XTERRA Couch to Trail – Buying Your First Mountain Bike

Looking to put a little excitement into your life? Want to venture off road to escape traffic and congestion? Attracted by friends’ tales of sweet singletrack and fantastic stories of XTERRA racing? You’ve got the mountain-bike bug. Good for you. Now’s a great time to buy that sweet fat-tire that’ll satisfy all your dirt dreams.  Delving into any new activity isn’t easy, and mountain bikes—with their newfangled suspension designs, high-tech parts, and myriad accessories—can be seriously intimidating. The myriad of prices, models and types of mountain bikes available makes the process not unlike buying a car. This guide will give you the info you need to be an informed buyer with realistic expectations about what you need and what you can afford.

One thing: It’s not going to be inexpensive. High-quality, intro-level bikes start around $2,000 to $2,500, depending on what features you want, and prices climb dramatically from there. You can get a good bike for less than that (if you buy it used), but you’ll need to spend money on pedals, riding shoes, helmet, and a pump, at the very least.

The good news: After the initial investment, mountain biking is pretty cheap. Bikes can last for years, and almost everywhere has dirt roads and trails you can ride for free. Once you’re set up and shredding on dirt, we pretty much guarantee you’re never going to want to go back to pavement!

Do A Little Homework First:

Before you rush in and kick some knobbies, though, think about how and where you’ll ride. You’ll find that there’s a fascinating range of off-road bikes and equipment; so much so, that shoppers are sometimes struck with analysis paralysis and have difficulty picking the right bike. What type of mountain biking suits you best?  For example, are you the type who has to have the best or would you be happier getting reasonable quality at a pleasing price point? Do you like simple designs or are you infatuated with cutting-edge technology? Will you keep this bike for ten years or more or are you thinking that you’ll upgrade as your skills and interests develop?

While you’re soul searching, give some thought to how much you’d like to spend on your new bike. Keep in mind that you often need accessories with new-bike purchases, such as a helmet, gloves, pedals and shoes. Because these will add to the bike’s purchase price, include some extra in your budget. Modern mountain bikes can cost as much as $10,000, and while these bikes are super cool, there is no need to spend that much to get a bike that will allow you to have a safe and fun ride on the trail.

What can I get for my money?

  • Budget-Minded: $500 – $1,000

In this range you can score a decent hardtail, perhaps even a 29er, or even start looking at entry level full suspension bikes. You can probably find a good, used bike in this range.

  • Mid-range: $1,000 – $1,500

Once you get over $1000, options open up in the clearance and model year close-out choices. There are a number of full suspension bikes and really nice hardtails in this range. These bikes will start to have the same frames as the pricier models, just with cheaper components. Choosing one of these sets you up to upgrade-as-needed with better parts.

  • Upper mid-range: $1,500 – $3,500

With a little shopping around, you can buy a bike in this category that will last you for years. Most local shops will have race-ready hardtails and decent cross-country or trail full suspension models in this price range. You will also start to see carbon fiber models.

  • Going for the Gold: $3500+

If you have this kind of money to drop on a bike, you don’t really need to worry about price per se. You will be more concerned with getting a bike that exactly matches your riding style with sweet components to boot.

Now…let’s talk about frame materials

Aluminum: The most common material for modern bike frames; aluminum is relatively light and durable, and has good ride qualities; it provides a reliable all-round performance.

Carbon fiber: This composite material is super light, super strong, and has vibration absorbing properties. Carbon fiber bike frames are a relatively modern introduction for mountain bikes, but they offer the highest level of performance of all frame materials.

Steel: Steel frames are renowned for their comfort, strength and durability. Steel is quite a heavy frame material though, and therefore despite its good ride qualities, it is used less commonly.

Titanium: Titanium is the metal used by a lot of aircraft manufacturers; it is expensive, but it has become a bespoke choice for bicycle frame manufacture. The unique look and outstanding strength are the main attractions.

What’s with all these tire sizes?

Historically, mountain bikes had wheels that were 26 inches in diameter; it was the standard wheel/tire size for all off-road bicycles. In the late 1990s though, people started to experiment with larger wheel sizes; namely 29 inch wheels (29ers), which is the same wheel size as a 700c wheel on a road bike. Larger wheels roll over obstacles more easily, and although they are slightly heavier and a bit less responsive, the new standard quickly grew in popularity; this was because of the tire’s ability to provide better traction and speed, particularly for cross country racing. Other advantages of a 29-inch wheel are that you can pedal at the same speed with less effort, you are more stable, and it gives a hardtail bike some of the advantages of suspension without the additional cost.

Although 29 inch wheels became popular with cross-country riders, downhill racers largely stuck with 26 inch wheels. This split was because of the nature of downhill riding, which demands ‘snappier’ handling; the smaller wheels and shorter wheelbase of the 26 inch wheeled bike still met these demands best. Then, in the mid-2000’s, bike manufacturers brought in a half-way-house option… the 27.5 inch (650b) wheeled bike. This new standard has become the most popular with Downhill, Enduro and Trail bikes, providing a good balance between straight-line speed and quick control, while 29 inch wheels remain the most popular for cross-country speed demons!

Some manufacturers however, have now started making small size frames for XC bikes only in a 27.5 inch wheel size.  They felt they had to compromise too much with the frame geometry to accommodate the larger wheels.  Trek is one example.  All their small size frames come with 27.5 inch wheels.

So what should you buy?  Obviously, it depends on your size.  If you are 5’2 you probably want a 27.5 inch wheel.  If you’re 6’2, a 29 inch wheel might suit you better.  But, with that said, plenty of tall riders prefer 27.5 inch wheels because of their handling capabilities.  Test ride both and see what feels best.  My guess is you won’t be able to tell that much difference!

Types of Bikes:

Mountain bikes can be broken down into a few broad categories: cross-country (XC) for racing and going fast, trail bikes for general use and all-around mountain riding, all-mountain or enduro for more technical trails, and downhill (DH) for flat-out descending. Don’t get caught up in the labels—everyone has their own definitions. What’s important to understand is that all bikes fit somewhere on this continuum, and choosing the right style means balancing a handful of considerations, including frame geometry, design and amount of suspension, and weight.

Most likely you will want to choose a cross-country (XC) mountain.  If you are going to be doing any racing at all, a cross-country mountain bike is what you want. Keep in mind cross-country mountain bikes are also versatile enough for most trails you come across.

Below are brief descriptions of each of the four categories:

XC bikes are typically the lightest, have the least amount of suspension, and are built with steeper geometries that favor pedaling. They’re often rigid (no suspension), hardtails (suspension up front only), or, if they have dual suspension, have around four inches (100 millimeters) of travel. This is what most XTERRA racers ride.

