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The Podcast for the MTB Strength Training System, the world’s original and best strength and conditioning system designed exclusively for mountain bikers.

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In this episode of the BikeJames Podcast I tell you why trying to use your ankles to absorb shock on your bike is a bad idea and actually makes it harder for your lower body to absorb shock properly. The notes for it also turned into an article, which you can read below if that works better for you...

One of my biggest surprises with bringing the Catalyst Pedal and the mid-foot position it allowed to the MTB world was the push back I got from the skills training industry. It turns out that the vast majority of skills coaches and organizations have bought into the false logic of needing the be on the ball of the foot to move properly on the bike.

The logic goes that you need your ankles to help absorb shock and that if you use the mid-foot position then it is like landing a vertical jump with flat feet, which is very jarring and obviously not the way to land a jump. The idea is that the range of motion of the ankle that is giving you the extra shock absorption that is making the difference in the two landings, which means that you need your ankles to absorb shock.

The problem is that, once again, people are pointing to analogies from other sports/ activities that don’t reflect the context of being athletic on the bike, i.e. the feet don’t come off the pedals.

When your feet come off the ground then you do need to use the ankles to help you land but even then they aren’t being used to absorb shock.

In fact, MTB is the only sport where coaches are actively looking to put extra stress on the ankle joint. It is known as one of the most sensitive and easily injured joints in the body and the goal is usually to minimize stress in order to avoid injuries.

The ankle joint is a small joint with a long lever arm, which magnifies stress being placed away from the ankle joint itself. It is not designed to absorb shock, it is designed to move itself (and the foot) into a neutral position to let the real shock absorbers do their work.

The hips are surrounded by the largest muscles in the body and have amazing leverage for both producing and absorbing shock. They are the shock absorbers of the lower body. Most lower body movement problems stem from not being able to use the hips properly, which makes using them efficiently a top priority.

But your foot has to be in a certain position and stabilized correctly to let the hips do their work in the most efficient way possible. If it isn’t then the hips can’t absorb as much shock, which places that stress on the knees and ankles.

This means that being on the ball of the foot screws you in two ways…

First, having the pressure point being so far away from the ankle joint increases the leverage and hence the force being placed on the ankle joint. This is why you’ll see people’s ankles buckle sometimes and in extreme cases Achilles tendon tears (ala Rachel Atherton a couple years back). This is why most DH riders actually run a more mid-foot position than you are led to believe.

Second, by having nothing under your heel you leave that end of the arch unstable, which makes it much harder to recruit and use your hips. The back of the arch has to be able to create pressure into something so that the hope can work efficiently. This is why you are told to not come up on your toes when doing deadlifts or squats and to drive through the whole foot, including the heel. 

Even OL coaches tell people to “stomp” their heels back down to the ground to get their whole foot stable before the weight starts to come back down and they have to absorb it. If you really needed your ankles to absorb shock then they would cue their athletes to wait until the weight started to come back down and then use the ankles to help catch the weight.

And what about the vertical jump, which is the Holy Grail of analogies for this story? What you see during a vertical jump is the ankle moving to get the foot flat so that the hips can absorb the impact. Once again, it is not being used to absorb shock.

Another thing that a lot of coaches don’t want to talk about is that vertical jumping is only one example of jumping, with the broad jump being another. However, it doesn’t conform to their logic as you see the heels hit first on a broad jump as this is the best way to get the foot flat while going along with the momentum. If you needed land on the ball of the foot for the ankle to absorb shock in all instances then this wouldn’t be the case.

There are also a lot of examples where athletes absorb shock without using their ankles, including surfing, skiing, snowboarding and skateboarding. In the gym you see this with Swings, where you keep the foot flat on the ground because that is the best way to absorb shock in that context.

When you look at analogies from sports and activities that have the same context as MTB you see a clear picture, which is that you need to have both ends of the arch supported so the foot spreads out the forces going into the ankles and it is easier to recruit the hips. Even the broad jump is closer to what you want to do on your bike, as the explosive movements we make are wanting to project energy forward, not straight up. 

On a personal level for you, the rider reading this, this is why your ankles are stiff and you have plantar fasciitis, knee pain or low back pain - being on the ball of the foot creates a crappy situation for your lower body where it has to adapt by getting stiff in the ankles and spreading force meant for the hips over the other joints that aren’t meant for it.

This is also why you have so much trouble moving properly when you stand up on your bike - your hips are locked up because of how unstable your feet are. It doesn’t matter how mobile you are off the bike, your ability to use it on the bike will always be compromised without the right foot position and support.

