Winter MTB Training Guide – 6 Tips

The warm and dusty summer trails are but a distant memory, the leaves are falling, and the days getting shorter. That means one thing for the committed mountain biker…….

Winter Training

If you want to be your best next spring, whether it’s for racing or just fun, then some structured training over winter will make a huge difference to your MTB fitness. In this guide I am going to give you 6 tips to make sure your training is efficient, successful, and hopefully, enjoyable.

1. Get Your Bike And Kit Sorted.

I am not telling you to splash a load of cash and but loads of stuff, but winter training is way more comfortable when you have a few bits of decent kit.

Starting with the bike, whether it’s the MTB or road bike, fit a mud guard. It keeps the crap out of your face and keeps you a bit drier. I run a full set of guards on my gravel bike all year, and they are really effective at keeping my bum and face dry!

For aerobic base miles on the road, you can’t beat a set of thermal bib tights and a set of over shoes. Pair that with some decent gloves and you are sorted for all but the coldest conditions.

On the MTB, some light weight DWR treated trail trousers (pants) are essential for winter mountain biking in my opinion. They keep your bum dry and your knee pads clean, and when paired with waterproof socks, your feet stay dry too. Remember that you will probably need to re-proof your jacket and trousers at least every year, with a quality product like NikWax.

The take away is, that the more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to actually go out and train or ride. If you are always cold and wet, then you will end up riding less, and not making any progress.

2. Hit The Gym.

If you know me and my approach, then you will already know that strength is a game changer for riders and racers of all levels. The gym is the best place to build strength, although you can also do loads at home with just your bodyweight.

Make sure that you build up gradually, especially if you are new to strength training for MTB, and if in doubt, get yourself some coaching, whether in person from a coach or via online programming with video exercise tutorials. 

They key is to work the whole body each time you train. Body builder training-splits where you do leg day and arm day etc, are fine if you don’t mind not being able to walk for a few days after a session, but if you want to ride your bike regularly, they are not the best option. In each training session, do some single leg work, some upper body push and pull and some core at the very minimum.

3. Use A Polarised Approach To Training.

Polarised training is where you split your on-bike work into very low or very high intensity training, with very little in the middle. So, your training rides are polarised…… either easy or hard, instead of the usual MTB ride which tends to be somewhere in the middle.

For example you may do 1-2 aerobic training rides per week, working at low intensity, Zone 2 heart rate. Then every week or two, you will do a very intense interval training session where you approach max heart rate and effort a number of times. These are polarised sessions, and this approach has been shown time and time again with riders of all levels, to be effective and sustainable if done in the right doses.

You can learn more about polarised training here: Polarised Training 

4. Prioritise Consistency.

The fittest MTB rider in spring is not the one who went hardest in November, but the rider who was the most consistent from October to March. When you plan your approach to winter MTB training, make it realistic. Take into account your age, commitments to work and family, training age, goals, health, and track record with training, and then make a winter training plan that is achievable. I am not saying to set your sights low, but it is better to build a basic plan, and then to exceed it when you have time and energy, than to constantly be behind and missing sessions.

A great place to start, is with a time audit, where you look at your week and carve out chunks of time for training. People often say they will try to find the time, but this rarely happens. You need to make the time! This sometimes means cutting other things from your schedule to make room. 

Don’t be too harsh on yourself when life gets in the way and you miss a session. Every rider will miss sessions because of illness or injury, but mostly because life gets in the way. It happens to us all.

5. Testing.

Testing your MTB fitness at the start of winter and then re-testing every 4-8 weeks is a really useful way to measure progress and to stay motivated with your training. These days loads of people use smart trainers with apps like Trainer Road and Zwift, and they all have built in tests that you can use to assess your progress. Whilst these tests do have their place, remember that testing does not always have to be maximal, and in winter there is a lot of merit in regularly testing your aerobic fitness.

Whether you use a ramp test, 3 minute test, 20 minute FTP test or something else, make sure it is done accurately so it is repeatable. Log details of power against heart rate and if testing outdoors on road or trail, record exact start/finish locations and weather and trail conditions too. 

You can also simply keep an eye on your times for local loops and routes, both on and off road. If you notice that you are doing your local mountain bike trail 3-4 minutes quicker at the same average heart rate, then that is a good indication that your fitness is improving, without having to formally test.

6. Skills.

Who wants to be the quickest up the hill, but then ride like a drunk giraffe back down? Winter is the best time to work on the skills, especially in wet, technical trail conditions. Get a decent skills coach, or simply session some turns with your mates, it doesn’t matter, just have fun and use the winter months to up-skill your mountain biking, ready for your best summer ever!

Like What You’re Reading?

If so, then The Over 40s MTB Programme is for you. Learn more below, then get started today, to make this your best winter of training ever.