By Steve Rhyan, MA
Conditioning for the Ride
Help your clients improve their crosscountry mountain biking skills and race times.
s word spreads about the thrill of mountain biking, more enthusiasts are taking up the sport. In fact, the number of participants exploded 419.4 percent from 1987 to 2000, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA 2001). These mountain bikers are challenging themselves through cross-country competitions such as adventure races, off-road duathalons or weekend mountain bike races. How can you help mountain biking clients decrease their race times and improve their riding ability? Train them in a way that develops muscle power and improves aerobic capacity. This article provides training philosophies and programs that have helped the master (40 years and older) mountain bikers I train. For example, after participating in my training program for 16 weeks, they cut their time going up a challenging hill from 15 to 18 minutes down to 10 minutes. Use this program for your clients or simply incorporate some of these ideas into your own program. As with other activities, no one perfect training program exists for cross-country mountain biking. As trainers, let's continue to learn from each other, share proper training ideas and use science to help expand our training methods. Note: This article covers conditioning for cross-country mountain biking. Training clients for trials or downhill riding requires a different approach.
Developing Muscle Power To improve performance, clients need to build power specifically for mountain biking. Increased power can help them gain momentum before an uphill, a sprint or at the start of a race. Fast Training. Strength training using fast, rhythmical motions will help clients build muscle power for mountain biking. Focusing on higher velocity patterns of movement and exercises using joint angles and simulated patterns of movement for biking will provide greater transfer to the sport (Stone et al. 1996). The goal is to force the neurons to recruit new muscle tissues and high threshold motor units (Astrand & Rhodahl 1986; Behm 1995; Sale & MacDougall 1981). Optimal neural stimulation will help recruit both fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers and improve power output. In one study, faster training movements (8-15 RM, fast rhythm) produced almost the same results at both high and low velocities. Slow training movements (1-3 RM, heavy and slow), however, only improved muscle power in slow velocity exercises (Moffroid & Whipple 1970). The level of resistance that seems to produce the best results for fast training is 30 to 60 percent of 1 RM (Fahey 1996; Wilson et al. 1994). Clients should move this load rather quickly during both the concentric and eccentric phases, maintaining a controlled rhythm for 5 to 10 reps. The eccentric phase should not be a freefalling movement, but a controlled lowering done at a fast pace. Improving the transition point between the eccentric and concentric movements correlates to increased improvement in sport (Baker & Nance 1999). Have clients recover for 2 to 3 minutes after the set and then repeat it. For most people, 2 to 3 minutes provides ample time for creatine phosphate
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restoration (97%) and allows clients to perform the next set at a higher intensity than if they were not fully recovered. When clients rush into the next set after a hard effort, they may prematurely fatigue the muscles and not squeeze out the number of reps needed for maximum development. Highly trained clients, however, may need a recovery time of only 60 to 90 seconds (Fleck & Kraemer 1997). If a client's form starts to deteriorate or they slow down, stop the exercise. Improvement is shown by accomplishing more reps without slowing down, increasing the load or number of sets per exercise or a combination of all three factors. Slow Training. While fast training is beneficial, make sure you also incorporate some heavy lifting in clients' training programs. Resistance exercises in the 3 to 6 RM range help provide further neural stimulation and muscle strength (Behm 1995). This type of training predominately stimulates fasttwitch muscle tissues and helps provide a stronger nervous system "base" for future muscle power development (Stone & Borden 1997). A stronger nervous system means muscles can contract more muscle fibers at one time. This translates into the ability to do a set workload with increased ease.
lactic acid levels and improve neural drive. I Day 3: Combine plyometrics and 40 percent of 3 RM lifts (with speed) in a circuit-training fashion. This training can be very stressful and produce extremely high heart rates. It elevates lactic acid levels and stimulates the nervous system and both types of muscle fibers. (As in this entire program, keep your clients' needs in mind. You may need to modify this intense day 3 program for them.) Advise clients to do 3 to 6 sets on each training day. Doing any more than that may produce an overtraining effect, especially when clients are train-
ing to improve aerobic capacity on other days. For more details on this program, see "Sample Muscle Power Program" below.
Improving Aerobic Capacity To enhance the aerobic system, clients can train outside on a mountain bike on a flat road or inside on a stationary bike such as a Monarch Leg Ergometer or Lifecycle. Indoor studio cycling bikes aren't recommended for this program because you can't monitor clients' exact workloads. Also, the wheel doesn't coast when they stop peddling, which can be hard on the knees. Mountain biking terrain is usually
SAMPLE MUSCLE POWER PROGRAM
Warm up before doing any of the following weight training workouts. DAY 1: HEAVY RESISTANCE TRAINING
Exercise % of 3 RM Sets/Reps
barbell squats dumbbell push press seated chest press (machine) dumbbell-modified clean cable pull-down Recover for 2-3 minutes between sets.
