The many disciplines of mountain bike riding and racing are arguably more varied than any other subset of cycling. And as you might expect, the types of demands knobby-tire riding applies to the body are as wide-ranging as the athletic capabilities that our bodies can display. Enter our new off-road training plans.


Overview

Typical MTB style efforts range from extremely short, explosive starts & surges to long, steady, uphill slogs and include everything in between – and commonly numerous times within the same event, even within a single iteration of a repeated segment!

So addressing the overlapping demands as well as the more discipline-specific ones merited the creation of our first round of new specialty mountain bike training blocks which includes low, mid- and high-volume versions of Cross-Country Olympic (XCO), Cross-Country Marathon (XCM) & Gravity specialty blocks.

Then, with no firm dates of delivery, we’re kicking around new block possibilities specific to gravel-grinders, enduro events, short-track XC racing and mountain bike stage racing depending on the demand and potential benefit to those types of riders.

Mountain Bike Demands & Training

For a few reasons it was necessary to limit the scope of this initial round of MTB specialty blocks, so it made sense to address the types of riding that could easily bleed their benefits into the remaining types of riding that haven’t yet seen their own specialized blocks.

By first addressing the short-course commonalities of XCO that weave their ways into nearly all realms of mountain biking and then extending some of those aspects to cover longer, more oxygen-reliant endurance events like XCM and finally reaching the opposite end of the spectrum with short-term, anaerobic Gravity-specific requirements, these 3 options best address all the demands of dirt riding.

This means there is a more obvious focus on extended, mid-intensity work in the XC Marathon blocks and heavier emphasis on the peak development of high-power/short-duration capabilities in the Gravity blocks while XC Olympic riders will encounter the most even distribution of both.

So between these 3 sets of new training blocks, riders of all disciplines will find precisely the right fit for their training needs, or at worst, a block that addresses most of their training needs.

Specialty Block Structure

We recommend that riders precede these blocks with a Short Power Build block but the General Build block could work quite well in preparation for both the XCO and XCM blocks.

Ideally, these Build blocks would be preceded by 6-12 weeks of Sweet Spot Base training or perhaps 12-16 weeks of Traditional Build conditioning, but this is dependent upon your experience, planning and the amount of time available prior to your most important event(s).

Following your Base/Build conditioning, the first 6 weeks of these 8-week Specialty blocks split their focus as mentioned above in order to adequately refine the more general capacities you’ve worked to develop leading into these peak-fitness blocks.

Like our other Specialty blocks, they’re structured in the traditional 3:1 format where you build fitness for 3 weeks and then rest and rejuvenate during the fourth week with a reduced but still demanding training load. Then, you’ll taper your training during the final two weeks of each block.

As each plan moves you toward your peak fitness and ideally your peak event(s), the workouts become increasingly specific & demanding but maintain a reasonably even training load (relative to the targeted discipline, of course) in order to allow your body to slowly but effectively absorb the training while still undertaking a relatively high workload.

Block Progression

Optimally, riders will reach these MTB specialty blocks with sufficient base mileage and properly timed and progressed build conditioning. For this scenario, we recommended a few training periodization structures:

  • 28 Weeks Out: 12 weeks of Sweet Spot base conditioning + 8 weeks of Short Power Build conditioning + 8 weeks of Cross-Country Marathon specialization
  • 22 Weeks Out: 6 weeks of Sweet Spot Base II + 8 weeks of the General Power Build + 8 weeks of Cross-Country Olympic specialization 
  • 14-16 Weeks Out: 6 weeks of Sweet Spot Base II or 8 weeks of Short Power Build + 8 weeks of the Gravity specialty block

Additional Block Progressions

Should your training window be narrower or your season include dual peaks, here are a couple more suggestions to consider:

  • 8-Week Cram Session (XCM not recommended): 8 weeks of Cross-Country Olympic or 8 weeks of Gravity specialization
  • Early Season/Late Season, 48 Weeks Total: 
    • Early Season: 12 Weeks of Sweet Spot base conditioning + 8 weeks of Short Power Build + 8 weeks of Cross-Country Olympic specialization
    • Late Season: 4 weeks Traditional Base training + 8 weeks of Short Power Build + 8 weeks of Cross-Country Marathon specialization

Whether you abide by one of these plan progressions or develop your own, understand that any plan – no matter how structured – still affords a certain level of flexibility. Just do your best to adhere to your training schedule and don’t sweat the small setbacks that are nearly inevitable.

Should you face some, just accept them as part of the process and don’t let them derail your motivation. Just get back on track, reestablish your consistency, and you’re all but guaranteed to surprise your competition and yourself on race day – good luck!



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Chad Timmerman

Chad Timmerman is the Head Coach and Co-Founder of TrainerRoad — cycling’s most effective training system. He has nearly 10 years of coaching experience as a Level I USA certified Cycling and Triathlon coach. When he’s not developing structured training plans for TrainerRoad, you can catch him sharing his coaching advice on the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast. To get Chad’s best cycling knowledge delivered to your inbox, sign up for his free 6-part email course Train Smart, Get Fast.

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