A structured mountain bike training plan is the most effective and efficient way to build the power and endurance necessary for the demands of mountain biking. Cross country, Enduro, and Downhill athletes can get faster with a training plan specific to their racing discipline and the terrain they ride.


How to Structure a Mountain Bike Training Plan

Mountain biking is demanding in more ways than one. The technical terrain and varied courses call for sharp bursts of power, strong aerobic fitness, and an ability to output a wide range of intensities repeatedly. As an off-road athlete, you can prepare yourself for anything the trail throws your way with a structured training plan that trains your energy systems for your discipline and training phases that specialize your fitness for the trails you ride and race on. These are the different fitness demands of mountain biking and how you can train them with a structured training plan.

Energy Systems Used During Mountain Biking

When mountain biking, your body utilizes three different energy systems; aerobic, anaerobic, and neuromuscular. The aerobic energy system is the primary source of energy for all sustained efforts and endurance activities. When you ride, this energy system fuels your ability to ride for a long time with sustained power.

The second energy system, the anaerobic energy system, is the main source of energy for intense efforts that last between thirty seconds and three minutes. During a race, your ability to hold threshold and above efforts, climb up short punchy climbs, and make quick attacks is fueled by this energy system.

The third energy system used in mountain biking is the neuromuscular system (technically referred to as the phosphocreatine system). This system fuels your max power output, all-out sprints, and quick bursts of power. The power you use to accelerate out of a corner, sprint to the finish line, or power up a small technical feature, is likely fueled by your neuromuscular system.

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Different disciplines of mountain biking rely on energy systems in different capacities. For example, if you race Downhill, you’ll be most reliant on your neuromuscular and anaerobic system. But these energy systems are founded upon the aerobic system. If you’re an XC MTB racer, your training will place a larger emphasis on your endurance, holding sustained efforts, and the short power bursts needed for the trail.

The right training plan will address all of the energy systems that match your type of racing. Here’s a rundown of the different fitness demands of different disciplines and how they might be addressed in a training plan.

Cross Country Mountain Bike Training

The varied terrain and unrelenting nature of XC courses require a strong aerobic base, anaerobic capabilities, and neuromuscular power.

Fitness Demands of XC MTB

In a cross country race, athletes need to have a solid endurance for the distance and duration of their event and so that they can maintain high outputs of power on climbs and long flat sections. The technical nature of most courses will also require athletes to have strong anaerobic and neuromuscular capabilities. Powering up a short technical section, passing a competitor, and short, punchy climbs are examples of places where athletes will utilize anaerobic capabilities—especially repeated laps.

Example Workouts

These are a few workouts designed to address these fitness demands in our Cross Country Olympic Mountain Bike Specialty plan.


Buckhorn is a sweet spot workout in a mountain bike training plan that focuses on building endurance.
Buckhorn is a sweet spot workout in one of our mountain bike training plans designed to challenge muscular endurance so that you can hold more watts for longer periods of time.

Xalibu is a VO2 Max workout in a mountain bike training plan that focuses on building short power.
Xalibu is a VO2Max workout in one of our mountain bike training plans designed to challenge your repeatability and target your aerobic power, oxygen uptake, and pain tolerance.

Enduro Mountain Bike Racing

Enduro races are long endurance rides with several intense stages along the way. Athletes can prepare for the aerobic and anaerobic demands of Enduro racing with workouts that target both capabilities.

Fitness Demands of Enduro

Enduro’s are a unique form of racing as they place a hefty emphasis on endurance, threshold, and sprinting. Athletes need to be able to hold a high threshold power during timed stages. At the same time, you’ll be incorporating sprints and burst through turns, technical speed bumps, and pedaling sections.

It’s not just up to those anaerobic capabilities to get the fastest time of the day, though. Enduro athletes have to have the endurance to pedal from one stage to the next and repeatability to repeat their best possible performance on each timed stage. It’s a challenging event where athletes need to be equally prepared for all-out efforts and long sustained stage transfers.

Example Workouts

Here are a few workouts structured to address the fitness demands of Enduro racing in our Gravity Specialty plan.


Mendel +1 is a VO2 Max workout in a mountain bike training plan that focuses on building short power.
Mendel +1 is a VO2 Max workout in our Mid Volume Specialty Gravity plan designed to improve anaerobic capacity.

