When snow hits the ground and the trails turn from mountain biking paradise to a skier’s winter wonderland it can feel like it’s time to hang the bike in the garage and kiss your mountain bike fitness good-bye for several months. It doesn’t have to be that way though! There are many indoor training techniques that you can employ during the winter to keep making progress toward your mountain biking goals. Here are my 7 Tips for Indoor Mountain Bike Training.
1. Trainer Rides for Mountain Bikers
This is probably the most obvious of all of the indoor training options, but it will also make the biggest difference. The best way to train for mountain biking is to actually ride your bike. I know the trainer isn’t nearly as fun as feeling the wind on your face and dirt on your legs out on the trail, but it will make you fit enough to enjoy the trails when it’s time to shred again. Here are some ways to make the trainer more enjoyable and mountain bike specific.
Cadence Drills: One unique thing to the sport of mountain biking is the constant undulating terrain. Even if you live in a place with long sustained climbs and descents, the bumps and turns of the trail should have you constantly shifting and adjusting to the terrain. Cadence drills are a great way to prepare for these changes. Spend time on the trainer attempting to hold a similar power or effort at the extreme ends of the cadence spectrum.
Pro Tip: Spend some intervals grinding it out at 50 or 60 RPMs and then switch to 100+ RPM and focus on leg speed while smoothing out your pedal stroke.
Intervals: Intervals will not only help to increase your fitness by increasing the intensity of your workout, but they will also help you prepare for the inevitable terrain changes on the mountain bike. Whether you are a racer and preparing to be able to respond to an attack, or a beginner who needs a little more strength to be able to power up and over a small hill, intervals can help. Play with the duration, rest interval, and intensity of your intervals to help target different areas of fitness and to keep it interesting.
Rollers: Are you bored of the trainer? Rollers might be a fun way to shake it up. Rollers require you to balance while riding indoors thus helping your skills and coordination while improving your fitness. Rollers give a similar sensation to riding outdoors and help to keep your brain more occupied than just riding on the trainer.
Pro Tip: The first time you ride rollers, try riding them in a doorway so that you can easily grab hold of something to find your balance.
Zwift Racing: Zwift has become extremely popular in the cycling community. Zwift allows you to ride with friends and even compete against each other. This might give you extra joy, motivation, and allow you to push yourself a little bit harder than riding alone.
2. Video Analysis of Mountain Bike Skills
Spend some time watching video footage from your own rides or even of other racers. If you have footage from some of your favorite trails, watching it back will help to remind you how to track the trail with your eyes and will help you remember where all the best lines are. You might even discover new lines that you can’t see when you’re ripping through the trails. Don’t be afraid to pause the video and look at the sides of the trails. Sometimes the best, fastest, or easiest line isn’t always what you see first.
If you don’t have any footage of your own trails, hop on RedBull TV and watch the professionals ride. Pick up on their techniques and watch how they conquer obstacles. What are the fastest lines? Where are their eyes looking? What is their body position going off of jumps? Sometimes the best way to learn is by watching the best at work.
3. Stretching for Mountain Bikers
Stretching in the winter will help prevent injuries when it comes time to ride again. Stretching not only helps to promote recovery, but it also helps to increase range of motion which can produce better body mechanics. For example, if your hip flexors are too tight then your pelvis may roll forward in order to compensate. This posture can result in low back pain.
Nervous to dive into a new routine or don’t know where to start? You can Google stretching routines, find videos online, or even attend a yoga class. Look for a simple stretching routine that targets your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Try stretches like lunges, downward dog, pigeon, lying quad stretch, or just simply a toe touch. Listen to your body. Sometimes stretching is a great meditative practice as much as it is a physical benefit.
Pro Tip: Incorporate foam rolling into your stretching routine as well!
4. Strength Training for Mountain Biking
The winter is a great time to start a new strength routine. Not only will it help your mountain bike capabilities, but it will add some variety to your routine. I know a lot of mountain bikers that really enjoy mixing it up in the gym when the trails are off limits. Here are some concepts to work on in the gym.
If your looking for an Off-Season Mountain Bike Workout, check out my article: Off-Season Mountain Bike Workout with a Download Workout Plan
Plyometrics: Famous mountain bike stars like Nino Schurter made plyometric exercises for mountain bikers popular, but there is a reason behind this growing trend. Mountain biking is an explosive sport because of the undulating terrain. If you need a little extra strength to power up and over a small hill or push it through a rock garden you will produce a couple of very hard pedal strokes. Those powerful strokes require fast twitch muscle fibers which can be trained and utilized through plyometric exercise.
Plyometric exercises are exercises that generally produce maximum force very quickly. Jumping exercises are the most common form of plyometrics. Be careful and make sure you are warmed up well then try some box jumps and jump squats in your routine.
Full Body Power Exercises: Mountain biking is a full body exercise. Sure, the legs take most of the force, but your arms will keep you upright on challenging descents and can even help to pull you up and over challenging obstacles. Work on your full body strength and coordination through exercises such as dumbbell thrusters, kettlebell swings, or wall balls.
