You don’t need to be an elite athlete to join our trips, but a little training can add a lot of extra smiles as well as miles. Matt Mooney of MTB Fitness gives us the benefit of his expertise.
1. Get used to riding back to back days
One of the main challenges of a mountain biking holiday is that you’ll be riding back to back days. If you’re anything like the average mtb’er, you’ll usually go for a ride, then have a couple of days off, and go for another ride and so on. Your body usually gets rest time between rides so your muscles can recover.
When riding back to back days, your body doesn’t get this rest time. So it’s important to condition your body to get used to riding back to back with much less time to recover than you would normally be used to.
There are a couple of ways to do this.
One is obvious…that’s to ride back to back days! If you have time, heading out for 2 to 3 days in a row is a really good way of getting your body used to it. Our bodies adapt to what we do regularly, so if over the weeks and months leading up to your trip, you can factor in some days where you ride back to back, I highly recommend you do.
The other thing you can try is doing weight training sessions after or before a ride. What you might do, is train in the gym for 45 minutes lifting weights. If you do exercises such as squats, deadlifts and hamstring curls, your legs are going to be tired and probably sore the day after. Rather than resting and letting them recover, head out for a ride. Your legs will feel weak and fatigued and you will likely struggle. This is a good thing though – it forces your legs (and body) to perform when it’s fatigued, something it will have to do when on your trip.
I definitely don’t recommend doing this all the time though. Separating your rides and weight sessions throughout the week to allow for recovery is usually the best thing to do, but this tactic can really help if you think you’re going to struggle riding back to back days.
2. Lose weight (if you need to)
If you carry any extra weight, it will benefit you hugely to lose it. Whether it’s just a few pounds or a few stone… if you carry extra weight you will notice a HUGE difference if you lose it. Imagine strapping a bag of potatoes to your stomach or hips (about 5kg) and carrying that around with you for a few days. It would be much easier without it, right?
80% of losing weight is about nutrition – what you eat and drink. Cut down on the alcohol, base your meals around protein and vegetables with small amounts of carbs and drink plenty of water. We all know how to do it really, it’s just a matter of knuckling down and doing it. I promise you, one of the best things you can do to improve your fitness on the bike is to lose weight.
3. Eat well
Working in tandem with the last point, getting your eating on point and healthy will hugely benefit your fitness. If you’re training hard for your trip, you’ll be breaking down muscle. To ‘rebuild’ that muscle you need to eat plenty of protein. To have the energy to train and ride hard, you need to be eating enough of the right kind of carbs. To have good mental energy and the right hormone balance you need to be eating good fats too.
And to have your digestion working properly, you need plenty of fruits and vegetables. You also need to be hydrating properly – I recommend drinking 2+ litres of water per day.
I’ve massively simplified the benefits of each food group, but it really really helps to eat right. You’ll have more energy, feel miles better, recover more quickly and all round just be a better ‘athlete’ ready for your holiday.
An important thing to focus on at this stage is your pre, during and post ride foods. If you start to learn which foods work well for you on long rides now, then you won’t have to experiment on your trip – just pack the ones that work.
4. Lift weights
Weight training is massively over-looked by most mtb’ers, but I can’t stress the benefits enough. Lifting weights makes you stronger, it makes your body more efficient, it strengthens your core, your legs and your upper body, and it makes you much more injury proof. It also helps improve your posture, crucial to overcome the effects of spending hours in the saddle.
Lifting weights 2 to 3 times a week (or doing bodyweight exercises) is a great way to improve your strength and fitness for your trip. You only need to train for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. You’ll see real benefits to your riding when you lift weights regularly. Focus on big, compound exercises such as squats and bench presses to get the best results.
5. Interval train
Interval training is a type of training on the bike, either on a static bike or rollers, where you work hard for a set amount of time, then back off for a set amount of time and repeat. Adding in intervals once or twice a week will really help. In an ideal world, I recommend a split between intervals on the mountain bike and intervals on a static/spin bike or rollers.
On the MTB try hill repeats. Attack a hill for 2 to 3 minutes at max effort until you can’t carry on. Then turn around, roll back down and try it again. This will really help your ability to be able to tackle the hills on your guided trip.
On the static bikes in the gym, you want a mix of high speed, low resistance intervals and high resistance, low speed intervals. Focus on one type for a couple of weeks and then the other for a couple of weeks and so on. For example, you may do intervals at a low gear but max RPM (revolutions per minute) for 60 seconds with a 2 minute rest. The opposite would be the same time frames, but a high gear and a low RPM. Intervals allow you to really push your limits in a short amount of time – they work wonders to boost your fitness and take your body to that next level.
6. Ride further and more often
This tip is arguably the most obvious but also the most important. There’s no substitute for hard graft in the saddle. You can optimise your training. You can hammer the gym. You can lose weight and you can eat great. But if you don’t spend time hammering out the miles and going on big rides, you can only get so fit. There’s no substitute for time in the saddle.
Make it a priority. Factor in your rides and really get out there as often as you can. The more you ride, the fitter you’ll be.
Good luck and I really hope you have a great trip.
For more tips from Matt, we recommend following his daily content. And if you fancy giving your MTB fitness a real shake-up, check out his amazing 12 Week MTB Training Programme