On the other end of the spectrum, DH bikes are always full suspension and built with extremely slack geometries that are great for tearing down hills but not great at pedaling. They’re also heavy so they can take a lot of abuse and tend to have around eight inches (200 millimeters) of travel.

Trail bikes are in the middle of the specturm and they do a lot of things well.  These can be hardtails, which keep the complication factor and cost down. (It is not recommended to go with a  fully rigid design for your first mountain bike—the lack of suspension will probably make you miserable.) More often, trail bikes have full suspension, with somewhere between 4.7 inches (120 millimeters) to 5.5 inches (140 millimeters) of travel. The general rule of thumb is the more travel your bike has, the easier and more comfortable it is to negotiate obstacles. The additional suspension also adds weight, however, which makes pedaling and climbing tougher.

Enduro bikes sit closer to the DH end of the spectrum with six or seven inches of travel. If you live around rocky trails or want to focus on big-hit riding, this is a good category to look at. But for the most part, a beginner rider will be best served by a XC or trail bike.

Bikes come in male and female specific and most range in size from XS-XL or are sized by seat tube height in inches.  The seat tube height is the distance from the center of the bottom bracket (where your crank arms connect to the frame) to the top of the seat tube (where the seat post enters the frame).  Work with the bike shop so they can tell you what size bikes you should demo and whether male or female sizing is best for you. (Ladies, I have been racing mountain bikes for over 10 years and have only ridden unisex bikes with no problem so look at your arm and leg length to see which is a better fit.  For reference, I am 5’2.) Women’s specific bikes often have a shorter top tube, narrower handlebars, shorter stems (what connects the handlebar to the bike), shorter cranks (the part connected to the pedals), wider saddles, smaller diameter grips, shorter reach on the brake levers, adjusted fork and shock for the lighter weight rider, and feminine color choices.

Hardtail or Full Suspension:

Hardtails offer a lightweight bike, with just front suspension. These bikes have a fully rigid rear end, and are ideal for a wide variety of trails. Hardtails offer a simplicity that full suspension bikes simply can’t compete with. Having only front suspension enables bike manufactures to make hardtail frames incredibly light, and in a sport where weight matters, the lighter the better.  With no moving parts like bushings, bearings and pivots, a hardtail is also far easier and cheaper to maintain. This is especially telling if you live in an area where mother nature takes her toll, as all that rain, mud, salt and sand can work its way into your moving parts, which can be expensive to replace.  It’s clear a hardtail will suffer on the descents compared to a fully sprung bike, but take an honest look at where and what type of riding you do. Many people don’t have the luxury of huge gnarly trails to ride everyday, so a hardtail could be a valid choice for someone on more subdued terrain. And if you like rides where the climbing is measured in the thousands rather than hundreds of meters, the feathery weight of a hardtail should have you flying up the trails.  Finally, there’s nothing like a hardtail to bring on your overall riding skills. Without rear suspension, the margin for making errors on technical terrain becomes much smaller. This causes you to think extra hard about line choice and body position, which will only help your overall riding in the long run.

Full suspension mountain bikes offer the rider increased comfort and control. The front and rear suspension cushions the rider from the impacts on the trail. The weight penalty is comparatively small compared to what it used to be, with most full suspension frames being around 2 lbs. heavier than a hardtail counterpart. Unless you’re an elite racer, this doesn’t make that big a difference when factoring in the fun and comfort of rear suspension.  Full suspension bikes used to suffer from poor pedaling performance, but those days are well and truly over. Manufacturers are now offering front and rear lockout at the flick of a switch, turning your full suspension bike into a mean pedaling machine. Even if you prefer not to use the lockout, the linkages and pivots are now so efficient, you’ll hardly be loosing any energy with the suspension fully open.  Cross country riding is only getting more technical and this is where full suspension bikes really shine.  There’s also the simple fun factor of riding a full suspension bike. That rock garden that had you terrified on a hardtail now becomes a fun feature to barrel over. Struggling on gnarly root section? Full suspension will give you the confidence and handling a hardtail never could. Cross country riding is only getting more technical and this is where full suspension bikes really shine.

Full suspension bikes aren’t cheap, so if your budget is tight, you may get more bang for your buck from a hardtail.  Furthermore, full suspension bikes aren’t without their issues. As mentioned earlier, they’re far more expensive to maintain due to all the extra moving parts, and that’s before you factor in the initial cost of purchase. Simply put, full suspension bikes aren’t cheap, so if your budget is tight, you may get more bang for your buck from a hardtail.

Despite what the marketing hype tells you, there’s no one size fits all when deciding between hardtail and full suspension. Hardtails may be seen as old school, but they’re a reliable, proven technology, whereas full suspension bikes are exciting, versatile machines, that may come back to bite you with cost and maintenance.

As mentioned above, there is also the fully rigid bike option for those with arms and backs of steel.  This type of bike is not recommended for your first mountain bike.

Ready to Take the Plunge – New or Used:

After test riding a couple bikes within your budget, you’ve decided what you want.  The hard part is over.  Now the fun begins!  But some people wonder if they should buy a new bike or a used one.  You will get more bang for your bike if you buy a bike that is one or two years old.  For the most part, bicycles don’t have a very good resale value, which means you can get a really good deal on a used bike.  Buying used gives you a better opportunity to negotiate a better price and stick within a reasonable budget. It’s quite common to find decent used bikes that have only been ridden for one season, and sometimes with less then ten rides on them. If weight is important to you, you can probably find a 1-2 year old carbon frame bike, for the same price as a new aluminum bike. Be cautious though, know how to spot a good AND a bad deal – if you’re unsure, ask your fellow riders for advice, or go speak with staff at the local bike shop to gain more insight. If possible, test ride the bike; you want to know how the bike feels, inspect the components yourself and look for wear and tear first hand. A good seller will have no problems setting up a meeting time and place to accommodate a test ride.  This is also gives you the opportunity to make sure the bike fits you properly.  Getting the bike inspected by a local bike shop or certified mechanic is a good idea as well.

In Summary:

There has never been a better time to buy a mountain bike!  Think hard about these things before heading off to your local bike store or looking for a used bike.  And remember to test out as many bikes as possible!

  • What kind of bike do I want?
  • What is my budget (don’t forget to factor in accessories)
  • What frame material?
  • Hardtail or Full Suspension?
  • What size wheels?
  • Women’s Specific Design (applies only to women)?
  • Used or New?

New or used… once you’ve made your final decision… Congratulations! Now, get out and ride and race! You’ve made a wonderful investment in your health and happiness!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at prsfit@gmail.com

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little, Jeffrey Kline, and four-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of PRS Fit.  Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA.  Read past training articles from PRS Fit at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/couch-to-trail and learn more about their coaching programs at prsfit.com.

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Jack of All Trades Master of None?

