Here’s Why Your Fitness Training Isn’t Working

Strength Factory’s Ben Plenge runs us through his top 5 things to avoid when you get into your winter fitness drive.

It’s cold and wet and the trails are slippery and wild. Life is good. For many of us it also means the start of winter training.

With one eye on next summer’s racing or trip to Morzine, people up and down the UK are getting in the gym, hitting the road bike and maybe even the turbo trainer in an attempt to make 2020 their best season yet.

I have been coaching people for 10 years now, and mountain bikers for nearly 6 years. In that time I have worked with hundreds of different riders and chatted to many hundreds more. From that experience there are a number of common training mistakes that I see people making all the time, hindering progress and leaving riders far from their full potential.

Trying to train like a pro

This is a relatively new phenomenon and we can thank social media for its inclusion at the top of my list. Pretty much every pro rider will be posting about their training from time to time. They post the sexy, hardcore and exciting stuff. It is intense and when we watch it, we want to be like them. Want to ride like Bruni? Just do his workouts from Insta.

Or Not.

You see, you are not a pro athlete. Sorry.

You can’t train full time. You don’t have years of training experience under your belt. You probably don’t have a coach, physio and regular recovery practices like massage in your schedule. By all means get inspired by what they do and every now and then keep things fun and interesting by doing one of their sessions, but only if you can do it with perfect form.

Instead, you need to accept your current level of strength, fitness, and mobility as well as competence at training. You need to work at your own level and in line with the time you have available. This will lead to greater improvements in your performance with lowered injury risk.

Sudden increase in volume and intensity

You had an off-season break and are well up for training. Motivation is high and you embark on a 6 day per week regime at 100 mph when for the past 4 weeks you have only ridden on weekends and have not been to the gym. This sudden spike in volume and intensity of training is a great way to get sick or injured. It is rarely sustainable and after a couple of weeks can lead to a severe drop off in motivation and performance.

Instead, build up gradually, adding in distance, intensity and days per week until you reach a sustainable level that will enable you to be consistent for the months to come. The fittest riders next summer are the ones who were most consistent over the winter.

Training through a cold

It happens to us all and it’s really annoying. You feel fit and strong and you get a lurgy from work. It instantly feels like you have lost all your fitness and you are sure that you will never get back to where you were. You don’t want to miss sessions so you train through it and grit your teeth.

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Two weeks later you are still sick and off your bike.

Instead, when you feel that cold coming on you need to rest and focus on eating and sleeping well. Stay warm and dry and if you want to do something productive, you should focus on doing some mobility work as you can’t ride or train. This way your cold should clear quicker than if you train through it and you will be in better shape as you will miss less training time. Remember, everyone will get a cold this winter, so don’t stress.

‘Strength’ training with light weights

This is a classic one, and roadies and endurance types are the biggest victims of this misconception. Many coaches will tell you that strength training for cycling, including mountain bikes, should be conducted for high reps with lighter weights as maximum strength is not important. However…

Strength training is about getting strong.

To get strong you need to pick up heavy stuff for 1-5 reps.

This applies to enduro and XC racers as well as power athletes like DH and 4X racers. Strength has been shown without doubt to improve endurance performance as well as the more obvious improvements to sprint power and your riding position.

At the start of your training you might do some technique training and develop some work capacity with lighter weights, but this should be to enable you to train with heavier loads at a later time. If you want to be fast, you need to be strong. If you want to be strong, you need to lift heavy.

Peaking too soon

If you are a racer in the UK then your season may start in late March and end in late September. That is 6 months of racing season and for most of us there are decent gaps between races as the UK calendar is not that packed unless you want to race multiple series.

It is very tempting to focus all your energy and focus on that 1st race, starting your intense, race-like interval sessions in the winter months and neglecting the aerobic base and strength work that will give you the longevity to be competitive all season.

Obviously if you identify race 01 of 2020 as your highest priority race of the year then you should aim to peak for it. Otherwise you are probably better off turning up at round 01 in March in good shape but with a bit more left in the tank for the coming rounds. You can continue to develop fitness after the first race and if you are patient and consistent you should be able to maintain a high level of race fitness for several months. Don’t be the racer who burns out by August.

Have you made these mistakes? Any that I’ve missed? Any training questions for a future training article? Let me know in the comments on social media.

If you want to make 2020 your best race season yet, whilst avoiding mistakes like these then check out The Complete MTB Programme available for DH or Enduro racers and riders. Use the code wideopen50 to get 50% off your first month. As always our programmes are covered by our money back guarantee: “Ride Faster Or Your Money Back.”

Head to The Strength Factory’s website to check out their training programmes for Downhill and Enduro.

Check out the rest of Ben’s training and bike review articles here.


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