16 Simple Mountain Bike Event Training Tips & 5 Plans Compared

23rd October 2020

If you are looking for everything you need to know to train for your next Mountain Bike cycling event then you have come to the right place! Whether it’s your first event or you have many years of experience, our list of 16 training tips will teach you the best way to achieve your goals on your next event, so read on…

TIP: Click here to register for free in less than 2 minutes with Wheelie Good Tours and get access to our cycling goals planner and training journal!


If you just want to find a training plan for your next Mountain Bike Event, click here to jump to that section.

This is part of the Mountain Bike Pack, showing you how to prepare for your next Mountain Bike Event with tips on training, nutrition, gear & clothing and tackling your first even.


Sportive Goals


1 - Define your goals and objectives - finish it or win it?

Are your goals clear in your head? Is it a case of doing your first event and trying to get to the end with a smile on your face, or are you experienced and therefore looking to put in a good time?

Or are you somewhere in between?

The answer is up to you, but it will influence the type of and amount of training you need to put in.

Try and write down your goals in a SMART way:

  • Specific - Be as specific as possible about your goal. This could be a specific Sportive you are targeting in a particular location.
  • Measurable - How can you measure if the goal has been achieved? This might be how long it takes you to complete the Sportive course, or it might be that you finish the Sportive.
  • Achievable - Your goal needs to be achievable whilst also stretching you a little bit to make it worthwhile. Remember goals can evolve over time as you get fitter / more experience.
  • Relevant - Make sure the goal matters to you. It could be a Sportive supporting a Charity that you have close links to.
  • Time-bound - How long will it take to reach your goal, usually the date of the Sportive.


So... what are your goals?

Use our handy free online Training Journal to write it down and stick it on your wall so you never forget!


Sportive Training Plan


2 - Freestyle or follow a training plan?

If your goal is challenging but achievable then it’s probably worth investing the time to read this guide and follow some sort of training plan.

There are many benefits of following a training plan:

  • They are developed by experts who know what they are talking about!
  • It gives you a structure to follow so you can just ride - you don’t need to think about what to do each week
  • They run for a fixed number of weeks, allowing you to plan when to start so it finishes just before your event


But remember that a training plan can be as simple as “I will ride for four hours every week” through to a day-by-day schedule showing key heart rate zones, training types and more.

What’s right for you will depend on your goals and time available, so bear this in mind as you read on…


Track your training progress


3 - Measure your training progress 

Measuring your progress will allow you to see how you have developed and will give you a huge confidence boost.

There are four ways training can be instructed and therefore each can be used to measure progress:

  • Time / Distance - an easy one to measure, but maybe not that useful since it can be affected by many things such as the route you take, how hard you push and even the weather
  • Rate of Perceived Exertion - a score of 1 to 10 assigned to how hard the effort feels, ranging from “sitting on the sofa doing nothing”, a score of 1, to “100% sprint for the line”, with a score of 10.
  • Heart Rate - using a chest heart rate monitor or sometimes a smart watch, your heart rate will respond to the effort you put in. You will need to calculate your maximum heart rate and heart rate zones as this is what will be referenced in the training plans.
  • Power - there are various ways to measure power such as with specific pedals, cranks or even wheel hubs, but all require a level of investment to achieve. This will however give you the most accurate data and the most specific training plan. You will need to work out your functional threshold power and your power zones as this is what will be referenced in the training plans.


To calculate your maximum heart rate / functional threshold power, use this table:

Maximum Heart Rate and Functional Threshold Power

Thanks to Cycling Weekly for the image


And to see how this refers to the zones use this table:

Training Zones

Thanks to Cycling Weekly for the image


Power is the best option since it’s least affected by other factors but it also requires investment in a power meter, which can get expensive.

Most training plans will give you a combination of the above four, allowing you to choose what works best for you.


Commute by bike

4 - Be time efficient with your training

A lot of us commute to work by bus, train or car… why not take your bike instead?

This is a really good way to get some extra miles in during the week, without taking up valuable family time.

Here are some key things to consider:

  • Check out the facilities - are there shower facilities available? What about a locker to store your gear? On-site and secure bike parking?
  • Be prepared - I find it helpful to get everything ready the night before… food for the day, work clothing packed safely, cycling clothing and bag ready to put on in the morning. Then it’s just brush your teeth and get on the bike…
  • Have the right equipment and clothing - good lighting and hi-vis for those darker rides, warm gloves for the colder months and some nice bib shorts for when the sun comes out
  • Plan your route - you might be surprised at the number of off-road cycle paths, canal paths etc.. that you can explore. Consider adding a few miles if it means a safer route to work or get's in some local single track. Use tools like Komoot to find suitable tracks
  • Consider driving part of the way in and cycling the rest - maybe there is a trail centre near you that would be a good place to park, cycle to work and then enjoy the trail centre on the way home?


Join a Cycling Club

5 - Join a local club

As part of your training you will probably want to get some longer miles in at the weekend, and what better way to do that than by joining a club.

Being part of a club will give you a great social boost to your riding, allow you to explore new routes, get some good miles in your legs and learn some of the skills discussed previously.

Whilst there are a few mountain bike specific cycling clubs, the majority are part of a wider general cycling club with some specific mountain bike activities.

Find your nearest club on the British Cycling website here, using the filters to narrow down on Mountain Bike and get in touch to discuss your first ride.


Train for the right amount of time


6 - Train for the right amount of time

There is of course an argument that you should be training all-year round for your event, but in following a training plan for a specific event you should really allow yourself a solid 12 weeks.

A good training plan will have a ramp-up period hitting a peak of training activity a few weeks before the event, followed by a tapering of activity in the final few weeks to allow your body time to recover before the event.


