What do you think when you hear the word off-season? Do you imagine yourself hanging up your shoes, bike, and helmet in the garage and waiting to be able to ride again when spring rolls around? Don’t let the phrase ‘off-season’ fool you.
I like to refer to the off-season as training season, because when the races become few and far between or when the trails become snowy and muddy, that is actually the best time to put in long hours, work on skills, and improve on your limiting factors.
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Here are 11 Off-Season Mountain Bike Training Tips.
1. Off Season Strength Training for Mountain Bikers
When the weather starts to get cold, exercising indoors becomes more and more appealing. The good news is, the off-season is a great time to start a new strength training plan.
As a professional mountain biker, I lift weights year-round, but I always find the off-season the perfect time to hit reset, start my weight training cycle over, and spend more hours in the gym. Once the season gets going and I’m racing 2 or 3 weekends every month there won’t be as much time to lift heavy and the work will be centered more around maintenance.
The gym offers a variety of benefits for mountain bikers. You can target one area or pick and choose to create your most optimal strength training routine.
- Strength: One of the most obvious reasons for strength training is to gain strength. You can gain distinctive physiological adaptations through completing a different number of sets and reps as you complete each phase of a strength plan. A common plan would be to complete about 4 weeks throughout each of the following phases: hypertrophy (2-3 sets @ 6-12 reps), strength (2-3 sets @ 5-6 reps), power (3-5 sets @ 1-2 reps or plyometrics), and endurance (2-3 sets @ 12+ reps).
- Bone Density: Bones respond to the forces placed on them, which means the more that we weight our bones the stronger they will get. Cycling is not considered a weight bearing sport so adding strength training is a great way to increase bone density.
- Core Stability: Core is vital to our balance and power transfer on the bike. Strength training can help isolate core muscles so that you are more stable on the bike.
- Injury Prevention: Strength training can help prevent chronic injuries by working on imbalances within the body. It can also help prevent acute injuries by protecting your bones and soft tissues with strong muscles that keep joints in place.
Don’t let an injury couch you for the season. Learn some prevention in this article. – 10 Common Mountain Bike Injuries and Tips to Avoid Them
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2. Setting Up an Off-Season Interval Plan for Mountain Biking
While strength training is a great addition to any cycling training plan, I am a big advocate for the fact that the best training for cycling is indeed, cycling. The best thing you can do during the off-season is put in long hours on the bike and build a big base or foundation in which you can build speed later. A lot of these long rides should be completed at an easy intensity because there are certain adaptions that can only be made in that ‘zone.’
For many people though, the winter presents difficult conditions to produce long training rides. Focus on getting in 2-3 good hard workouts per week and fill in the gaps with those easier rides.
Pro Tip: Start by determining your threshold power or heart rate through a 20-30 minute threshold test. That way you can complete intervals based on those numbers.
3. Spinning vs. Rollers for Indoor Mountain Bike Training
Sometimes riding indoors is the best option. It is safer, more time efficient, and often keeps you much warmer than riding outside.
Personally, in these adverse circumstances, I would usually use a trainer. It allows me to use my own bike and powermeter and I can focus entirely on the intervals at hand.
I know a lot of people that prefer to ride their mountain bike on the rollers. Rollers allow for the most life-like feel, they allow you to use your own bike, and they require you to balance while completing your rides. I think rollers are great for aerobic rides or longer efforts.
Looking for ways to use a stationary bike? Read this article. – Is Spinning Good for Mountain Bikers?
Intervals can be challenging on rollers because balancing will become more challenging as you become exhausted. Not all rollers are created equal so when you make your purchase look for whether or not the rollers will create any sort of resistance and how loud the rollers will be.
Spin bikes and spinning classes have also become more popular in the recent years. These types of spin bikes require no additional set up, are usually very quiet, and allow for all levels of resistance. The only downside of these bikes is that you don’t get the experience of riding your own equipment indoors. Many people find all of the pros to be worth that one con. Plus, they find great motivation in the ability to take classes or even stream instructors on TV.
Pro Tip: If you are going to go this route then consider taking the actual measurements of your own bike so that you can set up the spin bike in the same way.
4. MTB Cardio Strengthening in the Off Season
Cycling itself is a cardio workout! Riding your bike outside, riding the trainer, or taking a spin class are all great ways to increase your cardio strength in the off-season. By working out and getting your heart rate up during the off-season you might find yourself having conversations with your friends while they gasp for breath during your first ride outside in the spring.
A Cardio workout needs to be part of any mountain bikers plan. Read an in-depth article detailing the EXACT steps for riding a mountain bike for a cardio here -> How to Ride a Mountain Bike for a Cardio Workout
You can structure your cardio workouts by following specific zones. Start by establishing your threshold (as stated above) and then complete intervals based on zone. A long aerobic ride might be somewhere around 70% of your threshold.
