Now is when champions are made!

It was bound to happen sooner or later…it finally snowed here in Fruita. Even though the cold weather and shorter days are stark reminders that winter was on its way, the snow on the ground signals a real change in the riding season.

Now that the local trails are snowed in we have to start looking elsewhere to lay tracks down. Lucky for us Moab is a little over an hour away and tends to stay warmer and see less snow than we do. Since it also tends to be a scorching sweat fest in the summer we’ll be making the pilgrimage to Utah several times over the next few months. We also have a secret little spot a little less than an hour away that is like a mini- Red Bull Rampage venue. Think ridge line rides that you need to push/ hike up (go cardio!), rip down and then have a choice of 15+ foot drops or a cool step down hip jump.

Both of these places are great winter riding spots and offer something totally different then what we usually ride when we aren’t snowed in. But they also take planning and time to go ride so I won’t get nearly the saddle time in I usually do when I can hit the Lunch Loop trails about 15 minutes from my facility in Grand Junction. This means it’s time to step up the training so I can be ready when the snow melts!

Champions are made in the off season. Whether you are looking to stand on top of a podium or be the first one in your riding group to the top of that grueling climb that always kills you, this is when you make or break that dream. Just to show you what I mean, here is part of an e-mail I received at the beginning of the off-season last year:

“James,  

The training is going well. I have started your new Ultimate MTB Workout Program and I’m just blown away by it. I can see that you have probably spent a long time getting it together as it is quite comprehensive. You were right when you said to start with Phase 1… it schooled me the first week.  

The strength training is going great. I feel stronger than I have ever been. The new workouts are going great; I especially like the anaerobic intervals at the end. I am also now able to do full range of motion dips again after destroying one of my shoulders in a catastrophic front wheel failure 2 years ago.  

All and all everything is going great and the program is terrific. I’m glad you laid it all out there for those of us that have been on a quest for anything to make us faster and stronger over the past few years.  

Racing starts in May, I’ll keep you up to date, hopefully with some great podium news.  

Thanks…”  

Sean Tarricone

And here is a follow up e-mail I received a few weeks back –

“James,

I just finished my season with the “Last Chance for Glory” race at Plattekill last weekend. It was double points and I managed to land 2nd place for enough points to win the series and become the Expert 30-39 New York State Champion. I have been working at this for 3 seasons now and I finally got it done. I’m super motivated to get started training and come back dominate next season.

Thanks for everything.”
Sean Tarricone

Way to go Sean! It is great to see hard work and dedication paying off. The moral of the story is simple – if you want to dominate on the trail next season then now is when you make that happen. Set a goal, get a program and get going on it!

Of course I highly recommend the Ultimate MTB Workout Program (www.ultimatemtbworkout.com) or the DB Combos Program (www.dbcombos.com) but then I might be a little biased.

You can also keep checking out this blog for tons of free articles, podcasts and video demos on mountain bike training. In the last few weeks I have posted a lot of new content, including new videos I’ve never made available before and some great Q & A from riders around the world.

Hopefully your inspired to take your training up a notch, I know that I sure am. Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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Q & A: Arnold Press vs. Regular DB Shoulder

Q: When your workouts call for a standing dumbbell military presses can I do them like an arnold press. Basically just starting at the clean position and going up and down from there, or would it be more beneficial to do them as a normal press?

A: I do not really like the Arnold press for overhead pressing. The problem with it is that it does not require much from the upper back in order to stabilize the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is prone to injuries as is so promoting imbalances that are usually already present is not the best idea.

By doing them the way I explain on the videos you force your shoulder joint to work in a more balanced manner. However, you have to make sure that you have the upper back mobility to get yourself into the exact position I demonstrate and be able to maintain that position for the entire rep before you want to add a lot of load.

If you lean back or can not keep your elbows pushed forward so that they are directly under the wrists then you need to work more on your mobility than you strength for that area. Check out the video in my previous blog post for the video demo I am refering to.

-James Wilson

Exercise of the Week: The Shoulder Press

Here is how to properly execute a shoulder press. Along with being a great shoulder exercise, this is also a great torso strenghening exercise, making it a must in our programs.
-James Wilson-

Q&A: Replacing regular deadlifts with Sumo deadlifts?

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Q: I have a question about the sumo deadlift:What do you think about replacing regular deadlifts with sumo deads? I find it much easier to keep form with sumos, and even at the peak of my stretching and strength last summer my form with regular deadlifts left much to be desired.

If it boils down to another weakness/muscle imbalance that I don’t know I have, and if you think the regular deadlift addresses these things better than a sumo, I’ll keep doing the regular ones.

My sumo lift was always significantly heavier than my regular deadlift last year (numbers are in locker somewhere else).
A: You have to remember that you are ultimately practicing movements when you exercise. While you don’t want to go overboard, considering how you create movements on the bike is important when assessing the value of an exercise.