Presented by Suunto

Spreading your training across three or four disciplines can be challenging.  It is not realistic nor recommended to match the training loads of single sport athletes in swim, bike, and run simultaneously. The individual event that propelled you into the sport may still be your strength or maybe it’s not anymore. We talked about focusing on your limiter during the off season or doing a run focus in the late fall after your final race of the season, but now the season is almost here and you don’t want to give up fitness in one discipline to gain time in another. So, what do you do? Here are some strategies to help you get an extra boost in each discipline without altering your training too much:

Join a Masters Swim Group

Following the blue or black line on the bottom of the pool can feel like a chore at times, especially if you are on your own. Meeting up with some swimmers of similar ability at least occasionally can raise your game and re-energize your swimming. Try to find a group that does more swimming than socializing.  Ideally the workouts have a focused main set with a purpose.  The goal is to be optimally challenged so find a lane that matches your current ability level.

Participate in your Local Mountain Bike Series

If you look at the time breakdown of XTERRA races, the mountain bike leg has the greatest opportunity for time savings.  Participating in a few local races will not only improve fitness, but greatly improve your handling skills. Most races have beginner, sport, expert and pro categories allowing you to start where you are comfortable and move up as you gain confidence. Just make sure you’re ready to sprint for the hole shot! Most triathletes have a well-developed diesel engine, but rarely clean the pipes with near maximal efforts.  A 10-20-mile cross-country mountain bike race can be a good wake-up call and get you out of your comfort zone.  Throw in a transition run when you’re done to simulate XTERRA. Pure mountain bikers will think you’re crazy and maybe you are.

Run a 5k or 10k

Often triathletes trying to gain speed and fitness in their run train for a marathon or half marathon. It’s true that you will gain run fitness, but often the extra miles you put in take away valuable time and repetition from your swim and bike. If you want to gain speed and fitness in your run, hop in a 5k or 10k. You will get a quality workout without needing extended recovery time. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and see what sort of pace you can run in a hard, short run only race. Maybe you can’t hold the pace you thought you could, but after a few short races maybe you can!

Find Local Races that Fit with Your Training Program

Doing shorter events or single discipline races in your area allow you to easily incorporate them into your training schedule without having to skip workouts because of travel. We recommend events that are around an hour or less for the most part. If they are much longer you end up treating these events more like ‘A’ races which requires modifying the rest of your training week.  Strategically placed local events also allow you to meet the people in your area that are strong in that discipline and might just give you a new training partner or two for key hard sessions, and we all know misery enjoys company.

Increase Frequency Not Necessarily Volume

Many triathletes train each discipline 2-3 times per week. These sessions are often quality workouts, but sometimes this just isn’t enough repetition. If you feel like you have plateaued, try spreading out your volume into 4-6 sessions per week instead of 2-3. Longer sessions can cause a breakdown in form because of fatigue. Shorter, but more frequent sessions can allow you to improve technique. It’s not realistic to do this with all three disciplines at the same time. Instead try this with one at a time starting with your limiter. Sports that require more motor learning, such as swimming, respond better to shorter, more frequent sessions.

Modulate Your Expectations

Fitting local races into your training plan might require adjusting expectations.  This means giving up your ego and pushing yourself within your own abilities.  The goal is to attain a performance level higher than you might be able to do in your own in training.  Keep in mind that you might be in the middle of a training cycle and fatigued from previous workouts so a PR is likely not the goal.  Just don’t be the person with a list of excuses before the race starts, like “this is just my threshold workout” or “I’m in the middle of a big training block.”  Bite your tongue and think positively about your personal goals of the race.  These are your best opportunities to experiment with race-day strategies and find something out about yourself.

By Yaro Middaugh.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at http://middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

More Middaugh Coaching Corner Articles

XTERRA Partners with PRS Fit on Couch to Trail Training Series

(HONOLULU) – TEAM Unlimited LLC, owner and producer of the XTERRA World Tour, today announced an alliance with PRS Fit to produce XTERRA Couch to Trail training programs.

“Jeffrey Kline, SheriAnne Little, and XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of PRS Fit have a wealth of experience as both racers and coaches, and we think they’ll do a great job introducing our sport to newcomers around the world,” said Dave Nicholas, XTERRA’s managing director.

In addition to building custom training programs designed for first-timers, the team at PRS Fit will share free, bi-monthly training tips with the XTERRA Tribe focusing on everything from swim safety to one-minute video tips designed just for XTERRA athletes.

“We are proud to be partnering with XTERRA on the Couch to XTERRA training series,” said Little, the head coach at PRS Fit. “XTERRA triathlon and off-road racing is taking off globally, and it’s exciting to be able share our experience and be part of this tremendous growth.”

The XTERRA Couch to Trail tips will rotate with the Middaugh Coaching Corner column, presented by Suunto, providing great training and racing information for both novice, intermediate, and elite competitors every week.  And, just like the Middaugh brothers – Josiah and Yaro – PRS Fit will offer one-on-one online XTERRA coaching services and in-person XTERRA Camps.

“Thrilled to be an official XTERRA coach, and looking forward to a long-term relationship with the Tribe,” said Kline, who has been coaching runners and triathletes for 20 years.

PRS Fit will host its XTERRA training plans on the DailyFitBook.com, offering athletes a place to receive, log, and share their workouts through various social media channels.   They will also work with Suunto to educate XTERRA athletes about their GPS watches and the mapping, training, and community features available at Movescount.com.

“XTERRA has allowed me to push myself to new limits and experience mud, sweat and LOTS of tears,” said Stockton, a 44-year-old mother of three from Michigan who won her 4th XTERRA World Title in Maui last October. “It has taken me to some of the most beautiful places in the world and I’m having so much fun. I want to share this sport with everybody, and perpetuate XTERRA’s Live More lifestyle.”

Learn more and get your XTERRA training jump started at www.xterraplanet.com/training

About PRS Fit

PRS FIT is a community of athletes from all over the world. We are a team. Alone or together, from beginner 5k to Boston Marathon and 100 Miler, XTERRA racing to Kona qualifier, we strive and we conquer. PRS FIT lets you experience what we call Team and social fitness – connecting and motivating each through our one of a kind global team experience. No matter the weather, the circumstance, day after day, we provide a high-quality training experience that produces results. Learn more at http://www.prsfit.com


TEAM Unlimited LLC, founded in 1988, is the Hawaii-based television, events, and marketing company that brought off-road triathlon and trail running to the world under the brand name XTERRA. From a one-off race held on the most remote island chain in the world XTERRA evolved into an endurance sports lifestyle with worldwide appeal. Over the past 20 years XTERRA transcended its status as ‘just a race’ to become a bona-fide way of life for thousands of intrepid athletes as well as an emerging brand in the outdoor industry. In 2017 XTERRA will offer more than 200 off-road triathlons and trail running events in 35+ countries worldwide and produce 10 adventure television shows for international distribution. Learn more at xterraplanet.com and xterracontent.com.


