The trainer is a great way to tackle short, focused rides in a condensed amount of time. Since you are pedaling the WHOLE time, the effort of an hour ride indoors equates to more time outdoors. If you are a parent or just work a 9-5pm job, the trainer can be a great way to maintain or gain fitness in the winter months. Also, let’s face it, many of us deal with snow, ice, or wet conditions during the winter months closing down our trails. Plus, on the days I don't want to bundle up like Ralphy from A Christmas Story, my temperate 70-degree house is much more motivating to ride in.
How can indoor training up my game on the mountain bike?
When riding on an indoor trainer, you can concentrate on short efforts that mimic going up a punchy climb or getting over rocks and roots. Sometimes you need that little extra oomph! You can use the trainer as a tool to work on your punch to tackle that trickly trail section come spring.
Some great workouts to do are 3-4 all out sprints for 10 seconds followed by 3-5 mins of rest. Or 40/20’s, where you do 40 seconds at threshold power, or about an 8 out of 10 on the perceived exertion scale, and 20 mins easy/recover. Do 5-6 to start.
You can also find some great workouts and training plans within the Zwift and Trainer Road apps. On Zwift, there is a training program called Dirt Destroyer that is a great option. On Trainer Road, search for intervals that are “burst” or “short”. Be sure to get a good warm up in!
If your goal is to build fitness to do longer rides and not feel as tired, then look for workouts labeled “over-unders”. These workouts are great ways to build your base fitness so you can easily transition from indoor rides to fun outdoor rides when the trails dry out.
Zwift and Trainer Road offer some great training plans and workouts for mountain bikers.
What are other ways I can build mtb-specific fitness inside?
Other than just spinning it out, you can do more standing efforts on the bike, add balance work, or add some pushups and planks to build arm and core strength before/after/during a trainer session.
Doing low cadence drills (pedaling below 80 revolutions per minute – rpm) are a good option. If you have a smart trainer, it will be able to calculate this for you. If you don’t have a smart trainer, think about what it is like to pedal up a steep hill and pedal at that cadence, this is going to be under 80 rpm. As you are pedaling at this cadence, try and keep your heart rate low. Play around by shifting gears to achieve this. Also, alternate standing and sitting. I call this “on the bike strength”. With mountain biking, as opposed to road riding, we often run out of gears and have to grind out a climb. This type of work on the trainer will help you build strength for climbing and helps teach our bodies to use different muscle groups while we ride. This equates to not getting as tired as quickly on the bike.
Also, don’t forget – strength training is one thing you can always do inside that will definitely benefit your riding. Check out these tips from Liv Racing athletes to help build your home gym routine.