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7 Mistakes Mountain Bikers Make When Training Indoors

At the time of writing this, we are in the midst of the COIVD-19 crisis. Athletes worldwide have had races postponed and have been training more indoors now than ever before–all around the world.

Very quickly, I noticed a number of trends. Athletes are worried about many of the same things, and many times are making the same mistakes. Social media has not been helping at all, and is likely one of the main culprits for a reduction in emotional well-being and training mistakes

Personally, I think training indoors can be great! When I first started training indoors, it was with a noisy magnetic trainer and a decent home gym (thanks dad!). Our winters were pretty long and cold in the eastern USA, but I still got out side to ride plenty alongside my indoor training.

Fast forward to 2014, and I got suckered in to a research study where we trained indoors on the newly introduced smart trainers (we used the Wahoo Kickr below, but this Tacx smart trainer is becoming the new standard). We were inside for a month, and I found the workouts to be great and controlled.

Nowadays, many of my athletes are on smart trainers. As their coach, I am able to create workouts and plans for them that sync directly to their smart trainers. Yeah, I work with MTB riders, but these are great while we are waiting to get on the trails.

Mistake 1: Going too hard too often

This is hands down the biggest mistake mountain bikers make whether indoors or not. We love pushing ourselves and its in our nature, so we are very susceptible to going too hard too often.

Many riders find indoor trainer session boring, and often mix in intervals to keep it interesting. While intervals are definitely a great way to engage-and necessary in many periods of training- our bodies simply can’t keep up with too many hard sessions. I encourage riders to have no more than 3 intense days per week, from beginner up to pro. This way we have time to recover between sessions and ensure our workouts are polarized (this is when the hard rides are purposely hard and the easy rides are purposely easy).

Training hard is good, training consistently is gooder.

By limiting the number of hard workouts we do, we can actually go hard when we do go hard. Otherwise, every workout becomes a slog that feels tough, but isn’t actually at the right intensity just because we are so fatigued.

The times when we are not going hard are spent going easy, which is incredibly important and very often overlooked for MTBers. Remember that all forms of MTB have a very large aerobic component, which obviously increases as the events get longer (and the intensity MUST reduce, even if it still feels hard). The higher we can grow our aerobic fitness, the better we will be able to recover between the many hard efforts that are required in MTB. To learn more about being fit for things like DH and Enduro, check it out here. To learn a bit about XC and how to avoid blowing up, check out this article. If you want more out of your data and to understand your rides better, go here.

Coach's Tip: you may find yourself gravitating towards some home aerobic sessions from one of the many providers. These are great because you can just search online and find a good workout to kick your butt. But be careful. Oftentimes these workouts are actually too hard! You may notice that the instructors periodically change in these workouts--that's because not even the instructors can keep up with the intensity they are demanding of you! If you find your performance declining during one of these workouts, it's good to quit before you dig too deep--especially if you want to be able to workout consistently. 

Here top NZ XC racer Caleb Bottcher show how he does his home workout. Home strength training doesn’t have to be crazy intense or require heavy weights. There is plenty of benefit from recruiting your muscles dynamically even with just your body weight!

Mistake 2: Having FOMO

It’s easy to get trapped scrolling the pros workouts on Instagram. Isn’t it amazing how much they can suffer? Don’t those sweaty photos look so great? You want to be like this, right?

Try to avoid this trap. Pros and even your friends only show you what they want you to see. Super hard interval sessions or ridiculously long trainer sessions may appear like they are all. anyone. does. every. day. BUT, this is probably not the case, especially if they are at the top of their sport or will keep improving.

Zwift races are great, but we can’t go all-out all the time. Save these for key points in your weekly or monthly plan!

Pros have spent many years building up their exercise capacity, so even if your hunch is right, chances are that you can’t do what they do. And for the rest of them? Well, let’s just say that you need to focus on yourself.

Improvement in MTB or any other sport requires consistency above anything else. Getting FOMO and trying to replicate something crazy will probably not work out well until you build yourself to that point.

Coach's Tip: Once you have confidence in your plan and your training proves itself to you, you won't worry as much about this. Put your Strava on private if it is going to bother you :) 

You may look at this FREE plan I posted and notice that everything is hard…but check the description and you’ll see that these should be done on different days!

Mistake 3: Taking on too many tips or workouts from “experts”

Now that everyone is doing more training indoors, we are bombarded with essentially an unlimited amount of workouts and tips. I see this as both good and bad.

While it’s 100% true that you can’t believe everything you read online, and definitely the case that not all of these claimed gurus are actual experts, there are still positives to take away from learning how other coaches or athletes approach things.

You may be tempted in this case to get a bunch of workouts from a bunch of experts and make your own plan. This could be a bit of a double-edge sword.

