It’s Autumn (or Fall) and the leaves are dropping, days getting shorter and the trails wetter. It’s time to gear up for winter training, so you keep out the chill, and are ready to conquer the trails come spring.
Here are 6 tips to make this your best winter of MTB fitness ever.
Re-Proof Your Gear
Before we worry about actual training, if you are planning on riding all winter, then simply re-waterproofing your gear will make a huge difference to how comfortable you will be out on the trails. The more comfortable you are, the less likely you are to miss rides or training sessions. The more consistent you are, the better your mountain bike fitness will be in the long run. As well as helping to keep the rain out, using a tech wash and water proofing product will improve your jacket’s breathability too, so you don’t get soaked with sweat.
For as long as I can remember, I have been using NikWax products to look after my riding jackets and pants. They are available online here: NikWax Tech Wash and TX Direct
Master Indoor Training
Even the hardiest rider won’t want to be out all the time, so it’s time to embrace the turbo trainer or spin bike down at the gym. As well as being convenient, it is more time efficient too as there is no bike cleaning after the ride. You can often get a good session in early in the morning or at lunch time, if you are efficient and have a good plan.
The other advantage of indoor or turbo training, is that it is a very controlled environment. This makes it ideal for targeting specific areas of your MTB fitness. If you want to ride at an aerobic pace, then you can easily maintain that pace, without too much concentration, and unaffected by the surface, wind or hills. Similarly, you can target specific power or heart rate zones for exact amounts of time that is hard to do outside on the road or trails.
There are a few things to watch out for when spending time on the turbo trainer:
- Stay hydrated. It is very easy to sweat a lot and lose a lot of fluids, limiting your performance and recovery. Hydrate properly before, during and after your session to get the best training effect.
- Don’t overheat. Related to the first point, even with a fan on, you can easily get very hot during an intense turbo training session. Crack the doors open, strip down to just your shorts and use pre-cooled drinks if it is warm.
- Gaming or training? Apps like Zwift and Trainer Road are great, and I have used them myself, however they do over-gamify things, encouraging you to always push harder and go deeper, even when that is not the target goal of the session that day.
If you don’t currently strength train, or if you have been out the gym for a while, then it’s time to get strong. It will not only have a huge benefit on your riding, but also on your quality of life and longevity. To put it simply, being stronger makes you a better human. Better humans make better riders.
Whilst I believe the gym is the best place to strength train, you can also train at home with minimal kit, or just your bodyweight. Each session, try to train your whole body, rather than splitting into leg day and arm day etc. Each week you should try to tick off all of the following as part of your strength training.
- Upper body push
- Upper body pull
- Single leg
As well as hitting the main movement categories listed above, you should try to train in all directions. So, as well as forwards and back, you should train laterally (sideways) and incorporate rotation at times during your training.
At first it can seem confusing and like a lot to figure out for yourself, so luckily for you, I have a range of online programmes that remove the guesswork and literally guarantee results. Check them out here:
Big Days Out
There is nothing like a huge day in the hills to make you feel exhausted and alive at the same time. It is also a great way to step up your MTB fitness, by challenging your endurance, both mentally and physically. Get some mates together and get a couple of big rides planned out. Try to ride further than you might normally, and set yourself a challenge (whilst remaining safe with winter weather!) to get around the loop. If you can do a big all day ride like this in winter, with wet trails and cold conditions, then hitting big days in spring and summer is going to be easy.
Fix Any Injuries
The shorter days, mean it is a great time to get stuck into some rehabilitation work in the evenings. If you have an ongoing issue or injury that stops or spoils your riding, then get it sorted this winter. Get booked in with a sports therapist or physio and then actually do the rehab work they give you.
Make sure that they give you a proper diagnosis and clear plan of treatment, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Finally, explain that you are a mountain biker and help them understand the demands of the sport we all love. That way they can give you the best treatment and you can focus on developing your MTB fitness this winter.
Make A Plan
No matter what your level is, putting together a basic plan that gives your training some structure will give you the best chance of improving your riding fitness this winter. Map out the following months with clear training goals, so that you go on a journey from where you are now, to where you want to be.
Some people love to plan their MTB fitness in great depth with spreadsheets and data, whilst others will be happy with a notebook and pen. Both work, as long as you use them and give your plan some thought. To learn more, check out this video I made all about planning your training….
….And Don’t Forget To Top Up The Skills!
It’s no good having legs like Nino Schurter if you have the bike handling skills of a cauliflower. You need to get out on the trails and ride in the mud and slop if you want to improve. The key is to have focused periods of practice where you are specifically working on one aspect of your mountain biking like body postion, berms, braking or stoppies. By deliberately working on it, and using feedback from a friend or video footage, you can make progress.
The other route is to get some skills coaching. Despite riding since 1995, I have at least one session each winter and then spend weeks afterwards working on the things I was taught, until they become my new, improved way of riding without even thinking.
The other less, formal way, is to simply ride trails and conditions that you find hard, like off camber roots or flat turns. Ride in the mud! Just practice those skills, keep working, ride with faster riders and you will be a better mountain biker by spring.
Anything I missed, or any questions about how to improve your training this winter? Just fill out the contact form page with any questions. If you want more training content like this, then be sure to scroll down and add your details to the mailing list at the bottom of the page.
Good luck with your MTB fitness. If you work hard, work smart, work consistently and you will be rewarded.