Strong Enough For Single Ring: On-Bike Training

MTB Training

The third in the series helping you to get stronger for riding a single-ring setup is all about what you can do on the bike to prepare yourself for the change-over.  Some of it is pretty straight forward, some of it needs a bit of maths and some of it is going to make you sweat……

Coming from a triple chainset:  This is fairly obvious, but you basically need to spend more and more time in the middle ring, and leave the granny ring alone as much as possible.   The key here is to do it gradually and to record how you get along.  Maybe you ride one weeknight for an hour and do a longer, 3 hour ride on the weekend.  Start off just hitting the mid-week ride in middle ring until you are able to complete your route without shifting down to granny.  If you can’t do it then keep a diary. e.g. Wednesday ride, single ring except for the last 200m of Castle Hill.  The following Wednesday it may just be the last 100m and so on.  What we measure, we improve.  Apply this to the longer rides and crack on until you are confident you can make the switch and still enjoy your rides.

Coming from a double chainset:  We basically want to apply the same technique as before, however most double chainsets are 28/40 or 26/38, meaning that if we plan to run a 32 tooth single ring (at least at first) we need to be a bit clever with figuring out the gear ratios.  If you are planning on going to a 32 tooth ring with an 11-36, 10 speed cassette then we want to simulate this with the current setup and gradually build up.  On the new setup your lowest gear will have a ratio of 0.89. (The wheel will turn 0.89 of its circumference with each full revolution of the crank). To achieve an almost identical ratio with the smallest ring being 28 on a double chainset you would need to be in a 31 tooth ring on the cassette.  Depending on your cassette you may or not have the exact size ring, but it gives you an idea of where you need to be.  My final tip on applying this is to use the limiter screw to adjust the rear mech so that it does not shift into the largest cog, and then when you get to the point on the ride where you really need the extra gear, you can wind it out and get full range again.  Just record your progress and build up until you don’t need the extra cog(s) on the cassette.

Training sessions to help improve leg strength:

1. Force Reps.  This is a demanding workout that can put a bit of added strain on your knees, so if you have had knee issues in the past, it is probably best to skip it.  Similarly, if your knees hurt during the workout, then stop.  You will need a relatively steep hill, 5-8% is ideal and it only needs to be 50 m long.  Spin into the hill at a slow pace and then shift into a high gear at the bottom.  You should then do 6 full revolutions of the pedals in a seated position, pushing as hard as you can.  As a guide to which gear you should be in, you should not exceed a cadence of 50 rpm at the cranks (a bit slower than 1 revolution per second if you don’t have a computer with cadence function).  You should be putting a very large force through the pedals and it should be demanding.  Rest for 3 minutes, spinning easily and repeat 3- 5 times in total depending on fitness and training level.

2. High Gear Hill-Reps.  This is less strenuous on the joints and is more accessible to most riders.  You will need to use a moderate gradient hill that allows you to climb for 2-4 minutes.  The first rep should be done in your usual gear, spinning up at a moderate effort.  Recover for the same amount of time that the first rep took and then repeat, but 1 gear higher.  Continue this process until you drop below a cadence of 60 rpm.  Record your results in a diary and next time try and ride further in the higher gears.  For beginners this should only be done once per week, and twice for more experienced riders.

A final note on bodyweight:  Quite simply, your ability to ride up a big, steep hill without a granny ring is all about your power to weight ratio.  If you are weak, but a healthy weight, you can get stronger and more powerful, making good progress towards your goals.  If you are overweight then all of the above points need to take a back seat and you need to shift the body-fat as a priority, both for your health and your MTB performance.

Have fun out on the trails and I hope that this helps you on your journey to being stronger and faster on your mountain bike.

Stay Strong


The “Beast of Whistler”



Beast of Whistler


Ok….. I know you are thinking, ‘WTF does this have to do with getting quicker on my mountain bike?’

