Combined Strength

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As I have said before, my goal is to coach a rider who wins a World Cup or the World Champs.  To do that, I need to be the best coach I can be. I need to continually learn and develop.  I need to ask questions of myself, my riders and my techniques.

That is why I have joined Combined Strength.

Combined Strength is a group of coaches from across the UK, led my Andy ‘Iron Mac’ McKenzie.  Its goal is to improve the UK fitness industry and to develop world-class coaches capable of working with a variety of clients from desk worker to elite athlete.  As a member I can benefit from the knowledge and experience of the group.  We all give to the group and we all gain knowledge and support from the group whether it is training or business related. The group is not just open to any trainer though, and you have to earn your place. Not all who apply are accepted.

Andy Mckenzie. Combined Strength

Andy Mckenzie. Combined Strength.

This weekend I spent my first training weekend with Combined Strength, enjoying a variety of sessions including gymnastics strength training, animal flows and a fascinating talk about the mindset needed to initiate real and lasting change in yourself or a client.  Over the two days there were many take-away pieces of information that I will be able to apply to my coaching immediately, giving my riders a better service and hopefully contributing to better results at the races.  It was all rounded off with a brutal conditioning session of sled push, press ups, ball slams, sprints and farmers walks, but that was just for fun!

The group are diverse in their backgrounds, specialities and approaches but all share a passion for fitness and helping their clients reach their goals.  I know that as I continue my journey to the top of mountain bike sports coaching I have the support of some of the best coaches in the country.

When you choose to train with me at MTB Strength Factory you are getting a professional coach who invests in my education and personal development so that I can give you the best possible experience.

Stay Strong

Ben

MTB Strength Factory Race News

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Let’s just keep this simple……  I know you are often only as good as your last race result, but this season has seen a steady stream of good results in races across the UK and Europe for MTB Strength Factory trained riders.

Every weekend my riders are smashing out solid race results and this weekend was no exception with plenty of podiums and a couple of wins to add to the trophy cabinet.

Glentress 7 endurance MTB event:  1st place for Joe Norledge.  I provide strength training for Joe who programmes his own riding and over arching training plan.

British Downhill Series, Bala:  Elite Men – Rich Thomas from Team Wideopenmag 17th in a stacked field and whilst holding down a full time job, beating a few full time pros with a rapid time.  Watch out top 10!

Elite Women – Veronique Sandler 4th in her first BDS of the year, riding for Loose Riders.

Expert Men – Kye Forte 5th riding for Team Wideopenmag.  Kyle is now the number 1 ranked Expert in only his first season up from Masters.

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Women – Lindsay Hanley in 2nd riding for NX2 and bouncing back after a massive crash at the Fort William BDS a couple of weeks before.

Junior Men – Charlie Hatton taking another win aboard his Nukeproof riding for Team Wideopenmag.  He put a good couple of seconds into the other juniors and leads the overall standings.  He is going into the World Cup at Fort William feeling fast, strong and confident.

Youth Men – Morgan Tyrrell in 7th although there is some controversy being resolved over some suspect timing issues so who know how well he actually did.  What I know is that he is working hard and riding really well and still managing to study for his GCSE exams.  Top work Morgs.

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I am just doing my last few gym sessions with my riders for the week before heading up to Fort William for the World Cup and the 4X Pro Tour.  I have Charlie Hatton racing in Juniors, Veronique Sandler in the Women and Duncan Ferriss racing the 4X and with a score to settle from last year!  Bring it on……..

Stay Strong

Ben

Coaching slots are still available either face to face in Bristol or via online coaching.  Drop me a line on ben@mtbstrengthfactory to find out more.

Wrist strength and training for MTB.

A really common problem with riders I train is pain or discomfort in the wrists when they are doing press ups and other floor based movements.  We have all fallen off and jarred a wrist and maybe even broken a wrist or two over the years and it often leaves the wrist with a limited range of motion and uncomfortable in certain positions.

In the video below I outline some simple tips that will help you to train with wrist issues as well as generally strengthening the wrists so that they are more robust for riding and training.

Good luck with your training and don’t forget to check out my new kettlebell programme for building full body strength!

