It seems that everyone in mountain biking these days is training. At the thin end of the wedge, the serious riders are putting many hours in the saddle and are adhering to strict training regimes. This approach requires total dedication and motivation, which more often than not is fueled by fat pay cheques and the glory that comes with winning. However, for the rest of us mere mortals it can seem that we are getting a raw deal:- we are not getting the rewards to offset the monotonous hours of training
It may sound obvious, but the best type of training for mountain biking is mountain biking itself. In coaching circles this simple fact is known as the SPECIFICITY principal of training. However, this approach is not always practical. We donut all have great single track or fast switchback descents in our backyards and as a result, more often than not, we have to travel to a suitable location. This eats into our valuable [not to mention limited] resources, namely time and money – and if we throw a bit of boredom into the recipe – the temptation is to give the whole training thing a miss.Fear not! For cross-training is here
I’m sure you have seen the PEPSI commercials which portray a few radical dudes performing various sports and having a laugh. Well that is about the top and bottom of cross- training. As long as you are having a good laugh then you’re not getting bored and you’re itching to get back into the saddle. But, before you get carried away, it is important to note that cross-training is not a hit and miss affair, you still need to add some structure if you are going to get the maximum benefit from it.
In order to include a modicum of specificity, you should aim to include activities which involve similar muscle groups to those that are used in mountain biking. In addition, it is a good idea to perform sports which will also allow for a degree of skill transfer. For example, substituting your regular mountain bike training with BMX street riding will not detract from your mountain biking skills and will also have the added benefit of injecting some fun into your training and blow away any fitness cobwebs. BMX riding is an ideal form of cross-training as it encompasses both skill transfer and physical fitness. The balance and co-ordination skills needed to manoeuvre the bike are invaluable and the improvement in explosive strength in both upper and lower body is a great advantage to mountain biking. In order to enhance the skill transfer process even further and make your training more specific, you should also do some street riding on your mountain bike in order to eliminate any possibility that you get too used to the 20″ wheeled rig.Get a list to help you along…
Make a mental list of any areas in mountain biking that you feel you need to improve and think of a few of your favourite sports that also contain the same component. For example if your balance and upper body strength were out of focus, you could include snow boarding, skate boarding and rock climbing into your training for added benefit. That said, remember to keep an eye on the big picture and don’t stray too far, cross-training should supplement your mountain bike training not replace it.
A major drawback with conventional training is that it is not only repetitive for your mind, but your body can also get worn-out. This is because you are constantly stressing the same joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments over and over again. If you don’t take a break it can cause localised over-training and eventually make you susceptible to overuse injuries (which can sometimes mean taking time off the bike – which has got to be bad news). By cross-training you will still be hitting the same body parts, but from slightly different angles and as such the physical stress of training is dissipated and distributed to different areas. This has the knock on effect of being able to maintain a high level of fitness for a longer period of time. In addition, by stressing the body in a slightly different way means that you can also profit by training around an injury without causing any further harm. If you have got an upper body injury, you can participate in a sport which predominantly requires leg work and as such you will not loose any fitness in that area.
It should now be apparent that cross-training is a useful tool for the keen mountain biker to have in their training tool bag. The bottom line is to have a good time with your training, and with a little careful thought you can have both a good laugh and a good workout.
(c) 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.