As trail racing grows in popularity, the physiological needs of a mountain bike athlete become increasingly important to examine and understand. Racing a bike along a trail will require a different set of skills compared to racing on the road. Knowing how to power through a turn on the trail at 20 mph takes skill, and your entire body. Core strength is an essential element in off road cycling, as is the ability to produce greater amounts of power and force, working above your threshold ranges, for short to moderate durations. But core strength and the ability to perform short powerful efforts is not the only need of an off road cyclist. The ability to recover from each effort while continuing to pedal at a moderate to fast pace will play an even more important role.
Developing muscle endurance is one of the most important performance factors for all mountain bike athletes. More than 50% of all mountain bike races are done at a moderate intensity, which requires muscle endurance. Approximately 30% of all races are spent working at a high intensity.
Trail races will require navigating rocky terrain, hopping over logs, or climbing short steep hills. All of these challenges will require a rider to produce short to moderate bursts of power at threshold or above. The ability to recover from hard short efforts, while continuing to pedal at a fast pace, is a key element to increasing fitness and speed as a mountain bike athlete. Unlike a road cyclist who can draft from a team of riders while recovering, or coast downhill, a mountain bike cyclist needs to recover without the help of others while pedaling uphill or downhill on the trail. Riding downhill on a trail is work, requiring isometric muscle contractions and a strong focus. So the more power you can produce while recovering, working in your aerobic power ranges, and dealing with other forms of muscle fatigue, such as isometric contractions, the faster you will be in the race. Continue reading