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How To Dramatically Improve Your Performance On The Bike

It’s that time of year again as we contemplate all the things we are going to do better in 2017. I WILL learn to nail that technical section, I WILL get brave enough to attempt that road gap, I WILL clean that technical climb. Whilst these aims may vary depending on your skill level the one aim on almost every mountain bikers list is some variation of – I WILL BE FITTER!

“A winner is someone who works to become a champion all the time, even when no-one is watching.” Alan Milway – Personal Trainer to champion riders such as the Atherton’s and Danny Hart.

For the vast majority of us this is the same goal on top of our list every damn year. We always start off well, but by the end of January, it has all gone to pot. Enthusiasm has dwindled, injuries crop up, we feel tired all the time and just don’t seem to be able to find the time for working out in our day. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little preparation 2017 could be the year you finally achieve your goal of getting fitter.

The key to success lies in purposefully planning your week and keeping records of how each session works out. By doing this you will achieve moderation and consistency in your training. Along with rest these are the 3 most fundamentally important cornerstones of a healthy, balanced training plan that will allow you to achieve more in your chosen sport.

In this article we will look at exactly what you need to do, why you need to it and how it will directly translate to improved fitness and performance on the bike. Firstly, all things that require hard work are more likely to succeed if there is a reward in sight at the end of the road. So before you can begin planning you need to decide, what is your first specific goal to achieve next season? What do you need to be fit for?

For example –

  • The first race at the start of the Enduro season

  • A booked holiday abroad with your bike

  • Completing an epic, long ride in the summer

  • Being able to keep up with your friends without feeling like you are dying

There can be further goals throughout the year but to begin with pick one that will get you through the winter months. Now you have your goal we may begin explaining the strategy.


In order to get the maximum benefit from the hard work you will be outlaying it is highly recommended to follow a planned training schedule. Most training plans run over a set period of time building up to the main focus. The length of plan is variable and which one you choose depends on when your event is. As a rule, those starting off from a lower base level of fitness would be better picking a longer running plan as their bodies will take longer to adapt and reach peak fitness. If you wish to train continuously throughout the year it is worth noting that for every 4-6 weeks training it is advised to allow 1 week of rest, or easy workouts, in order to prevent burnout. Usually this is planned around your race schedule or goal event.

The specific training you incorporate into your training plan depends primarily on your end goal but factors such as age, health issues, time available and what you enjoy doing, should all be taken into account. To attain a good level of all round fitness these are the type of workouts your plan should include –

CARDIO – (RIDE DAYS) The most important and fun day of the week, the day when you ride your bike! To be a true cardio workout your ride should stay at a consistent steady pace with a few good hill efforts and last several hours. Intensity and distance depend on what stage of your plan you are at.

Note – If you are training for downhill this would be a separate session to your ride day and probably be done on a separate road or xc bike.

STRENGTH TRAINING – Working to build upper body, core and leg power by doing specific muscle group exercises. This can be done using weights, on machines in the gym or with body weight exercises at home. There are also many excellent motivating classes that work on this area such as Pilates, Kettle Bells, Body Pump and Kick Boxing to name just a few.

INTERVALS – A quick sharp anaerobic effort that works both lungs and muscle power to improve your ability to sprint and input bursts of power even when tired. This workout is ideally done on the bike but you could also use an exercise bike in the gym, turbo trainer or run on foot.

CROSS TRAINING – Not all race plans will incorporate cross training but this can be a great way to build a better all-round balanced and strong body leading to less injuries and a higher level of fitness. It also keeps the mind fresh and can be a great way to keep indoors in the winter. Popular examples are Climbing (great for fore arm strength and grip), Swimming (low impact whole body workout), Yoga (stretching and core strength), Motocross (strength and technique), BMX/Dirtjump (evening skills session in a skate park).

REST DAYS – A vital part of any training plan. This is also a great opportunity to spend some time stretching. Using Yoga, a foam roller or just bodyweight exercises, setting some dedicated time aside to work on staying flexible may seem a chore but a flexible supple body is much more likely to stay injury free. It is also proven to speed up recovery time after a hard workout.

Below is an example of how all of these different training sessions could be worked into a 6-week course. This particular plan is written with Enduro racing in mind.

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySundayWeek 1Rest dayStrength trainingCross trainingStrength trainingRest & StretchEasy cardioLong CardioWeek 2Rest dayStrength trainingCross trainingStrength trainingRest & StretchLong CardioIntervalsWeek 3Rest dayStrength trainingCross trainingStrength trainingRest & StretchLong CardioIntervalsWeek 4Rest dayStrength trainingCross TrainingIntervalsRest & StretchSpecific riding practiceLong CardioWeek 5Rest dayStrength trainingCross trainingIntervalsRest & StretchSpecific riding practiceLong CardioWeek 6Rest dayShort IntervalsCross TrainingSkills/technique rideRest & stretchRest/easy cardio/practiceRace day

There are many other examples of training plans for various disciplines, I have included links to a few below –

Men’s Journal provide a free 6 week plan with specific exercises for each session.