Stay Strong

Ben

N1NO – Hittin’ The Gym.

You might have seen this video doing the rounds on social media recently.  It is from the web series about the training and life of XC whippet and all round MTB demon, Nino Schurter.  If you have not seen it, then take 5 and watch it now….

Having just watched the video myself I had a few thoughts I wanted to pass on about the way I train people and what I can learn from this.  I was also imagining people (like you!) going home and trying some of this crazy stuff in your garages and falling off your kid’s skateboard!

1.  I strongly believe in training balance and coordination and regularly integrate these things into my warm ups for my riders at the gym.  Sometimes I also use balance and stability drills in rest periods between sets as well.  Improving balance and your ability to correct yourself from an off-balance position plays an important role in injury prevention, especially when you are falling off your bike on uneven and loose terrain.

2.  Nino’s training schedule as a full time athlete allows him to do a dedicated and very intense session of balance, stability and core training.  He has time to ride lots (way more than you!).  He also has time to do conventional strength training in the gym and in order to do all of this, he must also have time to rest, eat and recover in order to grow as an athlete and avoid burn out.  Pretty much all of the people I train have full time jobs.  Training time is very limited and so choosing what will get the biggest return on your investment is crucial.  Would dedicating a whole session to this type of training each week be an effective use of your time?  Quite possibly, however you would be missing out on an opportunity to develop real strength.  This is where copying the pro’s is not always the best approach and assessing your individual needs as a rider is critical.

3.  I have never personally been a fan of ‘circus tricks’ in the gym, like standing on swiss balls and doing a shoulder press and other things like that.  I have never felt like they gave much of a reward and that they were always compromised and focussed too much on looking cool.  Take my shoulder press example:  Doing it on a swiss ball means you can’t press as much weight, so you won’t get as strong. It really is that simple.  However, Nino’s coach has programmed these movements specifically as part of a broader programme of balance and stability, so it does seem more justified.  For you, who probably has limited gym time, you could use an exercise like this as a great warm up tool for stabilising and preparing the shoulders for a series of hard sets of a standing press.  Again, with limited time, simply copying the pro’s is not always the best way to train.

4.  I found his ‘cognitive’ recovery periods really fascinating.  Rather than just chilling out between sets, he did something that challenged his brain and coordination (juggling) whilst he was basically ruined!  I already apply similar principles in some of my coaching, but will be doing some more in depth research and experimentation on this with myself and my riders over the coming months.  For instance I frequently programme a bike session that I call ‘Fatigued Technical Skills,’ where I get my rider to sprint for 10-30 seconds into the top of a DH trail so that they are riding the technical sections whilst breathing heavily and with a high HR.  This simulates racing and also teaches them to ride relaxed and to keep a clear head even when they are hitting 185 bpm!  In the gym I also coach a deaf mountain biker and we do a lot of work on her balance.  Now we have made some progress with her balance we are challenging her more by doing some tough conditioning work and then balancing in the rest periods.  This is something that I shall look at implementing with some of my riders as well.

5.  In their gym they have lots of cool toys to play with.  My old gym had an Indo-Board surf trainer which was awesome and I think I am going to invest in one myself!  I already use wobble mats and Bosu balls, but I think that some more varied challenges would be good for my riders so I might crack out the credit card!

6.  Remember that the things you saw in this video are all out of context.  Whilst he is showing you some pretty unique and interesting training, does he do this all year or just for a pre-season tune up?  Does he do it weekly or even more often?  How does it fit into his broader programme?  Don’t get too hung up on the detail of what Nino does here as I think the take away message is that for most riders there are a few things to be learnt from this video:  The first is to use instability in your warm ups and/or training to build robustness and to protect yourself.  The second is that you need a really strong core to ride at the top level.  The third thing to take away is that his training is fun and varied, and yours should be too.  Finally, he is working hard, completing quality reps (not quantity) and it is all part of an over arching programme.

What are your thoughts on the video?  What about my thoughts?  Do you agree with me or disagree? I would love to hear what you think!

