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Pre Season MTB Training

Updated: Jun 6, 2023


Source: Jeff Loban


As the days get longer and the snow begins to melt its natural for our minds to drift towards getting back on the trails. Some years this happens in late April other years it can be the end of June. Unfortunately, the unpredictable spring weather in Teton Valley can make preseason outdoor training quite challenging.


Training typically consists of three phases. Base, Build and Specialty/Taper phases. The progression typically starts with larger volumes of low intensity work and graduates to high intensity low volume work as athletes approach their target event. Late winter or early spring is a great time to start the base phase.


What is the Base phase?


Base phase is where we build our foundation of strength and aerobic endurance. A strong base prepares us for maximal gains as workouts become harder and more intense later in the season. Base training typically consists of endurance-based workouts targeting your aerobic capacity increasing your ability to hold sustained power. This is where we start building our horsepower or FTP (one hour power). A good rule of thumb is to spend 70-80% of base training efforts in heart rate zone 2. There is no need for monitoring power or heart rate. Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Talk Test (TT) work great. (See attached PDF for details of RPE and TT).


How to train in the Base phase


First and fore most I find it extremely difficult to log base miles in zone 2 once the trails come into shape. If you are going to commit to base training the mud season is a great time to do it. Be safe, use a blinking rear light and take advantage of the endless miles of gravel in Teton Valley. A typical base training plan is made up of 1-3 training blocks. Blocks usually consist of 3 progressive training weeks followed by a recovery week/taper to allow the body to adapt. Keep in mind our goal with any phase of training is to adapt or become stronger. Training provides the stress needed for the body to adapt, but rest is what ultimately makes us faster. Repeat the block if time allows increasing volume to promote further gains.


Training volume/intensity 3:1 Ratio




The following is an example of a base block for a motivated varsity level rider. Volume and intensity should be adjusted to time available, training experience and fitness level. Athletes should always consult a coach to discuss the appropriate volume and intensity.


Week 1


Monday – Day of rest

Tuesday – 15 minute warm up. 4 minutes at RPE 6.5 followed by 5 minutes RPE 2 Repeat 4 more times to complete 5x4 interval set. 10-minute cool down RPE 2

Wednesday – 1 hour endurance ride (zone 2)

Thursday – 1 hour endurance ride (zone 2)

Friday – Day of rest or 20-30 min recovery ride (zone 1)

Saturday – Fast fun ride

Sunday – Long endurance ride 2 hours (zone 2)


Week 2


Monday – Day of rest

Tuesday – 15 minute warm up. 4 minutes at RPE 6.5 followed by 5 minutes RPE 2 Repeat 7 more times to complete 8x4 interval set. 10-minute cool down RPE 2

Wednesday – 1 hour endurance ride (zone 2)

Thursday – 1 hour endurance ride (zone 2)

Friday – Day of rest or 20-30 min recovery ride (zone 1

Saturday – Fast fun ride

Sunday – Long endurance ride 2.5 hours (zone 2)


Week 3


Monday – Day of rest

Tuesday – 15 minute warm up. 20 minutes at RPE 6.5 followed by 12 minutes RPE 2 Repeat 1 more time to complete 2x20 interval set. 10-minute cool down RPE 2

Wednesday – 1 hour endurance ride (zone 2)

Thursday – 1 hour endurance ride (zone 2)

Friday – Day of rest or 20-30 min recovery ride (zone 1)

Saturday – Fast fun ride

Sunday – Long endurance ride 3 hours (zone 2)


Week 4


Monday – Day of rest

Tuesday –Cadence drills. 15-minute warm up RPE 2.5 3 minutes RPE 5 at highest cadence you can hold without bouncing in the saddle followed by 7 minutes RPE 2. Repeat 2 more times to complete 4x3 interval set. 10-minute cool down RPE 2

Wednesday – 1 hour endurance ride (zone 2)

Thursday – 1 hour endurance ride (zone 2)

Friday – Day of rest

Saturday – Fast fun ride 45 minutes

Sunday – Endurance ride 1.5 hours (zone 2)


For the intervals RPE 6.5 should be a pace you can comfortably hold for at least 1 hour. Review training intensity PDF below to help with pacing. Your goal is to maintain the same power output or each interval in the set. If your power decreases, you went out too hard. Sustained power intervals are a great way to work on pacing. Being in tune with your body and knowing the fine line between sustainable and unsustainable efforts is the key to successful race pacing.


Base training is a great time to incorporate strength training. If possible, add strength training on or after high intensity interval days. You always want to be as rested as possible going into interval days for maximal gains.


Long endurance rides are a great time to fine tune your bodies fueling and hydration needs. (See attached nutrition guide)



Indoor Training


Significant innovations in the last few years make this one of the most effective preseason training options available. Apps like Zwift, SYSTM and TrainerRoad all offer free training plans with monthly subscriptions for around $15-20 per month. They typically offer a free trial period of 2 weeks to 30 days. This is a great opportunity to take a free fitness test to establish heart rate and power zones. TrainerRoad and SYSTM both offer free plan building services based upon your test results and personalized training needs.


See link for more detailed information on trainers and apps.


Recommended Base Training plans for smart Trainers


1. Coeus is offering a free online plan for NICA riders on Zwift. Under free Resources scroll down to the Base Camp training series. https://www.coeus-ed.com/


2. Wahoo X –You get both RGT and SYSTM with a subscription. SYSTM is Wahoo cycling’s online training platform. For base training I recommend their mountain bike marathon season prep plan. Add strength training, yoga and mental training if interested. Take the fitness test and the app creates a training plan specific to your metrics. Plans are free with monthly subscription.


3. Trainerroad is similar to SYSTEM. Use their Plan Builder to build a custom plan. Select hours per week, training volume, training experience and race schedule (A, B and C races) and they will create a custom plan. They also offer a free 6-week sweet spot base plan with subscription. Most of the plan is based upon intervals just below threshold (sweet spot). Not much Zone 2?? I tried this and found it intense for preseason base training.


4. Zwift has several free training plans. If you see a lot of colors in the ride profile, it’s probably better suited for outside efforts in the build phase. “Active Offseason” would be a good one to try.


5. Use the Base block described above on your smart trainer. Smart trainer apps allow you to see your power output, heart rate and RPE. This can be valuable in getting a better feeling of what actual heart rate zones and RPE feel like.


If you are serious about training TrainerRoad or SYSTM would be my first choice. For entertainment value and online group rides you can’t beat Zwift or RGT.



Thank you to Coeus for providing the PDFs for reference. I encourage all parents, athletes and coaches interested in better understanding the science behind training and nutrition to check out their free resources.










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