If gym workouts aren’t for you and all you really want to do is pedal, then this plan from Backcountry website might just be for you –

Though these examples are a good guideline to work with, as you near the event or goal itself you will benefit from altering the plan slightly to ensure you are working on the type of specific fitness you will need. For example, if your target is an endurance event ensure your long ride is covering near to the distance the event will be – no longer or shorter. If your event is a shorter, high intensity event make sure you are including more interval sessions and introduce a tempo workout to acclimatise your body to sustained high energy outputs. Also, take into account the course profile and whether it includes short sharp climbs, or long slow hills and ensure at least your last few long rides are over similar terrain.

However, nothing can beat working with a personal trainer to develop a plan specifically suited to you. A personal trainer will be able to analyse your past and current performances to identify any areas of weakness and build a plan tailored for your individual needs.

If you don’t have a trainer that specializes in preparing athletes for mountain biking near you, do not fret there are many excellent trainers that provide remote training via email and skype calls. To name just a few……


Now that you know what is required to become the new super fit, lean, mean, pedalling machine you have always aspired to be you need to ensure you are suitably prepared to give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding.

STEP 1 – Keep your plan visible and accessible. Print out a copy, or several and stick them in places you will see to be reminded regular of your aims. E.g. The Fridge, your desk, cupboard door, above the bathroom sink or anywhere else, however silly, that will catch your attention. It can also be helpful too keep a copy downloaded on your phone to refer to when you’re out about.

STEP 2 – One of the best ways to stick to your plan is to make training a habit so it becomes a part of your daily routine you will miss and feel guilty about if you skip. The easiest way to do this is to choose a time of day during your working week that is most practical and stick to this. It is commonly thought that either first thing in the morning or on the way home from work is best. Nobody likes going back out once they’re indoors when it’s cold and dark outside!

STEP 3 – In direct contradiction to Step 2 be flexible! It is better to switch around the day or time of your workout to fit around unexpected occurrences than to miss out several workouts. To succeed you must show determination and not allow excuses to creep in and compromise the foundations of your will to make this work.

STEP 4 – Now that you know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it you can prepare all your kit the night before to make getting it done as easy as possible.

STEP 5 – Without proper fuel the body cannot maintain the necessary energy levels required to full the demands of physical exercise. Nor will it be able to create the new muscle you are striving for. Planning your meals to make sure the body is provided for is vitally important. Pre workout, ensure you have taken on enough slow release carbohydrates. Incorporate food stuffs that are suitable for the higher intensity sessions. Post workout the body will need protein to help repair and build new muscle and carbohydrates to restore depleted energy stores. All this hard work will also vastly increase the amount of water your body needs to take on throughout the day, so ensure you keep a supply of water with you at all times. Even hours after a workout your body will still be requiring extra water to replenish what’s been lost.


In order to further improve your training plan, it is helpful to keep a record of how each training session went. You should record such things as – what distance you cycled or ran, in what time and whether the weather was a contributing factor. In the gym, record what weights you lifted and for how many reps. It is of equal importance to make a note of how you felt during the session and any thoughts you have on adjusting your plan for the future. These notes can then be analysed after you complete your target and this will highlight what went well and what could be improved. It is also a good way to keep track of where you have allowed yourself periods of rest or light training so you can ensure you are not over or under training. It can be a rewarding experience to look back several months into your training plan and reflect on how your distances, times and weights have vastly improved. When your goal seems like an entirely unachievable target this will be a reminder of how far you have already come.

There are several options as to how you can keep records, here are a few outlined with their benefits.


  • Keep it pinned up next to your training plan

  • Easy to fill in

  • By making your own code or short hand it can be kept brief and quick to do


  • Allows room for more expansive notes

  • Include better explanations of how your feeling mentally

  • Include race write ups

  • More room to include ideas and tips you come across


When laying out your training plan include boxes below each session for notes to be made.

  • Efficient set up

  • No double entries in initial organisation

  • This makes it easier to understand when you refer back in the future


For any training plan to succeed it must follow these 3 basic principles of training. To begin with we look at what we mean by moderation. By definition moderation is the avoidance of anything extreme. In terms of training this means not pushing ourselves beyond a reasonably hard effort throughout the entire of our training program.

This applies to our psychological state as well. If it is becoming more and more of a strain mentally to keep up the level of intensity in your training, then though your perceived physical effort may not be great the psychological strain of getting to the gym and battling yourself to put in the effort is now extreme. We can also be putting ourselves under too much mental strain if we are too frequently riding beyond our skill level. Though it is necessary to push the boundaries of our bravery in order to progress, it is not healthy to constantly be feeling scared and out of your depth. This will lead to feelings of inadequacy, frustration, upset and will be extremely mentally draining. To have a productive training session of this kind you must attack it with commitment, at a time when you are feeling mentally and physically strong. There is a healthy balance between training sessions where we must step up to the challenge and others that serve to build our confidence up. A training plan that works will have a good combination of both.