While sumo deadlifts are a good exercise, they are not as “specific” as regular deadlifts to riding. They also do not require the same degree of hip mobility which is why some people naturally prefer them. You can certainly use them but I would still base most of my deadlifting on the regular stance version.

Do not confuse arbitrary strength numbers with better performance on the bike. Getting strong in a less specific movement pattern is not as valuable as forcing your self to master and get strong in a more specific movement pattern.

-James Wilson-

Injury Rehab Strategies

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If you participate in mountain biking long enough then odds are you will end up with an injury at some point. The injury scale varies, ranging from surgery and intense physical therapy to simply needing time off with some ice. However, what almost all injuries have in common is that there is usually a gap between where rehabbing the injury leaves off and the level of strength and coordination needed to safely and effectively return to your sport.

In order to best bridge that gap you need to undertake a well thought out strength and conditioning plan. Both scientific studies and real world results show us that without this added approach the odds of re-injury are much higher and the level of performance upon return is lower. Simply going into the weight room and randomly doing some exercises is not the best way, though, and may in fact make the situation worse without the right approach. In order to maximize your strength training program for injury rehab you must follow these four components when planning out your workouts:

-Train Unilaterally: It is extremely important that when you start your post rehab training that you train each limb separately. When you do bilateral exercises such as bench press or squats the stronger side will take over the movement and try to protect the weaker side. This just reinforces the strength imbalance that usually accompanies an injury.

If you do not force the weaker limb to work just as hard as the stronger limb then you will never fully address the strength imbalance, making it practically impossible to return to pre-injury performance levels. For the lower body this means doing exercises such as split squats, step ups and lunges (just to name a few) and for the upper body this means doing single arm dumbbell bench press, pullovers, rows and shoulder press. Incorporating this strategy right off the bat will ensure that balance is restored as quickly as possible.

-Follow the Weak Side Rule: This one ties in with training unilaterally. Since the injured side is usually weaker, it is important that you do not unknowingly continue to reinforce the strength imbalance. To make sure that you do not fall into this trap do your weaker side first in order to let it dictate the load and reps for the stronger side. Once you have completed your first set on the weaker side do that same load and number of reps for the stronger side, no matter how easy it may feel. In fact, if it is a major imbalance then you will want to add in one extra set for the weaker side until it starts to catch up. Only by using this approach can you guarantee the success of your post-rehab program.

-Emphasize the Eccentric: Studies have shown that the eccentric, or lowering, portion of an exercise not only yields some of the biggest strength gains, it is also extremely helpful in strengthening tendons and ligaments. Since these structural portions of a joint are usually part of the original injury, they are in a weakened state upon return. That is one of the major reasons that the odds of re-injury are so high upon return. This makes doing everything that we can to strengthen them as quickly and safely as possible a major priority during the post-rehab period.

There are numerous ways to emphasize the eccentric, some more practical than others. So, for most the two easiest ways are to slow down the eccentric portion and by using the 2:1 technique. Slowing down the eccentric means exactly that – lower the weight down to a count of 3-5, really making sure that you keep tension in the muscle on the way down instead of simply turning the muscle off and letting gravity pull the weight down. The 2:1 technique consists of raising a weight with 2 limbs and then lowering the weight down using 1 limb. For example, a great lower body variation of this is the 2:1 bodyweight squat. Set up a bench behind you, lower yourself down using one leg and then use both legs to stand back up. Emphasizing the eccentric portion of your exercises, especially on the injured side, will help you return structural integrity in a safe and effective manner.

-Emphasize Compound Bodyweight and Free Weight Movements: Since one of the major goals with a post rehab program is to restore full function as quickly as possible, it is very important to use exercises that work a lot of muscles in a coordinated effort. Using isolation movements and machines may help return strength to a specific area but unless your body can properly coordinate that area with the rest of the surrounding musculature you will not have the function needed to safely and effectively return to your sport. Remember that your body coordinates itself to create movement patterns, so using bodyweight and free weight exercises to train these movement patterns instead of individual muscles will return full function in the fastest manner possible.

As you can see, there are several potential benefits to incorporating a well structured strength training program into your post rehab strategy. Besides the physical strength and control you will also gain the mental confidence from knowing that you are doing everything that you can to ensure your success. Seeing your injured side performing well in a controlled environment like the gym will do wonders for your confidence in the chaotic environment of the trail, letting you simply perform instead of constantly wondering if you are going to re-injure yourself. Fitter, more confident athletes also tend to have more fun upon their return, which is still what it is all about.

 -James Wilson-

Don’t Fall for the Bike Mag Hype

bikemag

Warning – what follows is a rant that may appear to be a bit random in places. It may also offend a few people but if I’m not pissing somebody off every day then I am probably not trying hard enough.

