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-

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-

Are you “overskilled”?

I would have to say that 90% of the MTB riders and racers that I have met would be defined as “over skilled”. It sounds absurd since most feel that some aspect of their riding needs work, be it skill related such as gate starts or fitness related such as better power endurance (I define MTB specific fitness as a “skill”). However, when you really understand how the human body functions and best adapts to MTB specific skills and fitness you will see what I mean. First, though, I need to explain the OPP.

The Optimum Performance Pyramid (OPP) was first introduced to me by Gray Cook, a highly influential figure in strength training circles. It is probably the best explanation that I have come across describing how performance training should be viewed. Gray uses the OPP to explain the 3 distinct levels of performance training, their prioritization and how to best integrate them.

The first, and broadest, level is Functional Movement. Contrary to the current fitness trends, this does not mean standing on a wobbly doo-hicky, looking like you are trying out for the circus. Functional Movement simply refers to developing adequate mobility, body control and movement awareness in order to safely handle higher level movements.

Examples of exercises in this level would include single leg box squats, pistol squats, Bulgarian split squats, single leg deadlift, push ups and their variations, inverted rows and alternating DB shoulder press. Bodyweight and unilateral exercises make up the bulk of this type of training. However, bodyweight exercises are extremely humbling when challenging variations are used. Do not underestimate the power of this type of training.

pistol20form

The Functional Movement level should also address any imbalances in the body, both mobility and strength wise, as they are a huge red flag for a potential injury. An athlete without a strong base built in this level of training will be far more prone to injuries, have a harder time mastering new skills and techniques and generally find that their training efforts yield few and inconsistent results.

The second level of the pyramid is Functional Strength. This level focuses on improving your raw strength and power. As I have touched on many times, increasing these areas will effectively add to your raw potential. Riders without adequate time spent on this level will also find that they have a harder time mastering new skills and will probably feel as if they have hit a plateau with their progression.

Examples of exercises in this level would include deadlift, front squat, bench press, military press, weighted pull ups/ chin ups, and DB rows. Compound, core exercises for the main movement patterns make up the bulk of this level.

The last, and smallest, level is Functional Skill. Unfortunately, this is where most training that MTB riders undertake would fall. This includes trail riding, DH runs, dirt jumping, 4X track time, gate starts, sprints, intervals and high level strength training methods such as plyometrics and Olympic Lifts. These methods will only yield the biggest “MTB specific” gains if they are used by someone who has spent time developing the base levels of the performance training pyramid. Believe it or not, over use of training methods in this level can actually slow down and stagnate skill development and fitness progression.

In fact, if you talked with any of the originators of a specialized training method I will guarantee you that they would tell you that they intended that method to be used by someone who had progressed into it. Every good strength coach understands the importance of laying a solid foundation and building on it in a progressive manner, but that approach is rarely reported on in the media or used by less skilled fitness professionals. What you find in the magazines and training boards is someone who reports on the specialized method independent of the progression intended to lead into it. Everyone wants to report on, learn and/ or use the “special” and “secret” training method of the champs, but failure to understand the progression into that method does a great disservice to the pioneers that gave us those methods.

Plyometrics have to be one of the best examples of this. Developed and refined by the old Soviet Union, plyometrics have developed an almost mystical status here in the United States. Almost every training conversation that I have with a rider eventually comes around to “what about plyometrics”, as if they hold the key to all riding goals. Riders who can barely pull off a bodyweight squat are jumping around cones and off of boxes in the quest for a MTB specific workout. However, the pioneers of the plyometric method would be greatly disturbed by this approach.

Some of the old Soviet training texts suggest that an athlete should have progressed (there’s that word again) to a double bodyweight squat before they were ready for depth jumps and other high level plyometrics. While I may not agree with that specific suggestion (more recent suggestions are around 1-1.5 times your bodyweight), it does underscore the fact that no one came into their training program and started off with plyometrics. In fact, it could be years before they would allow an athlete to use those higher level training methods if they felt adequate functional movement and strength had not been established. BTW, the Soviets kicked a lot off butt with this approach and this template has become the model for almost every high level strength and conditioning coach in the world.

So, as you can see from this point of view, most riders spend far too much time and focus on the Functional Skill level of the OPP. A lot of them may not have spent any time working on Functional Movement and/ or Functional Strength. This makes them over skilled, as their MTB specific skill and fitness progression is maxed out compared to the base that they have built. This means that a long term approach with an eye on safely progressing through the 3 levels of the OPP is needed for sustainable results. Without it, you are simply guessing at what will help you and hoping that it will. I don’t know about you, but that approach leaves too much to chance. If I’m going to invest time into training I want to be sure that it is going to pay off.

Note: do not confuse “over skilled” from a performance training point of view with having “adequate skill” from a pure performance point of view. Most of us will never be satisfied with our skill and fitness levels in every aspect of riding so we will always be looking to get a little better in some aspect on the bike. What I am saying is that at a certain point you must re-solidify the base of your OPP in order to continue to realize the gains offered by the higher level strategies.

-James Wilson-

21st Century Cardio Training – part 1

spinclass

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-