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**How To

Winter training

Looking outside, the November weather is not very appealing. It seems like an age since the last race season, and the next one isn’t even on the horizon yet. But in training terms the clock is already ticking. Never mind how many shopping days are left before Christmas, it is only six months until the racing starts again and that means the training preparation must start now.

A sports writer once commented that if there are two equal boxers in a ring, you should put your money on the one who has done the most miles [running] in their training. This principle holds true for mountain biking. Those who start their training programmes early will repeatedly outstrip riders of equal ability who have started their training late. It happens time and time again.

It is no coincidence that the World Cup riders are consistently in top form for each race. Through careful manipulation of their training they are able to get in peak condition for specific dates and times. They do this by carefully adhering to a tailored training plan. In order to get the most out of your training, you also need a plan, which typically comprises splitting your time up into aliquots, each one devoted to a specific aspect of fitness. Arranging your training like this is called periodisation, and the benefits are threefold:

1. Focus: you concentrate on just one or two areas of your fitness at any one time. You know what you’re doing and when to do it,

2.Variation: because you change your focus every few months you don’t become bored and de-motivated,

3.Synergism: you tie all of the components back together and benefit from their combined effect.

There are four phases to periodisation namely:

  1. Foundation Phase
  2. Peak Preparation Phase
  3. Peak Phase
  4. Recovery Phase.

In this article I shall concentrate our efforts on the foundation phase which will take us up to January 2000. The programme I have outlined is generic and will need tailoring by you or your coach in order to fine tune it to your specific needs.


The first thing to do is to decide what you want to achieve. This goal is a personal target, but make sure it is also specific, challenging, attainable, and measurable.

The next step is to assess your own fitness levels and see where the shortfalls are. Assessing your fitness can be a tricky not to mention expensive affair. The most accurate way is to perform a battery of laboratory tests, but this usually only the preserve of the pros and their training budgets.

A more practical way is to assess last seasons racing. Think back to races and make a mental note of where you lost places or got overtaken. Is there a pattern? Is it always on the hills or the flats? Do you get a sinking feeling in your stomach when you approach a climb? Do you start spouting excuses when your riding buddies ask if you want to join them on an endurance ride? If so, then these will no doubt be your weak areas. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t like doing a certain aspect of riding then you can bet that it is one of your weak areas. Better still get somebody else to assess your performance, they may give you an objective view and uncover an aspect you hadn’t even thought about. Make sure to write all of this information down in a training diary.

You now need to go out and perform some simple tests which can be used to monitor your progress. Such tests may include:

  • Timing yourself on your regular endurance ride
  • Timing yourself over a short distance (50 – 100m)
  • Timing yourself for 6 repeats on a short climb
  • Timing yourself on an extended climb
  • Recording the weights that you can lift down the

As the programme progresses you can repeat these tests to see if you are improving, and just as important – if you’re not.


With all that planning and testing done it is now time to get out on the bike and train. During this phase we shall concentrate on achieving a sound endurance base which will pay dividends later on. Your training can be viewed as a pyramid, with the foundation phase being the base. The broader the base of the pyramid, the higher the peak it can support. The same is true of training; you will achieve a higher peak condition in the summer if you pay your training dues in the foundation phase.

The majority of your training will be in the form of extensive endurance rides punctuated with some anaerobic (intense) work. An example is as follows:

MON Rest (stretching)
TUES 2hrs low
intensity endurance (65-75%max HR)
WED Weight
training (1hour) high reps (20+)
THUS 1 hr high
intensity endurance (75-85% max HR)
FRI Rest (stretching)
SAT 2hrs low
intensity endurance (65-75% max HR) with 10 short sprints
SUN 2hrs low
intensity endurance (65-75% max HR) plus cumulative 1 hr high intensity endurance
(75-80% max HR)

HR = heart rate. (Use 220 – age for maximum HR if you don’t know it)

Of course this programme will not suit everyone’s needs and may not fit into your schedule. Don’t worry, it is not written in stone, you are free to alter it to suit your requirements – just don’t perform to similar workouts on consecutive days.

So, if you want to do well next season your training should start now. Otherwise you’ll be playing catch-up with your workouts and worse still you’ll be playing catch-up during the races.

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. So hassle him if you don’t agree with the 220 minus age thing!


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