This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of Mountain Bike for Her.
If you are one of those people who has already made huge leaps and bounds forward and are constantly improving, then you are probably familiar with what I’m about to discuss. However, if you always watch your friends get better, stronger, and faster, while you seem to be on those same 15 lbs dumbbells in the gym and still walk those same sections on your favorite climbing trail, then this article is for you. Keep an open mind and read on!
Photo Credit: Clayton Racicot
Why you need to HTFU and push yourself
Yes, that’s what I said. Now let me explain a little bit more before you get offended. How did you get better at riding downhill? You pushed yourself, often outside of your comfort zone. The people that usually advance the quickest are those who take more risks and push harder. Why would this be any different when we are talking about other improvements?
You pedal up to your favourite trail. It takes you just as long now as it took you last year and the year before that. Why? Haven’t you wondered why you never get faster? It’s simple: your body has adapted to head up the hill at the specific pace you have set for it. The first time you did it all those years ago, it really hurt. In your mind, it probably still hurts every time you do it. But your body has adapted to this pace; it won’t go faster as you’ve never pushed it to go faster. The same theory applies to your intervals: are you really pushing hard enough when you do them?
How many times when you are pedaling up that hill or doing those intervals do you feel like you may just throw up? And I’m not talking about being a little bit winded… I’m talking about full-on where you can hear your heart beating in your head, you are gasping for air, and you have a moment wondering if you may just expire from exertion. You finally stop because if you keep going any further you will throw up.
I know it sounds just awful, and I’m not saying every ride should be like this, but sometimes this is exactly how your ride should be. If you want to get faster, then you need to start thinking about how hard you are really pushing yourself. Let’s be honest. Until you push your body to the edge of its limits and understand just how much it can really take, your cardio improvements may be sub-par or even non-existent. Keep that in mind next time you are faced with a hill
Weight Training Improvements
A second reason your friends may be surpassing you is weights training. Do you lift? You should consider starting. For a refresher on the importance of weights training, read my article in the last issue. Just adding weights training to your routine will automatically improve your hill climb because stronger muscles equal better endurance. On top of that, those muscles can be trained to become even stronger and more enduring.
Although more and more women are discovering what sort of weights training they should be doing, there is still a strong trend for doing too many reps with weights that are too light. Although this has its place, and you likely saw initial improvements, ask yourself what happened after the first couple of weeks. Not a lot. The body adapts to push the weight, meaning you don’t need to get any stronger.
My recommendation: Lift heavier weights and always retain good form through every rep. Challenge yourself with a heavy weight. Perhaps on the first and second set you can lift it, but by the third, your muscles are strained under the weight and you are physically unable to push out another rep. The message is to challenge your muscles and demand them to get stronger.
Again, pushing your muscles to fatigue and failure is not a scenario for every workout. But by pushing your body outside of your comfort zone, you are going to see tangible improvements. You will get stronger, and have the opportunity to transfer these improvements from the gym to the bike.
While there are many ways to improve in mountain biking, take this one message away: chances are you can work harder and push yourself more. Try a personal trainer to motivate you and help you attain your goals. Even if you just need help to determine how much weight you should be lifting, qualified trainers can help you design a progressive program and help you understand how to safely push your limits. Before you know it, you will be waiting for your faster friends at the top of the climb. Remember Rule #5.