XTERRA Couch to Trail – New to XTERRA?

By Mimi Stockton and SheriAnne Little for PRS Fit

Do you love triathlon but want to do something more epic?  Something that challenges you both physically and mentally?  Something that takes you off the roads and into the trees?  Something that inspires you, and tests your limits?  Then come do something extraordinary–step outside the box and do an XTERRA!  But How?  Where?  Why?

The brand new XTERRA Couch to Trail program is designed to help first-timers get into the sport.  We’ll start by answering some of the first questions that come to most beginners’ minds, and we’ll evolve from there. Every other week PRS Fit and XTERRA will share ideas just for beginners in the Couch to Trail column, and on alternating weeks the Middaugh Coaching Corner column will delve into training ideologies and specifics.  PRS Fit will also provide a 12-week training program that will get you off that couch and into the woods and will end with you at the starting line of an XTERRA race.

First, some of the basics…

Q: I know XTERRA combines swimming, mountain biking, and trail running, but what are the distances?
A:  It varies.  The shortest XTERRA race, our “Xticer” super-sprint race, combines a 200-meter swim with a 10K (6.2-mile) mountain bike ride and a 2K (1.25-mile) trail run.  Our standard championship distance combines a 1.5K swim (1-mile) with a 30K Mtb (18.6-mile) and 10K (6.2-mile) trail run. You will find these at Oak Mountain, Beaver Creek, Utah and Maui (and other championship races throughout the world).

The majority of the America Tour point series races are a bit shorter and usually feature a 1K swim (roughly 1/2 mile) with a 20ishK MTB (12-14 miles) and anywhere between a 7 and 10K run (4-6 miles).  Some races also feature sprint races that are half those distances.  That’s the unique things about XTERRA.  Each venue offers vastly different terrain and thus different race distances.  No two races are alike!

Q: In what bodies of water are the swims generally done?
A: There are XTERRA races with swims in oceans, lakes, and rivers.  I would have to say the majority of our swims are done in lakes.

Q: Are there separate events for people of different skill levels?
A: It depends on the race.  Some races offer a point series race AND a sprint race. Some races offer different wave starts (competitor vs. survivor), while others have one “mass” start where everyone goes off together.  Most, however, have the men starting first, followed by the women a few minutes later.

Q: What conditions would the weather have to be like for the swim to get canceled?
A: Safety is always first, there are a number of scenario’s that can cancel a swim – unhealthy water, freezing water, high water – but it doesn’t happen very often.  In 20 years of XTERRA, there have only been a few notable cancellations. Lightning might delay a race as well, but if the weather clears within a certain amount of time, the race will happen.

Q: What should I do in order to prepare my body? How does the training differ?
A: This is a question we get asked a lot from people who are just starting out in the world of triathlon.  There aren’t that many differences between training for a road triathlon and training for an XTERRA.  The main difference is the biking is now on a mountain bike and the riding is on trails, not roads. The run is also on trails, not the road.  With that said, it is very important to train as much as possible on the mountain bike.  There is no other way to gain the confidence one needs to tackle the different types of terrain.  Some mountain bike trails can be quite technical (tight and twisty, plenty of roots and rocks, lots of uphills and quick descents) and the only way to become confident is to practice, practice and practice. The first couple of times on a mountain bike you should focus not on aerobic drills but on how to safely brake, how to shift and how to find your balance.  The body is a finely tuned machine, and if you don’t take great care of it, it won’t perform optimally.  If you’ve decided to take the plunge and do your first XTERRA, you’re going to have to devote time and energy into training and buy some equipment.

Q: Is it better to train in groups or as an individual?
A: This is a very personal decision.  If you are a person that enjoys group training in general, then by all means, train in groups. Many people agree that group training can make you faster by pushing you to go harder.  For beginner mountain bikers, it is definitely recommended to go out with an experienced mountain biker–one who can teach you skills and help boost your confidence.  Group training is by no means necessary however.  Some people tend to do all of their bike and run training solo. They like this because the workouts are tailored to them specifically and they can do them according to their schedule.

Q: Where do you suggest I start?
A: To be successful at anything you need a PLAN.  Tackling any new sport can be daunting, but tackling three at one time may seem simply overwhelming!  It’s best to not dive in head first and do too much training too quickly or find yourself screaming down a descent at break neck speed the first time on your bike; both are recipes for injury and we don’t want you sidelined before your first XTERRA.  A great place to start is to partner up with a coach and possibly a training group for social and technical support.  There are many places to find a coach (someone that specializes in off-road triathlon is best, but not necessary).  PRS Fit has off-road coaches and has also devised a 12-week plan that is perfect for the beginner and will get you to the starting line injury free and ready to rock and roll.  If you do find a coach and/or club, just ensure that one or both are certified and have sport-specific knowledge.

Q: Is the XTERRA community more social rather than competitive?
A: YES! That’s XTERRA!  This community is very welcoming, and while the racing is competitive the people are widely referred to as the nicest and most laid back in all of triathlon.

Q: What is the hardest leg of the Triathlon?
A: This is different for each person.  Some start doing triathlons after a swimming or running career.  Others have spent significant time bike racing before they start triathlon.  Then, there are some that have experience in all three sports, or some that have no experience at all.  Many might say the hardest leg for them is swimming.  Thank goodness it’s the shortest leg of the race! However, I do think the majority would concur that the mountain bike portion of any race is usually the hardest just by virtue of it being the longest.  Then again, if you hate to run, you might beg to differ and argue that running 4-6 miles on trails after biking is the hardest part.

Q: How prepared do I need to be for terrain obstacles?
A: Since each course is different, you need to be prepared to face anything and everything.  Feeling comfortable tackling obstacles is essential to making yourself feel confident on race day.  There is no other way to gain this confidence than by practicing biking and running on as many different trails as possible.  Of course, it’s great to do long endurance rides on a road bike or trainer, but nothing beats riding a mountain bike off-road to get you ready for race day.  It’s not conducive to try and compare road biking with mountain biking.  The latter requires so much more athleticism, power, momentum and coordination. Again, the only way to feel comfortable and confident on a mountain bike is to practice, practice, practice (I think you get the picture now!).

Q: How much money do I need to get started?
A: There’s no doubt about it, triathlon is an expensive sport and hobby.  How much money you spend really varies.  Certain things are required of course, but how much you spend on those required items is entirely up to you.  A mountain bike is required and is going to be the most costly item. And perhaps a wetsuit.  If you are just starting out, it is recommended that you test ride various bikes to see if you want to go with a full suspension or hardtail.  One option is to buy a used bike or borrow one from a friend.  There are plenty of great used bikes on the market.  We will go into more detail about the gear required in Couch to XTERRA Part 2: The Gear You Need.

