Incorporating MTB into training schedule


Background -
I’ve been cycling seriously (seriously for me - 5 or 6 hours a week) for a little over a year now and saw great gains along the way. I am currently down to 4.4wkg (64kg) after off-season and easy base period. Generally I don’t have much top end fitness, I am more of a TT sort of rider, I don’t have much history doing lots of v02max or anaerobic work. (I am hoping MTB will help with this).

I primarily cycle and train on the road with a power meter (given up indoors), I am interested in joining events/competitions but criterium and road races don’t really excite me. I thought to start with XC and gravel, primarily longer events with lots of climbing would be super fun to get into, especially with all the talk on the podcast about XC.

I have just bought an MTB and am wondering how I schedule this into my current training without losing fitness. I am currently on a low volume plan (Tues-Thurs-Sat), adding a gym session on Wednesday and a longish tempo ride on Sunday. I will only be able to MTB during the weekends but feel by replacing my current rides, I am likely to lose a lot of fitness.

An idea I had would be to do shorter more intense sessions on the weekend on the road bike, coming home, then heading straight out to do some tempo paced riding and skills practice on the MTB. In the future, I may get a PM on the MTB and do V02max intervals as hill repeats on that too. The aim of this is effectively extending the workout by added z2/3 work and thus increasing overall volume.

So, How do you get the most out of your MTB riding? How to make it more productive outside of just having fun? Any advice and tips on how to structure it so that it compliments your structured training rather than compromises it.


Do your Tuesday and Thursday workouts on the trainer/road and replace your weekend rides with MTB (concentrating on skill development such as cornering). I doubt you’d lose much fitness at all. MTB fitness translates well to road racing and vice versa…just ask MvdP and Tom Pidcock (Olympic MTB champion).


If your focus goals are marathon MTB, riding your MTB is the best plan. Get a PM on your MTB and do your scheduled workouts on the bike you’ll race on. Riding road is a good supplement but I’m of the opinion that the bulk of your time should be on the bike you’ll be racing. Spend time putting out power off road. Prior to the PM on the MTB I suspect that doing VO2 and even threshold efforts can be highly productive with RPE style TR workouts.

When I’m in training plan for XC/M I do my workout first, then try to hit some trails on the way back. Picking suitable terrain for this is key of course. Don’t get stuck in the “guilt” of riding for fun and don’t get too in the weeds with training data on those days - trust me, riding trails for the fun of it is crucial and you’ll feel flat if all you do is train on the road in the context of a workout. I also schedule different parts of my season for no planned TR sessions and I just ride trails for fun. I know that doesn’t work for type A atheletes but I need to do this for the long game of avoiding burnout.

Fitness is so specific. Ride your MTB as often as possible and have fun with it.


I have been training for long MTB events for a long time. I’m following an 8 week polarized plan, and I modify the easy Z1/Z2 workouts on the weekend as my mtb rides (and add extra time because I can). Things I’ve learned:

  • Doing highly structured or high-intensity intervals on the trainer or on pavement works best.
  • My 2 mtb workouts are long rides on the weekend that do not have any structure, other than try to keep heart rate within the aerobic zone, and not worrying about short sections of climbs that are higher intensity out of necessity.
  • You might have to be careful when riding with your weekend warrior mountain biker friends because they will punch it up every single climb, not eat, and then be totally popped and ready to go home after basically the first hour of riding, when you were taking it easy on the climbs and are just getting warmed up and excited to ride a few more hours. OR they will join you on their E-mtb and you will be conversing with them not realizing you are riding way too hard.
  • It takes some trial and error to find good dirt hills for intervals. They tend to not be completely even, with some slight downhills or log-overs in the way that interrupt the effort. With all of the grade changes on dirt come shift changes, which involve letting up on the pedals. But if you can find a long hill or fire road that doesn’t let up, it can work.
  • There is no law against riding your mountain bike on the road. :smiley: It may save you time to do your structured intensity on the road on the MTB on your way to the trails for unstructured fun afterward.
  • I have not had any luck with multiple Stages power meters on mountain bikes. They have all had ridiculous 1000+ watt spikes when cadence is 0 on downhills. Quarq is the way to go.
  • Yes mountain biking IS more fun (ok, I am biased), and incorporating fun into your training is not a bad thing. Whatever gets you motivated and keeps you consistent is very important.

