I’ve been riding for about 15 years now, starting off as a junior doing a lot of racing, and for the last four years I’ve just ridden socially and for fitness. This winter I’d like to do some gym work, not really to improve my riding, just to get a bit stronger generally. I don’t have a lot of time but I could get to the gym two or three times per week for an hour or so. Can give me any leads that would help me start off on the right footing?
James, email

If you are looking for all-round body strength and conditioning then two or three sessions at the gym a week is plenty. It takes 24-48 hours for your muscles to recover from a tough weights session, so any more frequent work than this isn’t likely to improve your progress anyway. As a bike rider you should already have strong legs and glutes but your core muscles and upper body may be lagging behind. Try use free weights rather than machines, which will help your muscles work in a functional way and increase core stability and proprioception.
As performance isn’t your key goal you can’t go far wrong with the amazing muscle illustrations in Strength Training Anatomy, published by Human Kinetics. It is very in-depth but the pictures clearly show good form and what areas are being worked. Basic Training: A Fundamental Guide to Fitness for Men by Jon Giswold isn’t just about weight training but developing an all-round fit and healthy body. It has a very useful section on developing your own weights programme.
It would be a good idea to get some one-to-one advice from a personal trainer at your gym to get you started. Good form is the difference between developing a better physique or achieving nothing or even injuring yourself. You might think you have a good posture but an expert will be able to check and advise, as well as develop a programme for you to follow. Don’t just start flinging weights around until you get some help.

Trying a triathlon

My girlfriend and I are going to try an off-road triathlon next spring in Germany (her parents are German, so we go there quite regularly). We’ve both ridden Merida marathons and some of the mbr Big Weekends in the past, so the bike leg won’t be a problem, but running and swimming are a different matter!
Should we join a club to get coaching for the swim, or is it easy enough to teach yourself? The run is only 10 kilometres so we were planning to go jogging two to three times per week this winter in preparation, starting at 20 minutes and building up to around an hour. Do you have any more tips?
Colin and Helga, Eastbourne

There are plenty of mountain bikers who have switched from cross-country to become very successful XTerra athletes, Ned Overend had a go late on in his mountain bike career and went on to become a two-time world champion. Sam Gardner is a former elite mountain biker who made the switch to XTerra and is now British national champion. We asked him for some advice.
“In the average XTerra race, 65 per cent of the race time is spent on the bike (this is even more than Ironman triathlons where the figure is 55 per cent), so you’ve chosen the right discipline to have as your strength. Many Masters swim clubs cater mainly for ex-club swimmers, so they may demoralise you with how quick swimmers can be, and they probably won’t offer much in the way of technique coaching.
“A local triathlon club or triathlon swim coach would be a better place to start. Remember that technique is everything in swimming, many minutes can be saved in the race if you have the time to practise. On the run front, the main piece of advice is build up slowly over time. Also, remember to stretch plenty afterwards, get fitted for decent shoes and change these regularly.
“Try to run off-road on soft surfaces as much as possible, only run race-pace reps twice a week. Combine plenty of hill sessions, as the ability to run strong after a hard bike leg is more important than super fast track sessions, which might injure you too. The run in XTerra Germany last year was a 2km climb followed by a 2km descent and 1km flat, repeated twice, so there’s lots of climbing! “

Bitter and twisted
If plans had worked out, I should right now be completing the Raasay Rumble event. This would be the half-way point of our mbr-inspired Scottish road trip, which took in the Worlds at Fort William, then rides at Kinlochleven, Fort William and Skye. Instead, I am at home with my leg in plaster, dreaming of all the excellent riding that I am missing out on.
We made it to the Worlds on the Saturday, which was excellent. The downhill course looked phenomenal and I still can’t get over how the trials riders made it over those massive obstacles (I am an XC rider, can you tell?). On Sunday morning, we set off to complete a loop above Kinlochleven. The weather was horrible, driving rain, but it was our first ride, so we were not to be deterred. Disaster struck about two thirds of the way along the pipeline heading towards Blackwater reservoir, when I came off. I skidded down a drop-off to my right and put my left foot on a nice slippery rock, rolling the ankle and causing an avulsion fracture (my ligaments pulled a small piece of bone off the outside of the ankle). As you can imagine, it hurt! After a long and very painful walk off the mountain, plus visits to two A&E departments, I am in plaster for a minimum of four weeks!
Can you give me any advice on easing the path to getting back on the bike? For example: are there any ankle braces you can recommend for cycling? Should I invest in some boots which would protect the ankle, and would swapping to flats for a while help?
Sheila, email

First things first. While four weeks might seem like a lifetime of missed rides and frustration, it’s not going to set your fitness back as far as you might think. While you will lose some of your speed and muscular strength, your endurance and cardiovascular fitness won’t have changed that much — once back on your bike you will regain the lost strength quickly.
Fractures around the ankle are going to need a great deal of physio to help restore full range of movement and strength to your ankle. Having been in a cast for four weeks, even the undamaged muscles will be stiffer and weaker. The next stage will be to look at improving proprioception and neuromuscular control. Your physio might even advise a wobble board — the unstable surface gets the positional sensors in your muscles working again to control your balance.
Get the best advice possible and make sure you do all of the exercises you are given regularly. As far as bracing goes, take the advice of your physio and fracture clinic. There are sports-specific braces available, but depending on how well you heal and where the fracture was it might not be needed.
You may be able to start light pedalling on a turbo-trainer or stationary bike before you ride off-road again. Your ankle will be under less stress as you won’t need to stand up on the pedals or stabilise against bumps. Ask your physio’s advice about when to get started.