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  1. #1
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    Where did my training go wrong?

    So my primary discipline is MTB and have typically trained on the MTB 2-3 times a week (with maybe 1-2 road rides a week). After reading numerous articles on the benefits of 10-20 minute intervals aimed at increasing FTP, I made a change to my training about 1.5 years back. I started doing 2-3 indoor intervals sessions a week on the trainer. Sweet spot and threshold type intervals. Well in this time, as I would hope, my FTP increased and my power on the trainer slowly but steadily increased. This is good. However, problem is, this increase in FTP has not transitioned to my outdoor MTB rides. In fact, I'm slower than ever outdoors. What gives? I have a few theories but am happy to hear others.

    1. I have learned how to suffer on the trainer but have forgotten how to suffer (push the pace) outdoors. (I'm not really buying this one though because I have pushed quite hard a few times recently and have still come up short on previous bests).

    2. The physical requirements of riding a trainer vs. a MTB bike are different. A trainer is more high cadence spinning and a MTB involves lower cadence, high power mashing as you climb steep inclines and technical terrain. My leg muscles have become "detrained" from riding on MTB type terrain.

    3. It's been quite some time since I have done any gym work. Maybe some leg work in the gym will help somehow?

    Thanks for reading!

  2. #2
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    You say that you're "slower than ever" riding outdoors on a mountain bike. Whenever I write something like that the issue is usually that I'm ill or overly tired. A week off tends to work wonders.

    The first thing I'd do is examine whether being "slower than ever" is actually the case in all situations. It's easy to be self deprecating and generalise but before you can fix a problem you need to arrow in on your perceived weaknesses.

    Have you got some examples of exactly where you're slower on the mountain bike than previously? I'd want to look at times over a few different routes, each one split into sub sections - climbs, descents, flat fire road etc with power output and speed to see where exactly I was slower. Terrain conditions (eg: muddy or dry) can make a big difference to speed offroad so you can't always directly compare speed between days. That's where knowing your power output comes in handy.

    If you've been doing lots of 10-20 minutes steady state interval work to improve "FTP", and nothing much else interval wise, that's an easy trap to fall into. A bigger 20 minute steady state power number may be good for bragging rights on paper but it isn't everything. You still have to be able to match the requirements of your events to the training you do, whether that's doing short sharp repeats or longer endurance rides.

  3. #3
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    You kinda answered your own question. To get fast on MTB, you should ride or race MTB. A steady diet of sweet spot is fine, for a while, then you need to change to keep making progress. I never race steady at 85%. Polarize your training. Mostly easy, short and hard intervals a couple times a week. Go ride MTB trails. Good luck!

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by WR304 View Post
    You say that you're "slower than ever" riding outdoors on a mountain bike. Whenever I write something like that the issue is usually that I'm ill or overly tired. A week off tends to work wonders.

    The first thing I'd do is examine whether being "slower than ever" is actually the case in all situations. It's easy to be self deprecating and generalise but before you can fix a problem you need to arrow in on your perceived weaknesses.

    Have you got some examples of exactly where you're slower on the mountain bike than previously? I'd want to look at times over a few different routes, each one split into sub sections - climbs, descents, flat fire road etc with power output and speed to see where exactly I was slower. Terrain conditions (eg: muddy or dry) can make a big difference to speed offroad so you can't always directly compare speed between days. That's where knowing your power output comes in handy.

    If you've been doing lots of 10-20 minutes steady state interval work to improve "FTP", and nothing much else interval wise, that's an easy trap to fall into. A bigger 20 minute steady state power number may be good for bragging rights on paper but it isn't everything. You still have to be able to match the requirements of your events to the training you do, whether that's doing short sharp repeats or longer endurance rides.
    Did you see this paper?

