Fitness begins at home

Condition yourself any way and anywhere you can, to ride harder and faster. Four domestic exercise ideas from the maestro Alan Milway to use in your mountain bike fitness regime.

>>> Why is fitness such a taboo subject in mountain biking?

Words by Alan Milway

It is easy to spend the evening in front of the TV after a day at work, and just be excited for your weekend ride: Only to be huffing and puffing after 40minutes and find that the main take home message was that you were tired or weak on the bike, not how good the trails were.

1. Do something, anything!

The starting point is to do something – anything! Steady, easy riding is not cool, and won’t grab headlines in a fitness magazine, but it will help no end to build a basic foundation of fitness – especially if the alternative is sitting. In the summer this is easy; with the longer evenings just squeeze in a mid week ride after work. In the winter get some warm clothing and lights and just get out and pedal for 45-60 minutes a couple of nights a week. You’ll be amazed at how this will transform your riding. Always focus on completing rides with energy to spare — and not trying to have them as high intensity rides all the time. Pick and choose the best time to go all out, but ‘less is more’.

2. Interval-based training

The next progression is interval-based training. Don’t go for multiple, repeated sprints – unless you are doing a lot of training you won’t have the conditioning to recover from these well enough so they will just flog you for very little reward. Save balls to the wall sprints for peaking for a special event, or more advanced training. Aim for two to three minutes of focussed effort, where a conversation could not be held, but you can complete the time without collapsing. This will be at approximately anaerobic threshold level, which is what we are after. Recover for three minuntes and repeat for four to six repetitions. If you can measure heart rate or power do so, and note gearing. A consistent gradient hill is ideal for performing intervals or a turbo trainer also works. Start with a 10minute warm up, four intervals and a five minute cool down — you are looking at less than an hour of exercise, but with huge benefits. If you want to extend your ride simply warm up for longer, and don’t be tempted to add more intervals.

3. Take it up a notch

To progress interval training you can increase the work done, or reduce the rest period. The temptation is to just increase the effort but more often than not, increasing the time at anaerobic threshold is much more beneficial than working extra hard for shorter periods. Unpopular but true. So once you’ve go used to the 2-3 minute focused efforts aim to keep them up for five minutes, but don’t extend the rest period. This will quickly become a new challenge.

4. Cross training

Swimming, running, rowing, yoga classes. Try social sessions that you can book in to the diary and are therefore harder to skip. Working around the basic rules of interval-based sessions above will translate in to these sessions and make them hugely worthwhile for riding. It doesn’t just have to be on the bike, and anything that involves the upper body will help your riding. Rock climbing is another great option.