A persistent myth with mountain bike strength training is that because it is an “endurance sport” then you need to focus on higher reps and lower weights. Using 10-20+ reps per set and the relatively lighter weights they demand is supposed to help build the muscular endurance you need on the trail.

And while this makes sense on the surface, there is a flaw to this logic.

The truth is that most riders would benefit a lot from doing 5 reps or less per set and handling some heavier weights in the process. Far from making them bulky and slow, 5 reps or less would actually make them faster, improve their endurance (yes, you read that right) and create a more injury resistant body.

In this podcast I go over 5 reasons you need to be doing 5 reps or less as part of your strength training program as well as dispel some common myths about “heavy” strength training and give you some ideas on how you can use this concept in your own training.

Until next time...

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

Show Notes

- Heavy weights doesn’t mean max effort “powerlifting” type training.

- Like anything else in the gym, you want to spend most of your time at the 80% effort range.

- This will still allow you to lift heavier weights while also minimizing wear-and-tear on the body and chance of injury while lifting.

- 5 Reasons to Use 5 Reps or Less

1 - It helps you focus on your form and execution of each rep which improves movement learning and decreases injury risk.

2 - It doesn’t tax you as hard metabolically, which helps you recover from your riding.

3 - It recruits more muscle fibers which gives you access to more of them when riding, which increases your endurance.

4 - It helps you get stronger without adding excessive muscle mass, which improves your strength-to-weight ratio, and what muscle/ armor you do build will be functional and not just for looks.

5 - Heavy weights create an “armoring” effect where the muscles can flex harder on impact to help absorb energy and protect you when crashing.

- Some ways to use this concept include:

                - 5 sets of 5 reps (lots of applications of this one)

                - 5 reps/ 3 reps/ 2 reps increasing weight each set

                - 2 reps/ 3 reps/ 5 reps using the same weight (rep ladder)


In this episode of the BikeJames Podcast I catch up with longtime friend of the show Ryan Leech. I’ve had Ryan on more than anyone else and I think it is because we both have a lot of shared passions both in and outside of the mountain biking world.

If you don’t know, Ryan is one of the best trials riders in the history of mountain biking, inspiring generations of riders with his otherworldly balance and artistic line choices. He has become one of the best skills coaches in the world as well, sharing his knowledge and lessons he has learned both through clinics and his website, The Ryan Leech Connection.

Ryan is also huge advocate for flat pedals, having released his free 12 Ride Flat Pedal Challenge Course (which I contributed a workout to). As a yoga instructor and longtime practitioner, he is also passionate about helping people develop their bodies and minds off the bike in ways that will help them on the bike.

In other words, we usually have a lot to talk about when we get the chance to chat.

Usually we have a pre-set agenda but this time we just hit record and let the conversation go where it wanted to…and it went in some pretty interesting directions.

From the pressures and downsides of social media to assessing risk on the bike and why flat pedals rule, we covered a lot of ground. You can check it out by clicking on the link below.

Click here to listen to/ download this episode of the BikeJames Podcast.

BTW, besides finding it on Itunes you can also find the podcast on the free Podbean app, just do a search for the MTB Strength Coach Podcast.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson


Top 3 Reasons Trackstands are a Must for Every Mountain Biker

 In this new podcast I talk about the Trackstand and why it is an important skill for every rider to learn. In it I explain how they will help you improve your overall riding skills as well as some tips to help you more easily learn this important skill.

If you think that Trackstands aren’t important but you still struggle with things like Switchbacks, Techy Climbs and/ or Rock Gardens then you don’t want to miss this podcast. My goal with it is to help more riders understand how this lowly skill can help you ride with far more confidence and flow on the trail.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems


- Trackstands are not an advanced skill or only needed for certain types of riding.

- Trackstands are an important skill for every rider to learn.

- They are also fun and safe to learn.

- They are also the best “balance drill” you can do on your bike, giving you way better transfer than balancing on a BOSU ball, stability ball or other balance training tool.

- Despite all of this they are still seen as a non-essential skill by most riders and coaches and little time is spent teaching or practicing it.

- This is a huge mistake that is leaving a gap in a lot of rider’s ability to balance on their bikes in certain situations on the trail.

- Track stands are an indicator of how well you can balance on the bike.

- When you are moving you are using momentum to help you balance and if you can't trackstand then you can't really balance on your bike since you always have to rely on momentum to help you.

- If you think about balance and momentum on a continuum you can see how track stands can help a lot of other skills. Think of it as your slow speed balance - nothing is slower than not moving at all!

- I personally put it in that 20% of skills that will give you 80% of your results on the trail and think that time spent on it will help riders out in a lot of ways. You should be able to control momentum and balance without it, otherwise your overall balance skills on the bike are lacking.

- If you lack slow speed balance then you will struggle with a lot of the more technical side of riding like 1) Rock Gardens, 2) Techy Climbs and 3) Switchbacks.

