Downhill MTB specificity

I’m a keen (if only slightly above average!) DH racer, and am trying to utilise the indoor trainer to help with my fitness. Skills are clearly important as well, but I’ve always been of the belief that if I did some proper fitness training it could make a big difference to my results. I will ride outside quite a bit as well, in a couple of months once the worse of the UK gloop has passed. It’s great, riding in the mud, but cleaning the bike and all the muddy kit day in day out takes its toll on motivation pretty quickly!

As well as skills, I’ve also no doubt that off the bike strength training is important as well as pedalling fitness, but for the point of this discussion I’m interested in how best I can take advantage of the indoor trainer.

When I ride MTB outside, whether on the trail or my DH race bike, I’m on flat pedals and handlebars that are some 800mm wide - a lot wider than a road bike’s bars.

I’ve Zwifted on and off since last winter, (I did their FTP builder programme last year) and recently discovered TR. All of my indoor training so far has been on a road bike with clips, just because that felt like the natural thing to put on the trainer, especially when the trainer was a wheel-on affair.

Now that I have a direct drive trainer, I’m wondering if I should stick an MTB on it, with wide bars and flat pedals. The thought saddens me a little bit, because although I’m no roadie, I’ve become quite fond of my FTP and seeing little improvements in it now and then… if I move to flat pedals I’m almost certain to see a drop in power, even though I do try not to “pull” too much with the clips at the moment.

Am I crazy to continue training with clips and narrow bars? It’s got to be “better” to train on something more similar to my DH race bike, right?

Can we think of any pros for staying with the road bike, other than not slipping a pedal during a hard interval and gushing blood all over the carpet? :smiley:

Additionally, a saddle on a DH bike is only really there for two reasons: to sit on while waiting for your race run to start, and to lean against your knees in corners. You essentially never sit down during a race run. So should I be trying to make all of my hard efforts in workouts standing rather than sitting?

And then there’s the plans… TR has an off-road speciality plan (Gravity High Volume), but there’s very little high-end sprint work. A downhill race run never requires you to sit at 120% FTP for 25 seconds, it requires you to be at 200%+ FTP for anything from a single pedalstroke to 5-10 seconds maybe 10-20 times in a 2-3 minute race. Hardly any of the workouts have anything that closely approximates that. Some might argue that a good DHer doesn’t even need to pedal to win, and it’s true that Aaron Gwin has won a World Cup race even though he snapped his chain pedalling out of the start gate, but the reality is that a lot of more grass-roots races aren’t on such steep hills, and pedalling is an important factor. Not as important as not braking, and being a cornering ninja, but I’m not going to learn those things indoors!

I think the main reason to improve fitness isn’t about pedalling sprints though - it’s just generally coping with a race weekend. A typical race will have an uplift and have practice all day Saturday and Sunday morning, and then a race run or two in the afternoon. Over 2 days one might do 20 three minute DH runs, and if you’re not familiar with the sport trust me when I say it’s surprising how tired you are by the end of a weekend, and hence by the time your all-important race run comes around.

So maybe ignoring all of my ponderings in this thread and sticking to the road bike on the trainer with a high TSS will be enough to help, as it’ll help my overall fitness, help my threshold and vo2 etc etc and just make my body able to recover quicker in between runs? (You can tell I don’t really know what I’m talking about, right?)

Wow, what a lot of pointless waffle. Any useful thoughts, or should I just GTF and leave this structured turbo training to you roadies/triathletes/cx/xc whippets? :smiley:

Thanks to those who persevered!

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Stick with clips. You are training zones/energy systems, so an increase in your FTP will apply on your DH bike outside. Expecially since a DH rig is so much different than being on the trainer, there is really no way to replicate that feeling indoors. Maybe use a DH handlebar, but that’s about as far as I’d go. Possibly mix in more standing drills than the average guy when you get closer to race season, because that closer replicates your demands. I guess you could try flat pedals during your Specialty phase and see how it goes :grimacing:.

Since the Gravity Plan encompasses more than just the DH decipline, you may have to adjust some of the workouts to better fit your demands. Possibly using the workout creator to up those percentages and cut the durations. Again though, you are training zones/energy systems, so keep that in mind. Not all your intervals need to reach 200% FTP. But you could certainly adjust or add a few 200% spurts into some of the existing workouts. Or if you don’t want to use workout creator, as you come off a rest interval just crank up the intensity for 10-15 seconds then dial it back down.

