Downhilling and training are two words which probably wouldn’t crop up together in a game of word association. Downhill mountain biking rules. It is fast, it is adrenaline fuelled, and you get a buzz from it, whereas you may be inclined to think the opposite is true of training. Well, as ironic as it may sound you will get more enjoyment from your riding if you train for it. They are all doing it: snowboarders, skateboarders, BMXers as well as downhill mountain bikers because they know that when your body is pushed to its physical limit then so too is your extreme sports performance.
Training for downhill mountain biking sits on a continuum ranging from the recreational rider right up to the competitive hard-core racer. Everyone can benefit from training, whether it’s just getting down the course without every muscle aching, to shaving off a couple of milliseconds from your personal best time. Furthermore it doesn’t have to be a hassle and take over your life, done right training can actually be a good laugh. Honest.
I’ll deal with the nitty gritty aspects of training in future articles, what we’ll look at now is how to go about setting up and organising your own downhill training programme. One of the most important aspects of any training programme is that it has to be done on a regular basis in order for you to improve. So, that means you are going to have to set aside some time each week when you are available to train. A word of warning though – be realistic. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get over ambitious at this stage and pencil in shed loads of training time only to find that in a months time you are totally knackered and can’t even get down your stairs let alone down a mountain. Remember: less is more. The good thing about downhill training as opposed to cross-country training is that it doesn’t have to be anywhere near as long. The flip side is that it has to be more intense. That means fewer long rides; instead short duration but harder rides are the order of the day.
The next step in designing your training programme is to identify what you want to train. Sounds simple enough but it is probably the most overlooked aspect of training. A lot of downhill mountain bikers go out and ‘train’ on a hit and miss basis. They don’t know exactly what they are training or how they are going to do it, they just get out on their bikes and ride and hope. Therefore it comes as no big surprise when their downhill performance doesn’t improve despite the most rigorous of training approaches. With a bit of careful planning you can avoid this pitfall and avoid wasting your time and energy. The best way to establish what aspect of your riding needs training is to examine your own down-hill performance. Step back and take a look at the big picture. Find out where your weak areas lie. Downhillers regularly ask my advice about how they can improve their sprinting. The problem tends not to lie with the speed but with consistency. That is, the sprints towards the end of the course are nowhere near as good as those at the start. Therefore this area needs training. Other problem areas may be upper- body strength, muscular endurance, local muscular fatigue, anxiety and so on…
It’s about hard work
You might be tempted to think that dwelling on your weak areas is a rather negative and gloomy approach. Not so, in fact the opposite is true. Once you have identified the weak links it is like realising that you’ve been driving around in your car with the hand brake on. Once you become aware of this you can do something about it. Therefore finding your downhill weak areas is like uncovering an area of huge potential.
Now you have established your weak areas you need to convert them into goals. So let’s say that your goal is to get faster, in order for you to achieve this you need to be more specific. You need to give the goal some measurable meaning, for example a better goal would be that you want to improve your personal best time by 10 seconds on a specific course over a certain number of weeks. This target is measurable and allows you to establish whether or not you have met your goal. A good analogy often used in training circles to illustrate this point is that you wouldn’t get on a plane without knowing its destination, nor should you embark on a training programme without knowing where it is going. In short: make sure you know what you want the training programme to achieve.
There you have it, training is the way forward for your downhill riding whether for fun or for competitions. You will have more confidence, be able to ride faster, and it won’t hurt as much. Convinced?
© Copyright 1999 John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe is a mountainbike physiologist, regular mtb magazine contributor and avid racer. In order to pay the bills he is also a Sports Science Lecturer.