The nature of mountain biking can make it difficult to take structured workouts out onto the trails, but reinforcing bike handling skills is an important part of any off-road athletes race preparation. Implement these planning strategies to get time on the mountain bike without sacrificing the effectiveness of your training plan.

For more on training and planning check out Ask A Cycling Coach Ep 241



Structured Training on the Mountain Bike

If you are an off-road athlete completing a structured training plan, a lot of your structured workouts probably happen indoors on the trainer or out on a road. While these are both effective ways to train, every off-road athlete needs some trail time to polish their technical skills and increase their confidence on the descents.

Getting structured workouts done on a trail can be tricky though. The natural variability of mountain biking can make certain structured workouts tough to complete effectively without overshooting power targets or missing intervals.

With that said, there are ways that you can ensure that your mountain bike rides are productive and the ball is moving forward with your training plan each week. By planning ahead and customizing your TrainerRoad plan, you can ensure that the workouts you complete on your mountain bike are a good fit for the trails you ride on.

How Can I Take Structured Workouts Outside?

Every workout in the TrainerRoad library has an indoor version and an outside version. On any given day you can choose whether you’d like to complete your training indoors or outdoors. You can swap an indoor workout for an outside workout on the fly and add them as you go, or you can create recurring outside workouts in your training plan and plan on riding outdoors every week when you build your plan with Plan Builder.

If you’d like to learn more about riding outside with TrainerRoad on your Wahoo or Garmin head unit this article explains how to use Outside Workouts.

Good: Shoot for Time in Zones

When you have a training week where none of your scheduled workouts can be easily done outside, there are still ways to get your training done on your mountain bike.

To do this, complete an outdoor workout where you are focused on hitting the different targets outlined in your planned workout. This allows you to train the same systems of energy that the original workout in your training plan was designed to hit.

By focusing on spending time in the right power zones, hitting TSS and hitting duration you can complete a workout that roughly trains the same energy systems.

In order of priority, here is what you should try to focus on hitting when you replicate a workout:

  1. Power Zones: If your structured workout has three 20 minute sweet spot intervals, try to spend 60 minutes throughout your workout in this training zone.
  2. Training Stress Score (TSS): If your workout has a TSS of 120, try to reach this TSS to the best of your abilities while still focusing on training the right zones.
  3. Duration:  If your structured workout is 120 minutes in duration, ride for 120 minutes. 

Training the correct energy systems and accumulating time in the prescribed power zones should be your number one priority. If you can’t make this happen during your workout try and hit the correct TSS, and if you aren’t able to hit TSS, then shoot for hitting duration.

Better: Find a Workout-Trail Match

You can customize your schedule and rearrange the days in your training plan by dragging and dropping workouts in your TrainerRoad Calendar. This gives you a lot of daily flexibility and allows you to swap workouts in your training week.

Some of the toughest workouts to replicate outdoors are sustained efforts or sweet spot workouts. A lot of trails don’t have long sustained climbs that allow you to nail the perfect sweet spot efforts. Similarly, the variability of different terrain can make it difficult to maintain a sustained effort without power spikes and small bursts. Workouts with short powerful intervals, like VO2 max workouts, can be easier to take outside. 

What you can do is swap workouts that are hard to replicate on your trail system, with workouts that you know you can complete outside. For example if you live in a place with short punchy climbs, and you’ve got a VO2 max workout this week, put that sweet spot workout on an indoor ride day or road day and take the VO2 max workout outdoors on your mountain bike.

Best: Stack Your Workouts

An alternative is to stack all of your structured workouts together, putting them back to back during the week. This leaves your weekends (or whatever time you have off!) available for structure free outdoor ride time. You can take this opportunity to do low intensity workouts with an emphasis on technical skills and descending.

You can do this by taking any TrainerRoad workout you’d like outdoors on your head unit, or you can ride at your own pace integrating a workout with an intensity and duration determined at your own discretion.

This is a great strategy for experienced athletes who know how to appropriately add additional TSS to a training plan and complete back to back workouts with intensity. You’ll want to consider your training load, your experience with interval training and how quickly you recover before you implement this strategy. If you have to skip workouts, or you find yourself cutting workouts short, then you should unblock your workouts and try a different strategy. 

Try All Three!

Nailing down the strategy that works best for you takes time. The beauty of customization is that you can take things week by week and adjust as you go until you find what works for you. You might find that combining two methods or implementing your own rendition works best. With practice you’ll be able to make adjustments to your training plan that keep you riding outdoors and nailing every workout in your structured training plan. 


For more cycling training knowledge, listen to the Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.



Getting Faster with TrainerRoad

Ready to get faster? Driven by science and data, TrainerRoad provides the training, planning, and analysis tools you need to become a faster cyclist with a focused and straightforward system. Create a custom training plan with Plan Builder, complete workouts indoors, outside, or with friends, and prove that your training is working with post-ride analysis tools. You can be confident that you will become a faster cyclist, and over 1,500 stories from TrainerRoad athletes prove it. Try TrainerRoad with a 30-day, money-back guarantee.

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Meghan Kelley

Meghan Kelley is a writer, XC MTB racer and trail enthusiast. Her years spent racing XC and working at TrainerRoad has translated to a passion for all things cycling.