    Validity of using functional threshold power and intermittent power to predict cross-country mountain bike race outcome | Miller | Journal of Science and Cycling

    FTP is a very good predictor of XCO race results, although the amount of work the subjects could do in a 45 seconds on / 15 off protocol was a slightly better predictor.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevbikemad View Post
    You kinda answered your own question. To get fast on MTB, you should ride or race MTB. A steady diet of sweet spot is fine, for a while, then you need to change to keep making progress. I never race steady at 85%. Polarize your training. Mostly easy, short and hard intervals a couple times a week. Go ride MTB trails. Good luck!
    Thanks. Makes sense. This is what I am thinking. Going to go back to MTB 2-3 times a week and see what happens.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by bloodninja View Post
    This is exactly why I wanted to focus so much on improving my FTP! But the benefits just didn't carry over for me. At least they haven't yet...

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by WR304 View Post
    You say that you're "slower than ever" riding outdoors on a mountain bike. Whenever I write something like that the issue is usually that I'm ill or overly tired. A week off tends to work wonders.

    The first thing I'd do is examine whether being "slower than ever" is actually the case in all situations. It's easy to be self deprecating and generalise but before you can fix a problem you need to arrow in on your perceived weaknesses.

    Have you got some examples of exactly where you're slower on the mountain bike than previously? I'd want to look at times over a few different routes, each one split into sub sections - climbs, descents, flat fire road etc with power output and speed to see where exactly I was slower. Terrain conditions (eg: muddy or dry) can make a big difference to speed offroad so you can't always directly compare speed between days. That's where knowing your power output comes in handy.

    If you've been doing lots of 10-20 minutes steady state interval work to improve "FTP", and nothing much else interval wise, that's an easy trap to fall into. A bigger 20 minute steady state power number may be good for bragging rights on paper but it isn't everything. You still have to be able to match the requirements of your events to the training you do, whether that's doing short sharp repeats or longer endurance rides.
    Good stuff, thanks. I have a few segments I've created, anywhere from 1-3 hrs long that I have been measuring myself against. I can't match the times I previously set. Splitting them into smaller sections, I think it's the climbs where I have fallen off the most. The highly anaerobic stuff. I think I just lost some of that MTB punch on the trainer for too long

  8. #8
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    But also try stopping with the sweet spot. You've probably hit a plateau, you need to change the training to get a new adaptation from the training stress. Change regularly.

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    As everyone else said, integrating SST work is pretty much "base" work. It is not race specific really, but pretty excellent for getting ready for racing.

    I used to go in with a great base into a 1-2 month weekly series, that way with every week I would adapt to the hard efforts and improve. By the 4th or 5th race I'd be doing pretty good. (I would also do short hard weekly road group rides for a few months prior, but that still isn't the same as MTB, but still built great "base" fitness). I think you will probably have a similar improvement pattern once you start MTB racing.

    As far as switching things around, since I'm so aerobically weak (compared to my short efforts), I'll switch around my tempo, sst, and zone 4 patterns through the weeks. People get stuck in this 2X20 pattern as if that's the only way. Try some 10's, 8's, 15's, overunders, etc. And go for similar "total time in zone". That's another way to mix things up and still work threshold improvers.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevbikemad View Post
    But also try stopping with the sweet spot. You've probably hit a plateau, you need to change the training to get a new adaptation from the training stress. Change regularly.
    Yup, this here for sure, gotta be sure to change up and vary the training. But also, the mtb has such different stochastic power demands, & tremendous differences in cadence swings also. Sometimes you need to grunt up climbs at 50 rpm, accelerate in a big gear from 15 rpm, or just spin fast over the top at 120 rpm.

    I wrote this (a long time ago, I just realized) but it still holds true for the comparison of power btwn mtb & road
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  11. #11
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    If you want to convert SST/tempo/threshold/FTP into hot, nasty, burning speed:

    Motor pacing.

    I know most MTB racers have never heard of such things, but if you own a road/cross bike and have someone who can drive a car or moped semi-reliably, it's worth checking out.

  12. #12
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    Lots of good stuff here, thanks all. Much appreciated!

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by bloodninja View Post
    Did you see this paper?

    Validity of using functional threshold power and intermittent power to predict cross-country mountain bike race outcome | Miller | Journal of Science and Cycling

    FTP is a very good predictor of XCO race results, although the amount of work the subjects could do in a 45 seconds on / 15 off protocol was a slightly better predictor.
    Thanks for the link.

