Doing long intervals on the pump track

Chris in Australia is doing the Pump Up the Base training program, and he’s working in some pump track action, but he wants to know how he can maintain pump for the long intervals.

Hi Lee,

I got your Pump Up the Base ebook the other day. It’s great. It answered a lot of questions I had. I’ve a question for you about pump track intervals more specifically; how does one come to ride a pump track aerobically?

In all my years riding pump tracks, I’ve only ever got on and gone fast for three laps, then had to stop. Every so often I’ve pushed it out to 5 or 6, but they are much slower and take enormous effort. Once I did 22 laps, to spite my wife who did 19, just to spite me for doing 10! But none of this has made me any faster or more efficient, just tired.

Is it just a matter of doing the intervals and finding a pace that your body can gradually adapt to? What about breathing? In kettelbell swinging the breathing is synchronized with the hips, this would probably lead to hyperventilation on a pump track unless you exhaled on every 2nd roller. What do you do?

Thanks again,
Chris Q


Now we’re talking!

It takes some serious kung fu to ride pump track for more than a few minutes. Pump Up the Base starts with 3-minute intervals and ends with 20-minute intervals. Most of those intervals can be pedaling, but if you do some on a pump track you’ll be much stronger and more skilled.

As a matter of fact, pump track intervals are probably the most compressed and complete way to develop overall MTB kung fu.

Here are some tips for aerobic pump:

Build a great track. The smoother and more mathematically awesome your track is, the better. If you use the standards in Welcome to Pump Track Nation, you’re good to go. My track is built into a hill — gaining/losing 10 feet per lap, with some big shapes — and that makes long sets very hard!

Dropping down … then pumping back up. Doing work on my pump track.

Dial in your kung fu. Balance on your feet. Move your hands with the shapes. Power from your hips. By lap 77 you will find some smoothness.

Go slow! You cannot sustain your one-lap pinned pace for 10 minutes. This is a whole other game. If you’re doing Pump Up the Base intervals, find a pace right below your aerobic threshold (a pace you can maintain for a while without destroying yourself). When you step up to the Prepare to Pin It intervals, you can go full speed.

Get strong. Most fit cyclists can maintain “sweet spot” pedaling power for a long time, but very few have the overall body strength to maintain that effort level on a pump track. Your core will likely give out first. If you get too tired to ride with good technique, finish your workout by pedaling. Ha! Pedaling is the easy way out!

Focus your effort. Many tracks have one section where some extra power will get you a big boost of speed. Snap between those turns or boost that jump option. From there settle in and try to recover on the rest of the lap. On my track, once you get up the hill you can settle in.

Whew! This is a good time to rest.

Ride a sick bike. My Specialized P3 is unbelievably fast. Fox 831 fork, Shimano XTR brakes (yes, I brake on my pump track), Point 1 Racing Podium pedals, SRAM Rise 60 carbon wheels. Any wimp can ride 100 laps on this bad boy. XC and trail bikes work too, but nothing’s better than a dedicated pump track bike (or, or a smooth track, a BMX bike!).

Breathe! Deep, smooth and rhythmic is key. On a short track, you can time your breathing with the straights and turns. Inhale on the straight, exhale in the turn, and so on. On a longer track with wider spacing, try inhaling in one trough, exhaling in the next trough, and so on (a turn is a trough on its side).

Anything worth doing is worth measuring. I often ride with a Wahoo Fitness heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor, which transmit data to my iPhone then a display unit on the handlebar. It’s pretty crazy how high the workload is compared with a pedaling workout. I also use a Stages Cycling power meter, but that shows zero. Ha!

Pin it!

— Lee

My Stumpy 29 is wired with Wahoo Fitness and Stages Cycling nerd goodies — and when I get tired I can raise the seat and do some pedaling. I suppose pedaling is important too …

Know more. Have more fun!

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