Top Tips for Training on your Mountain Bike

Some great tips from Chris Ford to keep you at your best when training on your mountain bike

If you’ve decided to finally get out training on your mountain bike, the first step is to understand the different ways in which you can train your body.

The key to great mountain biking is being relaxed and flexible on your bike – ready to move forwards, backwards and off the side. This is no commuter bike, where you just sit and spin, this is a machine dedicated to all mountain exploration and it needs a whole new approach.

Build up your Rides

If you’re just starting out or are getting back into mountain biking you need to kick off with short rides – no more than 1 or 2 hours. The idea is to keep your legs spinning smoothly at about 70- 90 revolutions per minute, never pressing too hard on the pedals.

This ensures that your aerobic system gets a great workout but the muscles of your legs don’t get tired too quickly. As you get used to the bike you can combine off-road enjoyment with different types of workout. Longer riders at a steady pace will build your endurance and burn fat.

The TWC Where to Ride MTB Archive

Alternatively, shorter rides with some hard sprints followed by recovery periods (while you continue to cycle, just more gently) can really drive up your fitness. But it’s not just the aerobic system and legs that get toned up from mountain biking.

You use your arms, shoulders and core muscle groups to control the bike, power up hills and keep you stable on rocky or twisting descents. Just remember that all of these areas, as well as your legs, need a good stretch at the end of a ride.

What to Eat

The food you eat, and fluids you take in, have a real impact on how you feel, how you perform and the speed of your recovery. Before heading out you shouldn’t eat much for about two hours – light snacks are OK but if you want a big breakfast, have it early then let it digest.

Energy gels demystified

Once you’re outside and exercising the glycogen in your muscles is quickly used up, so top it up with regular snacks or energy drinks. Try to lay off high sugar products and go for something with a mix of fruit sugars and complex carbohydrate, like cereal bars, bananas, dried fruits or sport specific bars. These give a long, steady energy burn. You also need to think about hydration.

Many keen cyclists will avoid tea and coffee in the morning, as you can hydrate better with fruit juices or herbal teas. Throughout your ride, you need to keep sipping on water, juice or sports drink to stay hydrated. A 2%  in hydration levels can reduce your performance by around 20%, and affects your concentration too. That’s not good in the middle of a long ride.

After training on your mountain bike, as soon as your ride ends, before you eat anything, have a big glass of orange juice with a nip of salt, to give you quick rehydration. This also provides a big shot of antioxidants, which help to stabilise those free radicals released by intensive workouts. Once hydrated, you need to eat within about an hour of finishing your exercise. This period is known as the Glycogen Window and is the best time to refuel your muscles for recovery and to prepare them for the next ride out.


You need traction but also good steering to get up steep hills. For traction, you need your weight on the back tyre, for steering you need it on the front.

How can I conquer rocky climbs on my MTB?

The compromise is to remain seated but move to the nose of the saddle, then drop your shoulders low and as far forward as possible, tuck in your elbows, pull down and back on the bars as you pedal, and feel the bike race up those climbs.


When you go downhill on rough trails you want to use arms and legs as big shock absorbers. Stand up on the pedals, keep your body low, arms and legs flexed, and shift your hips backwards so they’re above and behind the saddle. This lets you soak up the bumps easily – but keep your pedals level so you take the force equally between your feet.

How to ride rock gardens

If you want to improve stability and take the strain off your arms and upper body, make sure you roll downhill with your pedals level with each other, but actually have your heels lower than your toes.

This means that when you brake or hit a bump, you can absorb the force of your body pushing forwards using your legs, not arms and handlebars. It’s the key to remaining stable, and never flying over the bars when you stop in a hurry.


Bikes corner best when you lean them over, but with a mountain bike, you still want to keep your weight over the tyres so they stay gripped to the trails.

This means leaning the bike underneath you and opening your knees up so you can stay more upright. Drop the outside foot so you can push all your weight down through it – this keeps the weight even lower down and increases stability!

Most important of all though, if you brake while cornering the bike will stand up and stop turning. So select your speed on entry then just roll through the turns.

Now it’s time to put that into practice and get riding your bike! 

It can be quite a lot to try and implement all at once so try breaking things down into more manageable pieces. If you find a good descent or corner to practice on, have a good session on that until you feel comfortable to move on and begin to link it all together.

You may also enjoy:

Rachel Atherton’s top MTB tips

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Buying Guide: Hardtail Mountain Bikes

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