Specific/Build Phase for MTB XCO (Power-Based): 12 Weeks; 7-12 Hrs/Week (Adjustable)

Author

Tom Bell

All plans by this Coach

Length

12 Weeks

Typical Week

4 Bike, 2 MTB, 1 Day Off, 1 Other

Longest Workout

3:00 hrs

Plan Specs

cycling mountain biking

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Summary

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A SPECIFIC PREPARATION PHASE PLAN DESIGNED TO MAXIMALLY DEVELOP ALL NECESSARY MTB RACE-LIKE ABILITIES BEFORE THE FINAL TAPER PERIOD LEADING INTO YOUR TARGET COMPETITION(S)


This MTB plan is designed for cross-country athletes, where the primary aim of the phase is to balance maintenance of the aerobic fitness foundation built in the general phase with a wholistic development of the higher-level, race-specific abilities needed for competitive success in modern-day MTB racing.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SPECIFIC TRAINING PHASE


After building a solid foundation in the general phase, the specific phase plan follows on from the former, with the primary aim to convert this broader fitness base into necessary aerobic and anaerobic race-like abilities [1].

Key adaptations addressed by the specific phase include improved lactate kinetics, greater power at the lactate threshold, both an increased aerobic capacity (VO2max) and fractional utilisation of the aerobic capacity at lactate threshold, greater neuromuscular recruitment of the muscle fibres required in racing, greater cycling economy as well as improved sprint repeatability and ability to recover quicker after each sprint/high power surge [2].

This will be done through a careful balance of steady-state riding, interval training of various designs and recovery-focused sessions to facilitate larger and quicker adaptations. Amongst this, each microcycle will feature both road and off-road based training sessions in the ideal ratios to develop handling skills (off-road) or minimise unnecessary fatigue from vibrations (road or indoor trainer) whilst still improving key determinants of MTB XCO success [3].

COMPOSITION OF THE PLAN


The plan is laid out over a 12-week period, using three distinct mesocycles, each featuring a 3-week ramp in training load, which is then followed up by a week aimed at recovering and adapting to the load. This ramp rate from week to week is "functionally conservative"; enough to result in a meaningful training stress yet gradual enough to avoid 'non-functional overreaching' or overtraining.

In pursuit of greater adaptations, a more fulfilling training experience and to avoid mental and physical burnout, the plan features a large variety of workout designs and intensities, balanced with what's known as a 'polarised training intensity distribution'; a planning and sequencing approach shown in the literature and in our own experience coaching 100s of athletes to be a successful framework for fitness improvement for both time-rich and time-crunched cyclists.

NOTE: The plan's volume is totally adaptable from the default 7-12 hrs/week, where guidance on doing so is provided in our detailed user guide supplied with each plan.


PLAN OBJECTIVES



  • Lactate threshold, VO2max and greater fractional utilisation of the latter;
  • Enhance substrate utilisation to improve ability to oxidise more fat at higher intensities, sparing limited glycogen stores, as well as maintain all endurance-based adaptations built in preceding general phase
  • Introduce more MTB-specific sessions off-road that mimics exact demands of racing (e.g. fast starts, sprint repeatability, higher force/lower cadence pedalling techniques etc).


REFERENCES


[1] Schneeweiss, Patrick, et al. "Predictive Ability of a Laboratory Performance Test in Mountain Bike Cross-country Olympic Athletes." International journal of sports medicine 40.06 (2019): 397-403.

[2] Novak, Andrew R., et al. "A multidimensional approach to performance prediction in Olympic distance cross-country mountain bikers." Journal of sports sciences 36.1 (2018): 71-78.

[3] Macdermid, Paul W., Philip W. Fink, and Stephen R. Stannard. "Transference of 3D accelerations during cross country mountain biking." Journal of biomechanics 47.8 (2014): 1829-1837.

Stats

Training Load By Week
Average Weekly Breakdown
Average Weekly Training Hours: 10:05
Training Load By Week
Average Weekly Training Hours: 10:05
Average Weekly Breakdown

Tom Bell

tombell.co

Individualised, data-driven performance coaching and training programs for MTB XCO, MTB Marathon and Cyclocross athletes. We combine our real-world, elite-level experience at national team, UCI MTB World Cup and World Championship-level with leading science and expert data analysis skills to provide effective and actionable programs for our athletes, all whilst offering the educational and motivational support needed for true potential to be reached.

Back to Plan Details

Sample Day 1

1:30:00
102.2TSS
VO2Max: 30S/15S Microbursts

20M building up from 55-70% FTP, including a 45S effort at main interval set intensity after ~10M to warm up.

4x 9M blocks, each comprising: 12x (30S @ 120-130% FTP/15S @ 30-40% FTP) with 3-4M easy spinning as active recovery between each block of micro-intervals.

Remaining time up to 1H30M @ ~50-65% FTP.

See workout details below for full session breakdown.

PURPOSE: Increase the maximal volume of oxygen the body can take in via the lungs, deliver to the working muscles via the heart (stroke volume and beat rate) and blood, and utilise to combust fuel to create energy. This particular workout design also improves speed of recovery between hard efforts (lactate buffering), enhances the ability to overcome force due to the need to re-accelerate multiple times, and will also serve to increase anaerobic capacity and VLamax, given that a large amount of lactate can accumulate during the course of each block of micro-intervals.

