Enduro MTB racing is a unique challenge of a rider’s endurance, power and skill. In this article, we’ll unveil the essential training strategies and techniques that will sharpen your skills, enhance your endurance, and prepare you for the challenges of Enduro mountain bike racing.
Enduro Race Training Overview
There are two main aspects to enduro MTB race training. The first is to have the endurance and MTB fitness to ride all day, and the second is to have the strength and power to race down the stages throughout the day. Whilst the two elements overlap, we will separate them for the purpose of this article. The third element is obviously technical skill, and how you put it all together to race on the day.
Endurance Training For Enduro
Before you can even think about getting good stage results, you first need to get around the loop. Depending on the level of race and the venue, that can be anywhere from 10km up to 50km, typically with 300m to 2000m of climbing, so before you plan out your enduro training, you should first look at the demands of the events you are entering.
Now it is time to build the base of your fitness, and that means doing low-intensity, aerobic riding, typically in Zone 2. They key to developing your base of fitness is to get a decent amount of training volume done, consistently, over the winter period. This aerobic training will then prepare your body for more intense interval and race simulation sessions in the spring as you build for the MTB race season. It is really important to develop this aerobic base fitness as it allows you to achieve high levels of race fitness down the line. In the graphic below, you can see that your aerobic base is like the base of a pyramid. The wider the base, the higher the pyramid, and therefore your fitness can reach:
You can build your fitness for all day MTB enduro races through consistently riding at low intensities. Some of these rides will be shorter rides up to an hour, especially if you are working full time as well, but you should also try to get at least one ride over 3 hours each week to really develop your endurance. As you approach the event, you should try to ride for a similar amount of time, so for a 6 hour race, it would be best to get some 6 hour rides done in the build up period.
This endurance focused work can be split between the mountain bike, road, gravel and even E-MTB in order to get enough riding done at the correct intensities. Whilst the focus needs to be on low intensity riding, don’t forget to just get out and ride for fun sometimes. Head out for a big day in the hills with your mates, rack up plenty of climbing and descending and don’t worry about heart rate or intensity. Just have fun and work hard!
For a more detailed look at how to build your endurance for mountain biking, take a look at this other article I wrote: Improve Your MTB Endurance
Strength Training For Enduro MTB
A strong body is the foundation for a strong riding position as well as being the base on which power based training is built. The modern enduro racer needs to be strong to handle the demands of rough tracks, repeated hits and the inevitable crashes.
Typically you should aim to hit the gym 2-3 times per week throughout the winter and spring, reducing it to 1-2 times per week in the race season where you want to maintain your strength whilst minimising training fatigue. The sessions should be whole body, rather than split into leg day and arm day like a bodybuilder. Most training sessions will last 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Whilst squats and deadlifts are key elements of most riders’ programmes, you should emphasise single leg work to enhance your balance and control. Exercises like step ups, single leg RDL, lunges and cossack squats are all exercises that I regularly programme for MTB athletes of all levels. For the upper body, you should split work into pushing and pulling movements, building a base of strength with bodyweight moves like press ups, (push up for the Americans) chin ups, and horizontal rows. You can also add in some single arm work to build robust and stable shoulders that can really take some punishment when you go racing.
Exercises like this (video below) alternate arm bent over row (taken from Strength Factory online programmes) challenge you in many ways that cross over to MTB racing. The hinge position strengthens the hamstrings and back, mimicking your riding position and the alternating arms challenge the core not to twist – just like in a turn. Finally your grip, arms and back work to row the dumbbell……..
High Intensity Interval Training For Enduro
When added on top of a good level of aerobic fitness, intervals will take your MTB fitness to the next level. An interval is basically a period of high intensity work followed by a period or recovery and we use them to mimic the demands of the enduro race stages as well as boost your fitness for the transitions.
When writing a programme I will typically start with longer recovery periods in order to really develop the rider’s power over that duration. So, for instance we might start with 4-6 reps of 1 min hard effort, followed by 3 minutes easy spin to recover. Then reduce it to 2 minutes recovery once you have made some progress. In general, I have an approach where I first develop the physical quality, and then I learn to repeat it. Too many enduro racers go straight to intervals with short recoveries as it mimics an enduro race stage, but all that happens is they get really tired, really quickly and the quality of intervals goes down.
Other beneficial interval sessions for enduro include these:
20/40: 20 Second hard effort, followed by 40 second easy spin. 3-6 reps. Rest 5 minutes. Repeat.
5/25: 5 Second maximal sprint, followed by 25 second recovery in standing position. 4-8 Reps. Rest 10 minutes. Repeat.
Remember that there are no right or wrong sessions on the whole. It is just about doing the right intervals at the right time, at the right intensity, and that is where a coach or online programme comes in really handy, as they make sure you are not wasting your time doing the wrong stuff!
Skills Training For Enduro
There is no point having legs like tree trunks if you keep crashing when things get techy, so it is critical to keep on developing your off road mountain bike skills. This means riding varied terrain, in different conditions, from dry to wet and everything in between. Ideally you will also try to ride enduro tracks that exceed the technical demands of the enduro races you are entering. That way you can push hard on race day, knowing that you are within your capabilities.
As well as practicing on your normal rides, I would suggest going to uplift venues and bike parks where you can often ride faster, rougher tracks that really prepare your hands and arms for racing. Skills coaching is another area often overlooked by mountain bikers of all levels. We all have bad habits and room to improve, so get booked in and get to work on improving your basic MTB skills.
Bring It All Together
Now you know the elements that make up a successful enduro race training programme, it is time to bring it all together so you can work consistently over the winter and spring months. It is all about making the plan realistic and achievable, and that includes building in recovery weeks and adequate rest. Don’t forget that the harder you train, the harder you need to recover, so focus on sleep, nutrition, hydration and reducing stress to enhance your recovery from training.
Now it’s time to get to work! Good luck.
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