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I use flats on all my bikes including on my trainer with my old road bike. I’ve set it up to be more similar to my MTB position. If you like flats then use them inside. Assuming you have got decent pedals and shoes you should be able to hit high cadences (>140 rpm) without a problem with flats.

Danny Hart used to post videos that had power and HR. He was putting down huge power surges while redlined. He uses a turbo for training. The Athertons do a lot of aerobic training. Despite the race being in the red zone the whole time, you still need the endurance engine to support the multiple efforts. You might be surprised at how well your repeated sprints are following the sweet spot base, the short power build and gravity specialty progression. The workouts in the short power build will likely have you wishing you were taking the winter off instead of training, e.g. ( .

Good luck and keep the rubber side down.


Run flats or not, won’t change much if you are running proper shoes and pins up.

Training at 200% without a good base will either burn you out before you make substantial gains, or lead to injury. I tried racing bmx off the couch and paid for it.

So you blast out of the blocks at 200% or higher FTP…cool…now what? What about the lower third of the trail where it’s more pedally, or a series of switch backs that require slowing, then accelerating, then slowing, then accelerating again, over and over?

Don’t be fooled by the DH plan. It is well structured, and if you are essentially coming from little more than doodling around Zwift or weekend warrior sessioning, then you will find a vast improvement in your fitness, and ergo, your times.

The biggest thing that the DH plan gives you is repeatability through recovery, and by that I mean you are able to repeat sprints over and over and over, with recovery times shorter and shorter. Having a massive 5 or 10 or 20 second power output is no good if you can’t repeat it.

Also, like @Patrickfleege says, if you have no base, you will struggle to complete the plan and this could discourage you more than help you. I would not recommend the high volume at your first crack… Start with the Low Volume and see how you feel after the first four weeks. If you’re feeling fit and dandy, then start the Mid Volume so that you do a ramp test again.

The work outs are high intensity, so don’t be fooled by thinking, “well I ride ten hours or more a week now, I can handle the high volume”. The plans don’t work that way, plus, your biggest gains will come from recovery.

Also the low and mid volume plans at least give you time away from the trainer to go for an actual MTB ride, which gives the brain a great break, and you can hone those skills.

Anecdotally, when I did the DH plan my times lowered dramatically from the ability to repeat efforts - recovery was so much faster than it had ever been.

Trust the plans…only tweak them after you follow the plan through at least once, after you truly understand how your body reacts, and what benefits you will get from TR (which will be a lot if you stick to the plan!)



Some great responses, thanks guys. I definitely thought you’d all tell me I was doing it completely wrong - it’s reassuring that you believe in this sort of training for DH.

Because I’m starting my training so late and because I feel the gravity plan has to be more relevant than the non-speciality plans I am controversially skipping base and build. My general fitness going into the Gravity plan isn’t amazing, but it’s not like I’m starting from nothing. I’m sure it’ll mean I won’t get the full benefit from the plan, but I believe it’s more relevant to me than doing 8 weeks of Base.

I do concur that jumping straight in to HV is a lot of work though - I completed week 1 on Saturday, had yesterday off and I think I’ll have today off as well. Other than that I’m going to stick to the plan - just giving myself 2 rest days per week instead of 1.

I go up an age category in 2020 (so I’m the oldest in my category this year) so whilst I’d like to be fast this year and beat some of the comparatively-young guns, what I’m really thinking about is how I’m going to train for 2020 when September comes around. Beasting myself for a few weeks now before this race season starts will hopefully give me some decent fitness to maintain through the rest of the year before building on it properly for next year.

I am going to upset you, but say it plain. You are going to fail or waste your time. Do the plan properly, period. Peak for late season races if need be, but you will be a better rider all year doing it right. If your plan was to ignore everyone’s advice and do it your way, you didn’t need to ask. Sorry to be blunt, but there it is.

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I wasn’t ignoring you Patrick, your initial reply didn’t criticise my choice of plan.

Sorry, my kids are sick so I guess I am a bit grumpy. I am sure you will have a blast biking either way.

I am also of the belief that training on the road bike/trainer can greatly benefit your DH races. Most pros use this approach since they can increase their aerobic engine and train in a structured environment.

Personally, I’ve noticed my times and results suffer on DH runs when I’m out of shape - even on tracks that have virtually no pedaling. Being in better shape is more than just being able to pedal a certain amount of watts - it lets you handle the work when your HR is hitting the ceiling for 4-5mins straight. When you’re more fit, you can hold on better and sprint out of corners instead of hanging on and looking for places to rest. I’ve found I ride much more aggressively when I’m in race shape, just because I handle it better.

