Unlike the pros, most of us are pushed for time - but by following a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program, you'll see substantial physical improvements in as little as two sessions per week.
You’ve probably heard the business trope that ‘success leaves clues’. It makes sense then that if you want to ride faster, you should do what the top pros do, right? After all, they are the fastest riders. And while that makes intuitive sense, at least on the surface, if we dig a little deeper, it’s clearly not true. And here’s the primary reason why.
By virtue of being a professional, it’s their full time job to be the best rider possible. And if they treat it as such, that gives them a minimum of 40 hours per week to focus on strength training, skill acquisition, rehab, recovery, diet, riding for fun, and most importantly for the modern pro, keeping their social media accounts bang up-to-date.
Now compare that to a recreational rider, where you have to fit any additional bike time, training or rehab around your day job, family commitments and other life demands. Not an easy task.
Different goals, different approach
Pro riders also have very specific goals, with a clearly defined race season. This not only determines the type of training they need to perform, but also when they need to perform it.
Pros take time off the bike completely at the end of the season, to prevent burnout and address any injuries they have picked up along the way.
They then typically undergo a periodised training program that targets different physical attributes at different stages of the training season. These stages are called training blocks. Training could start with rehab, before shifting to a pure strength block. That would then be followed by a power development phase, before the focus shifts again, this time to the cardiac output that closely mirrors the demands of their specific race format.
And as race day approaches, pro riders will taper their training volume while maintaining some intensity to ensure they are fresh and still able to deliver peak performance when it counts most.
It should be clear then, that pros follow a very structured training format where subsequent training blocks build on previous ones, and they sacrifice short term gains for long term goals. In contrast, recreational riders have no seasons, other than changes in the weather – they want to ride at the best of their ability every weekend, come rain or shine.
Opt for a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program
So if you shouldn’t train like a pro, what should you do instead? The best approach for recreational riders is to follow a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) year round program that trains multiple physical attributes at the same time. Exercise physiologists call this concurrent training and with as little as two targeted MTB training sessions per week, you can make substantial gains in your fitness that will feed directly into your riding ability.
We’ve even outlined two sessions so that you can start today. Each session begins with a warm up, to raise your core body temperature so you should break out in a light sweat.
You then go straight into your primary compound lift for the session, where the reps are kept in the 3-5 range and the focus is on lower body strength development.
Next we move to higher rep supersets, that balance upper body pushing and pulling exercises, and complement the lower body strength exercise from the previous workout. And because all three exercises are performed as super-sets with very short rest periods, they will improve muscular endurance and cardiac output too.
You should be done and dusted with the workout in under an hour
The final piece of the puzzle is a high intensity interval training (HIIT) session to get your heart pumping. This can be performed on a rower, static bike or ski erg. If you don’t have any equipment, burpees are a great alternative.
All in, you should be done and dusted with the workout in under an hour. Alternate between workout A and B, ideally on non consecutive days, and run it for 12-16 weeks, or for as long as you keep making progress.
Progress can take the form of increased weights on the strength exercise, more reps on the super sets, or faster recovery from the HIIT sessions. Now, you just need to get after it, and ignore what the pros are posting on social media .
Warm up (10 min):
- 3 rounds at a steady pace of:
- 45 seconds static bike
- 15 stiff leg deadlift with no weight
- 15 air squats
- Down dog to up dog + 5 scapular push-ups
- 10meter duck walk
- 20 side to side leg swings each leg
- 10 meter walking lunge
- 20 forward and back leg swings each side
High-bar back squats – build up to a 5 rep work set by taking at least 5 incremental increases in weight starting with bar only. Once you find the weight challenging, take smaller incremental increases to find a near-max set of 5, but performed with excellent form.
Rest for 3 mins then perform 3 more sets of 5 reps at 90% of your heaviest set, always maintaining 3mins rest intervals between sets.
After at least 2 warm-up sets on each movement, perform the superset by completing the prescribed number of reps on each in order, resting no more than 1 minute between.
- Max strict pull-ups (if you can’t perform 5 good pull-ups, scale to a lateral pull-down machine or use bands to assist you and aim for 12-15 reps)
- 10-12 Bench press
- 20-30 eye-level kettlebell swings
Static bike 10s max effort sprint, every minute on the minute for 10 mins – and by max effort that means all out, no pacing. In fact, it’s better to get to 8min and collapse than do all ten sprints and still feel like you could do a few more.
If you don’t have any equipment you can perform this workout on your bike however, we’re looking for full intensity which might leave you unable to stay upright, therefore the best alternative is running hill sprints. Find a consistent, steep gradient, run up it as fast as possible for roughly 10 seconds, walk back down, take 10 breaths and repeat.
Warm up (10 min):
- 5 minute static bike then…
- 3 rounds of:
- 10 weight-plate rows
- 10 weight-plate deadlifts
- 10 weight-plate squats
- 10 weight-plate press overhead
- 6 vertical jumps increasing in height over the 3 rounds.
Deadlifts: build up to a 3 rep work set in the same style of incremental increases outlined for the barbell back squats in workout A. Rest for 3 mins then perform 5 more sets of 3 reps, always maintaining 3 mins rest intervals between sets.
After at least 2 warm-up sets on each movement, perform the superset by completing the prescribed number of reps on each exercise, resting no more than 1 minute between exercises.
- 6-8 Pendlay rows
- 8-12 overhead press with barbell or single dumbbell each side if you struggle with overhead mobility
- 8-12 reverse lunge each side with front foot on plate (perform all one side then repeat on the other with 30 seconds rest between).
Static bike 2min high effort sprint followed by 1 min of rest – repeat 5 times. If you don’t have a static bike for this workout, unlike the intensity piece in workout A, this is much more bike specific so getting on your actual bike for this will be the best alternative.