The way I see it, each trainer or coach has a method as to what they are trying to achieve with a plan or series of workouts. Some may moderate intensity and also have volume, some may have very high intensity and low volume with tons of rest, while others still may mix in strength training, anaerobic intervals and endurance work. By mixing workouts from each trainer, there is a big risk of overdoing it or missing the goal of the plan in the first place.

Coach's Tip: Find out the goal of each training plan or workout. What did the coach plan for the next day or the next 4 weeks? This is important. Remember, improving your fitness for MTB will be enhanced with consistency! 

Mistake 4: Going too long indoors

Believe it or not, you are coasting a TON when you ride outside!

This screenshot below is from one of my pro riders on an easy road ride. Pros know that when they are coasting, they are not putting out power, and are the best at continuing to pedal most of the ride. This not only helps their overall average power and speed, but also keeps the energy usage ticking over (this is a product of power*time). However, you can see from this screenshot that even a pro spent 15% of his ride time coasting. I guarantee he would not know this!

When riding indoors, we usually are not coasting at all, which means we are getting fewer micro recoveries. This may or may not be reflected by our average power, however we will definitely notice this across a week or month if we keep trying to train like normal.

Using just this example above, the athlete could have ridden for 30 minutes less and used the same amount of energy. However, when discussing with my athletes who are forced indoors, I often suggest that a long endurance ride could be cut in half when brought inside. This is due to the increased demand, reduced recovery, and of course boredom.

A long trainer ride is all good, but I don’t recommend them often.

Plyometrics are a great way to get in a good, hard workout that can benefit your ability to pump trails and adsorb vibrations when riding down hills. Plus believe it or not, a bunny hop is very similar to some plyometric exercises like counter-movement jumps

Mistake 5: Sitting around in sweaty clothes

Gross. I mean, come on!

This had to be said, and is the case whether riding indoors or out, lifting weights or doing plyos–get out of those sweaty clothes!

When training indoors, our sweat is more likely to build up due to less evaporation and convection (we are pretty stationary). This sweat is natural, but can really promote bacterial growth.

I have had mroe than one friend develop MRSA from sitting around (or worse: re-using) a sweaty chamois.

Change and clean up. Right away.

Coach's Tip: Seriously. 

When 5x National Champ Seamus Powell was training in Connecticut, he spent plenty of time training indoors. Still does in New York. And he sweats plenty!

Mistake 6: Worrying about how much skill they are “losing”

This is a huge worry from beginner right on up to the World Cup. And since mountain bikers get injured all the time, I hear this one a lot.

Over time, I have built up a book of anecdotes of athletes coming back from time completely off the bike and getting to right back where they were. It is for this reason that I have no problem prescribing road rides, even in the midst of the Enduro World Series!

The way I see it, mountain bikers have built their skills up over many years, and they don’t just disappear. Think about that one log over or curb hop you went back to after time away. You didn’t forget how to do it, did you? Probably not! The same goes for remembering which brake to pull or how to rotate the cranks. Nope, still remmebered!

I know what you’re thinking: “but these are simple skills!” Yep. And MTB is a series of simple skills done correctly, at the right time.

In fact, sometimes too much MTB can be detrimental for a rider, especially if they are trying to find that extra second. I believe that riders often start to over-think things, and without any way to quantify their thoughts, they just start to lose confidence. Sometimes being away from trails really helps.

Coach's Tip: This is what the BrakeAce is for--to help you break things down and figure out how to get faster! 

If it’s definitely not possible to work on your skills, then don’t sweat it. If however, you have a chnace to work on simple skills around the house, I have found these sessions from TakeAim Cycling really helpful and my athletes having been mixing these in when the only place to ride is their backyard.

Coach's Tip: Personally, I have used this time to work on wheelies and manuals. No trails for a month, but it's been fun! 

Specialized pro, Jimmy Smith sometimes doesn’t backflip for months…until he does.

Mistake 7: Losing sight of a goal or plan

Training with no goal is dangerous.

In fact, I’d argue that if you aren’t training towards a goal, you aren’t even training! This is just exercise.

Without a goal, it is SO EASY to just skip a session, or a week or a month of training. If you start to feel guilty about this, you might even start to resent your bike or riding at all, which isn’t good. But with a goal, you can keep working hard and staying on track.

This was some good power for an 8 and 1 min test from an enduro racer weighing in at 69.5 kg. Yeah, you have to be fit for enduro, too!

I have found that many athletes can get really down after the cancellation of an event or series of events. This has happened more in the last month than ever. One of the best things we have been able to do is change their goals and give them something to aim for in both the short- and long-term. This way athletes are able to train for something new, and lots of them have learned something about themselves!

Coach's Tip: a power meter can help you to set goals when there are no races coming up. You can see what your peak power is for, say, 5 min, then follow a training plan to improve this and check back up after recovering. With pro athletes peaking and missing out on UCI races, the power meter showed us that we were definitely on track, and even helped us do some more experimentation after the tests! 


Well, thanks for reading! I hope you found this helpful. Check out these links below if you are looking for a bit more:

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