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How To Train For XC Mountain Bike Racing : Pro Training Tips

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Cross country mountain biking is a fun sport, but sometimes you want to test your skills in race against others.   Like any other sport getting ready for a contest or a race, it’s time to train! How should you train for the mtb race?

It all starts with developing a mountain bike training plan and sticking to it.  Today I’m here with this article to give you some of these bike training tips to help you develop your optimal training plan and build mtb results.

Most of the time a cross country race is 1.5 – 2.0 hours long of constant racing.  That doesn’t sound too long, but consider that you’re pushing it the whole time.  Most riders run out of steam while on the race, with more than 50% of riders not even finishing the race.

That’s why building up your endurance and skill are the keys to winning or placing well.

So what are the best ways to build up endurance for the cross country mountain bike race?

The best way to train for XC mountain bike races are to train at the same intensity and duration as your target race, and continue doing it until you can do the race and then some more beyond that.

Here are some ideas and mtb training tips to help you develop your own bike training program building upon the professional bike training plans.

Train at the Same Duration as the Cross Country Race

It makes sense to train at a pace and skill-level that is the same as the actual race when possible. It is the very basis for all cross country training.

If it’s a 2-hour race, you’ll want to train for 2 hours that day and if possible with the same climbs and terrain as the actual race.  You’re trying to train your body to handle the rigors and energy it takes for the climbs and overcoming the technical terrain like jumps.

If the race is short like only an hour, you can likely fit in 2 one-hour training sessions separated by plenty of recovery time.

Mountain biking works quite a few of your muscles and what you are doing is conditioning your muscles to handle work for longer periods of time.  Building muscle endurance is key and I would even suggest getting a road bike and putting in a little extra time just racking up the miles to condition your muscles.  Remember the heart is a muscle to get that heart rate up there!

The idea is to train your body for the same effort needed for the race. If it’s a 50 mile race, train for 50 miles.  If it’s a 100 mile race, train for 100 miles. It’s about training to match the volume of a full race.

Cross Country Marathon (XCM) races are usually a minimum length of 25 miles and often 60+ miles in the US. Some riders end up looking into getting some coaching by the time they are talking these big 75 mile races but leave that for another time.

How long it takes to train up to the level to complete the race like it’s a training session depends on the rider. It can take weeks or even months to build up to the big race, especially if it’s one of the longer races like a marathon.

Finish Daily Training Hard

When you finish your training goal, push things even harder.  After your run, don’t just stop and call it a day.  This is the best time to practice some of your trailing-riding skills.  Things like wheelies and bunny hops are necessary skills for any trail and training your skills is an important part of the race.  Make the most of your workouts.

This follows how weight training plans work in that at the end the guys try to give their best to wrap up the training session. It’s a great way to train up extra power in your legs.

Train on Back-to-back Days

In training for endurance, it would make sense to have a riding day followed by a non-riding day.  Rest in between like it’s interval training, right?

As it turns out, training on back-to-back days (either 2 or 3) trains your body not only on endurance for that one hour, but also over the course of multiple days which raises your endurance even more.  Don’t go more than 3 days and give it a good couple of days in between these endurance sessions.

So it is sort of like interval training in that you train in intervals of 2 to 3 days back-to-back and then rest a couple of days and it is very effective. You can still go on rides on the off days just to keep muscles limber but don’t train like it’s an on day. Instead, just enjoy a ride if you need to.

Train Your Skills

If you have three days between sessions, on the middle day take an hour or two and just take trails to practice on your technical skills.  When you’re in a race and get tired, the lack of energy to do a bunny hop correctly can make the difference between you clearing and obstacle and crashing.

The more you practice your skills, the more it becomes muscle memory and you can do them in races without even actively thinking about it. An important piece of the training plan is to teach your body to work and react like it’s second nature.

One good skill to practice for a race is a fast start off the start line.  Being able to get going in a hurry is an advantage and a good skill to practice in addition to endurance.

Eat and Drink Right

Your body is a machine and it needs nutrition and hydration to continue at the race pace.

Generally speaking, plan on drinking a bottle of water and having a snack every hour such as an energy bar.  Of course you don’t want to wait an hour for hydration so drink as necessary, at least some water every 15 minutes if not earlier. If it’s a hot day for many riders it’s more like every five minutes.

While this section speaks to eating and drinking during the race, it is important to eat right during the entire training period so you’ll have the stamina and energy to push as hard as you can, as well as recouperate on off days the best possible.

Generally speaking you should minimize your alcohol intake because it can affect your body’s normal functions as well as dehydrate you which will affect your body.  Remember, the body is a fine-tuned machine and a champion treats his machine right in a race training plan.

Get Good Sleep

Every good workout needs a rest period.  Your body repairs and recovers during sleep.  Be sure to get a good night’s rest every night in order to be ready for the race. Rest is a core part of any mtb training program.

Last Minute Notes For the Cross Country Mountain Bike Race

If you’re new to XC bike races, I would suggest starting with a 1 hour race and work towards the 2 hour races.  Enduro races take a bit to work up to but you can modify this mtb training plan outline to work towards new and longer goals and increase your mtb fitness.

Just remember to check over all your gear before the big race day to be sure your bike can mechanically hold up to the rigors of an XC mountain bike race.

Remember that each mtb cross country race is different and your skills progress, so make sure to review and revise your training plans when you’re getting ready for each race.  With the right bike training plan and perseverance you’ll be prepared for each race.

Many riders also like to train themselves in the off season to build up muscle and skills for when the race season arrives.

Do remember also that with training your mtb skills will increase over time so if you run out of steam during the big race, it’s ok.  Just keep training and you will get stronger each race and your efforts will have you crossing the finish line before you know it!

About the Author

Tony K

Senior Technical Writer,

Tony K is a technical editor at He has a focus on downhill bike riding but still loves xc bikes too.

With more than ten years of mountain biking experience and more than 5 years testing mountain bikes, Tony has ridden and tested hundreds of different bikes and products, everything from XC to enduro bikes. Tony regularly competes in mountain bike races while seeing how long those compontents can hold up which gives me a lot of insight.

When he isn't shredding down a mountain or camping out, he is writing reviews for Mountain Bike Experience.

Rides: Surly Lowside, Canyon Exceed