21st Century Cardio Training – Part 2


In this podcast I show you how to use an intensity based program to avoid the pitfalls seen in most cardio programs:

21st Century Cardio Training Part 2

You can also download the handout I refer to in the podcast:

Cardio Training Handout

-James Wilson-

21st Century Cardio Training – part 1


In this podcast I cover my definitive look developing mountain bike specific cardio.

Cardio Training Part 1

Right click on the link above and select “Save as…” in order to download the MP3 file to your computer.

-James Wilson-

Going beyond a normal workout…

Are you “false fit”?

I wrote this for my regular fitness blog at www.coachjames.com but it is just as appropriate my fellow mountain bikers. We are extremely guilty of the “false fit” condition. Read to learn more…

Most exercise professionals would agree that there are many components to fitness. A well rounded approach to fitness that addresses all of them is usually the best way to achieve lasting gains and continual progress from a program. Being deficient in even one of these components leads to slow progress and results in a condition I call “false fit”.

“False fit” is when someone perceives themselves to be fit when there are glaring holes in one of the 5 Fitness Components. While each area can cover other, more specific concepts here is a list and brief description of 5 Fitness Components you need to work on:

1. Mobility – Your ability to move freely while maintaining good posture. Also includes elements of body control and body awareness.

2. Core Strength – Your ability to properly use your core to create a strong platform around which movement is created. Emphasis is on stabilizing the lower back and mobilizing the hips and shoulder blades.

 3. Power – Your ability to coordinate your muscles in order to create quick, dynamic movements. Life is dynamic and so everyone should have some sort of power training in their program, even if it is something as simple as slamming a medicine ball into the ground.

 4. Strength – I define this a little differently than most. I define strength as your ability to create proper movement and maintain that proper movement under load. Creating a movement through compensation, such as using your lower back during leg exercises, is not true strength no matter how much weight you move.

 5. Conditioning/ Endurance – Your ability to engage in your chosen activities without excessive fatigue. A good conditioning program will also act as a catalyst for fat loss. For most people proper conditioning should focus more on intervals than on traditional steady state aerobics.

Do you do yoga and/ or Pilates but do not work on power and conditioning?


Do you run or bike but don’t work on mobility and strength?


Do you “body build” but don’t work on mobility and conditioning?


If you answered yes to any of those questions, or if you see something on the list above that you are not addressing, then you have developed the “false fit” condition. You are fit as it pertains to the particular activities and exercises you engage in but the truth is your fitness is limited. Get you outside of your comfort zone and your true fitness levels will get quickly exposed.

Our body wants to maintain a balance between the 5 Fitness Components. When we lose that balance we slow down our progress and set ourselves up for pain and injuries. Sometimes the answer to achieving the fitness levels that you want is not in looking for different twists on what you are already doing but in looking outside your box for new elements.

I tell people all the time that if you do not want to look and/ or perform like everyone else don’t train like everyone else. Most people are dissatisfied with their current fitness condition so don’t take the same approach they do. Make sure that you work on developing true, well rounded fitness and avoid the pain and frustration that goes with being “false fit”.

-James Wilson-

Aerobic Base Training is Dead – The Scientific Proof

Ever since I came out about a year ago and blasted some huge holes in the idea of aerobic base training for DH and 4X riders I’ve had a lot of people doubt my sanity. Aerobic base training has been a staple of training programs for decades and many an off season program for mountain bikers has included an extended period of time reeling off boring miles on a trainer. While some people embraced my concepts (and proceeded to achieve better “aerobic endurance” despite doing little to no aerobic training) many others have questioned why this concept is so different that the “scientific” one.

Well, one of the problems is that the sports sciences are more like sports training history. Let me explain – people in the strength training trenches figure out what works in the real world (which is MUCH different than a controlled lab setting) and then implement it. Sometimes what we do flies in the face of the traditional “science” of training. Sports scientists pick up on what we are doing, study it and then tell us why it works. This process usually takes about 10 years or more to go from the cutting edge in the trenches to being taught in the classroom.

So, this meant that there was not a ton of scientific studies to confirm what I knew – aerobic training is worthless. But, now there are two landmark studies that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that anaerobic interval training is vastly superior to the out dated models still being promoted by the mainstream fitness media.

The only reason that mountain bikers feel compelled to include aerobic training in their program, particularly an aerobic base period, is to increase their aerobic capacity. The scientifically accepted method to determine aerobic capacity is VO2Max (Maximum Volume of Oxygen Consumed), which is an indicator of how well your body can utilize oxygen. Aerobic training had been shown to increase your VO2Max, so therefore was considered necessary for overall cardiovascular development.

However, few people realize that the best way to raise your VO2Max, and therefore your aerobic capacity, is through interval training, not aerobic training! While this may not make a lot of sense, it is true. Several recent studies on anaerobic intervals produced some of the largest increases in VO2Max ever see, including studies done on aerobic training.

One study in particular was done on what is popularly known as the Tabata Protocol. This method calls for 20 seconds of sprinting followed by 10 seconds rest and these mini-intervals are repeated 6-8 times per round. A workout may involve 1-3 rounds (complete recovery is allowed between rounds).  Researchers found massive increases in the subjects VO2Max in addition to the anticipated increases in anaerobic endurance markers. The increases in VO2Max were some of the largest ever seen in a study and proved that aerobic training is not the only (or the best) way to increase aerobic capacity.

Another landmark study that came out in the September 2006 Journal of Physiology studied the effects of 20 minutes of interval training (30 second sprints followed by 4 minutes of rest) vs. 90-120 minutes of traditional aerobic heart rate zone training. They found that the interval group which did only 1 hour of exercise per week had the same improvements in aerobic capacity as the aerobic group. Did I mention the aerobic group spent 4-6 hours per week exercising?

4 to 6 times as much exercise to get the same results in aerobic capacity? This isn’t even taking into account that the interval group improved their anaerobic capacity, something the aerobic group did not. This finding is astounding and shows just how much time you waste with aerobic training.

I’ve mentioned this before and here is the proof – anaerobic intervals will increase your aerobic capacity as well as your anaerobic capacity but aerobic training does not increase your anaerobic capacity. All of this means that if you have limited training time (and who doesn’t) you are wasting your time with aerobic training. Anaerobic intervals are the only way to maximize the effectiveness of limited training time.

Also, there is no evidence at all that you will burn out or get injured by training with intervals year round. This is simply a myth that has been told so many times that it has been taken as the truth. I challenge anyone to find me a single study that backs this claim.

What has been found is that going straight into hard training (either strength or intervals or aerobic) without a preparatory period will increase the likelihood of injury. So, like everything else, you must work into full blown hard core intervals and cycle their intensity and duration but there is no reason you can not do intervals year round.

Now, just to balance this out, there are 2 times when aerobic training has a place in your program. First, if you are so out of shape you can not tolerate even the easiest intervals then you should spend some time doing aerobic training to build your work capacity up a bit. But once you can do intervals you should make the switch.

Second, aerobic exercise is great for active recovery (something I have also mentioned before). Going out for a light 20 minute jog or ride will help to flush blood into the muscles and help you recover from your strength training and interval sessions faster. Outside of these 2 things, though, aerobic training is dead.

My mission in life is to drag our sport into the 21st century. Old and outdated training methods that waste your time and effort need to be confronted and dealt with. I know that taking on sacred cows like this will never make me popular with the mainstream bike industry but as one of the best strength coaches in the world Mike Boyle puts it – “I will never cease to be wrong, I may just cease to be popular”.

So, there you have it. It took me a few tries to get everything out there but I feel that I have proven that aerobic training, particularly aerobic base training for DH and 4X riders, is a waste of time and effort. You can get better results in aerobic capacity in less time while also increasing anaerobic capacity. This should be something that mountain bikers everywhere rejoice at because aerobic training is some of the most tedious and boring stuff around.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I did not plug my MTB DB Combos 12 Week Program which centers on the use of combination drills (a method of anaerobic intervals) to increase your overall cardio capacity better than anything else available to you as a mountain biker. You can check it out at www.dbcombos.com if you don’t have it already (and if you do then you know how right I am).

-James Wilson-

Back hurts after XC rides…

My buddy Lee McCormack (www.leelikesbikes.com) recently sent me this question…

James!OK dude. I’ve been doing longer rides lately, and it’s starting to feel
good. My climbing legs are coming back, and I’m comfortable for 2+ hour

The weak link is actually appearing on the DH. I’m training and riding the
way I always do, but my mid-back is starting to get tired. More
specifically, the erector muscles along the right side of my spine.

I can think of two influencing factors:

1) Bike setup. For many years, I’ve rocked 50mm stems. My new Stumpy has the
stock XC setup, with a 90mm stem. I’m trying the stock setup for testing
purposes, since that’s what most people roll.

2) The lack of a right clavicle. As you know, I have a non-union, and the
only thing holding my arm on is muscle. I definitely get tired in the
chest/shoulder/upper back area faster than I think I should. I’ll be getting
the shoulder fixed pretty soon.

What do you think, my brother? I’m really interested in the James Wilson

– Lee McCormack –

Here is the first thing I always think when someone tells me that something hurts as a result of exercise – bad movement causes pain. Bad movement also robs you of performance so the trick is to hunt down the bad movement and fix it.

Typically, if someone is getting pain in the erector muscles as a result of riding they will have a mobility deficit in the hips and/ or upper back and the body is coaxing excessive movement out of the lumbar spine. It sounds to me that you have upper back mobility issues as a result of your shoulder traumas.

You should be able to hold your arms straight over your head (elbows locked out and in line with your ears when viewed from the side) while keeping your head and lower back in a neutral position. If you can’t then you need to work on increasing your upper back, and specifically scapular, mobility.

Our body is designed to be a series of mobile and stable joints. In this case we want mobile hips, a stable lumbar spine and a mobile thoracic spine (upper back). You have to restore balance to the system first before you can really hope to address the real causes of the back pain.

As far as it hurting more on the right side, there are few things that could cause that. My guess would be that it is extra movement on that side. Since our left side lower body works with the right side upper body that would make sense if you are weaker with the left leg and you are compensating with the right lower back.

Here is my advice – don’t do any two legged strength training exercises for the time being. Do everything one leg at a time and get your left leg’s movement patterns cleaned up. Cue in on the lumbar movement and stop it by squeezing the glute even harder when it happens.

Also, get super aggressive with your body work. Get a tennis ball and put it between your back and the wall and dig in. The main areas to concentrate on are the right trap and lat but you should dig in all over the place and get the tension levels back there under control. It will hurt like hell but it has to be done. 

Long, repetitive efforts like XC riding will expose small “chinks” in your movement patterns and cause pain. That is why strength training and mobility work is so important – they are the only chance you get to fix those “chinks”.

Bad movement causes pain – find the bad movement and fix the pain. Pretty simple theory but one I have found to work pretty well.

Hope this helps, let me know if I can answer any more questions for you…


Interview with skills coach Lee McCormack

Lee McCormack is one of my favorite people. His enthusiasm for mountain biking and life is contagious. In this interview you get some insight into the world of skills training as well as his tips for improving your ride the next time you hit the trail.

Interview with Lee McCormack

(Rigth click on the link above and select “Save as…” to download the MP3 file)

-James Wilson-