Words: Jenni King    Photos: Robert Conroy

 I would recommend that any serious mountain bike racer include muscular endurance training in their training plan throughout the season, in particular during late base phase and just prior to a higher intensity training period.

It’s important to note here that muscular strength is quite often confused with muscular endurance;

Muscular strength is defined as the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert force to overcome resistance in a single effort.

Whereas, muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to repeatedly exert force against resistance.

While muscular strength is definitely required during mountain bike races, it is muscular endurance that plays a far greater role in overcoming forces for the length of a race. Climbing hills at a moderate intensity requires muscular endurance in the leg and core muscles to keep pushing the pedals over. Negotiating obstacles and navigating rocky terrain requires muscular endurance in the core and upper body muscle groups. This is particularly the case if you are concentrating on Downhill or enduro disciplines, where you are landing jumps, dropping off heights and hitting obstacles at high speed. 

Training to increase muscular endurance can be achieved both on and off the bike. On-bike strength work is of course more specific and it is probably best to start with this, particularly if you are time poor – you are better off spending what time you have on the bike rather than trying to fit in too many gym sessions. If, however, you have the time and you can rely on an experienced trainer to check technique, then resistance training off the bike can be another effective way to increase muscular endurance.  

ON-BIKE MUSCULAR/STRENGTH ENDURANCE TRAINING 

Many cyclists use the term strength endurance rather than muscular endurance – for the purpose of this article these can be considered the same. I would recommend introducing muscular endurance (ME) training, during the latter half of your base phase. It is ideal to complete at least 3-4 weeks of general riding volume, prior to starting on some more specific ME training. It is then a good idea to periodise your ME sessions, to make sure that your body adapts to the loads progressively. An approach that I find works very well for most cyclists, is to start building on the volume of ME at lower intensity then, once a sufficient base of ME is achieved, increase the intensity of the intervals while reducing volume. 

Here is an example of a 2-month training program with focus on building muscular endurance for hill climbs: