As mountain bikers, we all love riding on trails. Sometimes though, our schedule or workout just doesn’t allow it. There are plenty of times that I have gone to trails with the intention of executing a specific workout, only to discover that I am simply unable to pedal through some of the challenging rocky segments or constant cornering.

While these technical features are the reason that we all love off-road riding, they can certainly hinder your intervals for the day. One way to ensure that your workout can be executed without a hitch is by training for mountain biking on the indoor trainer.

Benefits of Training Indoors for Mountain Bikers

No Distractions – Total Concentration on Pedaling

One of the best parts about riding the trainer is that there are absolutely no distractions. There are no stop signs, corners, aggressive dogs, rock gardens, or anything else that would cause you to brake or stop pedaling during your workout.

Sometimes it’s nice to be able to just focus on your effort and pedaling on the bike. On the trainer you can often push yourself harder because you don’t have to focus on holding the bike up and balancing. Instead you can just put all of your energy into the pedals. In fact, you can even close your eyes to dig a little bit deeper if you want.

Time Effective – Max Benefits for Available Riding Time

A big benefit of riding the trainer for your mountain bike training is that it is very time effective. There is very little set up and you don’t have to travel anywhere to complete your training. You can complete your training in the morning before the sun, your family, or your boss is up to pull your attention away from the bike.

Tailor Your MTB Workout to Your Specific Needs

When it comes to mountain biking every trail requires different physiological demands. That means that the trail will dictate what you are practicing for the day. If you have a race or a workout with a very specific focus, a focus that the trail you are riding does not highlight, it will be difficult to achieve your goal. When riding the trainer, however, you are able to tailor your workout to meet your specific needs.

Learn How to Pace yourself MTBing

The trainer is a great tool for learning to pace yourself or learning what specific intensities feel like. Since there are no environmental factors that can influence how hard or easy you go, the only reason to not hit your numbers is you. That statement isn’t meant to be stressful, but rather empowering as you learn how to pace yourself and turn over the pedals at specific intensities.

Improving Climbing for Mountain Biking

If you have big hills where you live, then get out and ride them! Not everyone is so lucky though and not everyone has the time to ride to those hills each day. If you are looking for specific hill training then find it on the trainer!

Various trainer online platforms like iFit or Zwift will allow you to pick courses or hills from all over the world. A smart trainer will simulate the hills and allow you to climb thousands of feet without ever leaving your living room.

If you don’t have a smart trainer then you can still simulate a sort of hill climb by doing cadence drills and building strength through low cadence intervals.

Building Endurance for Mountain biking

This can be one of the most challenging needs to meet on the trainer. It is difficult to sit in one place on your bike for 3 or more hours. Normally, when riding outdoors, the scenery and distance traveled will help the time go by and you will build endurance without even thinking about it.

The benefit of the trainer in this scenario though, is the theory that you don’t need to spend as much time on the trainer to build as much endurance. No matter what people say there is no specific equation to tell you how long on the trainer equals a different amount of time outside. We do know though that if you were riding outside you would coast, brake, turn etc, and on the trainer you are pedaling that entire time.

Is Mountain Bike Interval Training Better Indoors?

From a purely fitness building, and strength gaining standpoint, intervals on the trainer might be the best way to go. You can create the most optimal scenario to hit your numbers and put all of your power into the pedals.

An option for MTBers is to go to SPIN Classes. DIY Mountain Bike has a cool article titled – Is Spinning Good for Mountain Bikers?

On the other hand, there is something to be said for race specific scenarios. During a race you won’t always have the optimal conditions to hit your power numbers so you need to learn how to produce power across all types of terrain and with all types of elements. Furthermore, often times trainers will dissipate some of your power output and make it harder to hit the numbers that you can produce on roads.

All of that to say, there is a time and a place for both types of training. Aim to complete some of your intervals on the trainer, but every now and then plan a workout outdoors for more race specific elements.

How Do I Make My Mountain Bike Stationary for Indoor Training?