Stay Strong

Ben

Learning The Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is the defining kettlebell exercise.  When you learn to do it correctly, it will help you to develop a strong and powerful back, core and legs as well as offering a great conditioning session if you do higher reps.  There are loads of different videos out there in the internet showing you how to swing the kettlebell, some are very good, and sadly a lot are very poor.

Below here you can find my kettlebell instructional videos (Part 1 and Part 2) taken directly from my Kettlebell Strength Programme.  In the videos you will learn that the swing is all about generating power from your hips.  It is not a squatting motion and you should not be lifting the kettlebell with your arms!  Hip power is the key to becoming a better athlete in pretty much any sport and it directly relates to mountain biking by helping to create a strong ‘Attack Position’ on the bike as well as helping to develop your leg power for out of the saddle efforts out on the trail.

In Part 1 you will learn the basics and develop a rhythm with the swing:

In Part 2 you will take the basics and build on them to create a full swing up to shoulder height.  You also get to see me looking ridiculous doing my ‘spaghetti arms’ coaching drill!

Remember that the swing is all about technique.  You must invest some time and effort into learning the swing with good form!

If you want to use kettlebells to get faster on your mountain bike, then the MTB Strength Factory Kettlebell Strength Programme is for you.  It is a comprehensive training programme that will offer many months of training gains.  All of the exercises have professionally produced video tutorials so you can be reassured that you are doing the right exercises in the right way.  To download your copy today, just hit the link…  Kettlebell Strength

Stay Strong

Ben

Training By ‘Feel’

These days it is easy to become convinced that in order to train properly, you must have all the latest tech toys and gadgets on your bike and body…….. GPS, cadence sensors, HR monitors, power meters, smart phones and apps, turbo trainers and the list goes on.

Whilst all of these items can help your training if used correctly, there is another way that is both cheap and simple, and with practice it can be quite reliable.  Training by ‘Feel’ is where you use your own perceptions of intensity to gauge how hard you are working at any particular time on the bike.  It is about getting to know your body and learning the signs that tell you how hard you are working.  Once you can do this, you can then train at certain intensities for specific periods of time as part of a training programme and you will need nothing more than a watch.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is the name given to the scale that sports coaches and scientists use to monitor efforts in athletes in training.  It is simply a number that reflects how hard you are working at that time or that reflects how hard you worked over a period of time.  Whilst there are different RPE scales, I like to keep it simple and use a scale of 1-10 with my athletes, with 1 being really easy, barely breathing or moving and 10 being the hardest you could possibly work.  With a simple scale like this I can use it in the gym; “How hard was that last set?” or I can use it for programming rides; “I want you to ride at RPE 2-3 for 3 hours.”

Training by feel you get to know certain markers that give you clues as to how hard you are going.  Can you hold a conversation?  If so you are probably at an RPE below 4.  Speech practically impossible?  RPE 9 or 10.  Feeling moderately uncomfortable?  Probably RPE of 7-8 and so on.

Whilst it takes time to learn the signals that your body produces, if you concentrate on using this technique for a few weeks of properly structured training you can start to become fairly effective at using it to gauge intensity.  The beauty is that you don’t need to charge anything up, monitor numbers or download any data.  You simply make a plan and ride.  Learning to train like this also has one real benefit for those of you who regularly use a heart rate monitor for training.  As you may know a HR monitor is great for monitoring intensity over longer efforts, but is very limited for short efforts of 2-3 minutes or less due to the fact that it lags behind.  If I want somebody to perform 3 x 2 min efforts at a high intensity, the HR monitor is pretty useless until the end of the first minute as it is trying to catch up the whole time and so there is not point using it.  Training by feel and knowing how hard you can go for 2 minutes without any outside assistance is a great skill for an athlete to have.

Table showing RPE:

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The message to take away here is that by learning about your body and how it works and feels, you can effectively monitor how hard you are working and therefore you can train effectively.  It will never be as accurate as a power meter, but then a power meter costs hundreds of £’s and training by feel is free.

Stay Strong

Ben

Developing Sprint Power

Sprint Training

Being able to accelerate your bike, sprinting down the trail is an important skill especially for racers.  Most riders don’t understand how to train their sprint power though and as a result just don’t get the gains they want.