I have to admit it – I’m getting more than a little frustrated at the MTB industry. MTB riders everywhere have been flat out lied to and deceived by the MTB industry, particularly with the help of the magazines. In short, these entities have managed to convince most everyone that the key to enjoying mountain biking is more about the bike they are riding and the components hung on that bike than about how tuned the engine driving the bike is. This approach is total bull shit that will do little to really help riders enjoy the trail more.

I recognize it because the same thing has happened to the general fitness industry. You can’t open a single fitness magazine without being accosted by ads and articles pimping supplements and new machines and gadgets. The same money driven attitude has spawned this “all sizzle, no steak” approach that we see in the MTB magazines. Trust me, advertising dollars drive the MTB world just like it does the fitness world. And what the advertising dollars want you to see and hear the magazines are more than happy to print.

True story – several years ago I knew the owner of a large bike company that was importing a unique new bike from the European market to the states. I saw him on the trail one day and he was pretty pissed after a meeting with the editor of one of the bigger MTB mags. He had wanted to see about getting the bike reviewed by the mag and was told that the write up “could” depend on how much advertising he was willing to buy, plain and simple.

Granted, some smaller bike builders manage to get their bikes reviewed without having to invest in a good deal of advertising but that is the exception, not the rule. It is no coincidence that companies like Cannondale and Trek have no problem getting every bike they bring to market in the mags – they also happen to buy 2 page advertising spreads every month as well.

Magazines would quickly go out of business without these advertising dollars so they feel compelled to oblige those that basically write their paychecks. Now, I’m not saying that there is a big conspiracy in which all of these people know that they are blowing smoke up your butt, they simply don’t know any better. Like my dad told me once – if you grow up in a whore house you just don’t know that whoring is wrong. They just know how business has been done in the past and to them it is just business as usual.

We all know of riders who rip it up on whatever bike they ride. I’ve personally known 2 guys who rode some pretty beat up bikes and absolutely embarrassed everyone else on the trail, no matter how new and advanced the bike everyone else was riding. To use a better known rider as an example, how did Fabien Barrel win 2 DH World Championships on a Kona Stab? Is the Stab the most technologically advanced bike in the world? Hell no, Fabien is just a great athlete and he trains his ass off.

Or how about my boy Rich Houseman? While Yeti obviously makes great bikes, was it the bike that allowed him to win his first Pro title last season? Nope, Rich has worked hard over the years to get where he his at and I guarantee you that he could throw a leg over any bike and be a threat on the track.

Top riders, both pros and bros, know the truth – give them a bike and they can tear it up because they have the most important asset a biker can have – superior physical skills. Training can give the average MTB rider better physical skills and while they may never get to the same point that a Fabien or Big House are, they can get closer than they will be by trying to figure out how to shave a pound off their bike or what shiny new part in the bike mags they must get next.

Seriously, what will make a bigger impact on your riding – adding 75 lbs. to your deadlift or adding a carbon fiber handlebar? Investing in a bike skills camp or investing in the new XTR build kit? Living in Fruita I have seen countless guys on the best bikes money can buy poking along the trail because they are physically weak and their skills suck. You simply can not appreciate the small performance increase these top tier bikes and parts offer unless you are physically in shape to do so.

Now, I do acknowledge that you do need a decent bike that is made for what you are doing. Obviously a Wal-Mart bike will not do and trying to downhill on a XC bike will get pretty scary, but once you have invested in a decent bike that is intended for the type of riding you are doing the best way to enjoy the trail more is to start worrying about increasing your physical skills and capacities.

However, the mags don’t get advertising dollars from training sources so they don’t want to “waste” space promoting something that does not pay them to do so. They are also afraid that they will lose readership if they do something different than the other mags, a lemming mentality that does little to advance our sport.

So, what does this all mean? First, check yourself and your priorities. Do you really want to be a better rider and enjoy riding more? If so, what are you doing to achieve that goal? If your answer is something like “saving for a new (fill in the blank)” then maybe you’re going about it the wrong way. If you are really serious about getting all that you can out of your saddle time then your answer must include investing in yourself through some sort of skills or physical training program, preferably both. If not, then being a better biker is not really a priority of yours, which is fine, just know that you’ll probably be riding at the same level this time next year, even with a shiny new crankset or handlebar.

Second, if you are serious about being a better rider then take some action. Invest in yourself and let your favorite bike mags know that you would like to see more coverage of skills and physical training. If they start to think that their readership wants to see this type of stuff then they will be much more likely to devote some of their space to it.

Anyways, so ends my rant. My singular mission at this point is to help re-shape the mentality of the MTB world and hopefully help my fellow riders better appreciate what investing in themselves will do for them. Hopefully some of you can help me do just that. 

-James Wilson-

Combo Lift Video Demo

Here is a video demo I shot of some different ways to use combination drills in your routine…

-James Wilson-