Well-Oiled Machine

The biking benefits of LSD.

Riding bikes in the mountains of Montana is undoubtedly challenging. Our trails are steep, our air is thin, and the elements can be relentless. But that’s half the fun, and with some basic adjustments to how we ride, we can make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable. All you have to do is try LSD.

Long Slow Distance (LSD)
Regardless of your training phase, the bulk of training should include endurance rides in your aerobic zones—that’s zones one and two in the five-zone training model. The chart below is a summary of world-class Nordic skiers training over the course of a year. Eighty percent of their sessions are completed at low intensity.

bike training tips, endurance riding, lsd

Training at low intensity is very repeatable and can be easily absorbed and recovered from. The purpose of low-intensity training is to better metabolize fat and spare glycogen as energy sources (glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrate in the muscles and liver), saving more reserves for later stages of races and rides. This is key to preserving your energy throughout an entire bike ride or race. Riding in zones one and two is also responsible for lactate clearance. While training in all zones is needed, zone-two training is one of the most important parts of any training program.

Definition & Purpose
Zone one is used for warming up, cooling down, and often for recovery during interval training. This is where you gently warm the muscles, elevate the heart rate, and prepare the body for the workout to come. You can talk easily, the body starts to sweat, and the effort is enough to feel like you’re getting warm.

Zone-one workouts include warmup, active recovery days, general physical activity, and ultra-marathon workouts.

In zone two, you can still speak in sentences, but speech becomes a little harder. You are perspiring slightly. This is your all-day pace for long bouts of exercise. Exercise in this zone still feels fun, but slow at times. Expect your breathing to transition from easy to slightly difficult. For endurance athletes, zone two should make up at least 70 percent of your training. The chart shows the Nordic skiers training primarily in zone one, but remember: they are world-class athletes. Their zone one includes a lot more movement than a typical zone one for non-professionals. Personally, I train in zone two three-four days a week.

Zone two workouts include steady-heart-rate workouts, long slow distance (LSD), and easy hill training.

training for bike season, endurance riding

Beginners: Start at the Beginning
Sounds obvious, right? But few beginner athletes train in zone two. Therefore, they don’t develop a good base or foundation to work with. As an exercise physiologist, I see many athletes who think that the only way to get faster is by always training faster, harder, and longer. Although beginners can get away with this at first, it almost always leads to burnout or stagnation.

Another trap of new mountain bikers is following their experienced friends and family. Although friends can be helpful with tips and guidance, the social pressure of keeping up will likely have you riding in zones four and five until your bike-specific endurance and handling skills improve.

Therefore, a good way to improve your endurance is to ride at or below your skill level to develop a foundation in conjunction with your more-challenging rides with your more-skilled friends. During these base-training rides, emphasize building the distance or duration of rides steadily over time.

Base-Building Rides
In the springtime, it can be difficult to find trails with enough dry singletrack to effectively train in zone two. My advice? Seek out mixed-surface routes. For example, starting in Bozeman, ride in-town singletrack and pavement out to Sourdough. Then climb as high as snowline allows. As spring progresses, you’ll find yourself stringing together a mix of pavement, dirt road, and singletrack for a ride that can range from two to four hours and 15-40 miles.

Another great option is in Gallatin Canyon up the Storm Castle drainage. Storm Castle Rd. takes you 11 miles one-way to the singletrack trailhead, but there are also several old logging roads you can explore as the snow melts. On the west side of the Bridgers, use dirt roads to access singletrack up Sypes, Middle Cottonwood, Truman, or Corbly, staying in zone two from your house to the trailhead.

Given the challenging nature of our local mountain-bike rides, building a fitness base is vital to fully enjoying the ride. If you don’t have hours and hours to ride every day, smart training can expedite the strengthening process, allowing you to go further and higher in the mountains of southwest Montana.

Sam Van de Velde is an exercise physiologist who focuses on evidence-based practice, specifically for mountain-sports athletes. A version of this article originally appeared on the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association blog.