There are two main approaches to develop your maximal power on the bike which will let you sprint harder and faster.  The first is gym based strength and power training and the second is on-bike sprint training sessions which I will concentrate on today.

In the gym:  Before you think about doing power work, you need to be strong.  In fact most people will get a more powerful sprint just by doing some proper strength training in the gym.  If you are strong, you are more likely to be powerful.  You should focus on the big compound lifts like squats and deadlifts (heavy with low reps) and compliment that work with single leg exercises like lunges, step ups, and Bulgarian split squats.  As mountain bikers your quads (front of thighs) are probably quite well developed and your hamstrings (back of thigh) and glutes (ass) are probably fairly weak so you need to make these weaknesses a priority.  When doing single leg work, always train the weaker leg first and over time the difference will become smaller and you will become a stronger, more rounded athlete.

There is no point having really strong legs if your back and core are weak as piss as you will just leak power and probably end up with back problems.  Make sure that you train your core using your bodyweigth in lots of different directions and using various methods.  As a starter, front and side planks are a good bet.  Aim for 2 min front and 1 min each side as a basic standard.  Whilst squatting and deadlifting in particular will strengthen your back, you should also do some back extensions either on the floor, over a swiss ball or on a back extension bench (don’t use the crappy machine!).

That was a brief overview of what you can do in the gym to build real strength to help you sprint your bike hard and fast.  Whilst the gym is important for developing crank-bending torque you really need to get out and actually sprint to make the biggest gains.

Bike Sessions:  This is where I see people make a lot of mistakes with sprint training.  The most common thing you see is people sprinting up and down a set distance again and again and without any rest.  They are totally blowing out of their arses and their legs are burning after the first sprint and by the  4th or 5th they are barely sprinting at all.  Only the first sprint of the set is actually training max sprint power.  Whilst this may be a productive anaerobic interval training session that may aid you in other areas of your training, it is not going to actually improve the amount of power that you can put down out of the start gate at a race.  To improve max power for sprinting you need to sprint at your maximum., not below it.  Most people can only sprint at maximal pace for maybe 3-8 seconds and then take about 5 minutes or more to recover enough to do it again with similar intensity.

Although they are not riders it is interesting to know that the Jamaican 100m sprint team do sessions with 100m sprints with a whopping 30 minutes rest in between sprints!  That way they can recover enough to do each sprint at maximal intensity (speed) and by doing so, train their bodies to sprint as quickly as possible which is why they win so many medals!  I know that you don’t have 3 hours to train 6 sprints, but carry on reading and I will show you the way…..

Let’s look at a typical sprint session that you could do out on a fire-road or on a quiet lane, free from traffic:  From a standing start, complete 6 x 30 metre max effort sprints with 5 minutes rest in between.  In between reps, keep warm and moving but basically rest and recover in time for the next effort.  Make sure that every rep is aggressive and you are mentally focussed.  You can’t hold back anything!  Obviously you need to complete a thorough warm up first, including a 60-70% effort and will need to spin your legs out at the end as well.

A session like this won’t leave you sore and feeling really tired but don’t underestimate the toll on your body from training like this.  You should only do these sessions once or twice per week and they should be followed by an easy training day to make the best gains from the session.

Another important consideration is when to sprint uphill, downhill or on the flat.  They all have their own demands and training effects and should be programmed differently:

Uphill sprints are the most demanding as you have to overcome gravity in order to accelerate forwards.  The resistance to each pedal stroke will be high, requiring a lot of leg strength and the final speed and cadence will be lower than downhill sprints.  These are important for developing power for DH and 4X racers in pre-season but are generally not performed too close to racing due to the stress it places on the body.

Flat sprints are the middle ground between high speed downhill efforts and high force up hill efforts.  They are still important for developing your sprint power and can be done closer to competition if adequate recovery is programmed.

Downhill sprints are as much about technique and commitment as any physical ability and that is why they are so important.  They teach you to spin at a high cadence and get you used to the high speeds of maximal sprinting in a race, particularly down the start ramp at 4X.  They are less demanding on the body, but are more race specific and are best used closer to competition to ensure you are sharp on race day.  You need to be totally committed and think about gear selection and changes over the first 10 metres or more.  Due to the higher speeds, make sure that you wear your helmet and other gear; if you break a chain at top speed you will be flying out the front door and it won’t be pretty!