And yes, there are a lot of good riders who use a ball of the foot position. That is a testament to their mental focus and the human body’s ability to adapt to just about anything, at least in the short term. What you don’t hear about is how much pain those same riders are in or how hard they have to work to keep it under control (massage, chiro, cryo, etc.) and how it adds up over the years. There is a difference between adapting for the now and creating sustainable movement habits.

Just like the clipless pedal industry is still clinging to the “pull up on the backstroke” story to help the need to attach yourself to the pedals, we see a lot of well meaning skills coaches sticking with the “you need to use the ankle to absorb shock” story to sell the ball of the foot position. 

And no, it isn’t a matter of “personal preference” or “what works for you might now work for everyone”. This is a nonsense argument that is used by people who can’t support their point of view. You should be able to give some sort of reason based in science, movement principles or context appropriate analogies or else you are just being what I call a “reality rager”, where you are mad at reality and refuse to deal with it.

Basic human psychology tells us that once you’ve created a story and you have sold other people on that story it gets tough to go back and admit that you were wrong, even if a better idea is presented (it is called the Semmelweis Effect after the guy who figured out that washing hands could save lives but got thrown in an asylum for his “crazy” ideas). But at some point the MTB industry needs this to happen so we can move forward with finding the best ways to perform on our bikes. 

Lastly, if you’re a skills coach then you owe it to yourself and the industry to do more in the areas of how to apply basic movement principles to the bike. At the end of the day you are a movement coach as you are trying to help people move better on their bike, so you first have to understand how to help someone move better in the first place. This will also help you spot the countless false analogies and faulty logic used in our sport to sell people on outdated concepts.

Being on the ball of the foot to create or absorb energy is an old, outdated concept that we have to move past. Our sport isn’t very old and cycling as we know it is only around 150 years old so we have not had the time to work through the bad ideas like some other sports have. It is ok for us to have made a collective bad decision based on the best info we had at the time but it starts to become sad the longer we hang onto these ideas once they have been disproven and actually shown to work against us. 

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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In this episode of the BikeJames Podcast I answer some rider questions that I’ve gotten over the last few weeks. They include:

Q: Is it alright to turn your feet out on the pedals?

Q: What are your new strength standards for MTB?

Q: How can I use intervals to train myself to keep pushing past the top of a climb?

You can download or stream this episode, as well as see the show notes, by clicking the link below.

If you have a question for me send it to james@bikejames.com and I’ll be happy to help. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing what to do to help you with your problem and I try to help as many riders as I can avoid that frustration. 

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

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In this episode of the BikeJames Podcast I interview Chuck McGee III, a breathwork specialist from Northern California. Chuck is featured in the book Breath as the man who introduced the author James Nestor to the WIm Hof Method and someone has helped me a lot on my own breathwork journey.

In this interview I share some of my own breathwork journey and what got me started down this path and Chuck tells us what most people don’t realize about better breathing, why nasal breathing is the way we were meant to power our efforts, how you can assess your own breathing and the transformational power of taping your mouth at bedtime.

We also talk a lot about the Wim Hof Method, which has had a profound effect for both of us and something I now do on a daily basis. You can learn more about Chuck and sign up for his free Monday evening breathwork session at www.icedvikingbreathworks.com. You can learn more about the Wim Hof Method at www.wimhofmethod.com

Like I say in the beginning of the podcast, in many ways this is the most important podcast interview I have done because of the power that better breathing has. Coupled with how many people have some sort of breathing dysfunction, the info he shares in this podcast has the potential to help a lot of riders in a more profound way than just about anything else I’ve ever talked about on the podcast.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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August 21, 2020

Dan John Interview

In this episode of the BikeJames Podcast I interview strength coach Dan John. Dan is one of the most sought after strength coaches for his unique insights and ability to produce results with a wide variety of clients and goals.

Dan has also been one of the most influential coaches on how I look at training, including his focus on Fitness vs. Health and how those two goals can sometimes be at odds with each other. His concepts have helped shape my training programs and philosophy and over the years I have had the chance to meet, train and even share a couple of beers with the man that many people affectionately call Coach.

He is the author of several books, including the classic Never Let Go and his most recent work, Attempts. His website www.danjohnuniversity.com is also a great resource for great info and training programs and you can try it free for 14 days (as of this podcast you can use the coupon code CORONA to get a special deal on a membership).

In this interview I ask Coach about his views on training for performance versus health, how his religious studies background has impacted his training philosophies and why Connect 4 can help you learn better strategy. And as always, Coach was full of great insights and stories that help you understand complex concepts.

Until next time...

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

 

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In this new episode of the BikeJames Podcast I cover...

Training

Grip strength training for mountain biking: What to do, when to do it and why some common grip strength exercises aren’t very MTB specific.