Q: Is there a season for this?
A: Year-round!  There may be two-feet of snow on the East Coast right now, but it’s summertime in South Africa so their season is in full swing.  The sport is more conducive to warmer weather, but there are XTERRA races all over the world now.  But in the United States, the season typically runs from April through the end of October.

Q: Is there an off season? Or should I plan to train all year long?
A: There is an off season and most people would consider it to be November and December.  It’s a good idea to take a physical and mental break during these months to recharge and focus on something other than swimming, biking and running.  I think you’ll find that when you start training again in January, your body and mind will thank you for the much needed time off.

Q: What are average times I should shoot for?
A: Since each race is different and the weather can change the trails overnight (and thus the times) it’s very difficult to talk about averages.  Just getting to the start line on time, healthy and happy is a great goal.  Finishing your first XTERRA is the first step to master, and is a super rewarding feeling when you’re just getting started!  You can start worrying about times after you become a seasoned XTERRA Warrior!

Look for Part 2 of the Couch to XTERRA tips in two weeks.  Also, check out www.prsfit.net for the Couch to XTERRA 12-week training plan. If you have any questions, contact us here

Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun

Coach Mimi is a mother of 3 and a 4-time XTERRA World Age Group Champion
Coach SheriAnne is a mother of 3 a 5-time Ironman Podium Finisher and 2 time Kona Qualifier


XTERRA Couch to Trail – The Gear You’ll Need

By Mimi Stockton and SheriAnne Little for PRS Fit

XTERRA, just like road triathlon, has three disciplines—you swim, you bike, you run. But unlike road triathlon, two of those disciplines take place on trails: the bike and the run.  Therefore some different gear is required.  You need a few key pieces of equipment to get yourself from the start line along the water’s edge to the finish line. And despite what you see at races–all the lightweight this and carbon fiber that–you don’t have to break the bank to get from point A to point B. Here’s a list of the Bare Essentials you really need to be ready for training and race day.  Also included in each section is a “Desirable, but NOT necessary” list.




For the swim you’ll want a set of goggles that stick to your face.  You want them to fit similar to a dive mask where the goggle cups can stick for a few seconds without even using the strap.  There are many types and shapes of goggles so take some time to try them on and select a pair that fits your face shape.  Note that many goggles also come with interchangeable nose pieces that allow you to change the distance between the lenses and get your ideal fit.  Some people like to keep a training pair and a pair for races.  Think about when and where you will be training and racing when deciding on tint color.  In the pool, many prefer a clear goggle.  For open water swims most choose a tinted goggle that cuts the glare of the sun.  However, If the water is not very clear or it’s a cloudy day, a low or no tint goggle is best.  If you want more coverage in a goggle, check out Aqua Sphere.

Swim Cap:

During the race you will need to wear a swim cap for safety so be sure to practice with one.  The cap increases your visibility, helps to retain heat, and keeps the goggles on your head and out of your hair.  Many races also have different cap colors to separate divisions and heats.



Depending on the water temperature where you are racing and training you may or may not need a wetsuit.  If you need to race in a wetsuit, but aren’t ready to buy one, check out XTERRA brand Wetsuit rental options in your area and at the race.  This is a great way to try out a wetsuit without committing to buying one.  Keep in mind though, it’s always best to practice at least once in a wetsuit before a race.  XTERRA brand has some great wetsuits and speed suits.  They seem to take the most abuse and still perform.  If possible, try on different wetsuits so you can make a good decision on size and type needed.  Most wetsuits are full body, sleeveless (farmer john), long legged, or “shorty” (short sleeves and legs).  Consider the water temperature, comfort, range of motion, and need when deciding on a wetsuit.  Make sure to read the instructions and care for your wetsuit properly.  If your race and climate does not require a wetsuit, you will want to wear a triathlon suit, and perhaps a speed suit, that reduces drag in the water.  The xterrawetsuits.com website is also a great resource for more info.


A speedsuit is a thin outer garment you wear in non-wet suit races that provides some hydrodynamic advantage over traditional triathlon racing suits. They are awesome for warm water races because they really slip through the water. Wetsuits are faster overall due to their superior hydrodynamic and buoyancy and should always be used when the rules permit — if you want to be as quick as possible.  You would only opt for the speedsuit if wetsuits are not allowed. Let’s say you want to get one.  What are the options?  Just like wetsuits, there are a myriad of manufacturers and different styles.  Some are unisex and some are men and women specific.  It pays to take some time to investigate all the offerings and find one that not only fits you, but fits your budget as well.



Mountain Bike:

XTERRA is off-road so the next piece of gear you will need is a mountain bike.  Get to know your local bike shop and talk to them about your goals, budget, and what type of races that you will be competing in.  Most bike shops offer rental bikes, maintenance classes, new, and used bikes.  Use this amazing resource and support them!  These are the guys who will be maintaining your bike and keeping you alive.  They will help you get the right fit, the right bike, and point you to where trails and rides are going on.  You get what you pay for, so try to spend as much money as you can comfortably afford to invest.

XTERRA is a cross country race so a cross country (XC) type mountain bike will likely be your best choice.  Cross country bikes come in hardtail and full-suspension.  A hardtail has a front shock and a hard back with no suspension where full suspension bike has a shock on the front and the back. Suspension on the bike makes the ride more smooth, improves control, aids with braking, and absorbs impact.  However, all that smoothness comes at a price.  Full suspension bikes almost always weigh more than hardtail bikes.  Talk to your shop to see what best suits your training and racing area and your lifestyle.  If you live in an area without steep inclines and descents, you can probably get away with a hardtail.  Furthermore, If you are strapped for cash, a hardtail can be less expensive and just as effective at helping you finish your race.  But if you want a plush ride and have a bad back you may need a full suspension bike.  Whatever suspension you choose, be sure to set it up correctly based on your weight and riding style.  Many people don’t have their suspension set up correctly so be sure to talk with the shop about how to setup and maintain your suspension.  It can be adjusted fairly easily once you know how to do it.

There is too much to cover here on “How to buy your first mountain bike,” so look for a separate XTERRA Tip called “A Primer to Buying Your First Mountain Bike.”


When choosing a mountain bike pedal, the first thing you’ll want to decide is if you want platform (aka flat) or clipless pedals. Most entry level mountain bikes come equipped with platform pedals made from either plastic or some type of metal. The main advantages of platform pedals are:  You don’t need special shoes to use them; any sturdy pair of shoes with a flat bottom will work.  It’s easy to bail off the bike if necessary (great for beginners, but also downhill/dirt jump/freeriders). And, Entry-level platform pedals are generally less expensive than entry level clipless pedals. Platform pedals have come a long way in recent years. They are lighter, sleeker, and grippier than ever, and specially-designed shoes by brands like Five Ten make the experience even better. Some people who ride flats claim that it’s just as stable as being clipped in.