- So while a pure track stand might not have much carryover to the trail the slow speed balance it creates does help in a lot of areas.

- In fact, IMO this is the #1 reason that riders struggle with Switchbacks - they lack the slow speed balance needed to change the direction of your momentum in the turn. I’ll bet that that few people looking for the “secret” to riding switchbacks can trackstand very well, leading them to look for momentum based techniques.

- I also think that it is one of those skills that you should spend time learning early on and then you don't need to worry about training it as much (unlike a higher level skill like cornering or manualing where time off can erode your skill level).

- But, let’s be honest - most people want to learn the sexier skills like cornering and manualing and the trackstand is seen as a non-essential skill for some reason.

- I think that people should spend time learning to trackstand if they don’t know how already but they don’t need to spend a ton of time on it once they can hold a regular and switch-foot trackstand for a - solid 10 seconds. It is still good to come back to but at that point you spend your time on higher level skills now that you’ve backfilled a hole in your balance.

- IMO if we got beginners off of clipless pedals this wouldn't be an issue since trying to learn to track stand on clipless pedals is stupid and most riders switch to them before learning to track stand (along with several other vital skills).

- It also helps to use a mid-foot position and get off the ball of your foot, using the same foot position favored by surfers, skate boarders, skiers and other athletes who are balancing on top of something that is carrying them rather than running or jumping.

- Lastly, don’t let your ego hold you back by making excuses for why you don’t need to learn to Trackstand and just do it.

- Trackstands are only an advanced skill if you are trying to do it on clipless pedals and/ or on the ball of your foot, otherwise it is a pretty easy and fun skill learn and it will help you in a lot of ways on the trail.


Show notes:

- I think that everyone should use self-limiting methods as much as possible when learning something new.

- In the gym this means free weight and movements that limit how much load you can do based on your mastery of the movement (TGU and Single Leg Deadlift for example) and on the bike this means a using a hardtail. I’d go so far as to add in flat pedals and 26 inch wheels but that is another topic.

- A hardtail forces you to learn how to use your body to absorb impacts on the trail and how to use skill to maneuver your bike up and over things. It also teaches you that if you didn’t make it then it was something you did wrong, not the bike.

- A FS often teach new riders to rely on their suspension to absorb impacts. It also teaches riders to look to their bike for the solution to the problems on the trail.

- Riding around bashing into everything with your FS bike isn’t the same thing as riding a trail with some style and grace.

- Once a rider has spent some time (6 months give or take) on a HT then they will be able to get more out of a full suspension bike. It will also save them some money on their first bike, which is just going to get beat to shit anyways.

- The problem is that the mindset of putting new riders on a FS bike right off the bat - especially in areas that don’t have a lot of rocky, technical riding - stems from a larger problem in the mountain bike industry.

- At its core, this problem is what mountaineering legend Mark Twight called “replacing skill and courage with cash and equipment. They make the summit, not the style, the yardstick of success”.

- We should be telling new riders that it is alright to suck at first and that we don’t expect anything out of them. They should be taught that building their skill and courage will allow them to make better use of technology when the time comes.

- A FS also gives some riders a false sense of confidence. If someone doesn’t really understand their own riding ability and gets on a high-end bike that can get them through a lot of stuff they will be more likely to take risks that their skill level won’t be able to bail them out of if needed.

- We also forget that riding itself isn’t supposed to be fun. Mountain biking is an oblique path to happiness, kind of like climbing a mountain or writing a book. The act itself is often uncomfortable and painful but afterwards we find the contentment and happiness we’re looking for. Trying to make riding easier in an attempt to make the act itself more fun isn’t the real goal and sends the wrong message to new riders (That climb sucked? Great, it was supposed to! vs. That climb sucked? Have you thought about getting _______ to make it easier?)

- In the end we all want more riders to take up our sport and have fun doing it. But I also think that it is good for the sport if we also teach new riders that it is alright to suck as they go through the learning curve. Spending some time on a hardtail will help new riders speed up that learning curve since it forces them to use proper technique more than a FS will.

Until next time...

Ride Strong,

James Wilson


Low Back Pain


One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to meet and talk with other coaches who work with mountain bikers. While a lot of cycling coaches are still entrenched in the road riding mentality of training, there are some really smart coaches who are helping to push our sport forward.

One of these coaches is Jukka Mäennenä. Jukka is a 29-year old avid rider and coach from Finland. He's been riding close to 15 years in several different disciplines but for the past few years, he has focused mainly on Enduro and BMX racing. 

He is also a published author with a book about cycling that came out this spring. In English, the name of the book is "The Big Finnish Cycling Book". As the name states, it's a general book about cycling and all its disciplines that covers bikes, riding technique, training and even briefly nutrition. If you can read Finnish, be sure to grab a copy the book here.

Besides riding Jukka is interested in all things related to strength, movement, and endurance. He has attended several workshops around the world to learn more and studies daily to get better. He even came and spent some time with me at my facility a few years ago.