Another consideration is pedals; do you practice clipped in or on flats?  Even if you race in clips, I would recommend that you train on flat pedals to develop a smooth and powerful pedalling technique.  The real power is on the downstroke and not pulling the pedal up at the back, so don’t worry about losing power.  As well as pedal technique you should have a look at your body position and overall sprint technique.  Get a friend to video you sprint training and compare it to the top racers online.  I bet their body positions are a lot more extreme out of the gate as they put the power down!

The bottom line is that to develop your max sprint power, and therefore acceleration, you will need to sprint maximally in your training.  Repeated efforts with increasing fatigue will not allow this to happen.  Sprint – Rest – Repeat – Recover – Race Faster.

Stay Strong

Ben

Changing Things Up In The Gym

 

Joe's Programme

Things can get stale in the gym pretty quickly unless you change things up from time to time.

That’s why last night I ran my rider Joe Finney’s session a bit differently to normal.  We were a little short on time, and Joe was a bit tired and sore from riding Moto on the weekend, so rather than going through a really structured session I decided to put the session into Joe’s hands to see how he got on.

I prescribed what I wanted to achieve in the session and wrote it on the chalk board and the rest was down to Joe, selecting what he wanted to do and when and also selecting what weights to lift for the deadlift in order to reach his 2000kg target for the session.  If the session only took 20 minutes then that would be it – all finished for the night and job done!  It was simply about getting a prescribed amount of work done on his terms.  Here was the plan in case you can’t read my writing on the picture!

Deadlift 2000kg

Goblet Squat @20kg x 50

Press Up x 60

Get Up x 30

Mountain Climber x 100

Fat Bar Chins x 20

KB Swing @32kg x 40

This workload is within Joe’s capabilities and is neither easy or super hard for him.  It will have a beneficial conditioning effect as well as the strength and power gains from the big lifts, due to the non-stop nature of the session.  It took about 25 minutes of steady graft in the end.

The key message I think is that there are so many ways to get stronger, fitter and in shape for any goal.  The key is to vary the training stimulus so that the body and mind do not adapt and are always kept guessing.  Whichever path you take, you should be committed and you should believe in the programme and your ability to succeed.  By doing this I gave Joe ownership and responsibility for his own training and self-development and this is a powerful tool for a coach to wield with his athletes.  Tomorrow night we will be doing something completely different in terms of stimulus, format and outcomes.  That is how you grow physically and mentally as an athlete and rider.

Stay Strong

Ben

 

Fat Loss

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Mountain Bikers, beer and cake go together like Charlie Sheen, hookers and coke, however too many beers and cream buns and it won’t be long before you start bulging out of your shorts and sweating like a sex offender on the uplift bus.  Excess weight is not your friend on the bike, especially if you happen to be the type of rider who wears a lot of lycra.

Saving weight on your bike has been at the centre of many a marketing campaign for all the mainstream companies, and continues to this day, including in the world of gravity oriented racing as well as XC.  To save 500 grams from your bike it would cost you literally £100’s probably, and whilst when your mate lifts your bike up in the car-park they will be impressed by the svelte and slender weight of your whip, if you are still fat and out of shape you will still get dropped on the climbs anyway.  It fascinates me that you can go into a shop and spend £50 on a bottle cage to save 3 grams on your bike, but so many riders don’t consider spending on skills or strength coaching that will actually make you faster.  Next time you are going to buy a £4000 carbon bike, drop down to the aluminium one, and save a grand.  Then give me £500 to get you strong, flexible and fit and £500 to a good coach (like Pedal Progression) for a long term series of sessions to give you the skills to pay the bills.  You will be faster and leaner and you will have more fun.

Anyway – how to lose the fat…….

At the heart of this is your diet.  This is more important than anything else here as it holds the key to your long term health and longevity.

FACT:  There is no such thing as a healthy fat person.

FACT:  You cannot build performance without health.

