If you want to hang on the XC course, spring training starts now
By Shuana Farnell
You’d think ripping moguls all ski season and especially skinning up the mountain would have maintained at least a little of your mountain biking fitness. But alas, here you are on your first pedal of spring, gasping for air and throwing the handlebars left and right, suffering up every climb.
Because it seems to take about three months to get into proper mountain biking shape and about three minutes to get out of it and because you’ll be hauling up Vail Mountain in the grueling XC Mountain Bike race before you know it (June 9), here are a few tips to help whip you back into bike shape.
Ride: While skiing, skinning, hiking, running and any other cardio certainly don’t hurt, the best way to get into mountain bike shape is to actually get out there and pedal. Granted, if you live in a place where dirt hasn’t emerged just yet, getting the fat tires on the trail might be a challenge, but there should be plenty of pavement available. You can start small – maybe with an hour-long spin – but make sure you build some elevation into your routes. Keep in mind that there are 2,000 feet of climbing for each lap on course in Vail, so you’ll need to ramp up your altitude. Even if you don’t have access to trail riding, you can still practice sessions of fast pedaling and recovery to simulate the off-and-on hammering through technical sections or steeps on a singletrack climb. Another key benefit of spending the majority of your training time in the saddle is conditioning your own saddle. If you’ve been off the bike for a few months, those first couple of rides will leave you tender, but better to weather your bum now so that easing onto your seat for those technical descents is seamless and painless this summer.
Strengthen: Many of us would rather spend our training time in the outdoors, but truly muscle strengthening can give you a huge boost when it comes to busting through the front of the pack on the racecourse. Happily, no gym is required for the following strengthening exercises. You can even do them outside if you’re so inclined. If you do three sets of each as a circuit, it will prepare the necessary muscle groups for sustained power on the mountain.
Planks: After your first couple of serious rides in the spring, you might find that the muscles burning the most – particularly after a long descent – are your arms and shoulders. Keeping your spine as straight as possible, you can switch up doing planks on your hands or forearms, making sure to keep one or the other directly under your shoulders. Not only do these develop tremendous strength in your arms and shoulders, but also your core – your abdomen and back – which you use constantly every time you push the pedals. Hold each plank for one minute.
Squats: Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, a straight back and tight stomach. As you ease down, bend at the knees and then hips, but make sure you can always see your toes in front of your knees. Concentrate on keeping your weight in your heels as you rise up. These work your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes – your engine powerhouse. Do 10 of these at a time, slowly and with focus.
Push-Ups: You can either do these with your elbows bending outward or downward, either way, you’ll build up more core, shoulder, chest and arm strength. Do 10 reps at a time, keeping your back straight, hips tucked and tight and aiming to get your chest as close to the ground as you can without touching. Keep a slight bend in your elbows when you push up to the starting point.
Lunges: These not only strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and quads, but they also help with balance, if you do them slowly, across a room (or a yard) one way, then returning. Keep your hands at your hips and when you bend your front leg, make sure your back is straight, your back leg is bent and your front knee doesn’t go beyond your toes. Keep most of your weight in your front leg and push up through your heel.
Opposite elbow-knee crunches (aka “bicycles”): Yes, you get to practice your pedal stroke while lying on your back. This works your side abs, which can really help you when you need to stand up and accelerate in a race or grind through a super steep climb. Concentrate on lifting with your core and keep the pedaling at a steady pace. Do 50 with each leg/elbow.
Bike maintenance: If your bike has been collecting cobwebs for a few months, you definitely want to check your tires for cracks and lube up your chain at the very least. Check your disc pads to make sure they’re plenty thick and if your gears are skipping and you don’t know how to adjust them or tighten your chain yourself, there is no better time to take it to the shop for a full-service tune.
Pedal with a buddy who’ll push you: Let’s face it, we’re not always our own best gauges for speed and effort. It’s better to not find this out the hard way in June, when you think you’ve been knocking out ground speed records all spring and suddenly get dropped by what is guaranteed to be a super fast and super fit collection of fat tire enthusiasts. Training with a friend is always more fun and can give you that extra push – physically, emotionally and socially perform your best and hang with the pack on race day.
Stretch (or yoga) after you ride: This only has to be five minutes after you ride and it could make your entire bike season … or break it, if you don’t do it. The anaerobic nature of mountain biking can lead to a lot of lactic acid build up in several muscle groups, not to mention stiffness in your back and neck from being in those static positions for extended periods of time. Make sure you hold your poses for at least 20 seconds and at the very least, stretch your: quads, hamstrings, calves, hips (pigeon pose or while sitting, put an ankle on the opposite knee and bend forward), lower back (alternate between bridge – lying on your back with feet on the ground and pushing your pelvis of the ground and child’s pose) and neck (gently roll your neck over your chest from side to side or lightly pull each side of your head toward the shoulder and hold). Honestly, even a light stretch after every ride can keep you feeling limber and strong all summer.
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