If you’re a cross country mountain bikertraining for a specific race, or you’regetting in shape for the upcoming season, or you’re focusing onblowing up your current Strava times, you need to train effectively and efficiently.
Luckily for you, it’s easy--and science has your back.
You’ve likely heard the terms anaerobic and aerobic exercise. These concepts are really simple to integrate into your training, once you have a basic definition of each.
Any activity can either be aerobic or anaerobic, depending on the intensity and duration (ex: sprinting vs jogging).
Aerobic (with oxygen)
Anaerobic (without oxygen)
Photo by Laura Heisinger
Cross country (XC) mountain bike racing is characterized by narrow sections of dirt or rock trail, significant climbing and descending, and a duration that can vary from 2 hours up to 24 hours or longer.
Cross country racing and ridingprimarily derive energy from the aerobic energy system due to the length and intensities required to complete a race successfully.
However, the anaerobic system also plays a significant role in energy production.
For example, at the start of a race, it is advantageous for riders to sprint ahead of the competition before entering the single track portion of the trail (where passing is difficult).
Furthermore, there are multiple times during the race where the anaerobic system comes in to play, such as technically demanding ascents, breakaway attempts, and last but not least, sprint finishes.
Research by Zarzency, Podlesny, and Polak (2013) found that during cross country biking races:
This research agrees with Wirnitzer and Kornexl (2008) who found participants in a strenuous eight-day mountain bike race spent 36% of competition time in a high and very high-intensity zone, which indicates utilization of the anaerobic energy system.
The remaining time was spent in the low to moderate intensity zone, which primarily involved the aerobic energy system.
What do these studies mean for you?
Success as a cross-country mountain biker relies on both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.
Photo by Laura Heisinger
Let’s say you want to train for ~8 hours per week.
Ideally, 5.5 hours should be at aerobic intensity (75% maximum heart rate), while the remaining 2.5 hours should involve anaerobic intensity.
Day 1: 1.5 hours interval training: warm up, 15 minutes at threshold, 10 minutes recovery, repeat, cool down.
Day 2: 3-hour long ride: relatively low intensity
Day 3: Rest Day
Day 4: 1 hour HIIT ride: warm up, high-intensity short intervals at VO2Max, cool down
Day 5: Rest Day
Day 6: 2.5-hour ride: Low Intensity
Day 7: Rest Day
The take-home points from this article are really quite simple:
Stay fast, stay focused, and stay fueled!