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Success for a triathlete comes from having practical adeptness at all three activities: swimming, cycling and running. Many triathletes tend to be cycling enthusiasts, which is understandable, as getting the biking portion right can provide the momentum required to transition to the running stage in a good position.

However, with inadequate cycling training, a triathlete’s legs can get tired too quickly, leading to cramps that affect performance in the latter stages of a race. For individuals looking to build up the strength, endurance and technique needed to power through the middle stage of a triathlon, mountain biking is the answer.

With mountain biking, the bikes are heavier, the terrain is more rugged, and the biker has to push hard throughout the trail. This combination of factors is something that Richard Mallett, a football coach and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast, knows can give triathletes an edge.

On a mountain bike, an individual is likely to raise their heart rate quite significantly, which is beneficial for getting the heart to adapt to pumping increased volumes of blood at a faster rate. Additionally, riding in hilly terrain provides triathletes with the opportunity to train in the fresh air, which can have a notable effect on performance compared to riding through city streets.

Physiologically, mountain biking helps build power that translates well to road riding. Triathletes who’ve tried it gain mental and physical benefits that help them deal with adversity better. On many occasions, training on the trails provides challenges that help individuals learn how to overcome obstacles and plan for the unforeseen. The skills picked up on natural terrain instil a better awareness of the environment, mainly because mountain biking requires full focus.

Practically, becoming a smooth mountain biker takes effort and dedication, especially in learning the right technique. The payoff, however, is significant for those who put in the time.

Getting Started

The list of items required to start mountain biking is quite short. Consider renting a bike from a local mountain bike club or shop to use for test rides. Having a safety helmet is necessary, as are a comfortable pair of shoes, bike shorts and a water bottle. Protective equipment such as knee and elbow pads can help reduce the impact of any fall. Lastly, reaching out to a local bike club to provide information on any planned rides or local trails to explore is recommended.

Ease into It

There’s a learning curve involved at first, and having confidence is vital to seeing progress early. Additionally, triathletes have to adjust to riding with clipless pedals, which can be the cause of some early training jitters. However, with practice, these pedals can become a useful teaching tool that helps individuals refine their riding technique.

From a performance perspective, don’t expect to put in the multiple hour rides that are common with biking on roads. Training off-road requires higher metabolic input per mile, so take it easy with one-hour rides at first. Shorter rides are also safer, as some trails might take a rider far away from any sources of help should anything happen.

Riding Mechanics

Riding over bumps and obstacles requires maintaining good speed, which for a beginner is riding about 10 percent faster than what they’re comfortable with. Additionally, riders should stand as they ride, which allows the bike to absorb most of the impact and is an efficient way of moving. Keeping the hips forward and the chest up helps produce more power.

The uneven terrain is going to produce a lot of bumps and shocks. Keeping the body loose is recommended, as stiff muscles and joints are likely to absorb the bumps harder. Body tightness can set in subconsciously at times, so regularly scan the body from head to toe and loosen any areas that feel rigid.