Pro Tip: If you want a big challenge then try completing 3 x 10 minute intervals at 100-105% of your threshold with only 5 minutes of recovery in between.
5. Where to Ride in the Off Season
While mountain biking might be the best training for mountain biking, most people live in a place where the trails are out of commission for several months of a year. If you can’t plan an escape to a warmer climate then look for some other riding alternatives. Here are 15 MTB Trails in Utah and 13 Mountain Bike Trails in Colorado
Read how to make your mountain bike even more road worthy in this article. – 11 ways to Make Your Mountain Bike More Road Friendly
Fat biking is all of the rage now a days. It provides a great way to get outside and breathe in the fresh air. Unfortunately, fat biking requires an entirely different bike and not everyone can afford that extra set of wheels.
Try mountain biking on the road. It isn’t glamorous, but it’s more than ok. I do it all of the time. It provides sport specificity and the wider tires feel safer when its slippery and wet.
Pro Tip: Try a Maxxis 40C Velocita tire on your mountain bike for riding on the road.
6. Cross Training for Mountain Biking
Even with so many cycling otions in the winter, sometimes it’s just fun to mix things up. I think that the best cross-training for mountain biking can be found in the sport of cross-country skiing. In fact, world class mountain bikers all over the globe reach for skate skis in the winter to work in longer, aerobic workouts in the dead of winter. I think you’ll be surprised at how hard of a workout you get!
7. Stay Flexible for Mountain Biking
When the hours get shorter on the bike, and you spend more time building muscle in the gym, it is common for people to lose some of their flexibility. Make sure to take time stretching so that you are still flexible enough to ride in the spring and ward off injury.
When muscles are too tight they can actually pull your posture out of line, create imbalances, and ultimately result in injury. Additionally, having flexible joints and muscles will allow you to maintain the most optimal position on the bike.
Pro Tip: Cyclists should really work on the flexibility in their hip flexors and hamstrings to help keep your pelvis in line and reduce back and knee pain.
8. Work on Balance for Better Mountain Biking
Another great off-the-bike focus in the off-season is balance work. Working on balance helps with brain-body connection, proprioception, and core stability.
While many people will imagine standing on Swiss Balls and balance boards, balance work can be as simple as single leg exercises. The challenge doesn’t have to be extreme in order to reap the benefits on the bike.
Pro Tip: My favorite simple exercises that involve balance are Single Leg Romanian Dead Lifts or integrating a Bosu ball into a plank.
9. Nutrition for the Off-Season MTBer
Nutrition is such a sensitive and challenging topic and it is different for everyone. While I cannot provide specific nutritional advice that will work for each individual person who reads this article, I can remind you that it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Nutrition during the off-season follows the same concepts as in-season. Focus on variety and moderation. Seek out fresh and healthy foods and don’t be afraid to eat a cookie. I am a big advocate of dessert! Just remember that calories in verses calories out is the main cause of weight gain or loss.
Pro Tip: If you are struggling to find your stride then try writing down everything you eat for 3 days in a row. You don’t necessarily have to calorie count. Sometimes just writing the food down creates a new awareness.
10. This is the Time for MTB Maintenance
With all of this talk about preparing our bodies during the off-season, you cannot neglect your equipment! Remember that in the off-season or during the winter if you are riding outside then your bike is suffering in the elements just like you are. Take some extra time cleaning your bike and lubing the chain.
- Read the Ultimate Mountain Bike Maintenance Guide (links to article)
- If your thinking about what tools you might need to repair or you just want to keep your ride in top condition check out this article. -> Mountain Bike Tools the Ultimate List
If you only ride indoors during the winter, then take an inventory of your equipment. Try purchasing the parts you will need for the spring ahead of time. You don’t want to miss out on the first day on the trails because your bike isn’t prepared.
Pro Tip: Schedule a tune-up at your local bike shop before your first day of shredding trails in the spring.
11. When do I Rest from Mountain Biking?
If you spend all of the off-season training and you spend the spring and summer racing or shredding the trails then when do you let your body rest? After your last race or big riding day of the season take a minimum of 2 weeks off (more if needed). Enjoy yourself, let your body rest, and let yourself miss riding a bit. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
- Staying comfortable on your mountain bike is critical. Read 10 Ways to Make Your Mountain Bike More Comfortable
- Check out some great places to Mountain Bike in Oregon, Wyoming and Colorado.
- Tires, Tires and More Tires Read about Tires for Mud, Tires for Rocks and Tires for Sand
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