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

Building Endurance

MTB Endurance

Endurance is the ability to keep on going and ride all day; up hill, down single-track and everything in between.  It is an important physical attribute whether you just want to ride laps of a trail centre with your mates or race an XC or enduro event.  At the extreme end of MTB endurance are 24 hour and marathon races, as well as multi-day stage races requiring consecutive long days in the saddle at high levels of effort.

Endurance can mean a few different things, depending on your goals and your ability as an athlete.  For a beginner, new to exercise and MTB, increased endurance could mean being able to ride for over 2 hours with minimal stops.  A more experienced rider may work up to their first 60km off-road ride, including 2000m of climbing and plenty of descending.  An XC racer may only race up to 2 hours at a time, but needs ‘speed endurance,’ which is the ability to maintain a high pace for a long period of time.  The marathon rider needs to be able to ride almost non-stop for 8-24 hours at a time.  For the purposes of this article, endurance will mean the ability to ride further or for longer periods.  Speed and power endurance will be covered in future articles.

Here are a number of factors that affect a rider’s endurance and some tips to help you improve them……

1. Genetics:  Some of us are built for explosive, powerful movements, and others for long, endurance type events.  Usain Bolt will never make a good endurance athlete!  You can work to reach your genetic potential for endurance, but you can’t beat nature.  If you are naturally a more explosive rider you can still make good progress with a proper training plan though, so don’t be dis-heartened.

2. Bodyweight:  Power to weight ratio plays a part in how far you can ride, especially in hilly or mountainous areas.  Quite simply, if you are carrying excess body fat (or too much muscle bulk from the gym) then you are using loads of extra energy, meaning you can’t ride as far or as fast as you would if you were leaner.  The best way to improve your body composition is to cut down body fat levels through good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.  There are lots of ways to do this, but on the whole you should keep your diet as natural as possible, drink lots of water, eat loads of veggies, and cut out sugar and processed foods.  In the MTB Strength Factory Nutrition Guide I take you through a 4-week experiment where you learn about which foods work with your body and which don’t, allowing you to make a personalised nutrition plan to improve performance on the bike and help you loose excess body fat.

3.  Fuel:  Chances are that if you can’t ride longer than 2 hours, then you are not fuelling your body properly.  You will need to have a meal that is high in carbs, with some protein and a little fat before you ride in order to fuel your efforts.  You may also want to use energy products or just carry some water and a bar or two to keep you going.  Either way, you will need to plan and prepare your food for long rides.  A great way to improve your endurance is to become more efficient at using stored carbohydrate from your body and to use more fat as fuel instead.  One of the best ways to do this is doing ‘energy work’ where you ride at low intensities for increasing durations whilst in a fasted state.  A great way to incorporate this is on a morning commute.  Ride in at a steady pace and have brekky when you arrive instead of before you leave.  Just be careful not to, ‘Bonk’ and build up the distance gradually.

4. Programming:  How do you expect to go out and ride for 6 hours if the longest you have ever ridden is 3?  This is the harsh reality that a lot of people find when they go to the Alps for the first time and they get knackered on the first long day of riding and end up having a silly crash!  You need to build up your distances gradually.  Write a basic programme where you build for 3 weeks and then have an easy week.  Do a short ride after work one day where you do some intervals and some skills work and then a long ride on the weekend……. Week one: 25km, Week two: 30km, Week three: 35km, Week four: 20km.  You then repeat the 4 week cycle with longer distances, so Week five would be 30km and so on until you reach the desired distance or time that you need to ride for.

5.  Efficiency:  We can become more efficient on the bike by improving pedalling technique, body position and even bike setup.  When we are more efficient we can ride further or faster for the same amount of effort.   You can get professional help for your bike setup at your LBS who should help you out unless you are a bit of a dick.

6.  Flexibility:  If you are really tight with poor flexibility and mobility then you will be restricted on the bike, affecting your efficiency, speed and endurance.  You may also pick up injuries or suffer from lower back pain, meaning you can’t ride as far as you would like.  My approach to flexibility is ‘little and often.’  Do some stretching most days, and always do some basic mobility before a ride, especially if you are straight out of the car or straight from your desk.  The best athletes are supple, and can move freely.

7.  Weakness:  The further you ride the more likely it is to expose your weaknesses.  If you always get the same pain on a  long ride then that is a clue that you should listen to.  Maybe the muscle in that area is weak or not working properly?  You can use your bodyweight or go to a gym to get stronger, just make sure that you work with good form and that you integrate it into your broader training plan.  Also check out my MTB specific Bodyweight Strength Programme to put you on the right track!

8.  Mental:  Don’t be intimidated by a long day riding.  Just ride at your own pace and take sensible precautions like having enough food and water.  Ride with more experienced and fitter people to give you confidence.  Finally, remember that endurance is very trainable, even in older riders , so get out and ride!

Stay Strong

Ben