However, many people will turn to clipless pedals in search of a really solid foot-pedal attachment.  Clipless mountain bike pedal systems feature a special cleat that is attached to a mountain bike-specific shoe to give the rider a true connection between foot and pedal. The rider clips into the pedal by stepping down and releases by twisting his heel to the side. It can take beginners a bit of practice to get used to clipless mountain bike pedals, but there are some advantages:  Improved pedal efficiency, as energy is transferred throughout the pedal stroke.  Improved handling on technical rides (clipless pedals keep your feet attached to the bike on bumpy descents and make things like bunny-hopping much easier.).  Clipless pedals are also smaller.  They cut a smaller footprint than platform pedals can make clearing rocks easier. They also tend to be lighter for a similar-quality pedal.  The major clipless pedal standards are SPD, Time, and CrankBrothers. At the moment, SPD is the most widely-used standard across many brands.

In the beginning it may be smart to get a pedal with more platform.  Get used to your bike without clipping in.  Once you gain confidence on how to move and shift the bike, practice the clip ins by riding in a soft grassy field.  Practice turns, getting clipped and unclipped, and stopping and getting off your bike.  Don’t get discouraged when you fall.  We have all been there.  Part of mountain biking is learning how to fall correctly.


Since you will be hopping off and on the bike in off-road triathlon you will want shoes with some tread.  Most racers use cleated shoes.  Almost like a football or soccer cleat with a clip in adapter for your pedal.  Find a pair that will stay comfortably on your feet with a sturdy sole for good power transfer to the pedal.  I also like to find a shoe with good ventilation and something that appears easy to clean.  Mountain bikers get dirty!  Unfortunately off-road triathlon shoes are difficult to find.  If you go with clipless pedals, your best best for racing is to wear your mountain bike shoes.


This should be a no-brainer.  Never ride without a helmet.  Most races will disqualify you if you are riding without a helmet, even from your car to transition.  Protect your melon!  Many people ask if there are specific mountain biking helmets and the short answer is “yes,” however a road helmet will work just fine.  Look for a helmet that is first and foremost comfortable and has cooling vents.  Sometimes mountain bikers prefer a helmet with a visor.  These can be nice for  hot, sunny days and to help protect the face from tree branches or other objects flying through the air.


Hydration Pack:

Another piece of gear that comes in handy for mountain biking is a hydration pack.  When you are riding on trails it is often difficult to reach for a bottle, especially when you are beginning and definitely while racing.  Choose a pack that has a small pocket in which to pack some tire irons and fuel, and has a bladder that supports your race distance.  Some hydration packs strap around your waist and others you wear on your back like a backpack.  Choose a pack with a removable bladder and replacement pieces so you can keep it clean from mold & mildew.  I like to only put water in my hydration pack and use bottles for other calorie options.  You have to carry this thing and water is heavy!  1 liter of water weighs 1000 grams or 2.2 pounds.  Once you get really good on the bike you can try riding with bottles and choose what best suits you for racing and training.


When you think of bike gear, the first piece of equipment that comes to mind isn’t typically what you’d wear on your hands. But gloves are important!  They protect your hands from cold, vibrations, blisters, and, in the case of a fall, abrasions.  One of the biggest benefits of wearing bike gloves is the added grip and control you’ll achieve. Everything from sweat to rainy conditions can make your handlebars slippery, and without gloves, you’re much more likely to make an avoidable mistake while riding.

When it comes to mountain biking, gloves are most essential for grip and protection. When you’re riding trails and hopping down boulders, your hands need to be more or less an extension of your handlebars to maintain control. Choose a mountain biking glove that’s textured on the palm for maximum grip. These gloves should also have padding in the palm to protect your hands from injuries that can develop over time.

Because there’s an added risk of crashing when mountain biking, gloves should also be durable enough to withstand any impacts you may encounter while riding. This will help you use your hands to brace yourself if you do take a spill. Full fingered gloves are preferable to fingerless gloves because of the added protection they provide.  Make sure to try on a few different sizes of gloves. If they’re too big, your hands could slide around while riding, negating the benefits of added grip.


Since XTERRA is on the trail, glasses can come in handy by preventing rocks, twigs and other debris from flying into your eyes.  While not necessary, many people wear them.  You may find at times, especially during the summer when the foliage is dense, the trails are a dark environment, and you might prefer a lighter or even clear lens for your glasses.  Or, no glasses at all!  Keep in mind that if your glasses become smeared with mud or start fogging it can be pretty difficult to see the trails clearly and stopping to clean them during a race is a real pain in the butt.  Weigh the pros and cons of wearing glasses and you’ll figure out what’s best for you.


Now that you have your bike, be sure to invest in some tools to help you ride it safely.  At a minimum you need to have a multi-tool kit to adjust it, a spare tire kit, a bike pump and chain lube. Also, take a maintenance class or befriend the workers at your local bike store and have them help you with the basics.




Now it is time for the run!  Since you are racing on trails you will want to think about terrain.  Is it loose, hard packed, covered in roots, usually muddy?  Just like you need to pick tires on your bike to match the terrain, you want to think about the tread on your shoes.  Different shoes are good in different conditions so ask around and check the respective areas in which you will be training and racing.  You may also need to train in a certain type of shoe and race in another.  Most of the professional and seasoned XTERRA racers train in trail shoes and race in racing flats but some prefer trail shoes all the time.  If you will be doing both trail and road training runs, you probably want to save the trail shoes for the trails only.  Train like you are going to race.  If you want to wear socks on race day, wear socks to train.  If you want to race without socks, train without socks.  Race day is not the time to try anything new. No new shoes, no new nutrition, no new anything!


There are a few other items that, while not necessary, can make your life as an XTERRA triathlete better.  You might consider: a triathlon backpack to hold all of your racing and training gear, a race belt, and a hat to wear on the run.  The backpack can be any bag in which you keep all your stuff, and extra gear items too (there are always racers that forget their goggles!).  It can also hold any other items you need in transition, such as a towel, empty water bottles, nutrition, lubrication (or body glide) and sunscreen.

Any questions?  Feel free to e-mail us at prsfit@gmail.com.


Middaugh Coaching Corner – Steady State Interval Training

Presented by Suunto

People want simple answers to complex questions.  Athletes are people.  Athletes want simple answers to complex questions.  The last thing you want to hear is “it depends.”  Either you believe in high volume or high intensity.  More is less or less is more?  Actually, it turns out that more is more and less is less.  Let’s not make it more complicated than it already is.  A sure turnoff is to be told one’s ideal training load is a combination of proper volume and intensity, rest and recovery, undulated and periodized over time, determined by training history, current fitness level, and total life stress, and individual to one’s unique physiology.  Deep breath, let’s start over.

