Enduro Training Camp – French Pyrenees

April 2016 032

The first ever Enduro Training Camp run jointly by MTB Strength Factory and Altitude Adventure took place over the course of a warm and sunny week in April in the French Pyrenees.  Whilst we called it a training camp, it was not about early morning suffer-fests, interval training and early nights, and instead it was more of a riding holiday with an enduro training twist…..

Altitude Adventure, run by Ian and Ange Pendry, is a well established company providing fully guided riding holidays and trips throughout the summer and snow sports holidays in the winter.  The sheer size and quality of their trail network is amazing, with rocky wild mountainside single track, forest paths, and switchbacks galore as the group would find out on their first day of riding.  Each day had a different theme in order to give everybody a really diverse riding experience.  The first day was all about big mountain riding like you might find at an alpine enduro race, with the second day using one of the French national enduro series race tracks to test our skills against.  Some of the time we rode in a ‘train’ with smaller gaps between riders as you tend to on a normal riding holiday, but on other runs we were riding with 30 second gaps, encouraging us to look ahead, read the trail and to flow like you would in a race situation.  Riding like this really exposed areas for some of us to work on and when combined with some excellent coaching from Ian, meant that we all made improvements to our riding over the course of the week.

20160411_145021

The week was not just about amazing trails though.

Each day I would take the group of riders through a morning warm up before they rode and each evening we ran through some stretching and mobility drills back at the chalet.  After dinner each night I went through an informal talk about different subjects related to training for enduro racing.  I talked about general approaches and then more specifically about sprint training, nutrition and recovery as well as spending a lot of time chatting with the guys and answering their questions.

20160411_130346

The amazing setting and trails, combined with warm sunny weather and a great group of people meant that we had a really fun week of riding together.  Everybody got on well and encouraged each other to ride hard and we shared plenty of laughs over the week.  Most days finished with a cool beer (sometimes in the hot tub) and a chat about bikes and tyres and other rubbish that we can’t help talking about.  Plans are already afoot for a similar week or two next spring and I can’t wait!

Stay Strong

Ben

P.S. If you missed the camp but still want some help preparing for enduro, a riding holiday, or other race disciplines then drop me a line: ben@mtbstrengthfactory.com

Learning The Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is the defining kettlebell exercise.  When you learn to do it correctly, it will help you to develop a strong and powerful back, core and legs as well as offering a great conditioning session if you do higher reps.  There are loads of different videos out there in the internet showing you how to swing the kettlebell, some are very good, and sadly a lot are very poor.

Below here you can find my kettlebell instructional videos (Part 1 and Part 2) taken directly from my Kettlebell Strength Programme.  In the videos you will learn that the swing is all about generating power from your hips.  It is not a squatting motion and you should not be lifting the kettlebell with your arms!  Hip power is the key to becoming a better athlete in pretty much any sport and it directly relates to mountain biking by helping to create a strong ‘Attack Position’ on the bike as well as helping to develop your leg power for out of the saddle efforts out on the trail.

In Part 1 you will learn the basics and develop a rhythm with the swing:

In Part 2 you will take the basics and build on them to create a full swing up to shoulder height.  You also get to see me looking ridiculous doing my ‘spaghetti arms’ coaching drill!

Remember that the swing is all about technique.  You must invest some time and effort into learning the swing with good form!

If you want to use kettlebells to get faster on your mountain bike, then the MTB Strength Factory Kettlebell Strength Programme is for you.  It is a comprehensive training programme that will offer many months of training gains.  All of the exercises have professionally produced video tutorials so you can be reassured that you are doing the right exercises in the right way.  To download your copy today, just hit the link…  Kettlebell Strength

Stay Strong

Ben

Mini Enduro – Forest of Dean

Landing the drop on Stage 1

Landing the drop on Stage 1

Hot, dry, loose, dusty, rooty and loads of fun, nicely summarises the Mini Enduro this weekend at The Forest of Dean.  It was a sell out event as usual for these relaxed and friendly events with un marshalled practice on the Saturday and then racing on the Sunday.  The 4 stages provided a number of different challenges that would test the riders’ skills, fitness and line choice with wide-open taping and some pretty cheeky lines appearing over the weekend!

For me, this race was my first of the season and I wanted to treat it as a warm up for the UK Gravity Enduro season, starting in May, so although I wanted to do well, it was mostly about confirming where I am at and getting my setup dialled in.  When I was planning my season, this was a lower priority race, meaning that I trained all week as normal and was prepared to sacrifice aspects of this race in order to prepare for UKGE.  For instance, although not mandatory, I chose to wear my Bell Super 2R full face helmet this weekend as that is what I will be required to wear at the UKGE races all summer.  It was hot, sweaty and I would have preferred to wear a trail lid, but I wanted to get a feel for the best way to race with this helmet and practice detaching the chin guard etc.

Spicy on test for Wideopenmag

My race-ready Lapierre Spicy on test for Wideopenmag.

Early season races can be valuable tools for reviewing your current level of fitness and conditioning, so I have spent some time this morning reviewing my performance and seeing if there is anything that I can address in my training programme over the coming weeks.  I purposely did a lot of riding on the Friday (at my local trails) and on the Saturday, practicing at FOD in order to simulate the sort of mileage I may be covering at the UKGE races.  I found that my all-day endurance and ability to ride hard on consecutive days was absolutely fine and I went into the final stage feeling pretty fresh.  A big part of this was down to getting my nutrition right before during and after riding each day.

I felt strong on the bike all day and my conditioning over 2-3 minutes for the stages was pretty good.  I think I could still do more work on my anaerobic engine for hard and prolonged sprints between sections or up short climbs.  Having said that, you can always be a bit fitter in that respect and improving your anaerobic endurance is an almost constant aspect of MTB race training across many disciplines. Either way, I will be getting on the pain-train over the coming weeks in order to improve this aspect of my racing.