The best way to make your mountain bike stationary will be to purchase a stationary trainer. If you’re someone who loves the equipment part of cycling then get excited! There is a whole list of items you can purchase to have the most dialed trainer set up around. If you prefer to keep it simple, then don’t fear. You can get away with a very minimalistic set up.

DIY Mountain Bike has an awesome article about exactly HOW to Put a Mountain Bike on a Trainer.

Recommended Equipment for Indoor Mountain Biking Training

The trainer is the most important aspect of this equation. The stationary trainer will make or break your indoor riding experience. You can get fancy by purchasing a trainer with all of the bells and whistles or you can buy a quality trainer with limited “extras.” Here are a couple of good examples:

Wahoo Kickr or Tacx Neo: These are two trainers that have all of the latest technology and are considered “smart trainers”. The trainers are compatible with Zwift and can adjust the resistance according to the course you are riding or the intervals that you are trying to complete. These trainers will run for $1200-$1400. Wahoo Fitness

Feedback Sports Omnium Portable Trainer: These trainers are also extremely high-quality options; they just have less technological features. They are not “smart” trainers and therefore the resistance cannot be adjusted, but you can still complete intervals and push yourself plenty hard. These trainers will cost around $350-$450.

The Feedback Sports Omnium Portable Trainer is AWESOME – simple and effective. Check out the price and reviews on Amazon – Feedback Sports Portable Trainer

Feedback Sports Overdrive Roller Trainer
Feedback Sports Overdrive Roller Trainer

Power Meter for Indoor Mountain Bike Training

A power meter is a great way to take your indoor (or outdoor) mountain bike training to the next level. If you are utilizing a “smart trainer” then the trainer will have a power meter build into the technology. If you are utilizing a simpler trainer then you can put a power meter directly onto your bike and use that power meter indoors and outdoors.

Power meters work by measuring the torque you place on the crank and the speed at which you turn it over. This is the best way to measure your training because the data is completely objective. It is the best way to see your improvements come to life. There are a variety of power meters to choose from and they range in price from about $350-$1600. I recommend looking into a Quarq power meter.

You have got to measure your performance. The BEST tool for doing this is a Power Meter. Quarq Dzero one of the most accurate and reliable power meters. Check out the prices and reviews over at Amazon. – Quarq Dzero Dub XX1 Power Meter Spider.

Heart Rate and Cadence Monitor for Indoor Mountain Biking

If you don’t want to spend a pretty penny on a power meter, then purchasing a heart rate monitor and cadence sensor can still help you accumulate some data while you ride.

A cadence sensor will tell you how many revolutions you are doing per minute with your pedals. You can use this to make sure you are maintaining the most efficient pedal stroke while riding (80-90 RPM) or you can use it for cadence specific drills. A cadence sensor only costs about $40.

Wahoo is a PROVEN brand in the Indoor Cycling World. The Wahoo RPM Cycling Speed and Cadence Sensor (Link to Amazon) Provides the data needed to measure and improve your indoor ride.

Another alternative to a power meter is a heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor will allow you to develop zones and complete intervals based on heart rate numbers. While a heart rate monitor is a great alternative to a power meter, it is not equivalent data. Heart rate is influenced by a variety of factors including hydration and caffeine intake. Therefore, the data is often considered to be more subjective. A heart monitor will range from $50-$80.

Watches are nice, BUT if you want an ACCURATE Heart Rate Monitor the Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor with Bluetooth is the only choice. Thousands of reviews at Amazon – Link – Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor

Something to Hold a Tablet or Phone for Indoor MTBing

This is one of those things that just takes your trainer set up to the next level. Of course, this is not a requirement to be able to ride the trainer, but it can certainly enhance your experience. Something that can hold a tablet or phone can help you be able to better watch a movie or Zwift while you are training. It can also make it easier to pull up your workout or even answer a quick text without having to pause your workout. Here is a link to a great option:

Some days a little bit of entertainment is needed to keep you pedaling. I’ve found having a little stand to hold a tablet or phone is the answer. Here’s a recommendation – SAJI Tablet and Phone Holder (Link to Amazon)

A Trainer Tire for Indoor MTBing

If you don’t have a direct drive trainer and your rear wheel is actually in contact with something while you ride then you should really consider getting a trainer tire or even a designated trainer wheel. It doesn’t have to be fancy and weight doesn’t matter because you are stationary anyways.