It had been a while since we had talked and I wanted to get Jukka on a podcast to share what’s in his new book, what’s new with his training programs based on what he’s been learning and how he is using the new Functional Range Conditioning mobility program with his riders. We got into these and some other subjects during the conversation and I know you’ll get some good info from it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jukka, his blog can be found at www.super-sets.com. The blog is only in Finnish, but you can check out a couple of his articles written in English below.

StrongFirst.com - Use Goal Cycling to Stay on Target
Bretcontreras.com - Inside the Mind of Bret Contreras

You can also follow Jukka on Instagram at jukka4130.


My colleague Jake Stephenitch is a strength and conditioningcoach based in the Chicago area who specializes in programs for BMX riders. Asa BMX rider himself he came across the power of strength training to improvehis riding and decided that he wanted to help his fellow riders by becoming acoach himself.

I’ve known Jake for a few years through email and socialmedia but had never had the chance to talk to him and pick his brain on hisapproach to training. After writing a great article on When Should Kid’s StartUsing Clipless Pedals I figured it was time to get him on the BikeJames Podcast.

Which is exactly what I did. I had a great conversation with Jake, covering a lot of topics like…

- Why would a mountain biker care about what a BMX coach hasto say?

- Advice on training kids

- Thoughts on flats and clipless pedals for BMX racing.

- How the PRI system has influenced his training programs.

- Why breathing is the most important thing for you totrain.

- His favorite exercises for improving core strength andoverall power

You can find out more about Jake at his blog www.sparkbmxtraining.com. And if youlive in the Sandwich IL area you can learn more about training with Jake athis gym by visiting www.sparkmovementfit.com.

I hope you enjoy this episode of the podcast and get somegood takeaways from our conversation. If you have any thoughts or questions besure to sure them in the comments section on my blog.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson


Sports training is a delicate balancing act between several opposing factors.

For example, specificity and health - while you need your training to be specific to your sport, being too specific all of the time can actually decrease your performance.

You also have high and low intensity training - you need high intensity training to improve your high end fitness but too much of it can lead to overtraining and injury.

For us as mountain bikers it is important to keep this balancing act in mind, especially when it comes to our cardio training. A lot of riders have too much specificity and high intensity training in their program and need something to help balance things out.

Enter our old friend running.

Running is something that most riders would really benefit from adding into their routine. In fact, a lot of you would benefit more from adding in a run rather than an extra ride or bike based cardio training like spin class or a road ride.

Why is this? What makes running so helpful for us as mountain bikers?

In this new edition of the BikeJames Podcast I go over why you should start running, plus some tips on how to get the most out of it and get started right. If you are looking for an edge in your cardio training, then be sure to check out this episode to see is running might be what you’ve been looking for.

Here are the notes from this episode:

- This podcast is about running and how it can help you become a better mountain biker.

- Running is probably one of the best types of cardio training you can do in addition to your riding.

- For most riders it would actually be better to add in a run each week rather than another ride or bike related cardio. If you are riding 2-3 times a week odds are you don’t need more on bike cardio.

- Running is an inherent human gift and when we lose it there are physical consequences.

- Easier to get a workout in (15-60 minutes of running vs. 1 - 4 hours of riding).

- It helps improve your posture and feel for standing pedaling.

- It uses a contra-lateral movement vs. the ipsa-lateral movement you use on the bike.

- It is a great way to introduce true low intensity training to your program.

- Important to build aerobic engine to improve your anaerobic power reserve/ be a fat optimized athlete. Hard to do this on the trail since MTB is a high tension sport (like an MMA fighter wanting to spar for cardio).

- You can get low intensity cardio through riding on the road as well but 1) you should still use your mountain bike and 2) you should know if your goal is “health” or “fitness”, in which case most riders should go for a run instead of spending more time on the bike.

- To keep running low intensity you need to either focus on your heart rate or use nasal breathing.

- Use the Maffetone formula of 180 - your age for heart rate.

- Only breathe through your nose (hold some water in your mouth to help enforce this).

- I recommend using minimalist running shoes like New Balance Minimus.

- Warning: Running takes some specific conditioning of the lower leg and feet so don’t overdo it.

- Start with walking, then half walk and half jog and then finally jogging the whole time.

- Start with 15 minutes and build up to 30 - 60 minutes, 1-3 times a week.

- Add in 3-5 sprints once a week to round things out.

- Sprints should be short (5-15 seconds) and you should focus on being smooth at 80%, not fast at 100%.

- Don’t Get Hurt! Be sure to warm up and do some practice sprints first.

- 1 Hard Ride, 2 Moderate Rides, 1-3 Easy Runs plus 1 sprint day is a good weekly cardio schedule for most riders.

- Adding in some running to your program can help improve your performance and overall health.

I hope you enjoy this podcast, let me know if you have any thoughts or questions on it in the comments below. Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson


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