Overall I had a great weekend with my best result ever, 16th out of about 120 in Masters.  I missed a couple of my lines and made some small mistakes, so plenty to work on skills and concentration wise, but I am really happy with my performance and can’t wait for Triscombe in a couple of weeks!

Stay Strong

Ben

Developing Sprint Power

Sprint Training

Being able to accelerate your bike, sprinting down the trail is an important skill especially for racers.  Most riders don’t understand how to train their sprint power though and as a result just don’t get the gains they want.

There are two main approaches to develop your maximal power on the bike which will let you sprint harder and faster.  The first is gym based strength and power training and the second is on-bike sprint training sessions which I will concentrate on today.

In the gym:  Before you think about doing power work, you need to be strong.  In fact most people will get a more powerful sprint just by doing some proper strength training in the gym.  If you are strong, you are more likely to be powerful.  You should focus on the big compound lifts like squats and deadlifts (heavy with low reps) and compliment that work with single leg exercises like lunges, step ups, and Bulgarian split squats.  As mountain bikers your quads (front of thighs) are probably quite well developed and your hamstrings (back of thigh) and glutes (ass) are probably fairly weak so you need to make these weaknesses a priority.  When doing single leg work, always train the weaker leg first and over time the difference will become smaller and you will become a stronger, more rounded athlete.

There is no point having really strong legs if your back and core are weak as piss as you will just leak power and probably end up with back problems.  Make sure that you train your core using your bodyweigth in lots of different directions and using various methods.  As a starter, front and side planks are a good bet.  Aim for 2 min front and 1 min each side as a basic standard.  Whilst squatting and deadlifting in particular will strengthen your back, you should also do some back extensions either on the floor, over a swiss ball or on a back extension bench (don’t use the crappy machine!).

That was a brief overview of what you can do in the gym to build real strength to help you sprint your bike hard and fast.  Whilst the gym is important for developing crank-bending torque you really need to get out and actually sprint to make the biggest gains.

Bike Sessions:  This is where I see people make a lot of mistakes with sprint training.  The most common thing you see is people sprinting up and down a set distance again and again and without any rest.  They are totally blowing out of their arses and their legs are burning after the first sprint and by the  4th or 5th they are barely sprinting at all.  Only the first sprint of the set is actually training max sprint power.  Whilst this may be a productive anaerobic interval training session that may aid you in other areas of your training, it is not going to actually improve the amount of power that you can put down out of the start gate at a race.  To improve max power for sprinting you need to sprint at your maximum., not below it.  Most people can only sprint at maximal pace for maybe 3-8 seconds and then take about 5 minutes or more to recover enough to do it again with similar intensity.

Although they are not riders it is interesting to know that the Jamaican 100m sprint team do sessions with 100m sprints with a whopping 30 minutes rest in between sprints!  That way they can recover enough to do each sprint at maximal intensity (speed) and by doing so, train their bodies to sprint as quickly as possible which is why they win so many medals!  I know that you don’t have 3 hours to train 6 sprints, but carry on reading and I will show you the way…..

Let’s look at a typical sprint session that you could do out on a fire-road or on a quiet lane, free from traffic:  From a standing start, complete 6 x 30 metre max effort sprints with 5 minutes rest in between.  In between reps, keep warm and moving but basically rest and recover in time for the next effort.  Make sure that every rep is aggressive and you are mentally focussed.  You can’t hold back anything!  Obviously you need to complete a thorough warm up first, including a 60-70% effort and will need to spin your legs out at the end as well.

A session like this won’t leave you sore and feeling really tired but don’t underestimate the toll on your body from training like this.  You should only do these sessions once or twice per week and they should be followed by an easy training day to make the best gains from the session.

Another important consideration is when to sprint uphill, downhill or on the flat.  They all have their own demands and training effects and should be programmed differently:

Uphill sprints are the most demanding as you have to overcome gravity in order to accelerate forwards.  The resistance to each pedal stroke will be high, requiring a lot of leg strength and the final speed and cadence will be lower than downhill sprints.  These are important for developing power for DH and 4X racers in pre-season but are generally not performed too close to racing due to the stress it places on the body.

Flat sprints are the middle ground between high speed downhill efforts and high force up hill efforts.  They are still important for developing your sprint power and can be done closer to competition if adequate recovery is programmed.

Downhill sprints are as much about technique and commitment as any physical ability and that is why they are so important.  They teach you to spin at a high cadence and get you used to the high speeds of maximal sprinting in a race, particularly down the start ramp at 4X.  They are less demanding on the body, but are more race specific and are best used closer to competition to ensure you are sharp on race day.  You need to be totally committed and think about gear selection and changes over the first 10 metres or more.  Due to the higher speeds, make sure that you wear your helmet and other gear; if you break a chain at top speed you will be flying out the front door and it won’t be pretty!

Another consideration is pedals; do you practice clipped in or on flats?  Even if you race in clips, I would recommend that you train on flat pedals to develop a smooth and powerful pedalling technique.  The real power is on the downstroke and not pulling the pedal up at the back, so don’t worry about losing power.  As well as pedal technique you should have a look at your body position and overall sprint technique.  Get a friend to video you sprint training and compare it to the top racers online.  I bet their body positions are a lot more extreme out of the gate as they put the power down!

The bottom line is that to develop your max sprint power, and therefore acceleration, you will need to sprint maximally in your training.  Repeated efforts with increasing fatigue will not allow this to happen.  Sprint – Rest – Repeat – Recover – Race Faster.

Stay Strong

Ben