Is my skills day an “easy” day?

I am a recreational mountain biker who lines up for the occasional cross-country race. Like a lot of folks, I have a busy job, a spouse, and young kids, but I get a lot of joy out of developing training plans that make the most of my limited time.

One of my weaknesses as a rider is my technical ability. Luckily, I have a great pump track a couple of miles from my house, and on easy days, I often go to the pump track on the way to work to practice skills like cornering and body position.

When I am on the pump track, I notice that my heart rate increases quickly, similar to what I see with intervals. To moderate my effort, I rest when I see my heart rate climb into the upper 140s. I definitely don’t feel gassed after this session like I do after, say, 30 minutes of hill repeats, but is my pump track day really an “easy” day?

This message came through from a listener, and I thought it would be a great topic for discussion in the forum too. It’s a common question with an answer that can go either way. So what considerations would you take into account to answer this one? @steveneal I’m going to tag you on this one too for your MTB expertise!

I’ll start off:
The pump track is a great place to work on your skills and form. And pump tracks are also a great way to train the specificity of working on good form with a high HR as you would see in a race situation. I would consider this partly in terms of how much time you’re spending at high intensities. If you find that the upper 140s is close to or above your race pace and you’re spending 15-20+ minutes at that level, I would not consider that an easy day.

On the other hand, if it’s a couple minutes that you spend at higher HR values, and then take a rest, I would consider this a relatively easy day. This might be a day that you have set aside specifically for skills practice. Think about your goal of the “easy” day - is it to encourage recovery by pedaling easy and allowing those adaptations to start taking place? If so, I would encourage you to keep your easy days focused on doing just that.

If you’re not in need of a full-on easy day and not really “recovering” from anything the day or two before, then you can still have an “easy” day where you’re not overloading the body metabolically. Rather, you could use it as a skills/technique day where the expectation of some higher HR numbers might occasionally pop up, but the goal is not a metabolic overload again - it’s technique.

I’ve done some epic pump track sessions where I would go (on a very quiet day at the track) for maybe 5+ minutes at a time before resting, and would do a couple sets of those. That’s metabolic + skills training. If you’re doing like 1-2 laps at a time and HR spikes briefly, you’re probably fine. Another favorite session is to use a local hill with a one-way climb and then pump track descent. I’ll either climb easy and then attack the downhill, achieving near maximum HR response while pumping, or I’ll climb the hill hard and then work on descending smoothly with an elevated HR and breathing response.

Coach Ryan

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Super exciting topic!

Well first off I would like to say I agree with everything @ryan had to say.

Next, I live in the great white north! So we are stuck inside training for 6 plus months of the year to get ready for mountain bike riding.

The pump track is such an excellent tool for handling and overall body heart rate and respiration training.

Often in mountain biking, our heart rate doesn’t always recover on the downhills, in some situations it may even stay the same or go up!

I think a few minutes here and there on an easy day is ok, but not much more than that. Enough to have fun but shut it down early and take a lot of rest.

Now, let’s try and use that amazing tool you have to your advantage if possible. with my mountain bike riders, I will often use strength circuits (including hip hinging exercises like the deadlift and/or kb swings) or a RipRow device to incorporate overall body movement to elevate heart rate, then jump on the bike and do endurance or tempo depending on the days goal. Something like 15m tempo / 5m circuit / 5m riprow / 15m endurance for 2 hours.

You are lucky enough to have the pump track AND fresh air. So you could use the pump track on endurance days and treat it more like @ryan said and do longer pieces, then head for some endurance and come back to the pump track.

You could try pushing the pace a bit on the bike doing some tempo, then hit the pump track with the heart rate elevated and work on your breathing and form while you stay smooth and move through the pump track.

So I think you have some great options with access to this pump track, and let’s not mention they are super fun and who doesn’t like that smile you have on your face in those moments!

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