Well, it is actually the name I gave to the final training session before my athlete, Joe Finney jets off to race the EWS in Whistler on 10th August.  When I first started training Joe (riding for Bad Ass Bikes / Intense) he told me that as well as achieving podium results in the UKGE series, he also wanted to get a good result in his first EWS race at Whistler this summer.  Now, in case you didn’t watch the coverage from last year’s race, or don’t know much about Whistler, it was a super tough race with the longest stage of the whole season taking the fastest Elite rider 22:28 minutes, the fastest Masters racer 26:03 minutes and the 52nd placed rider in Masters (1/2 way down the field) a whopping 40 minutes!

Simply put – This stage was going to be a “Beast!”

As a general rule when training for an event in any discipline (bike or not) the closer to the event you get the more the training should resemble the actual event.  For that reason, when I sat down with Joe to draw up his training plan for the 3 months leading up to Whistler, I wanted something to work towards, and something to finish his training with a bang, sending him off to Canada fully prepared, both mentally and physically.  That is why I came up with The Beast of Whistler – a 25 minute challenge to roughly simulate the gruelling nature of this huge stage, pushing his body and mind to its limits.

The format was simple:  2 minutes work, 30 seconds recovery for 10 rounds.  The only rule was no sitting down in between work intervals.

The training session.I wanted this to be really tough for Joe, and it was as much about his mental strength and will to push on as much as his physical abilities.  In order to do well on a stage like the one in Whistler, he will need to push through the pain barrier, pedal when his lungs are gasping for oxygen and his hands are struggling to even hold the bars, all on technical terrain and at altitude.  Here is the programme:

  Exercise Notes
1      Burpee – Jumping Jack
2 Press Up / Pull Up Ladder, 1/1, 2/2, 3/3, 4/4…… If you fail on pull ups, then jump up and lower under control.
3 KB Swing @ 16kg
4 Walkouts
5 KB Lunges @ 16kg Hold as per goblet squat.
6 Mountain Climbers 1 min, Plank 1 min.
7 KB Goblet Squat @ 20kg
8 Press Up / TRX Row Ladder, 1/1, 2/2, 3/3……..
9 KB Thruster @ 8kg Change arms every 5. Single Arm
10 Burpees

This week, the time came to go head to head with The Beast, and just to make it more fun, it was about 28 C meaning Joe was going to end up a sweating wreck by the end.  Happy Days!  It was tough and Joe worked really well to get through the intervals without stopping once.  It certainly pushed his limits and I think it achieved what we wanted it to.  Having done this session, the culmination of his pre-EWS training and with a new PB on vertical jump the week before we both know that he is so much stronger now than at the start of the season.  A challenge like this can really fill an athlete with confidence and will help to build the character needed to win races and improve themselves.  It is not something I would do every week as it will take a lot out of a rider and he will be sore for days, however as a way to finish a period of training, I don’t think you can beat it.

You can easily put something like this together yourself, and you don’t even need any kit.  Just make sure it is specific to the event for which you are training.  For instance an XC rider may use a workout to simulate the brutal high speeds and intensity of the first 1/2 lap of a race where they are fighting for track position and battling their lactate levels and aerobic capacity.  A DH racer may want to do a 4 minute workout, based more around power and explosive movements with a barbell, like cleans, front squats and presses.  Head over to the Facebook page, give us a Like and let me know your thoughts, especially if you devise your own BEAST!

Good luck Joe!

Stay Strong



Daily Maintenance – The Baby Squat


Baby Squat

As a mountain biker it is super important to look after your hips and back, so that you can ride comfortably, move around on the bike and get the power down when you need to.  This basic mobility drill is something I have my athletes do every day for a couple of minutes, as well as before training or riding.

It is called the Baby Squat.  It is called that because that is how babies and toddlers sit naturally.  Interestingly it is also how most of the developing world sits as it is how we are meant to rest when not lying down.  I have even seen people sleeping in this position in Iraq and to me at the time it was mental!  Now I understand better though and have worked gradually to a point where I can sit like this for 10 minutes quite comfortably.

Most of you reading this will spend a lot of time in chairs, at the office, driving, reading this or watching the TV.  The problem is that a chair is not a natural position for us and it leaves our hips really tight and unable to move as freely as they should.  This manifests itself on the trail with lower back, hip and sometimes knee pain, so obviously if we want to enjoy riding more, we need to improve our hip mobility.