Your diet should be as natural as possible, based around vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, poultry, some nuts and seeds and a few other bits and bobs like eggs.  You will need to learn to cook.  You will need to plan meals and prepare packed lunches.  If you are fat then trust me – you don’t need an energy drink to get you around the Blade at Afan.  Water will do just fine and you should drink plenty of it and always filtered as tap water is full of oestrogen, chlorine and all sorts of other stuff we don’t want or need.  Keep it simple and cook from scratch.  Avoid sugar like the plague and eat as many greens as you can fit on your plate.  For a more in depth guide to how to approach nutrition as a rider, check out my Nutrition Guide for only £9.

Assuming your diet is OK, there are a number of training approaches that you can use to help shed the weight.  Rather than prescribing exact workouts, I want to give you an understanding so that you can apply them yourself.  I want to introduce the idea of being in-efficient in order to promote fat-loss…..

If you are a mountain biker then you probably ride bikes all the time, and are therefore rather efficient at it.  Riding further or longer may help, or it may just lead to you getting fatter (trust me on this one!).  You could do some intervals as they are pretty effective, however as you are so well adapted to riding your bike, you are actually quite efficient, making it hard to really burn the fat.

A great option is to start strength training.  This will benefit you as a rider as well as being very effective for fat loss.  Quiet simply, build muscle to burn fat!  If the general population starting using strength training instead of fashionable ‘cardio’ bullshit then they might actually lose some fat when combined with decent nutrition.  FYI: I used to run a very successful London bootcamp based around strength training and intervals to get people to lose fat.

Now, outside if the gym let’s think about a different type of strength training; taking a 30kg sandbag and lifting it up, carrying it 20 metres, putting it down and repeating on the other shoulder.  Unless you are a builder, I would suggest that you are not well adapted to this type of training and therefore it is really in-efficient for you to do.  Doing this for 3 minutes, 5 times would be a pretty awesome fat burning session as well as great training for your core and back.

You basically need to give your body a new shock or training stress that it is not adapted to so that you are in-efficient in the way you carry out the task.  Movements should be whole-body and your heart rate should get pretty high.  Keep durations quite short; 2-5 minutes and recover in between.  Simple drills like get-ups are great for this and can be done anywhere and any time.  Simply stand on the spot, then get down and lay on your front with arms extended, then stand up and repeat onto your back.  Try that for 2 minutes flat out and see how hard it is!  Just remember to warm up first.

On the bike training for fat loss is also possible, especially for those of you who don’t ride much over the dark and wet winter months  and are therefore less adapted to riding all the time.  Doing hill reps, sprints and time trials can all help you to get your fat burning going as long as you are eating right and taking the time to recover properly.  The key is to do something that you are not used to.  Do you do a weekly interval session and still need to lose fat?  If so, then you need to change it up or do something off of the bike instead.  You may want to try doing some fasted riding first thing in the morning before brekky.  It is effective for many people, just watch out for the dreaded bonk and if you do too much then you may start burning up hard-earned muscle and losing power as you lose the fat.

The final part of the puzzle is your wider life.  Stress, sleep, emotions, trauma, work and so on.  Health comes from being happy, content and on top of your stress.  You should sleep at least 7 hours per night and do everything you can to insulate yourself from the stress of modern life that catches so many people out.  Stress is one of the biggest killers in the western world and is disastrous for your health.  If you are chronically stressed then you need to take action, seek help from friends, family or a professional (talking is always better than drugs in my opinion) and make it a priority to reduce your stress.  You need to be comfortable with who you are, and accepting of the present, no matter how out of shape you may feel.  The past does not matter, you just need to look forwards and make sure that above all else – You Love Yourself & Believe You Can Do It.

Stay Strong – Stay Lean

Ben

New Athlete: Liz Fowler, Current 4X National Champ.

Photo Credit: Adam Richardson

Photo Credit: Adam Richardson

I am really happy to announce that last week I started working with Liz Fowler, the reigning Women’s 4X National Champion, who also represented team GB at the Worlds in Leogang this summer.  She is going to be going into the 2015 season fitter and stronger than ever and has set some high goals for herself, so watch this space!