Cheaha +1 is an endurance workout in a mountain bike training plan that focuses on aerobic fitness.
Cheaha +1 is a workout in one of our mountain bike training plans designed to improve aerobic fitness, prime the muscles for the workouts ahead, and increase muscle fiber recruitment in an effort to grow strength capabilities.

Downhill Mountain Bike Training

The frequent short bursts of power, the all-out sprints, and the overall high intensity of racing make fitness as important as skills in downhill mountain bike racing.

Fitness Demands of DH

Downhill mountain bike racing is heavily reliant on the neuromuscular energy system and the anaerobic energy system. Athletes racing downhill need quick bursts of power to accelerate out of turns, power through flats and short climbs to manage a single run’s overall intensity. With that, Downhill still utilizes the aerobic system too. Downhill runs are typically longer than three minutes, and athletes usually have to do multiple runs in a day. Having a robust aerobic system is what allows DH athletes to sustain performance run after run.

Example Workouts

Here’s another few workouts from our Gravity Specialty training plan structured to address the specific fitness demands of DH.


San Joaquin +1 is a VO2 Max workout in a mountain bike training plan that focuses on short power for downhill.
San Joaquin +1 is a VO2 Max workout in one of our mountain bike training plans structured
to improve both your aerobic efficiency and aerobic power.

Richardson +4 is a workout in a mountain bike training plan that focuses on repeatability.
Richardson +4 is designed to challenge your repeatability and target your aerobic power, oxygen uptake and pain tolerance.

Training for the Trails You Race On

In addition to addressing the capabilities of your specific discipline, you’ll also need to train for the terrain that you race and ride on. Mountain bike trails tend to fall within three general categories; courses with short, punchy climbs, long sustained climbs, and a combination of the two.

You want your training to address the specific demands of the terrain you ride or race on. The best time to do this is during the Build Phase because this when you’ll start to build race-specific fitness.

How Does TrainerRoad Make you a Faster Mountain Biker?

TrainerRoad will make you a faster mountain biker with science-based training plans structured specifically for your discipline’s demands and the terrain of your goal event. As a whole, your training plan will prepare you for your goal event with a full Base, Build, and Specialty progression. Along the way to your priority event, you’ll raise your FTP, sharpen your capabilities, and reinforce your endurance to become a more well rounded and capable mountain biker.

Structured Science Based Mountain Bike Training

A typical mountain bike training plan consists of three training phases— Base, Build, and Specialty. The Base, Build, and Specialty phases are structured to address the unique demands of your off-road racing. First, the Base phase addresses your aerobic energy system, with workouts that target your aerobic fitness and muscular endurance.

The Build phase is the start of adding specificity for your goal event. This phase will work on two things—threshold power and discipline-speficic repeatability. For most, the choice will be between Short Power Build or Sustained Power Build.

If your goal event features short, punchy climbs, then the Short Power Build plan is a good choice. This phase features a balanced mix of threshold, VO2 Max, and high-power bursts workouts. In contrast, if your race is mostly long sustained climbs or long sustained flats, Sustained Power Build plan is the way to go as it focuses on steady-state power.

Finally, the Specialty phase will further refine and focus your capabilities for the specific demands of the racing that you do. It also includes a taper so that you are fresh and ready for your event.

Plan Builder

Building a training plan is easy to do and only requires a few steps to use Plan Builder. Plan Builder will build you a custom training plan structured around your goal event or primary discipline. By using your training schedule, your experience with intervals, your current training load, your time frame, and your primary discipline, Plan Builder will structure a custom training plan for you and your goals. You can build your custom training plan here: Plan Builder.

Plan Builder will also use one of our off-road specific mountain bike training plans to build out your plan. This includes plans for Gravity events like Enduro, Downhill, and Slalom, and XC events such as Short track, Olympic, and Marathon. You can read more about these training plans with the links below.


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Getting Faster with TrainerRoad

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Meghan Kelley

Meghan Kelley is a writer, XC MTB racer and all around fan of trails, rocks, dirt and the desert. Her years spent racing XC and working at TrainerRoad has translated to a passion for all things cycling.