Watch the video below and try and find a couple of minutes per day to work on it and you will be surprised at the difference on the bike.

The Baby Squat is also part of the warm up drill before each session on The Bodyweight Strength Programme available here.

Stay Strong


Factory News: July ’14


UK Gravity Enduro

It has been a busy 6 weeks of riding, racing and training since the last Factory News, so without any delays, here is what I have been up to…….

UKGE Round 3, Afan.

This was hot, dry and dusty which made a nice change from the first 2 rounds and meant I didn’t have to clean my bike all weekend which makes me happy.  There was such a good atmosphere at this event and the course was so much fun, with a really diverse selection of trails, from trail centre hard pack to hand cut loamy goodness that had everybody falling off!  I had a pretty good race, finishing most stages in the 40’s in Masters, but really let myself down on one of  the stages with a 68th which dropped me down to a disappointing 52nd overall.

The MTB Strength Factory athletes both had good weekends as well, with Rob Goodey in his first season in Elites and riding his sweet new Diamond Back Mission getting a solid 22nd.  A highlight of the weekend was that he got 14th on stage 4 which was the gnarliest most tech stage of the whole race.  Well done mate!

Joe Finney, riding for Bad Ass Bikes intense went into the race feeling strong and confident.  I have been training Joe twice per week for a few months now using his bodyweight and kettlebells and he has really grown as an athlete, working hard and making some solid gains.  Just before the race we tested his vertical jump, which we had also done when we very first started training.  It is a simple test, but clearly shows increases in whole body power which relate directly to on-bike power and performance.  In 7 weeks he had improved my 6 cm which is amazing work and progress, really showing what some structured strength training can do.  The proof was in the results though as Joe, got his best ever result…… 2nd in Masters!  BOOOOOOM!  I have told him that if he does not win at Dyfi that I will give him 1000 press ups punishment, but in the meantime the lucky so-and-so is off to Whistler for the EWS.  Good luck dude.

On a side note, my wife entered the Afan round as her first ever MTB race.  Sadly it ended like this (below) on the seeding run.  Thanks to Scot (in green t-shirt) from Saddleback and the others who helped pick her up and to everybody who was so kind to her.  She is mostly healed up and looking forward to Grizedale!  Thanks to Doc Ward for the photo too……….


Looking For a Gym.

This has been proving harder than I thought at first, but I am searching the West Bristol area for a decent gym with the sort of space and equipment I need to train people.  There are too many crappy ‘health clubs’ that have a load of machines and no barbells – very frustrating.  I am in talks with a couple of places and hope to have somewhere to train you all by the end of the summer.


As well as working on my technical skills, my personal training has really been focussing on building my anaerobic endurance to better prepare me for 3-5 minute stages on Enduro races.  The 2 main techniques I have been using are:

Anaerobic endurance intervals:  4 to 6 intervals of 3 to 5 minutes duration each with recovery equal to the preceding work.

Pyramid intervals: Similar to the above intervals, except the duration builds to a peak and then decreases again. Intervals are 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 minutes long and are pretty disgusting!

Stay Strong




‘Cereal Killers’ Documentary


Diet and nutrition are subjects that divide opinion, both on and off the bike.  I have not really talked about my views on the subject yet, however I broadly believe in a natural, hunter gatherer style of diet, lower in carbohydrate and higher in fat and protein than most.  If you want to give it a label, then ‘Paleo’ is how I try and eat most of the time.  I also understand that allowances and exceptions have to be made, especially when it comes to long rides and competitions where I will use energy drinks and other manufactured products to allow me to perform at a higher level for longer.

As a way of introducing these ideas to you, there is a documentary available for free for the month of July, called ‘Cereal Killers.’  It follows an Irish ex-athlete on his journey as he changes from a typical, so called healthy diet based on government guidelines to one a lot higher in fat and without any sugar or wheat.  The results are impressive, and hopefully it will get you thinking about what you eat, and maybe even stimulate some further research and reading.

Stay Strong