    Full text:
    http://www.jsc-journal.com/ojs/index...path%5B%5D=108

    Reading the full text this study was looking to see whether the results of two types of tests could predict race outcome – whether the rider with the highest power output in the tests would also be the fastest in the race. The two tests they used were a 20 minute steady state time trial and also a 20 minute IP (Intermittent Power) session consisting of 45 seconds hard bursts followed by 15 seconds rest repeated for 20 minutes in total. Each test was 20 minutes in length. The race itself was 17.4km off road, lasting around 69 minutes.

    They appear to have found this was largely true, that the rider with the highest power output was also fastest. The important part is this section on Pages 18 and 19:

    Validity of using functional threshold power and intermittent power to predict cross-country mountain bike race outcome
    By Matthew C Miller Gavin L Moir and Stephen R Stannard


    One of our first findings was that IP (Intermittent Power) is strongly correlated with FTP (Functional Threshold Power). This can be explained by previous work showing that the ability to complete intermittent exercise to be reliant on aerobic metabolism and oxygen uptake (Bogdanis et al., 1996; Gaitanos et al., 1993; Bishop, 2012, Bishop et al., 2004), and that the LT (Lactate Threshold) is strongly correlated to the percent of Type I muscle fibers (Coyle et al., 1992). This suggests that IP performance is at least in part based on the parameters surrounding an athlete’s FTP. Moreover, interval training can improve aerobic-dependent time-trial performance (Stepto et al., 1999; Lindsay et al., 1996; Padilla et al., 1999). While the training of the participants in this study was not recorded, it can be postulated that the strong relationship between these two tests is at least in part due to the combination of training benefits of off-road cycling and the upper limit of intermittent exercise capacity as constrained by aerobic efficiency.

    The main finding of this study is that when using relative power output to predict XCO-MTB, IP has a stronger correlation than FTP.
    Pages 18 & 19

    Although they don’t spell this out in the text the implication from both tests being good predictors of race performance and closely correlated is that the same people must have scored highly in both tests, the 20 minute time trial and also the 20 minutes of intermittent power bursts.

    I actually did something similar back in January for another thread – a 1x40 minute time trial and also 40x1 minute intervals. The average power for each session was within 9 watts of the other. You can see my results here (Posts #15 and #19):

    Long vs. more shorter intervals at same power

    What this study doesn’t look at is how the riders arrived at their performances. There is no record or discussion of the training that they did previously, only the outcomes (tested power output and race time). There’s nothing about training methods used apart from the suggestion that the riders had been doing plenty of offroad riding as part of their training before doing these tests.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcm01 View Post
    Good stuff, thanks. I have a few segments I've created, anywhere from 1-3 hrs long that I have been measuring myself against. I can't match the times I previously set. Splitting them into smaller sections, I think it's the climbs where I have fallen off the most. The highly anaerobic stuff. I think I just lost some of that MTB punch on the trainer for too long
    If you're not going that well on the short punchy climbs what about the other sections? How do you compare on the descents and flat pedalling sections to previous years?

    How does your general training overall stack up? Have you been doing more or less total riding volume over the last few months buildup than in previous years?

    The main problem with doing steady state intervals and focusing on "FTP" (by "FTP" here I'm referring specifically to riding a 20 minute time trial test on your turbo trainer) is that you can get better at riding a particular test protocol. You may get a decent result doing that 20 minute test but it doesn't always transfer to when you're not doing a test. Something to look at is to find your best 20 minute power outputs outdoors from this year and see how it compares to your best 20 minutes power doing a 20 minute test on the turbo trainer. If there's a large discrepancy, with the 20 minute test power being much higher than any of your other rides, that's a possible warning sign.

    You don't have to do just steady state intervals on the turbo trainer. You could always add in some burst intervals, sprints etc too for variety.

  15. #15
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    Before you throw away your training are you sure you are slower?

    Trail conditions have a huge impact on speed. This week I did the same climb on back to back days. On the 2nd day I was about a minute quicker then first day but my average power was 10 watts less. Winds, dirt, ext.... have a huge impact.