Train indoors and outdoors!


7 - Do Indoor AND Outdoor

You can certainly find training plans that are designed specifically for indoor and those for outdoor, but there are also many that give an option for indoor and outdoor to fit around your schedule.

Indoor training can often be more structured and targeted since there are no distractions with traffic or road junctions! Using software like Zwift can make staring at your garage wall actually enjoyable!

However, you will want to make sure that you do plenty of outdoor training as this will most simulate the actual Mountain Bike event you enter and you will need those bike handling skills.


Mix up your training


8 - Mix up your training using the main five types

Throughout the training plans you will find different activities grouped into types of training, here is what they all mean:

  • Endurance Training - long steady rides, ideally over an hour in duration, typically in Zone 2 (see above)
  • Hill Training - a mix of long and shallow hills plus short and steep will get your body in the best shape
  • Threshold Training - your threshold is the intensity of riding you can sustain for 60 minutes and is a great indicator of overall ride intensity
  • Interval Training - short sharp periods of high-intensity with low-intensity rest periods between has been shown to have a great impact on your overall fitness
  • Recovery Training - really important Zone 1 focused activity to allow muscles to recover after a hard training session


Include some gym work


9 - Include some gym work in your schedule

A great way to supplement your cycling training is using some gym- or home-based exercises. The following list gives you a good start, check out this Training Peaks article for more ideas:

  • Planks - builds core strength which is good for stability on the bike and helps with hill climbing
  • Lunges - target all your key leg muscles
  • Burpees - uses your full body and good for explosive power


Warm up, warm down and stretch!


10 - Remember to warm up, warm down and stretch!

The best way to ensure your muscles are ready for their next training session is to help them recover after the previous one.

Some simple stretches once you come off the bike will help you, check out this article for some ideas on what to do.


Rest and recovery is important


11 - Rest & recovery is as important as hard training

All good training plans will incorporate periods of rest and recovery.

This may take the form of a day off from training between two tough days, or a quieter week after a period of intense efforts.

Whatever the method, getting good rest between sessions is crucial so make sure you eat well, drink plenty and get some good sleep to enable your next session to be your best.


Learn riding skills


12 - Learn the most important Mountain Bike rider skills

Aside from fitness, there are a range of useful skills that you will need to be aware of, especially since some of them may have an impact on other riders:

  • Technical obstacles - The wider more well-treaded tyres of a mountain bike are designed for obstacles but that doesn't mean you are! Key thing here is to keep looking forward to the next obstacle, pick your line - is it round it or over it, and adjust your speed and position on the bike accordingly.
  • Cornering - watch out for loose material on the track when picking your line through the corner, keep the outside pedal low and with pressure on it, then the inside pedal high. This gives you the best chance to retain your speed on the way out
  • Technical climbs - To avoid losing traction on loose surfaces, try to stay seated and shift your weight further back to apply more pressure onto the rear wheel. Similarly if you need to stand due to the incline, try and keep your weight further back to give better traction
  • Riding drops - judge the height of the drop as you approach and lift the front of the bike up as you leave the higher surface so that you hit the ground with both wheels at the same time


Nutrition is key


13 - Eat right - before, during and after the event

Eating before, during and after your training sessions will enable you to get the most from your training plan.

We have a detailed guide on nutrition coming soon.


Don't let your equipment hold you back


14 - Don’t let your equipment hold you back!

We have a really good guide on the best Sportive equipment coming soon, but in the meantime the best thing you can do is make sure your equipment fits you properly.

This serves two purposes: it allows you to get the most out of the equipment and avoids the risk of injury.

Going for a bike fit can be expensive but is worth every penny so seriously consider getting one. Search Google for a centre near you.

Alternatively, use this guide to do your own bike fit.


Keep a training record


15 - Keep a training record

Think of it as a secret diary for your training. Log your rides, gym work, nutrition and overall progress to give you that boost when you are having a tough week.

Doesn’t need to be anything fancy, a simple notepad will do, or why not register with us where you can get a free to use online Journal (that only you can see), allowing you to record your goals and track progress against them?


Learn by reading


16 - Learn by doing… and reading

We hope this guide has condensed the key information into one place and pointed you to specific training plans, but if you want more information, here are the best resources we can find:

  • The Mountain Bikers Training Bible by Joe Friel
    Now in it’s 5th edition, this book is literally the bible for all cycling training, covering everything you would ever need to know for all types of cycling.
  • Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, Third Edition by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack
    As the name suggests, this book will give you the detail on how to get the most of your power meter and using it as part of your training.
  • The Time-Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael
    Aimed at those cyclists without unlimited time to train (i.e. most of us), this book shows how you can still achieve your goals alongside work and life getting the way!


Check out these Mountain Bike training plans and find one that’s right for you

We have scoured the web to find these Mountain Bike specific training plans covering a range of event distances, hours per week of work and duration. Click on the links to be taken directly to the training plan itself.

Note that here we have only included free training plans. If you wish to invest you can head over to Training Peaks where there is a market place, including 13 training plans developed with the British Cycling organisation. There are also training plans built into indoor training tools such as Zwift or The Sufferfest.

Title Duration
Get fit for Mountain Biking by Bikeradar 12 weeks
Intermediate XC MTB plan by Training Peaks 10 weeks
The 4-week plan to become a better Mountain Biker by MapMyRun 4 weeks
XC Training Plan by Red Bull 16 weeks

Got any questions? Any advice for other cyclists? TIP: Click here to register for free in less than 2 minutes with Wheelie Good Tours and leave a comment, get access to our cycling goals planner and training journal!


Be Inspired!

Inspiration for your next cycling holiday, tour, adventure or event plus competitions & more