It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. You will never be the best mountain biker you can be if you only mountain bike. It turns out mileage isn’t everything; in fact, you probably will only see minimal returns on performance after you hit a certain threshold of time in the saddle. There is nothing better than bodyweight interval training for mountain bikers regarding actual return for exercising time. Not only will this type of training make you faster on the bike, but it will also improve balance and overall health.
I’ve always equated cycling fitness with mileage or hours spent on my bike for much of my riding past. As a result, I constantly felt behind if I didn’t get 10, 12, or even 15 hours of riding in a week. Not only was this training load draining on my body, but mentally I was a wreck. I even found my performance declining after heavy weeks. Not only was this experience true for me, but I found that other riders with similar training structures eventually lost their drive and ability to hold high power during races or high-intensity rides. I kept asking myself, “What is going on here? What am I missing?“
Cycling is an excellent sport for improving most markers of personal fitness, but it can’t do everything. It’s a non-weight-bearing sport, which is great on the one hand because it allows for minor damage to joints. But competitive cyclists generally show risks of developing lower bone density than non-competitive cyclists as weights plummet and training load increases. Additionally, cycling does almost nothing for upper body strength, flexibility, or core. These are all aspects where bodyweight interval training for mountain bikers can be enormously beneficial.
My catalyst to start interval training
I recently started attending a local gym after noticing that I was having trouble doing everyday things like getting up off the floor or even doing a sit-up out of bed. I usually exercise 30-60 minutes a day but only do cardio. I knew I needed to add something to my training, but I didn’t know how far I had fallen in body strength, especially since I considered myself generally fit.
Realizing my fitness level
My first week at the gym was an absolute disaster. I burned out on pushups after about 20 min. Then burned out again after moving to my knees after about 25 more min. I couldn’t do a full burpee, had to step back instead of hop back if I was moving to a plank position. My core was in absolute shambles. I couldn’t believe how weak I had become, even though I could produce a good amount of power on the bike. There were people 20 years older than me who could manipulate their bodies in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
“How is this affecting my cycling performance?” The answer was “quite a bit.”
Gym time well spent
After spending about a month at the gym, I noticed minor improvements on the bike, primarily in form. My position was much stronger through my whole pedal stroke, and I was much more balanced on the bike, shifting my weight with my bike as I moved up and down the trail. Since I was doing interval training, I also saw a bump in my lactate threshold, which meant I could keep my heart rate down over increased output without completely burning out. Bodyweight interval training had delivered on almost every fitness metric I was tracking. I also just felt great. I felt more powerful, stable, and confident on the bike. It was as if I had reverse-aged by 20 years, gaining flexibility and versatility as well as watts.
Revolutionizing how I ride
The time commitment that I put into my training at the gym was only about three hours a week. Nevertheless, it has revolutionized how I ride. And though that is three hours less I will spend on the bike, I can’t think of a more sustainable training schedule that will allow me to ride much longer without injury. However, the key to weight training is listening to your body. The great part about weight training with your body weight is that you will generally not put yourself in a position where you are placing undue load on your joints right out of the gate. In this way, I believe that bodyweight conditioning is a much better alternative than a weight room regimen or Crossfit.
If you are looking for a way to get fitter on the bike either for racing, achieving personal bests on STRAVA, or just being a more fit human in general, then bodyweight interval training is a must-do. Get with a good gym and trainer. It may be expensive, but your body will thank you, especially when you start to move into middle age.
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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