And holy cow, >4 watts/kg in the off-season after 1 year of riding 5-6 hours per week makes me feel like I should hang it up right now, lol. Probably no matter what you do, fitness is not the limiter. Probably mountain bike skills will be key, so taking a MTB skills clinic and riding more on trails should be high on the priority list.


I just put a SIGEYI power meter on my mtb and it seems to be within booger flicking distance to what my wahoo kickr is reading and it was pretty damn cheap. It’s been really helpful having it as an extra metric for intervals and whatnot. I’m also just a numbers guy so like seeing it after my ride


I think that depends on the terrain you ride on.

If you have long sustained climbs, it’s possible to do long sweet spot or threshold intervals.

If you have some 2-4 min climbs you can do VO2max repeats.

If you have rolling terrain, you can do tabata-style VO2max work - I.e. push hard for 15-20 seconds, easy for 15-20, repeat.

Or you can just ride at Z2 average pace.

I have the following climb out my back door, so I can ride at sweet spot for over an hour and a half if I’m inclined :confounded:


Most spider-based power meters work well on MTB I think. I have Power2Max on both of my MTBs, and I don’t see those spikes. (I do see spikes on the crank arm-mounted 4iiii power meters on my gravel bike, but I rarely ride that on trails where it would spike, so I’m not concerned).

@Julie_Kanagy’s advice is really great - I’m going to start following it :smiley:!

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Woah! Looks like you’re in Colorado. I envy people with long sustained climbs on dirt! Well, sorta. :sweat_smile:

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Oh, thank you! I think you are right about spider vs. crank arm-based power meters. Some people have not had any issues with the crank arm ones w/ mtb’s, but some have so I think they are risky.

It the long sustained descents afterwards that I like!


What the first three posters said. I do my winter base on a turbo for efficiency and on the road mostly because my locale is a mudfest in the winter. So with work commitment also in mind my build nearer spring is weekday mornings and evenings on the turbo then Z2/Z3 and other efforts on the MTB at weekends as my plan demands. By the time race season comes most of my riding is on the MTB.

With MTB especially, don’t ignore the more “all over” core and body fitness you need as well as the technical skills and position which makes riding your MTB all the more important. As above, incorporating small exercises on the way home is great - I’m gradually descending into a valley on the way back so often hammer tech section look for cornering improvements, or ride a flatter piece of single track with a “no brakes” rule to test carrying cornering speed / grow the size of my cajones.

Being “at one” with your equipment takes a lot of mental and physical stress away come race day.


Thank you thank you everyone for taking the time to give me some advice! Even with tips that I didn’t think to consider such as type of power meter, I was gonna get a 4iiii left hand crank if you hadn’t said! My crank arm PM on my bike definately spikes when hitting a pot hole so id imagine that would make it pretty redundant on rough terrain!

Perhaps another investment is some baggys to fit in with the gnarlier crowd! Plus crashing in expensive lycra may not be the best idea :slight_smile:

Very excited for my mtb journey, playing on muddy trails and getting faster along the way :muscle:

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I do all intervals on my mtb. ftp went up 50 watts this summer this way. like Dave, I live in CO and have climbs out the door in my resort town. I pick a few select road climbs that have singletrack descent at the top. I have one in particular that is perfect 10-12 mins at threshold, then a 5 min descent down dirt to ‘cool down’ then back up. Also have a great 4 min climb for vo2 with a 2 min descent down some flow, back up. Truly lucky to have this.


Small thing maybe but they make really good “pedally” baggy shorts now. I got some Gore “gravel” baggies and they’re perfect. Best part is you can wear your good bib shorts underneath and still be fashion correct. Also, there’s nothing wrong with lycra on the MTB, one of the fastest guys I know still rocks a full roadie kit and will drop most in both uphill and downhills…

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