Day

Tuesday

Warm up well for 10 min

Four three-minute efforts with one minute recovery between efforts (LA Interval)

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: 10-11

Wednesday

Steady consistent-paced road ride or off-road in a flat area for two hours (A)

RPE: 4-5

Thursday

Rest Day

Friday

Anaerobic threshold intervals (A + LA)

Warm up well for 10 min

Two 10-minute efforts with five minutes’ recovery in between

Warm down for 10 minutes

RPE: 8-9

Saturday

Off-road mixed paced ride for two hours (A + LA)

RPE: 4-11

Sunday

Steady consistent-paced road ride or off-road in a flat area for three hours (A)

RPE: 4-5

For the endurance/marathon rider, the race week taper would be exactly the same as for the XC race snake, except the shorter intervals midweek would be substituted for three-minute ones.

Periodisation of Training

With all of these training plans, they are simply a starting point. The key to successful increases in power generation is to progress your training weeks so that you’re doing slightly more on each rotation (something we’ve alluded to earlier on). If you always do what you’ve always done, how do you expect to improve? Therefore you should add more intervals as and when you feel ready for them. You should also increase the quality of your intervals by pushing harder and aim to generate more power during each one. Your aerobic rides should be prolonged, so that you get more ‘hours in’ and if this progression is introduced smoothly, you can’t help but improve.

You do need to give your body a rest every now and then though, because you can’t just keep increasing training load without giving your body a chance to recover. It’s during the recovery period that the body bounces back, adapts and gets stronger—without it, you’re just digging yourself into a big hole and poor performances aside, this could actually make you quite ill.

This concept of overloading the body with progressively harder training and then allowing scheduled rest periods is called ‘periodisation’ and it’s the key to fantastic performances. Peaking for specific events so that you’re in a highly energised state is all part of the periodisation concept too—a topic for a future article perhaps? 

 

RPE SCALE (Rate of Perceived Exertion)

0

Nothing at all

1

Very Light

2

Light

3

Moderate

4

Somewhat Heavy

5

Heavy

6

 

7

Very Heavy

8

 

9

 

10

Very, Very Heavy

11

Maximal

 

If you would like any further information on training for mountain biking, contact Torq - www.torqaustralia.com.au

Bicycling Australia

It's that time of year again – the mornings are a little darker, the days 
are starting to get shorter and bike lights become a necessity. In addition to seeing, it's critically important to be seen. Here we take a look at 
a selection of lights from Cateye and Blackburn that are perfect for use as daytime running lights and general purpose night lights.

He’s been surveying Australia’s electoral landscape for almost 30 years. But the ABC’s Antony Green has also navigated plenty of electorates on two wheels, as Peter Maniaty recently discovered.

Bicycling Australia have recently been testing the first purist road bike from US-based company Ventum - a brand better known in Ironman and Triathlon circles for the radical frame design in their One and Z models.