If you use your normal mountain bike tire on the trainer then the friction between the tire and the drums of the trainer will wear down the knobs of your tire very quickly and will zap the life right out of that tire. A trainer tire is much more durable and is only used on the trainer so the wear and tear isn’t so devastating.

Plus, if you have a designated trainer wheel with a trainer tire then you won’t have to switch tires every time you decide to ride indoors or outdoors. I have yet to find a company that makes a “trainer tire” for a mountain bike wheel so I just recommend purchasing a durable tire like a Maxxis Refuse and exclusively using it on the trainer.

Read the reviews and check the price of the Maxxis Re-Fuse size 27.5 (Amazon)

What Should My Weekly Indoor Mountain Bike Training Look Like?

Your weekly workouts should be tailored to your specific racing and training goals. No two people’s workout plans should be exactly alike. That is one good reason to hire a coach that you trust and that will look at your personal physiology when developing your workout plan.

Even though the specifics of every workout plan will be different, they should all contain these key ingredients:

Intervals for Mountain Biking

Any focused training plan aimed to make improvements will include some sort of interval work. The frequency of intervals will be completely dependent on your goals. The intensity or duration of the intervals will also be contingents on your goals. You might complete long intervals with a lower intensity or your intervals might just be a couple of pedal strokes all out! Have fun and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Aerobic/Base Rides on the Indoor Trainer

Generally, it is considered unsustainable to complete intervals every day. That means you’ll need to include aerobic/base/endurance rides. The length of these rides will vary in duration depending on what you wish to achieve. These rides should be completed somewhere around 60-70% of your threshold. You should feel like you could hold a conversation at this intensity.

Spin/Off Day – Rest and Heal

Even if you feel strong and want to work hard every day, it is important to give your body a little bit of rest. When you work hard you are breaking down muscles, and when you rest you give them time to build back up.

Make sure you are incorporating very easy spins and complete off days into your training schedule. They will actually make you stronger in the long run.

Cadence Drills for Indoor Mountain Biking

Not every training plan will include cadence drills, but especially if you are completing most of your workouts on the indoor bike, I think this is a fun thing to incorporate into your training. You can complete high cadence drills or low cadence drills. They can be hard and a part of interval days or they can be easier and be a part of your aerobic rides.

Recommended Indoor MTB Training Videos

There are so many fun indoor videos to guide your efforts or intervals while riding indoors. Zwift is exceedingly popular right now and for a monthly membership you can race others on different courses from around the world.

If a monthly membership seems intimidating then you can purchase a few different workout videos such as the Sufferfest series or the Spinervals series. If you still aren’t quite sure and just want to start simple then there here are a couple of YouTube videos to guide your effort.

  • This is a 1-hour workout that tells you on a scale of 1-10 how hard you should be pushing and takes you through the mountains of Crested Butte, Colorado.
  • This second recommended video is a Spintertainment Production, with an audible instructor telling you when to go hard, and playing tour guide to the visible Fruita, Colorado landscape.

Why Include Indoor Mountain Bike Training in Your Routine

Indoor mountain bike training is one of the best ways to maximize your time and effort on the bike. Indoor mountain bike training can be used to target specific intensities and turn your weaknesses into strengths.  As mountain bikers, most of us love the outdoors and it can be hard to convince ourselves to pedal our bikes indoors. You’ll be happy you did, though, when you are finally fit enough to complete that one ride you’ve always dreamed of doing.

Hannah Finchamp - Author

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