It is easier to tell if you are not achieving physical moderation. The most common mistake is covering too high a mileage in your long cardio session. If the ride is several times longer than any of your recently past rides and there is a drastic leap in mileage this constitutes too extreme a jump in strain on your body. The easiest way to judge this is by looking at the time it takes for your body to recover. If you are still feeling tired and sore more than 2 days after the session, then you have lost moderation.


Consistency can be defined as keeping an even amount of pressure on your body. In training terms this means keeping your training pattern regular and slowly building the difficulty and intensity of the effort. This means the body has a chance to adapt to a heavier stress load. It is a complete myth that missing a, or several, training sessions can be made up for by working out extra hard before and after your break. This method will only lead to injury. However, by training consistently for a long period of time you will build a much stronger.

“Before the start of the season, clearly identify the events or races you wish to participate in. These dates will dictate the flow of your training plan. Knowing when to peak, when to rest and when to throw in more intense workouts is the key to consistently benefiting from your training sessions and being able to put out your best efforts during your races/events. Attempting to ram 3 months of training into 2 weeks for a race is just a recipe for disaster. Be deliberate about preparing. If you fail to prepare then you are preparing to fail.” Ryan Joseph – Personal Trainer

fitness base that will be easier to maintain and slower to lose should you stop training.


Rest is often the most overlooked part of any training plan and yet it is an essential ingredient if we wish to see any improvements. In order for muscles to grow they must be put under Hypertrophy, this is exposing your body to a higher degree of tension than its use too. In essence, this is damaging the muscles causing millions of minute tears to the micro fibres. This causes inflammation that triggers the immune system to release muscle proteins called cytokines which repair the damage using multiplied satellite muscle stem cells. All of this takes a lot of extra energy for the body, energy that can’t be spared if we are still applying further pressure with training, which is why time must be scheduled for rest. The majority of muscle repair and growth takes place when we are sleeping. Therefore, adequate sleep should be a high priority and when tackling especially hard phases of the programme such as a long cardio workout or race allow time afterwards for extra sleep. Not only will this aid extra muscle growth but it will hasten recovery times too.

Part of developing into the best athlete we can be is learning how to listen to not just our trainers and coach but also our own body. It can be difficult to tell the difference between feeling lazy and unmotivated and overtraining. If feeling such as this persist the chances are your body is in need of a break. Feeling tired despite adequate sleep, lacking strength, aching joints, tender muscles and feeling emotionally brittle are all signs that you need to take a break. How long entirely depends on your personal situation but if possible until your energy and motivation returns. When you return start with light work and build back up to full training. Overtraining is the fastest way to picking up an injury or becoming ill better to lose or lighten one or two sessions than risk being struck down by something more serious.


Mountain biking is a sport of passion. It must be. Voluntarily we pile endless money, time and effort into this activity which results is heading out in all weathers to get covered in mud, sweat, bruises, cuts and occasionally broken bones. Yet from the amateur weekend warrior, to World cup level pro riders, are reasons for participating in this madness are the same – we love riding bikes. When I look at the most successful riders, the shining similarity between them in interviews and throughout their social media feeds, is that they are incredibly passionate about what they do, because they love it. They always have huge megawatt smiles on their faces and their enthusiasm is infectious. The likes of Rachel Atherton, Josh Bryceland, Tracy Moseley, Fabian Barel or Tracey Hannah are great examples of this.

The aim of a training plan is to increase your fitness levels in order for your physical energy levels to match your mental enthusiasm and desire to ride really fast, all day. If completing your scheduled workouts is becoming an unbearable chore it is only a matter of time before the black cloud of negative feelings you have for those activities envelops your riding too. With this is mind approach designing your programme with not only what is possible time wise and necessary to achieve your goal in mind but also, what you will actually enjoy doing. If you really hate road riding, then just don’t do it. Make a loop of your local bridleways on your mountain bike instead, or invest in a turbo trainer and cover those miles whilst watching TV. If you hate the smell and atmosphere of the gym get yourself a few simple pieces of equipment and train in the comfort of your own home. If you struggle for motivation for strength workouts, have a look and see if your local gym of village hall is running fitness classes where you can work out in a group, accompanied by music, with someone bellowing encouragement at you all from the front.

The best plan is the plan you enjoy because it vastly increases the chances of you achieving consistency by sticking to it. The end product of all your hard work is not the result of the quantity of the input, but the quality of it. When you enjoy an activity you will attack it with energy and determination that will yield much better results than something you are dragging yourself through resentfully. So get out there and build yourself a mega plan that you can commit to and make 2017 your best year on the bike yet!

Click for more information on my preferred eating plan

So keep in touch and see you out on the trails.

About The Author

Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.

Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.

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