Sample Day 2

1:00:00
25TSS
Recovery: Easy Ride

1H @ 45-55% FTP.

PURPOSE: Allow for adaptations from previously challenging workouts, whilst maintaining rhythm of training without adding any further stress to the body. Also helps to circulate oxygenated blood around the body and remove any metabolic waste products that may be lingering in the muscles from these previous workouts, since lactate is combusted as a fuel in the aerobic energy process better at a lower power output than it is when completely resting.

Sample Day 3

1:30:00
89.2TSS
Muscular Endurance: 3x15M

15M warm-up, building up from 50-65% FTP as outlined above/below.

3x 15M @ 85-92% FTP, riding at a relatively low cadence (70-80 rpm). Take 3M easy riding @ 50-55% FTP (at your usual self-selected cadence) between each block.

Cool down for ~25M @ 50-60% FTP until ~1H30M is complete.

PURPOSE: To develop greater fatigue resistance or muscular endurance through sustained work that places higher force demand on the muscle fibres. In doing so, you train the muscle fibres to become more resistance to micro tears and general damage. When muscle fibres (especially slow twitch or Type I fibres) become damaged because of a relatively high sustained workloads, they have to call upon the far less aerobically-efficient Type II fibres to help maintain a consistent power output an carry the load. This has the effect of reducing what's called your 'exercise economy/efficiency', which essentially means you need to supply more oxygen (and fuel) for the same power output (very similar to the fuel efficiency of a car). This is one of the reasons you can see heart rate drift for a given power as you become fatigued in a race or long training session, since the heart is required to pump more oxygen to sustain the workload once the muscles become fatigued. By improving your exercise economy via greater resistance to fatigue/damage, you're able to improve your endurance at a broad range of intensities.

Sample Day 4

1:00:00
25TSS
Recovery: Easy MTB Ride

1H recovery ride @ 40-60% FTP.

Try to include some technical skills practice, such as cornering practice, line choice, off-camber sections, roots etc. whilst keeping intensity very low when pedalling.

PURPOSE: Allow for adaptations from previous hard workout and for the full supercompensation process to occur, whilst keeping the rhythm of training, circulation of oxygenated blood, combustion of any lingering lactate and movement of the muscles without adding any further stress to the body.

Sample Day 5

3:00:00
126.8TSS
Endurance: Steady Ride

3H @ 60-70% FTP.

Feel free to stray into Zone 1 on descents and Zone 3 on steeper climbs, but try to choose as flat or rolling course as possible to maximise time in target zone and try to avoid any extensive time above Zone 3, so as not to start initiating systems we don't want to in this workout.

PURPOSE: This workout serves to target and develop the aerobic energy system and encourages adaptations like greater mitochondrial biogenesis (production of mitochondria - the sites within the muscle cells where aerobic metabolism takes place), enhanced capillarization in the muscles (more blood vessels for the blood to both travel to and from the muscles through), and optimises substrate (fuel source) utilisation to allow the body to combust greater amounts of lipids (fat) at greater power outputs in preference to glycogen, which the body only has limited stores of.

Sample Day 6

1:30:00
84.5TSS
Muscular Endurance: Shorter Low Cadence MTB Efforts

Start with ~15M warm up in the range of 45-65% FTP.

Then, as closely as is practical, ride for ~1H consisting of alternating 5M @ 85-92% FTP and 2.5M @ 50-60% FTP. If intervals have to be shortened because of the terrain or obstacles, just make the proceeding recovery interval 50% of the duration of the work interval. Use a low cadence for muscular endurance intervals of ~60-75RPM to increase force demands on muscle fibres.

After this long set of tempo intervals, cool down for ~15M @ 40-50% FTP.

PURPOSE: To develop greater fatigue resistance or muscular endurance through sustained work that places higher force demand on the muscle fibres. In doing so, you train the muscle fibres to become more resistance to micro tears and general damage. When muscle fibres (especially slow twitch or Type I fibres) become damaged because of a relatively high sustained workloads, they have to call upon the far less aerobically-efficient Type II fibres to help maintain a consistent power output an carry the load. This has the effect of reducing what's called your 'exercise economy/efficiency', which essentially means you need to supply more oxygen (and fuel) for the same power output (very similar to the fuel efficiency of a car). This is one of the reasons you can see heart rate drift for a given power as you become fatigued in a race or long training session, since the heart is required to pump more oxygen to sustain the workload once the muscles become fatigued. By improving your exercise economy via greater resistance to fatigue/damage, you're able to improve your endurance at a broad range of intensities.

Sample Day 8

1:30:00
86.3TSS
VO2max: 3M Supra-Into-VO2Max Intervals

30M steady riding @ 55-70% FTP to warm up.

6x3M consisting of 2M @ High Zone 4 (100-105% FTP) going into 1M @ Zone 5 (115-118% FTP) with 2-3M recovery between each interval.

Once complete, finish ride with another 30-35M @ ~50-60% FTP.

PURPOSE: Increase the maximal volume of oxygen the body can take in via the lungs, deliver to the working muscles via the heart (stroke volume and beat rate) and blood, and utilise to combust fuel to create energy. This type of workout at this intensity will also serve to increase anaerobic capacity and VLamax (maximum production rate of lactate in your muscles) somewhat, given that a large amount of lactate can accumulate during each interval.

Specific/Build Phase for MTB XCO (Power-Based): 12 Weeks; 7-12 Hrs/Week (Adjustable)

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