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Joe Friel's "The Mountain Biker's Training Bible"

By Ben Freeman

As the author candidly admits, calling any book a 'Bible' could be considered somewhat arrogant, but in this case the use of the term is fully justified. The Mountain Biker's Training Bible is just that, a complete reference guide which will enlighten anyone as to how they should train, how they are currently performing, how to measure their progress and most importantly of all, the underlying science. This means you understand why you should be training in a certain way, rather than blindly following some one else's plan.

There are two distinctions which mark this book out above all other training guides for mountain biking: 

The first is that the book doesn't just give you a suggested programme and say 'get on with it', instead it explains how to plan a programme optimally for yourself based around your personal racing ambitions for the coming year. The three key stages are: 1) assessing where you are now, 2) working out what you want to achieve and 3) planning a programme to take you from where you are, to where you want to get to. This final programme will be a unique personal training plan. 

The second key differentiator is that Joe Friel only gives advice which is backed up by scientific studies, so if the science isn't there to support a training or diet theory, he's left it out of the book. Each chapter finishes with a list of the references which form the basis for the content of that chapter. There's no here-say or rules-of-thumb in this book, everything is proven  by experimental studies on athletes.

So, what will you learn?

The first key point, is how do you get fitter? Well the process is called Overcompensation, whereby you progressively overload your system after which you are actually less fit for 24 to 48 hours, but the body then recovers and the cells in your muscles regain their strength and actually surpass their previous level of function, i.e. you get fitter.


However, this process only works if you allow enough time (rest) to allow your body to recover. The most common mistake is excessive training which will result in either no fitness gain or, more often, a reduction in fitness. You cannot rush this process and therefore the first lesson is learning to train conservatively.

The next key point is that the maximum fitness level you can achieve cannot be sustained, so instead of trying to be maximally fit all year round, you plan to peak in fitness at key points in the year (e.g. major race events). During a peak, significant fitness gains can be achieved, but only for a short period of time, so planning is important. The generic peaking process is illustrated below:



The maximal peak occurs as a result of carefuly tailoring your training sessions such that volume is traded off for intensity as the season progresses. Too little volume early on and you have a poor aerobic base to build on, too much intensity early on and you'll burn out from over training, etc. 

The book goes into lots of detail about how to plan a season, starting off with the pig picture and then showing you how to iterate this down to daily training sessions for a whole year.


Another key topic is how to measure progress throughput the year, to ensure that the programme is working for you. NB This is a common subject on the forum and Joe covers this extensively.

The best method of characterising your fitness is to measure power as a function of heart rate. If you're getting fitter then for a given heart rate you should be able to produce more power than previously.


If you're not improving, then you're probably over training (as most people over train rather than under train).


If you're serious about training for Mountain Biking, or just curious to know how to get a bit fitter effectively, then this book is in a league of its own. There's no Tour de France winner on the front cover and very little name dropping, but it is the most comprehensive book on the subject available.

Need more information on this book? e-mail the editor:

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