85%-90% 75%-80% 85%-90% 75%-80% 85%-90%
3-5 sets of 3-5 reps 3-4 sets of 4-5 reps 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps 4-5 sets of 3-6 reps 3-6 sets of 5 reps
DAY 2: MODERATE RESISTANCE WITH FAST MOVEMENTS
Exercise % of 3 RM Sets/Reps
dumbbell front squat with press seated leg press (one leg at a time) kneeling cable pull-down (one arm at a time) bar dip (add weight if needed) hamstring curl
60% 40% (of 2-legged RM test) 60% (of 2-armed RM test) 60% (of max RM test) moderate weight (no max test)
3-4 sets of 6-8 reps 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps 4-6 sets of 8-10 reps 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Creating a Power Program Research indicates that a combination of training patterns will provide the maximum benefit for developing power (Stone & Borden 1997; Young 1993). One option is to design a resistance training program clients can do three days a week. I Day 1: Use heavy resistance to provide high threshold motor unit recruitment and stimulate the fasttwitch muscle tissues. Use 75 to 90 percent of 3 RM for safety reasons. I Day 2: Decrease the amount of weight, but move it more quickly. Use 30 to 60 percent of 3 RM at a fast rhythm to stimulate fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers, elevate
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Recover for 1-2 minutes between sets. DAY 3: CIRCUIT TRAINING Use light to moderate resistance (40%-50% of 3 RM) and body weight for 5-15 fast reps. Do 2-4 laps of all exercises. Rest 15-30 seconds between stations and rest 2-4 minutes between laps. 1. dumbbell squat 2. cable pull-down 3. 1-legged hop (10 yards) 4. dumbbell-modified clean 5. cable upright row 6. plyometric box jump 7. seated leg press 8. back extension 9. plyometric push-up
quite varied. This variation can create a constant change in pedaling cadence. Twisting down-hills, hairpin turns, steep-hill climbs and narrow trails are common. These parts of the ride influence pedal cadence and turn the ride into an interval workout. Thus, interval training is an excellent training mechanism and has been found to improve aerobic capacity as effectively as steady-state training (Powers & Howley 1990; Tabata et al. 1997). It also helps clients prepare psychologically for the punishing workouts they will encounter in a race. Interval training relies on both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers and stresses both aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms (Tabata et al. 1997; Astrand & Rhodahl 1986). Working the two types of metabolism is beneficial because both are used during a cross-country ride. The high-intensity work of interval training improves oxygen uptake by increasing cardiac output and enhances the arteriolevenous exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. These adaptations provide a greater oxygen delivery system and help buffer the elevated levels of lactic acid (Shepard 1978). During intense work, aerobic metabolism utilizes the stored oxygen of the myoglobin (Astrand & Rhodahl 1986). As training continues, the oxygen of the myoglobin is drained and the energy demands are fulfilled anaerobically (Astrand 1981; Shepard 1978). Elevated levels of lactic acid increase the acidity within the muscle cells and the blood stream. As the pH value drops and acidity rises, the body's ability to produce or maintain force is reduced. At this point, light activity (20%-30% VO2 max or a rating of perceived effort [RPE] of 2-3) can help restore oxygen levels and clear out the raised level of lactic acid in the blood to prepare clients for the next interval (Astrand 1981; Hermansen & Watchlova 1971). Measure the intensity level of interval training with percent VO2 max, percent of maximal heart rate or RPE. The RPE
SAMPLE AEROBIC INTERVAL PROGRAM
Warm up before workouts and cool down and stretch back and leg muscles after interval workouts. For best results, perform workout on a stationary bike (but not an indoor studio cycle) or on a mountain bike on flat surfaces. DAY 1
Intensity Level Duration of Work Rest Interval
THR* 80% = RPE** 8 Repeat this cycle 2 times.
2-3 minutes 2-3 minutes
THR 85% = RPE 8-9 3 minutes Repeat this cycle two times. Ride easy for 5 minutes. Some clients may need to stop here while others will have the strength and cardiovascular capacity to add part or all of the remaining cycles. THR 85% = RPE 8-9 Repeat this cycle once. 2-3 minutes
1-2 minutes 1-2 minutes
THR 90% = RPE 9+ 2-3 minutes Repeat this cycle once. Ride easy for 5 minutes. DAY 2
Intensity Level Duration of Work
THR 75% = RPE 7 Repeat this cycle once. THR 80% = RPE 8 Repeat this cycle once.