Make sure you don’t skip out on shuttle days and make every DH run count! Here’s some advice I gave an enduro racer who was approaching their training in a similar way:

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Well four weeks in, here’s how it’s gone so far:

Thank you TrainerRoad!


Well done mate! Especially on the weight loss in the four week period - that’ll have paid off massively in and of itself!

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Are there any DH or enduro racers here using a rower or assault bike (airdyne, echo bike etc) for their interval work? Core strength is such a massive part of gravity riding (to maintain stability under big G forces) that these training types seem like they’d be worth doing.

Reviving this thread because I’m interested in improving my down hilling abilities (fitness). I’ve been more focused on just fun riding this season and while I’m primarily an endurance mountain bike racer, I’m getting the itch to finally try an enduro - honestly, I really just want to improve my DH skills, racing aside. I’ve been able to greatly improve my confidence these past few months where I’ve targeted a specific (steep) trail and have been somewhat competitive in the (ahem) GPS results.

I think my biggest limiter is leg strength in regards to maintaining the attack position needed on the bike to go as fast as my skills will allow. I find myself taking small breaks on the descent by sitting down in moments to conserve energy, obviously I’m losing time here and just feel like I should be able to maintain the proper position for 3-5 minutes at a time. I know I’m covering the brakes more often than I should, probably because I don’t have full confidence in my strength.

The approach to this particular trail is no easy feat but one that I enjoy, it’s an hour long climb that gets progressively harder the closer to the top you get, by the very end, it’s a hike-a-bike. But, I love the climb and have no issue with my 2-3 hour endurance. I’m strong, but I’m pedaling strong with a decent aerobic engine, when it comes to 3-5 minutes squats, that’s where it’s tough (especially after that climb).

Should I just start doing some body weight squats? Do I just need to ride this loop more often (I target it about once a week), or are there better, more specific off-the-bike routines anyone could recommend.

Posting this here because a google search is obviously very deep and I have no idea where to start! Thanks for any insights!

Instead if sitting, you can also take breaks by using what Lee McCormack calls the “high hinge” position - with legs more straight than bent.

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This is great, and I’m always thinking of Lee’s words in my head when I’m trying to find the zone! Deeper, deeper hinge! that move has made a huge difference for me, less back off the bike, more lower position over all.

Based on the steep nature of this trail, a high hinge will only work on the very rare “flat” sections on this trail, otherwise I’d be way too upright for the steeper sections. I think there is some benefit to be had here though, so thanks for sharing!

I had the exact same challenge! Similar stats to you (good endurance) and interested in enduro racing.

Despite mountain biking for many years, I couldn’t stay in the attack position during 3-5 minute descents. It was frustrating because I can squat ~400 lb, so I thought I should have the leg strength.

It turns out that the solution was more specific aerobic fitness adaptations. After running a TR program the past few months, I can now comfortably stay in the attack position on up to 10 minute long descents. I am even able to attack and pedal hard on any flat sections.

I think what helped the most in my training plan was the threshold work and exposure to V02 max efforts.

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Just guessing here, but I imagine you are wasting a ton of energy fighting your bike. I find descending to be more like a dance (ironic as I don’t dance) with a partner. You are working WITH the bike, not fighting it. I am usually one of the faster riders on any given day at the bike park (everything from green to red Pro lines) at 145 pounds riding a 40 pound enduro, mostly just dancing with my bike. My preference is to pedal up vs shuttling.

I would imagine you just need to relax more, learn how to play with your bike.

I usually dedicate a ride every week to be about fun. I play around on the trails; take weird lines, hit new jumps (the photo is a fresh dig, about a 10’ gap and 15’ drop), just play with the bike.


Admittedly, that’s not been part of my routine yet this year, although when I was targeting those energy systems I think I felt similarly, hard to say… Pretty amazing at how high my HR gets when I’m pinning it DH.

I can’t challenge that too strongly although my intentions are always to stay relaxed, obviously I could use some work in that department. I think I stay loose near the top, but then by the middle I start to tense on the “moves” on the trail. I’m becoming a lot more confident but I still feel leg fatigue, I guess more than I would like. I’m also noticing leg burn even after just 30 seconds - I think I just need to practice more and I’m going to add some dynamic body weight squats.

Thanks for the insights, and NICE SEND!

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