    Lets us assume you are in fact slower. What are you comparing to? Your best time, or your times from this time of year last year? I already have 200hrs on the bike this year. I trained hard and very fit for March. However, I still a bit off my best form of last year.

    It takes months of training to reach top form.
    "The best pace is suicide pace, and today is a good day to die." Steve Prefontaine

  16. #16
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    Just to throw it out there, is power your big limiter?

    I'm three races into an early-season series. I had a good result for me in my first one, which had a lot of climbs. Short, but fairly steep, and the trail conditions were excellent - I didn't get hung up much.

    The second race had less climbing, and lots of flow elements. I did alright, but not as well.

    The third race was a flat, muddy mess with lots of standing water and slippery roots all over the place. I did even worse.

    I feel like what I was experiencing was that where course conditions let me, I could kick out pretty good watts for the class I race in. But on the courses that interfered with me doing that, riders I could beat on the road but carried speed better than me on trails were getting theirs.

    So I think the idea of training specificity is really important - where are you really losing time? Races often make that abundantly clear.
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    What about some really fast group road rides?

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by LMN View Post
    Before you throw away your training are you sure you are slower?

    Trail conditions have a huge impact on speed. This week I did the same climb on back to back days. On the 2nd day I was about a minute quicker then first day but my average power was 10 watts less. Winds, dirt, ext.... have a huge impact.

    Lets us assume you are in fact slower. What are you comparing to? Your best time, or your times from this time of year last year? I already have 200hrs on the bike this year. I trained hard and very fit for March. However, I still a bit off my best form of last year.

    It takes months of training to reach top form.
    This. I did a 16-17min climb the other day. Power was ~15w higher than the best I did last year, at the same weight, yet I was 20 seconds slower.

    I'm assuming that the trail being blown/washed out, wet, and trampled by horses (when wet) is what made the difference. It was a rough winter around here, relatively speaking, andthe trail itself is simply slower, not me.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevbikemad View Post
    But also try stopping with the sweet spot. You've probably hit a plateau, you need to change the training to get a new adaptation from the training stress. Change regularly.
    Great reminder, thanks!

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by sprocketjockey9 View Post
    Yup, this here for sure, gotta be sure to change up and vary the training. But also, the mtb has such different stochastic power demands, & tremendous differences in cadence swings also. Sometimes you need to grunt up climbs at 50 rpm, accelerate in a big gear from 15 rpm, or just spin fast over the top at 120 rpm.

    I wrote this (a long time ago, I just realized) but it still holds true for the comparison of power btwn mtb & road
    Great link. Your site has some solid info. Thank you

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by LMN View Post
    It takes months of training to reach top form.
    This is a great reminder for me. I think I'm being a bit impatient. Let me keep the intensity ramped up on the MTB for a few weeks and lets see what happens.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Litemike View Post
    What about some really fast group road rides?
    I want to! Unfortunately I only know of one group in my area that does these and they ride in the morning during the week when I need to be at work

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcm01 View Post
    Good stuff, thanks. I have a few segments I've created, anywhere from 1-3 hrs long that I have been measuring myself against. I can't match the times I previously set. Splitting them into smaller sections, I think it's the climbs where I have fallen off the most. The highly anaerobic stuff. I think I just lost some of that MTB punch on the trainer for too long
    My longest test is about 20 minutes of fire road climbing. You'll know in 20 minutes if you are generating more power or not.

    FWIW, threshold intervals never worked for me. I learned to ride right on the edge of aerobic/anerobic without making lots of power. It doesn't surprise me that it didn't make more power for you.

    I am a gym user. I spend most of my limited time there lifting for more power and then hit the bike-workout machine for a 10 minute torture session with variable resistance. Always, always, always digging/pushing for more power.

    When I can ride outside, I go faster.

  24. #24
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    I'll second the suggestion that you figure out where you are slower. The extra trainer work may have hurt your handling skills, so you're slowing down more for corners and technical sections.

    I train on rollers or the road during the off season, and when I get back on the trails the first couple of rides are painful as I just can't go as fast or as hard as I was used to from the fall. That typically passes after about 2-3 rides and I then starting setting a bunch of PBs.

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