6 minutes 5 minutes
3-4 minutes 3-4 minutes
Some clients may need to stop here while others will have the strength and cardiovascular capacity to add the remaining cycle. THR 85% = RPE 9+ Repeat this cycle once. 4 minutes 3-4 minutes
*THR = target heart rate. **RPE = rating of perceived effort.
scale is a great way to estimate how much work clients feel they are doing. Remember that interval training needs to be high intensity or at least above your clients' comfort zones. If they usually train at 70 percent of their maximal heart rates, they are only using about 55 percent of VO2 max. To optimize their training efforts, I think it's best for clients to use an interval intensity above 70 percent VO2 max, which correlates with an 80 percent maximal heart rate. The rest periods are crucial because they allow clients to tolerate the highintensity intervals for a short period of time. Have clients ride at an easy pace during the rest periods; they should use hardly any tension on the wheel. This active recovery allows them to metabolize the lactic acid, drink water and
prepare for the next workload. For a successful program, they need to rest during the rest intervals, and then work intensely during the work intervals.
Developing an Interval Program An interval duration of 2 to 6 minutes seems to provide the best training effect in a program. The work-to-rest ratio can be 1-to-2, 1-to-1 or 1-to-0.5 (Astrand & Rhodahl 1986). An example of a 1-to-1 ratio would be to work for 3 minutes, then pedal easy for 3 minutes. Or, if clients are very fit, cut the rest period to 1.5 minutes (a ratio of 1-to-0.5). Provide different levels of stress in a training session by increasing the exercise intensity or the number of intervals, or by decreasing the rest time or number of rest intervals. You might want to monitor clients'
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heart rates during the rest periods. For example, it might be 180 during the work intervals and drop down to 120 during the rest intervals. For a model of how to vary intervals on different days, see "Sample Aerobic Interval Program" on the previous page.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.
T H E V O2 M A X A N D MAXIMAL HEART RATE CORRELATION
Use these estimates when developing programs for clients.
Percentage of VO2 Max Percentage of Maximal Heart Rate
Hermansen, L., & Watchlova, M. 1971. Capillary density of skeletal muscle in well-trained and untrained men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 30, 860-3. McArdle, W., Katch, F., & Katch, V. 1986. Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger. Moffroid, M., & Whipple, R. 1970. Specificity of exercise speed. Physical Therapy, 50, 1693-9. Powers, S., & Howley, E. 1990. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. New York: McGraw Hill College Division. Sale, D., & MacDougall, D. 1981. Specificity of strength training: Review for coach and athlete. Canadian Journal of Applied Sports Science, 6, 87-92. SGMA. 2001. The SGMA Report: Sports Participation Topline Report 2000. North Palm Beach, FL: SGMA. Shepard, R. 1978. Aerobic versus anaerobic training for success in various athletic events. Canadian Journal of Applied Sports Science, 3, 3-15. Stone, M., & Borden, R. 1997. Modes and methods of resistance training. Strength and Conditioning, 19, (4), 18-24. Stone, M., et al. 1996. Training to muscular failure: Is it necessary? Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 18, (3), 44-8. Tabata, I., et al. 1997. Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises. Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, 29, 390-5. Wilson, J., et al. 1994. The optimal training load for the development of dynamic athletic performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 25, (11), 1279-86. Young, W. 1993. Training for speed/strength: Heavy vs. light loads. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, 15, (5), 34-42.
Toward a Better Ride If you try some of these training suggestions with clients, do so in small doses to see how each client adapts. I would recommend a biweekly adjustment to your clients' present training programs with a few of these new ideas. This method will allow clients to adjust to the new training stress, help them avoid overtraining and give them a break from their normal routine in small doses. As with any new training stress, they may experience some muscle soreness and psychological uncertainty. Let clients know that this will pass and they will see improvement in their biking.
Steve Rhyan, MA, is the director of strength and conditioning at Specialized Personal Training in Mission Viejo, California. He received his master's degree in exercise physiology and is a certified strength and conditioning coach with distinction. Rhyan specializes in sports medicine and the over-40 crowd.
28 40 55 70 85 100
50 60 70 80 90 100
Adapted from McArdle, W., Katch, F., & Katch, V. 1986. Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger.
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