Our MTB season is long – starting in mid-January and ending mid-December – and we all have commitments to keep and lead busy lives. To get around this, and make sure my race diary remains manageable, I only target three major events a year and consider the rest all minor. Never get so caught up in your riding that you lose sight of reality. You can’t  enter every race that comes your way because then you can’t peak. And if you can’t peak, how do you expect to win anything? Anyway, if you keep pushing yourself without allowing your body to recover adequately, you’re actually weakening yourself, not making yourself stronger.

The key to race day success is to train smartly and, most importantly, to make sure you always enter big events feeling fresh. That said, here are my five top favourite training secrets – stick to them like I have and you too could experience the rush of a podium finish!

1. Train with Power
This tip is aimed at motivated, up-and-coming mountain bikers who want to better their already good performances. If you’re merely a weekend warrior, this disciplined way of training may not be for you. But for those who do want to improve their performance levels, but find themselves struggling to get up that extra step, my best advice for you is to start training with power.

This means you need to purchase a power meter for your bike or train at a studio that offers power-based training (Wattbike Studio, or similar). Power training is different from heart rate based training in many ways. It’s mainly interval based, but now you’re working on or maintaining a certain power output instead of a certain heart rate. Training with power not only allows you to plot and track your improvements very easily but also gives you concrete goals to work towards.

2. Nutrition on the bike
This one’s mainly for riders involved in marathon-type events that are longer than 3 hours in duration. Your body needs to continually replace the energy it’s burning, because, if it doesn’t, you’ll definitely end up paying the price. To prevent your body from crashing, it’s best to eat something every 30 to 45 minutes. Great food examples are bananas (my favourite), potatoes, nuts, biltong, hot cross buns – or anything that you find easy to eat on the bike while riding. Some top athletes prefer to use gels as their food intake while racing. However, if you do choose to take gels… make sure you practice with them during training and not on race day.

What you decide to put into your hydration bottles is also of the utmost importance. Good options include low GI drink mixes such as PowerBar (my favourite and sponsor), Biogen, USN, Cadence, etc. You don’t want high sugary drinks that cause your sugar levels to spike, like some of the energy drinks out there.

My advice: Drink often, and in small doses. Practice taking your nutrition during training, and don’t ever experiment with something new during a race!

3. Don’t overtrain
A huge mistake many athletes make is to overtrain. Overtraining will never allow your performance to improve. All that’ll happen is you’ll stagnate at a point – misleading you into believing that this is your peak result. To prevent this from happening, your training should be structured, allowing for very heavy training weeks, followed by an easy week for you to recover. This, in turn, should also be broken down into heavy training days and easy training days.

However, this doesn’t mean you must get lazy now… there are times when you need to push yourself to levels that are far harder than “race pace”. My motto: “Train harder than you race”. Here’s another one: “Rest day = rest day – don’t feel guilty in doing no exercise”. There are many good coaches out there. If you’re starting to take your training seriously, you might want to seek one out. My trainer is Mike Posthumas, a Science to Sports coach.

4. Strengthen your Core
A strong tummy is a strong back and vice versa. This is the core of your body. All sports benefit from a strong core – especially mountain biking. It’s a sport where you need to have good balance, especially when riding the stunning single track trails that we have. If you have a strong core, you’ll be able to easily whip through all those twists and turns that off-road cycling throws at you. There are many core exercises that assist with mountain biking… Maybe this should be my next article that gets published!

5. Don’t miss leg day!
Cross training is also important and doing a leg session in the gym, at least once a week is will help immensely. Especially during the building phase of your training program. Leg workouts should never be so heavy that they affect your session too much the next day – but they should be strenuous enough to assist with building the right muscles for cycling.

Some exercises that work here include squats, reverse lunges, box jumps, reverse curls on a Bosu Ball, calf raises and dead lifts. This, along with the core exercises mentioned above, will improve your body strength and, in turn, your performance on the bike. Exercises that target your glute muscles are all very good for cycling too, that’s because you need those muscles to climb with. Climb with your glutes – that’s what all the Pro’s say! – (c) 2017 NavWorld

About The Author

Theresa Ralph
NavWorld Mountain Biking Ambassador

Wearing many hats; mom to two kids, IT specialist, pro MTB rider, part-time spinning coach and orthopaedic sports masseuse. NavWorld Ambassador Theresa Ralph has a message for other busy working mothers out there who would like to fit sport into their already-hectic lives: “You can do it, don't think you can't!”

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