Over the years, a great deal of reading, writing, and programming has been developed for road and cross-country disciplines. However, as those disciplines recede and enduro and other gravity-based mountain bike events take a larger market share, there is a glaring hole in resources available to athletes and coaches. There is a lot to talk about to comprehensively cover the differences between the two disciplines, but here are some highlights for now.
Primary focuses for enduro training
When I work with enduro athletes, the initial part of the coaching process is the same as it would be for any other athlete. It involves an open discussion of goals to inform the development of a training plan. This, however, is where the similarities typically end. The strength and skill requirements in enduro and gravity-based events are very large components to success, but endurance and strength are nothing without the right skills and confidence.
Endurance and energy system development
While a great deal of time is spent pedaling when enduro racing, few coaches truly consider how to maximize that time. There is an important endurance component required for enduro that is the backbone for repeatability at high speeds for the timed sections, or for just having fun with the crew. Building a strong O2-system base is key.
Throughout training, focus on neuromuscular strength for larger power bursts, and as the season approaches focus on improving VO2 max. However, don’t be tempted to approach VO2 max the same way you would as a road cyclist (something like 7 x 2:00 minutes, all out). Instead, I prefer to use efforts that follow the HR curve of a timed section and also force skill development, such as working pump tracks. Doing so creates the desired HR curve and also forces athletes to hone their skills as they hold lines and build corner speed.
Also, use “trail sprints” for another intensive threshold session for VO2 development. This workout is designed to force skills, repeatability, and high workloads and heart rates. Sections of trail that force pedaling, odd corners, hard braking, and re-accelerations are excellent for these workouts. P
Strength training is often debated in endurance sports, so I will not get into strength from an all-discipline standpoint. However, for enduro and gravity, an athlete’s strength is key. Building a high level of strength endurance is more important than raw power. Keep in mind it’s a long day out there, not a sprint.
Focus your athletes on building core, upper back, and shoulder strength to help manage the forces they encounter at the handlebars going downhill. Use multi-directional bounding to help with knee stability, hip stability, and agility. Grip strength and grip endurance should also be a big focus as confidence at the handlebars will make for smooth and fast riding.
Also, consider starting with smaller supporting muscle groups; don’t just go for the big movements. Build balance in the musculoskeletal system first, then work toward bigger movements. As riders begin to build strength, challenge them with balance boards and other unstable surfaces as they master certain movements. The simple addition of a BOSU ball underfoot during an overhead press will add a new level of challenge for the athlete.
This is the fun part for enduro and gravity racers; however, it’s important to always include specific goals and objectives. Think about planning days that concentrate on quality over quantity. Have your athletes repeatedly work on sections of trail to learn different lines and include at least one day of a longer “enduro” practice. Be sure to have them pace the ups and rip the downs. Also, work a lift-assisted day in every week, if possible. It’s amazing how much you learn if you can ride one section of trail repeatedly on the same day.
You can also build recovery days with light spinning as fun drill days. Prescribe work on wheels lifts, wheelies, manuals, etc., and don’t be afraid to mix it up. Use pump tracks and skate parks, and your athletes will learn a lot about corner speed.