Before my triathlon career I was a mediocre collegiate distance runner.  I noticed I really struggled with a certain type of workout called tempo workouts. I could hang on the long runs and the shorter intervals, but the long intervals were tough.  My VO2 max was high enough to get through the 2-5 minute intervals, and my basic endurance could carry me through a Sunday 15-miler, but set me up with 4 x 2 miles at 10k pace and I couldn’t fake it.  The truth is, I was probably just under-trained.

A staple workout type in my own training and that of our athletes has been Steady-State Interval Training.  When we talk about steady-state intervals, the scientific term we are referring to is “Maximal Lactate Steady State” (MLSS).  Technically it is the highest steady intensity at which blood lactate concentration varies by less than 1 mmol/L during the final 20 minutes of constant workload.  Based on “research,” well-trained endurance athletes can maintain this intensity for about 40-60 minutes.  For an elite runner that might be close to half marathon pace, but for most of us closer to 10k race pace.  For a cyclist, it will be very close to a 40km time trial, or very close to your threshold power.

I think this type of training is challenging and it requires the most focus and discipline, because it is so tempting to back off or quit.  It isn’t interesting, glamourous, or creative.  It’s all about repeatability.  Remember that variety is for the weak-minded (wink wink).  Typically, the intervals are long (8-20 minutes), and the rest is 50% or less of the interval time.  A simple workout to start with might be 3 x 10 minutes with 5-minute active recovery between.  Start with around 30 minutes of total time at MLSS and progress to 40+ minutes depending on your goals and training history.  For running, I would rarely go over 40 min at MLSS, but cycling I will occasionally push it closer to 60 minutes with something like 5 x 12 minutes.  The goal is to maintain the same intensity throughout each effort and from your first to last bout.

A study published in 2004 (Billat, Sirvent, Lepretre, Kortalsztein) studied the effect of 6 weeks of steady-state training.  The subjects of the study were well-trained, veteran distance runners and on average, they initially could run at 7:00 min/mile pace for 44 minutes. After six weeks of training and 12 steady-state exercise sessions, they could run 6:23 min/mile pace for 63 minutes (average).  They not only increased time to exhaustion by 50%, but their speed increased significantly.  Statistically it was a small change in velocity, but for a runner the difference in pace equates to about 4 minutes faster for a 10k and over 8.5 minutes faster for a half marathon!  If only time to exhaustion had increased then I would be more skeptical of the fitness benefit for events under one hour, but the fact that speed at MLSS increased significantly indicates that there would be performance benefits for all common triathlon distances.

Suunto Movescount Example:  CompuTrainer 4 x 9 minutes at 95% FTP, 3 min active recovery

Most lab testing for Maximal Lactate Steady State takes multiple days of testing to properly determine, but a good estimate can be determined by simple field tests found here.


Be a little conservative because field testing can slightly over-estimate MLSS, so use about 95% of your functional threshold speed or power.  Also, don’t call in your testing numbers with your 10k PR from 15 years ago on that point-to-point downhill course of questionable length.  Do a field test and get some honest current numbers to work with.  Once you have your field testing results, plug them into the calculator here:



Now get out there and train!


Billat, V., Sirvent, P., Lepretetre, P., & Koralsztein, J. (2004). Pflügers Archiv – European Journal of Physiology. Training effect on performance, substrate balance and blood lactate concentration at maximal lactate steady state in master endurance-runners, (447), 875-883. doi:10.1007/s00424-003-1215-8

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

More Middaugh Coaching Corner Articles

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Consistency is King

Presented by Suunto

There are so many different facets to a training program that determine whether an athlete is successful or not. However, when looking back at an athlete’s training log the single biggest indicator of improvement is consistency. Were they able to follow their plan in big chunks of consistent training throughout the year. But as we all know, it not that easy. Below are some guidelines to help you be a little more consistent as you get in your crucial blocks of training:

Put travel dates on your calendar before you build your training blocks

Planning big blocks of training only to realize you have a family reunion or a week-long cruise to Belize right in the middle can greatly impede improvement and consistency. If you know where these things are before you plan your blocks you can easily maneuver around them. Make that business trip a rest week, or a run focus block if you will only be able to run.

Make sure your training matches your fitness level

When coming up with your training program on your own or with your coach, you need to keep in mind your current level of fitness and start out at that level. If you start too far below, you are wasting your time and if you start too far above you are risking injury or overtraining. Don’t start where you left off in the fall and expect to be able to complete your workouts at the same pace, power or volume. I often have athletes start logging their workouts a month before we start their official training schedule so that I can see exactly what they have been doing. If you start your program and feel like you are doing too much, tell your coach or reevaluate on your own before you get injured.

Your volume and intensity must be realistic

A 12 hour per week training schedule will not work when you only have 8 hours to train. A well planned 8-hour week is much better than a 12-hour planned week that you just can’t manage. Athletes often allot training time based on the best-case scenario. Don’t! Make conservative estimates of your time. You will be able to get more of your workouts completed without cutting them short.

Incorporate a strength routine

One of the keys to staying consistent is avoiding injury. A strength routine that focuses on imbalances often found in triathletes can help ensure that you miss fewer chunks of time throughout the season trying to rehab injuries.

Don’t stack missed workouts

In general, if you miss a workout, move on to the next workout. Do not try to stack multiple days into one. This only leads to increased fatigue and chance of injury. It also usually sabotages the workouts for the rest of the week because you are too tired to properly execute them. If you know the workout you missed was a key workout for the week see if it can replace another workout later in the week, but don’t do both.

Training should be a priority, but not your top priority

Unless you are a single professional triathlete, training is not going to be your top priority. You have your family, career, etc. which need to be properly taken care of first before you can think about your training and racing. Plan your training around these more important items. If your family and career are in a good place, you will feel much better about getting in your training time.

Become an expert at time management

The athletes that consistently get in their training are those that know what day and what time they are doing their workouts each week. Without a schedule, it is much easier for something to come up that takes the place of your workout. I have also found that having planned days and times for each workout leads to far fewer excuses for missed workouts. For example, if you know what time you plan to swim you will not plan a conference call during that time if possible. Schedule your workouts just as you would an important meeting.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

More Middaugh Coaching Corner Articles

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Performing a Force Cycling Workout

Presented by Suunto

Essentially, a high-force pedaling workout consists of long bouts of pedaling with a slow cadence and moderate to high force.  These workouts might also be called muscle tension intervals, or simply big-gear pedaling.  The intent of a high-force workout is to recruit more muscle fibers per pedal stroke by pushing against a higher force than a typical endurance workout.  These workouts are sometimes referred to as strength training on the bike, or as a way to transfer strength training gains to the bike.  Done correctly, you can pedal with heart rate or power in an aerobic heart rate zone, while pushing a force greater than your threshold power.  Let me explain.