Strength Exercises: There is a reason some exercises are just staples. Make sure to include some good old fashion squats and deadlifts in your routine. The strength will help you on the bike, plus it will help to load your bones and build bone density. Cycling is not considered a weight bearing sport so it is important to build bone density to help prevent injuries from the crashes that are bound to happen.
Core Strength: Core strength is vital not only for injury prevention, but for balance on the bike. Your core is responsible for stabilization. It will help you balance, perform specific skills, and increase performance overall. Core strengthening can be fancy like standing on bosu balls or executing a pallof press exercise. It can also be as simple as planks.
5. Mountain Bike Maintenance
The winter is an excellent time to hone your mechanic skills and work on bike maintenance. You don’t want to pull your bike out of the garage the first weekend the trails open only to find that you’ll need to drop it off at the bike shop in a cue of other people who neglected their bike during the winter.
If you’d like to understand the nitty-gritty details about mountain bike maintenance read this monster article: DIY Mountain Bike Maintenance Schedule Guide
Watch videos online and learn how to work on your own bike. There is a special sense of empowerment that comes with being able to work on your own equipment. It makes you care for your bike even more. It also helps to keep you safer out on the trails because you’ll know how to fix any issues that arise. Here are a list of a few bike checks you should do this off-season.
Sealant Refresh: Sealant is the silent hero of many bike rides. A lot of people will puncture a tire and not even know because their sealant plugs the hole lickety split. Even the longest lasting sealants need a refresh now and then.
Pro Tip: Even if you don’t need new tires, you will probably need to refresh your sealant after a couple months of limited use.
Fork Rebuild: A smooth fork will make a huge difference out on the trails. Overtime the oils in the fork will dry up and cause more friction. It happens slowly and you might not even notice that your fork isn’t performing to its full potential until you freshen it up and see the difference. Fork rebuilds can be a little bit challenging so learning this new skill in the winter will give you plenty of time to play around with it without the pressure of missing a day on the trails.
Drivetrain Refresh: Check your chain to see if it has worn and if you need to replace it. If it’s your 3rd or 4th chain on the same cassette then you may need to replace the cassette as well. It’s better to check this in the off-season so that you can purchase the parts and have them all set up on opening day.
6. Nutrition for Mountain Bikers
Nutrition is very unique to everyone and should be approached with knowledge and understanding. There is no one size fits all for nutrition. The winter is a great time to try out new nutrition strategies and to see how your body responds to various foods or techniques.
It’s also important to stay in a rhythm and maintain a general sense of health in the off-season. It can be tempting to throw caution to the wind and plan to pull in the reigns when it’s time to get out on the trails again, but then you’ll spend your first weeks or months on the trail just getting in shape rather than enjoying your fitness. Of course, it’s important to enjoy food, and not restrict yourself, however, your nutrition should reflect your goals. Remember that food is fuel and what you put into your body will aid in your ability to pedal hard and fast.
Pro Tip: If you’re not sure where to start, then try food journaling. Spend about 3 days writing down all of the food you eat. This should help to paint a better picture of the things you can work on.
7. Mountain Bike Injury Prevention
Just because you don’t feel pain anymore because you aren’t riding outside anymore, doesn’t mean your injury has magically disappeared. When you’re stuck indoors is a great time to address injuries and help prepare for a season of pain free riding when the trails open up again. Here are some steps you can complete to lead you on a path toward pain free exercise:
Visit a Professional: A lot of people are very hesitant to visit a doctor or other medical professional because they either think their injury isn’t significant enough or because they are nervous that the treatment required will be too extreme. A medical professional should try to meet you where you are at and provide you with options that match your lifestyle. It’s always better to know what is going on than to press on blindly.
Get a Bike Fit: A bike fit can make a huge difference. Many people don’t realize how big of a difference a centimeter or two can make until their back pain disappears entirely just by changing the height of their saddle. A bike fit specialist may also be able to tell you whether or not your pain is bio-mechanical and what is causing the issue.
OK, this might sound silly, but did you know there’s a right way to fall off your mountain bike? Read all about it in this article: How to Fall Off a Mountain Bike Without Getting Hurt
Rest and Recover: Finally, even with so many great options to increase your fitness indoors, it’s important to take time to recover both mentally and physically. Take a couple weeks entirely off to help your body heal and to increase the stoke of riding again. It’s better to take the time off when the trails are closed than to feel burnt out when the dirt is back at its prime.
Pro Tip: Take at least 2 weeks away from the bike (longer if you need).
Get Creative with Your Indoor MTB Training
There are so many great things you can do during the winter to prepare for a great summer of riding. If you think it’s a good idea then try it out. The off-season is a great time to try new strategies and spend time exploring options that you otherwise would be too busy to attempt. Write down your goals, and think about how you can move toward them one step at a time. Most importantly, have fun doing it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that lots of riders hop onto a stationary bike in the winter to keep there strength up. Read exactly how to do this in: Is Spinning Good for Mountain Bikers?
Hannah Finchamp is a professional mountain biker for the Orange Seal Pro Team. When she isn’t riding her own bike she is coaching others to reach their goals as a Certified USA Cycling Coach and Certified Athletic Trainer. To learn more about the author please visit www.hannahfinchamp.com and follow Hannah on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/hannah_finchamp/?hl=en