Mountain Biking and Triathletes

Mountain Biking or Road Biking | Which is Better for Fitness?

Most people get into cycling to improve their fitness level and burn some extra pounds, so the common question is: Which is better for fitness mountain biking or road biking?

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is a physical activity based on short bursts of power and this makes it ideal for HIT training, which will conserve your muscles and will raise your metabolic rhythm so you burn more calories over some time. In short, it is better for muscle building and good for losing fat.

Road Biking

Road biking is a physical activity based on longer sustained effort, making it very effective in burning fat but it will burn a lot of muscle fibres in the process as well. 

Its biggest disadvantage is that it is just lower-body training and it can easily make your body unevenly developed.

A mountain biker will have a more evenly developed and muscular body than a road cyclist, but on the average road, cyclists are more ripped than mountain bikers.

Fitness Goals

If your only fitness goal is to lose weight and get as lean as possible and your muscle mass is not a concern for you then road biking is the way to go.

Practically if you want a more muscular body mountain biking is the way to go and if you want a lean body road biking will be the best choice. Keep in mind that you can ride on the road also with a mountain bike, the main difference is that it is slower.

Which burns more calories?

Why are road cyclists leaner than mountain bikers if road biking burns fewer calories than mountain biking?

The main source of energy for mountain bikers is the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles because they need energy fast to maintain the short bursts of effort that riding off-road demands.

Because road cycling is based on maintained effort over long periods the body uses fat as the main source of energy. Fat takes more time to transform into energy and if you need a burst of energy fast your body needs to use glycogen and not fat.

Mountain biking burns more calories than road biking but is less effective in fat loss due to the nature of riding on rough terrain which demands short bursts of energy and your body doesn’t have enough time to convert fat into energy so it uses the glycogen stored in your muscles.

Mountain Biking Is a Full-Body Workout

Because riding on tough terrain is tough and maintaining balance is not an easy task you will be forced to use all the muscles on your body – chest, back, arms, and shoulder muscles to do that.

You develop a well-balanced body and you will train all the muscles giving you a more athletic and will have better all-around physique.

Mountain Biking Is Good for Your Mental Stress

Riding or biking in the heart of nature is the best prescription for stress relief.

Worries melt away, the mind gets cleared out and you become more relaxed and happy.

It’s Never Boring

When you ride your bike on the road you are doing the same thing every ride but if you go mountain biking there are different varieties of terrain that you can ride and all demand different skills so you never get bored.

This is why there are more disciplines of mountain biking like downhill, Enduro, cross-country, etc.

More Efficient for Fat Loss

Because road biking is based on sustained effort over long periods, you will burn more of your fat reserves to get to the end of your ride than you burn while mountain biking.

The Training Benefits of Mountain Biking for Triathletes

Every triathlete needs to work on endurance, power and speed. Mountain biking can help with all of these. Regular training sessions can improve your cadence, and develop core stability and, with all that hopping on and off, it’ll help to make the transition from run to bike easier.

Does mountain biking help your road cycling?

Mountain biking helps you learn to select the right gear, often pedalling in an easier gear to overcome obstacles and use more of a stop-start pedal pattern on sharp turns, up hills and descents.

If you keep your cadence high during all of this, you’re far more likely to overcome a small ditch, rock or tree en route. 

By increasing your cadence you’ll also get the physiological effect of working a greater number of fast-twitch fibres which help your muscles work at a higher speed.

It’s also been proven that cycling at higher cadences leads to fresher legs for the run. You’re more susceptible to leg cramps, lactate build-up and injury if you pedal big gears. With this in mind, you should aim to keep your cadence over 95 rpm.

Another advantage of training on a mountain bike is the easier gearing. On the road, there are some hills that you simply can’t get up because the gears on your road bike don’t allow you to keep your pedal revs up. The ratios on a mountain bike will allow you to sit down and spin.

To go faster you need more power to provide the speed. It’s natural to have a slightly longer crank length on a mountain bike, which forces you to be more powerful.

Tests show that mountain bikers can achieve very high power-to-weight ratios and keep their heart rate and oxygen uptake higher for longer. 

Training off-road will increase your heart rate by 5-10 bpm throughout the ride, especially because you use your upper body more. 

How does mountain biking improve core stability?

All top sportsmen, from sprinters to golfers, benefit from core stability training. As a triathlete, you can’t hope to improve your technique unless you focus on this component of training, too.

Get out for a swim, bike or run but core stability exercises are essential. Go mountain biking on top of this and you’ll enjoy even greater benefits. The bike leg of a triathlon recruits many muscles in the body – mountain biking will recruit even more. 

Biking off-road requires constant body movements, as you have to keep your balance over obstacles and across varying gradients. Just by doing this, you’ll strengthen your core stability.

With a strong core, you increase your chances of avoiding injuries caused by muscle imbalances. You’ll also be able to train harder for longer, and rather than energy going sideways due to poor technique, your pedal power will go straight through the bike.

Does mountain biking help improve key descending and cornering skills?

Triathlon courses are now shorter, with more laps and more turns. You can avoid losing time on the bike section by improving your handling skills. You’ll not only be able to keep your position on tight bike courses, but you’ll also make up for time and save a great deal of energy.

In approaching a tight turn, for example, you should change gear before the bend. By dropping speed, you can pedal out of the bend in the right gear without losing any of your momentum. There’ll be less strain on your leg muscles, taking you back up to a good pedal cadence more quickly.

This is just one of the things that mountain biking will teach you because it forces you to anticipate what will happen next and to use the right gears otherwise, you’ll slow down and find yourself either having to get off and walk or falling off.

When you ride off-road, you’ll find the bike often slips and slides beneath you. You have to get used to this. 

The lack of grip means the bike is far more sensitive. The back wheel skids far more easily than if you were on the road, so you have to learn to feather the brakes more effectively.

Get this right and you’ll be able to brake much later into bends on a triathlon course. This will save you time as well as boost your confidence.

Does mountain bike training help triathletes cope with jelly legs?

Transition in triathlon is very important. The first 2 km of running after the bike is quite hard before you begin to settle into a more natural running stride. 

Because mountain biking involves getting on and off the bike in hilly terrain, you become more used to riding and then running and your muscle development makes you less prone to jelly legs.

Mountain Biking Training Sessions

Start with a 20 min warm-up and finish with a 20 min cool-down. For the middle 20mins of each hour-long training session, try and maintain a cadence of over 110 rpm. Make sure you stay seated throughout the ride and keep your cadence up whether you’re tackling an incline or flying down a descent.

You don’t need to stick to a hard gear. Use a combination of hard and easy to keep your pedal revs high. Do this once a week during the winter months and you’ll see big improvements next season.

Power Session

Certain exercises on a mountain bike are easier than on a road bike. Try this one that’s designed to build power. Find a stretch of off-road fire road or a back lane and start from a standing position. Then accelerate as fast as you can for 60-90 secs. Return to the start and do it again another 8-10 times.

Optimize your time off-road by incorporating a few specific sessions to improve your fitness.

The Final Verdict

Mountain biking is safer, more fun, more versatile, and better at building muscles than road biking. It also offers valuable training options that triathletes can take advantage of.

While road biking can help you lose weight, mountain biking is the better option.



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