Power is a product of Force X Velocity (pedal speed).  If power stays the same, force and pedaling cadence have an inverse relationship.  Suppose you are pedaling on a flat road at 20 mph.  You can achieve that speed with a high cadence and an easy gear (low force), or a low cadence and a hard gear (high force).  In both cases, assuming all other variables are the same, you have the same power output with the proper gear ratio paired with a certain cadence.  Alternatively, if you want to achieve a force similar to your threshold power without working as hard energetically (think of threshold power as your one-hour race pace, or Olympic distance triathlon bike power).  Keeping it simple, let’s pretend your threshold power is 270 watts and you typically race with your cadence at 90 rpms.  To achieve a similar force at 70 rpms, you would only need to pedal at 210 watts.

Graph from Suunto Movescount (http://www.movescount.com/)


A force workout can be performed with cadence anywhere from 50-70 rpms.  Since the risk of knee pain goes up with such high force, I like the 60-70 rpm range for most people.  On the CompuTrainer, you also need to be careful not to pedal below 60 rpms for risk of overheating the load generator.  Outside on a long, consistent climb, it might feel better in the 50-60 rpm range, assuming pedaling mechanics are sound.  If you live in a flat area, then it works well to pedal a big gear into a headwind. Think of each pedal stroke as an individual rep and drop the heel as you press down to recruit the glutes to lessen patellofemoral stress.  Start with a workout such as 5 x 5 min high force pedaling, and build up the duration of your bouts until you are completing 40+ minutes of total time under muscle tension.  I like to use about 85-90% of threshold power for the force workouts.

The winter is a good time to work on your cycling force and it is easy to control indoors.  One option is to pair force workout with a strength workout.  If you do, it is better to perform the strength training first and then the cycling workout.  The high force pedaling might feel like a big load on the legs, but it is probably only about 40% of your 1 rep max strength.  So, in the weight room you might be doing reps of 10 with 75-80% of 1 rep max, so the strength training has a higher neurological demand.  If your power suffers too much, then you should separate your strength workouts from your force pedaling workouts.

Keep in mind that your overall goal is to increase threshold power, so if you adopt a much slower cadence to all of your cycling, then it will require a significant amount more force to get to threshold power.  It is good to be able to pedal at a range of cadences, so you may want to include some pedaling skills workouts or just be conscious of a faster cadence on your recovery bouts and pedaling at a range of cadences during your endurance rides.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

More Middaugh Coaching Corner Articles

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Winter Cross Training

We all remember Bo Jackson and his epic cross training commercials from the 90s, and if you don’t you better ask somebody. He was touted as the greatest all-around athlete, and all he needed was one pair of shoes. You don’t need those shoes, but in today’s age of specificity does cross training still make sense for triathletes? The principles of specificity of training tend to show that greater improvements are made in running, cycling, and swimming by primarily spending your time in those disciplines. There are very few studies that actually show performance gains made through cross training in these individual sports especially in highly trained triathletes.  So why in the world would you want to do it?

We came up with a few reasons:

The weather

This time of year means snow, ice, sleet and cold for much of the country. This means you’re stuck on a trainer or treadmill more often than not. It is, however, the perfect time of year for other activities such as Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, Pilates and yoga. Substitute a few of each discipline with activities that are ideal for your region this time of year.  Ideally, try to substitute like for like.

Strengthen imbalances and promote recovery

If you read our last article on off-season strength training, we listed exercises to help correct imbalances often caused by swimming, biking and running. A cross-training routine that focuses on your imbalances could help improve performance and help prevent injuries. Choosing low impact exercises such as Nordic skiing, skinning or the elliptical machine allow your body to recover from all the pounding it took this season.

Keep your competitive edge

There’s nothing worse than hopping in your first meaningful XTERRA of the season only to realize you forgot how to suffer. Winter events can really help you keep your competitive edge without the stress of under-performing or racing below a certain standard you have set for yourself. If I race a 10k or half marathon, I have a time in the back of my head I want to achieve even if I say it doesn’t matter. However, if I do an event where it’s hard to compare times such as snowshoe, mountain/fat bike, trail running, obstacle course, Nordic, or SUP events I can compete without having a standard time in the back of my mind. You still get to suffer and compete, but without the extra pressure.

Refresh the mind

You’ve been doing the same three disciplines for months on end.  Keeping up 3+ swims, bikes and runs per week all indoors, can lead to staleness before the season starts. You don’t want to lose all your fitness, but you want to cut back and keep your sanity. Take advantage of your winter environment by performing at least a couple outdoor activities each week.

Have fun

Cross training can be fun and social. Find local groups that are doing the cross-training activities you want to do or learn something new. Hop in local events put on by your local running, cycling and Nordic clubs. This is a great way to meet people in your area that are as crazy as you are!

Gain fitness

We are not saying that you will become a faster swimmer, biker or runner by incorporating cross training, but you can build a bigger engine that can be translated to sports specific speed later.  Conquering challenging terrain on snowshoes, pushing against the resistance of a fat bike, or reaping the aerobic benefits of Nordic skiing can all help make you a stronger endurance athlete as long as you are maintaining some specificity of training in swim, bike and run.

Josiah’s take

I have often welcomed the winter months because of the cross-training opportunities around Vail. Living in the mountains in Colorado, I have been fortunate that there are so many ways to get a good aerobic workout with less impact than pounding pavement.  My go-to cross training modes are snowshoeing/microspiking, Nordic skiing, fat biking, and occasionally skinning.  Many know that I spend a lot of structured time on the CompuTrainer, but I also like the balance of getting outside with some sort of vertical component.  The cardiovascular benefits of snow-running up mountains in the winter are huge.  Often I perform net elevation gain runs by downloading chairlifts to get all of the aerobic benefit without the eccentric downhill.  On groomed snow I wear Kahtoola Microspikes and for the trails and softer snow I wear Northern Lites snowshoes.  I try to get out once a week on skate skis and/or once a week on the fat bike.  For all of these modes, my perception is that it feels much easier to get my heart rate up for a sustained amount of time, therefore achieving a similar aerobic benefit without the intense focus sometimes required indoors.  I believe winter cross training has helped add to the longevity of my endurance racing career for many of the physical benefits mentioned above and also the psychological aspect.

Cross Training Do’s and Don’ts


  • Gradually introduce your cross-training activities
  • Substitute cross training in place of existing workouts
  • Choose low impact activities that limit pounding


  • Add more than 2-3 cross training sessions per week or 50% of weekly training volume
  • Replace your long run with a cross training session
  • Overdue activities that require a lot of lateral and stop and go movements such as basketball and soccer.
  • Add cross training activities on top of existing workouts

A Few Recommended Cross Training Activities (depending on where you live)

  • Nordic Skiing
  • Elliptical Machine
  • Snowshoeing
  • Stand Up Paddle Boarding
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Fat Biking
  • A strength routine that focuses on your imbalances
  • Obstacle Course Training
  • CycloCross

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.

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