MTB and structured riding

In the most recent podcast episode a user asked about MTB and sweet spot. I thought the answers were what I would expect but it got me thinking about the frustration of trying to ride MTB as much as possible but also all or most the rides being structured. I don’t have a PM on my mtb and never really saw the use given the terrain and how unlikely it is to keep a power for long. I am curious what others do to keep the most time on their mtb if that’s their priority? Riding on the road was an interesting tip but unless you don’t have a road bike I don’t see there’s much benefit over it. What type of workouts do you save for the mtb if you aren’t riding it exclusively?

@Gene_Mitchell_Jr I use RPE and it works well for me.

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I do most of my intervals indoors on the trainer with an old MTB set up on it. I don’t really do much in the way of interval training outside on the MTB (just endurance riding and skill work mostly). I would maybe consider hill repeats for VO2 because there’s some good non-technical climbs here for that (basically gravel roads), but I also have power meter pedals on my MTB (I’ve got some modified Assiomas with Xpedo pedal bodies).


Well I have an extra wheel set with 2.1" Gravel King SK’s mounted for road and fast gravel, road only being in the mix as a means to get TO the gravel.

During the week it’s 2 days doing assigned intervals (VO2/Threshold/SS) and one endurance spin outside.

I’ll do weekend rides outside, e.g. this Saturday I’ll be riding the Fuego XL course again, instead of the Master’s XCM assigned threshold, then my Sunday Social ride will end with about 90 minutes in road/fast gravel at Z2/Tempo depending on how thrashed I am from 34 miles on course. Last week it got me a red light for Sunday :grimacing:

Don’t underestimate the muscle memory you build up by grabbing bottles on the MTB vs road/gravel bike. different body position, different bottles (I have frame size limitation on MTB that isn’t present on drop bar bikes) hand position over time. All those little things that don’t come up when workouts have instructions.

It’s all work, but also remember to have fun doing it.

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My main thing is MTB, and I have zero interest in road. Although, I am gravel curious lol. My road bike lives on my trainer, and i have it set up with MTB bars. I do a mid volume plan from Nov-mid April every year and as soon as the trails are dry I do most of my riding outside and very loosely structured by RPE/HR. Been racing enduro for years, so my outdoor rides are pretty much z2 HR on climbs and then ripping descents. Through spring/summer/fall I will do one or two short vo2 workouts on the trainer each week just to stay sharp.

Plot twist – I just got a power meter for my XC bike because I’m doing the Wilmington/Whiteface 100k MTB marathon race in June. So the plan is to do some z2, power based rides on the XC bike but those rides will mostly be on 2 track/gravel/easy singletrack. I do plan to see if i could do some thresh intervals on fire road climbs etc.

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I do most of my “workout” days on the trainer (mostly due to convenience after work). My week usually comprises of one VO2 & one tempo/sweetspot/threshold. I also do one long endurance ride on roads/gravel on the weekend. All other days are exclusively mountain biking based on RPE. Sometimes I go slower and sometimes faster. If I feel like pushing a segment I do it. For what it’s worth, I am not far from 50, my best days are behind me. I like being fit, but I do this for fun. So if it is nice outside, I will push a workout to ride outside 100% of the time. (Not recommended if you have serious goals). Why? Because mountain biking is awesome and makes me happy. :rofl:

If I do a workout outside… I don’t do intervals on single track, only on trails with good sight-lines or fire roads. I don’t worry about power fluctuations…because that’s real mountain biking. We have lots of ups and downs and turns here so a steady power is not realistic. I think it is good to have sustained power as that will help your strength-endurance but I think you also need to train these micro-bursts you get in MTB as these are going to sneak up on you come race day if you don’t. Call it “durability” or what have you… but you are never going to feel comfortable in a MTB race and you gotta train it.


I have found the VO2 intervals to be easiest to do with a good climb. We have so much twist and turns it’s hard to even keep a z2 pace at times. I guess since that is realistic to mtb races it’s not as big of a problem as it might be on road. I am just always trying to find a way to make my mtb the bike I ride most of the time. I typically do intervals on the trainer but my weekend rides have intervals too though more endurance type intervals. No gravel by me but that would be a sweet option. Sounds like maybe it requires a little less strict adherence to make it work. Power meter might be helpful. It takes me a bit to get to the right heartrate and by then the interval is over.

I get it if you don’t have a PM on your MTB, but otherwise what is the benefit of training on the road with a road bike vs, training on road with a MTB (when you event is a MTB race)? I do a lot of training on the road because it’s the only surface nearby where I can do extended intervals and climbs. The bike choice is based on the event coming up, but they all work fine for fitness training on the road. In my opinion, it’s beneficial to spend as much time on your event bike as possible. Ideally, I’d like to train off road on my MTB and gravel bike, but there just aren’t good off-road options nearby where I can do proper structured training.

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I ride my MTB outdoors in the grass, doing sweet spot and Z2. I do it alongside a 2.5 mile paved loop in a park (complete with a bathroom and water fountain, which is nice). In addition to having no stoplights and not getting hit by a car, these are my observations and potential benefits:

  1. Since you can’t coast in grass, it’s easier for me to hold power targets, like an outdoor ERG mode. Just keeping the bike upright is about Z2, while holding a steady pace is about Z3. I do have a power meter but use RPE and glance at lap NP to confirm.

  2. It’s bumpier than the road, which approximates trail riding, and could train holding power in bumpy conditions or acclimate your body to off-road riding.

  3. With lower speed, there is zero wind cooling which to me feels like riding up a steep-ish climb and could provide some heat acclimation.

I don’t have access to gravel but this seems like the next best option for structured training, depending on your options. Bike paths work well as well as a loop around a local soccer/baseball field type complex. Likewise if your MTB singletrack trail has an area for a grass loop you could do a structured workout and singletrack in one session.


I do almost all my structured workouts on the trainer. And try to get out any way I can on the MTB outside of that, and do all my weekend / longer rides outside as I get into the nicer weather. Trails make it harder to “stay in zone” but it’s also more event specific so I transition to a lot of fartlek workouts where I’m going tempo+ on the climbs.

I’ll ride my MTB on the road if that’s what I have access to. It’s a slower / less efficient road bike that probably makes it easier to execute intervals to be honest. But, we have a lot of hills and traffic, close to my house, so good stuff requires a drive.

My favorite workout place though is a rail trail I have access to. It’s like a 1-2% steady uphill gravel grade that goes over 50 miles with minimal crossings. It’s close to an hour drive for me though so gets reserved for bigger weekend rides / workouts.

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It’s hard to give general advice on this topic because people’s access to MTB terrain is so individually specific.

The only thing I do that I don’t think has been mentioned yet is I ride from home and do structure before or after the singletrack on the way there and/or back.

That too is incredibly location dependent so YMMV.

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Echoing what the others have said. In my training season (November-June) I’ll do all my structure indoors and try to do my Z2 outside…occasionally joining my buddies on a dumb Z3-4 junk ride I justify to myself by saying it’s a skills day.

From July-September I just ride to have fun. Still pack in the miles but don’t worry about the exact power I’m putting out.

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I’m lucky that I have access to great MTB terrain from my front door. I find the easiest structured workouts to do on trails are sweet spot or threshold intervals. I have several fireroads and easy climbing trails that take 4-10 minutes I can do that lead to fun descents that I use as the recovery

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