Training fitness vs skill

Started TR in January with some amazing results. FTP 220->260 and feeling fitter since my last test.

Originally I started so I could race crits. Come to find out the road scene here is nearly dead with only a few folks who ride extremely long distances and some tri guys.

The MTB scene on the other hand is alive and well. Recently I found a great deal on an epic HT and hit the local trails.

I found that there was a huge difference in my ability to simply push the pedals vs actually riding a bike. To the point where building indoor fitness seems pointless till my skills catch up. Not to mention riding trails is significantly more fun than riding the trainer.

For now I’m thinking of doing one 2 hour sweet spot session indoors per week and spending the rest of the time out at the trails working on various skills and techniques the rest of the week.

In my position how would you approach it?

Kind of need some more information that can make a difference for how to go forward. Such as what type of racing (I’m assuming XC)? How experienced are you? Are you going for race results? And how much time are you training right now?

If you are just wanting to do well in races I would say stick to your intervals and stuff on the trainer or road bike then do some easier rides on your mountain bike, such as just go easier on the climbs, work on getting over things on the way up, and obviously work on descending and bike handling which is much easier when you are more fresh. Also, if you are just looking for results the difficulty of the trails in the races also makes a difference. If races are just stereotypical XC green trails you can probably get away with riding trails like once or twice a week, but if they are very technical you’d need more time on the trails.

If you are just starting out mountain biking and just want to have fun I’d suggest just do like 1-2 maintenance rides and just have fun riding your bike then get back into more structured stuff closer to your races. I would also recommend checking out local group rides (once things get back to normal). They’re typically not too stressful and you’ll learn a lot just by riding with others, also just a great way to learn local trails and meet people.

When I’m getting closer to XC season I’ll typically go to a low or mid volume on the trainer and then do some outdoor rides to get back into descending and handling skills.

A friend of mine once said, even if you don’t care about performance in races, it sure is nice to get uphill with less huffin’ and puffin’.

I don’t think a single 2-hour sweet spot session is a good idea, splitting it into two 1-hour sweet spot sessions will be more productive. Spending 2 hours on the trainer doing really hard stuff without being used to adhering to a training schedule is going to be very hard. And you can’t go as hard as when you do two 1-hour sessions.

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I think splitting time between training and skills is the right approach. You may be able to hang on to your current fitness with this approach.

What kind of terrain do you ride on? Are there options to weave both fitness and skills together into one ride? Maybe a route that allows for some VO2max intervals? Or a fire road SS climb followed by singletrack descent?


This is not a new thing, especially for technical riding. There’s a lot of upper body strength involved.

Your outdoor riding can be a mix of skills and cardio work. Do some sweet spot, and Z2, and then some skills. You can work on cornering, etc after the sweet spot work. Another day you can do a long climb and then a technical descent.

If you do a technical climb it’ll take you to threshold and above, so easier to work on a steady climb and then some technical single track.

For days wheee you work on technical climbing you can do it as threshold and anaerobic work, unless you’re sessioning a line.


The local riding is mostly banked turns with a couple short but hard climbs. Nothing super technical going up or down. I’m definitely interested in XC. There’s a weekly race Here I’ll be doing. I would like to be as fast as genetically possible. Currently I’m training about 8-10 hours a week spread over 6 days. Before I got my mtb I was doing sweet spot base mid volume and recovering/adapting very well.

Edit: I’ve never ridden a mountain bike before last week but I’ve ridden dirt bikes and bmx as a kid and typically pick up two wheeled activities relatively fast.

One thing that is much more difficult on a mountain bike than on a road bike or on a trainer is to keep the intensity low. When you take out a mountain bike on terrain it was meant to ride on, you sometimes just have to do these hard surges just to get up some steep, technical climbs.

But one way you could add Z2 intensity to your rides is to take an on-road detour on the way to your trails. I don’t have a power meter on my mountain bike, so I can even do that with a heart rate monitor: I just pick 120 bpm as my limit and try not to exceed that. Of course, doing that with power is even better.

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That’s a good idea. I’m m still pretty new to the trails so I’m just exploring for now and not trying to really push the limits so that keeps the intensity manageable.

To your point about the long sweet spot rides vs doing two shorter ones I think is a good idea too but I recover fine from the two hour rides and it makes more sense with my schedule to just knock it out in a single session.

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As an XC racer, I recommend following the TR plan during the week and getting out on the trails on the weekend. You can do a hard trail ride Saturday and then an easier trail ride (or gravel/2 track) Sunday. Trails ride different when at race pace versus casual. When out on the trails, make sure you’re sessioning sections of the trail that you’re not executing well. This could be corners, rock gardens, technical climbs, downhills, etc. Keep repeating those sections until you nail it and understand what you’re doing right or wrong. Just riding trails without sessioning/practicing your skills will develop slowly. So pay particular attention to areas that need improvement. Also learn the limits of your tires and traction. Play with tire pressure and see how that affects traction. I started 3 years ago with 28/26 psi f/r and now ride/race at 18/19 psi (full sus and weigh 177 lbs).

Having structure during the week and bike handling on the weekend you will be able to steadily increase your fitness while simultaneously improving your skills.


@Timrharris I started riding MTB in 2016 and went straight into racing. I bounced off every other tree during my first race, but it was really great fun!

I’d treat technical riding in the same way as workouts. Be patient and gradually build up the difficulty and time on the trails. You will get a few knocks and bumps. You will get faster too though. I moved to Enduro racing in 2018 and competed at Ard Rock in 2018 and Ard Moors in 2019 with no dramas. I’ll be returning to XC and continuing with Enduro next year. I expect that the Enduro skills will really help with the XC racing.

With regards to structured training, I’ve dipped in and out for the past few years, but since lockdown I’ve been following the HVSS - 10 weeks in and I’m blown away by how much easier it makes it out on the trail. I tend to ride 1-2 sessions per week on trails (2-3 hours each), with 4-5 sessions per week on the indoor trainer.

My recommendation, have a structured plan to build fitness. Use trail days for FUN and that will help you build the skills. It is being loose out on the trails and not too serious about the performance per se that will give you the biggest gains in ability, that will then partner well with the fitness improvements from structured training to support your racing.

Good luck :slight_smile:

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LOL, you have a strange idea of fun.

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What a great response. Thanks!

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