Mountain bikers know how physically demanding mountain biking can be, in fact some would say it is one of the most comprehensively challenging sports out there. So how can a mountain biker improve on their complete and dynamic fitness without relying on ride time? Let’s look at the benefits of cross training specific for mountain bikers.
Cross training offers a way to continue to train your body to increase aerobic capacity, muscular endurance and strength, agility and balance without relying entirely on saddle-time.
Road cycling is an obvious choice. Most mountain bikers use for its specific relation to mountain biking. It’s often easier to jump on the roadie, especially for those not living near the single track, and also easier for indoor training sessions. Many mountain bikers ride the roadie for specific training, to get long rides in without tiring the upper body, or just to mix it up a little.
A gym session incorporating flexibility and strength conditioning can make a huge difference to your performance. The idea is to work on your body’s weaknesses highlighted by riding. People who do this often get fewer injuries and enjoy greater continuity of training, the result of this will be a nice improvement curve.
We have covered the ‘stretching’ topic in Issue 6 and the ‘strength’ topic in issue 10 of Enduro. Use these articles, your knowledge and that of a professional or your coach to create a new program or to review your existing program. You should be constantly reviewing your program to move with your improvement (cover new weaknesses or include more advanced exercises for progress). You should include at least one strength session and one flexibility session a week, it can be after a training ride or on a recovery day.
Most mountain bike coaches will tell you not to run. This is all relative to your ability and how much you train. Elite riders generally don’t have time and nor would they want to risk the possible injury risk.
However, for most of us, running is the most time efficient exercise, and is the fastest way to build your aerobic capacity. For those time-poor mountain bikers, running offers a way to improve, especially your hill climbing and is a great way to maintain your whole body fitness (core stability and strength etc).
Running is the most challenging form of exercise on the body however and will create extra tension throughout the muscles and joints. If you let that tension build up it can cause injuries like ITB syndrome and patella tracking problems, so start slowly and ease into it.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: swimming is great for the body, with no impact. It’s very useful after races or hard training sessions to allow the muscles to recover and loosen up. Tight muscles and restricted joints will lead to injury, swimming helps to keep you loose and limber.
Swimming also works the essential fitness components such as your aerobic capacity and muscular endurance. I strongly recommend one or two swims a week; they don’t have to be long or fast. Don’t worry about being a brick, or looking daggy with your cyclist tan lines. If you’re really bothered about looking bad, take a friend along that’s even worse than you and you’ll feel great about yourself (although I can’t guarantee your friend will want to come back!).
If you have access or can get access to a kayak and a large body of water, there is no better way to strengthen the core whilst getting out in the environment. The aerobic fitness gains from kayaking are similar to that of mountain biking. Those unfamiliar with the technique may be surprised to hear that most of the power in the paddling movement comes from the legs and then the torso rotation, making it more specific cross training than you would think. Also the upper body strength gained from the kayaking will definitely help you muscle your bike through the trails during the longer enduro events.
Rowing and cycling are quite compatible sports, it’s often said rowers make good cyclists. Rowers generally develop solid quad strength – great for cycling. They also know how to hurt, a handy tool for being competitive. If you are a mountain biker with a rowing history, you could consider doing a little rowing on the side for cross training, or if you’re keen to mix it up a little, rowing is a great way to get a full body workout without hitting the singletrack.
There are many more other sports that will assist your mountain biking fitness and performance. Skiing, both cross country and downhill, have many similarities in muscular strength, endurance and balance although it isn’t the most accessible or affordable sport for the majority of Australians. Water sports like windsurfing and kite surfing are great for balance and strength, even rock climbing can be a great way to build core and upper body strength as well as agility and balance.
As a mountain biker you love the outdoors, keeping fit and challenging yourself. All these sports offer all these attractions, in a new environment. If you’re feeling a bit stale on the bike, try something else for a while and you’ll come back keener than ever to carve up the trails!