Skills

Avoid the “Attack Position” - Why spending too much time in this position makes it harder to steer and maneuver your bike.

Bro Science

Effect of isometric strength training on mechanical, electrical, and metabolic aspects of muscle function - A look at the study that convinced me that Isometrics are some of the best cardio training you can do.

You can stream or download this episode by clicking the link below. You can also find  the BikeJames Podcast on Itunes and Podbean.

If you have any questions about this episode or anything else related to training or riding let me know, I’m always happy to help. Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training System

Show Notes:

Training

Grip strength training for mountain biking.

  • I get most of my grip strength training from riding and my “normal” strength training.
  • If I am riding less than 2 times a week I will add in some other specific grip strength work.
  • I’ll also prescribe some grip specific work to help quickly improve that area if someone is deficient in the specific grip strength skills needed on the bike.
  • The context for grip strength on the bike is needing to change tension levels quickly while stabilizing the wrists in all 4 directions.
  • This is why things that work on “grip strength” by challenging the grip with static loads and no wrist stability have limited carry over for MTB...and yes, this even means Farmers Walks, which I do more for the High Tension Cardio than grip strength.
  • The best ways to train MTB specific grip strength is through Swings and Mace 360’s/ 10-2’s.
  • Swings can be either KB or DB.
  • Mace 360’s/ 10-2’s are the best, most specific grip strength training you can since it does a better job challenging the wrist stability.

Skills

Avoid the “Attack Position”

  • The Attack Position has a few names but it is essentially the Low position on your bike with your butt back and your chest down, kind of like the bottom of the Deadlift/ Hip Hinge position.
  • While it has its uses, the trend to find a single position to move from on the bike has people spending too much time in it.
  • As you get low on the bike your weight will naturally start to shift back as your hips slide back. This takes weight off the front end and biases your weight to the back of the bike.
  • This is a good position if you need weight off the front end but your ability to steer relies on your weight/ pressure on the front tire and a lot of skills require a weight shift from front to back.
  • If your weight is biased to the back then it makes it harder to maintain traction in a corner and to initiate skills like manuals, bunny hops, drops and jumps.
  • The Attack/ Low Position is good for keeping you from going over the handlebars but unless you are in imminent danger of going over the bars then it isn’t needed and actually makes it harder to move and steer on the bike.
  • You want to have a taller, more forward “neutral” position on the bike and drop down into the Attack Position as needed, not use it as your neutral position. Don’t be afraid to put some purposeful pressure on the front end and you’ll find that you can steer and move much more effectively.

Bro Science

Effect of isometric strength training on mechanical, electrical, and metabolic aspects of muscle function.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00420988

  • 6 sets of twins were used with one twin doing isometric knee extension training on the right leg.
  • Results showed several really interesting things:
    • Iso group showed a 20% strength increase in the right leg AND an 11% increase in the left leg.
    • Increased EMG activity in the Rectus Femoris.
    • Decrease in the IEMG/ tension ratio at sub max levels, indicating a more economical/ efficient use of the RF
    • Muscle biopsies showed an increase in the enzymes responsible for aerobic metabolism. 
    • Conclusion - increased recruitment of available motor unit recruitment pool, improved efficiency at sub-max loads and enhancement of oxidative metabolism in the muscle.
  • If this were a “cardio training” technique results like that would make it a must-use method but because it is a “strength training” technique it is dismissed.
  • Isometric training improves strength and your cardio in ways that nothing else can, which is why I use them and recommend them to every rider.

 

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In this podcast I cover...

Skills

Trackstands: The most under-rated skill in mountain biking.

  • At its core this is the skill of balancing without any momentum.
  • The slower you are going the more you need your slow speed balance.
  • Skills like switchbacks, technical climbs and rock gardens all require this skill.
  • Allows you to use skill instead of momentum and luck.
  • Easy to improve/ One of the best uses of your “off trail” training time.
  • Make sure you work both feet forward.

Rider Q&A

Are flat pedals bad for your knees/ role of float in clipless pedals.

  • Your leg and foot don’t create energy in a straight line, they use a spiral motion where the foot “screws” into and off what it is on.
  • This movement is in relation to the ground/ what you foot is on.
  • When you strap the foot to the pedal and restrict its movement in relation to the pedal then your knees will blow up from this lack of rotation.
  • Putting float in clipless pedals allows a little rotation before you unclip, allowing the foot to rotate a little and taking stress of the knee.
  • On a flat pedal your feet aren't restricted in relation to the pedal and so it can create that screwing motion into the pedal.
  • This is the more natural way for your foot to function and captures the rotational energy the foot and leg produces.
  • This is why people with knee problems often see improvement when switching to flats despite the lack of “float”.
  • Float is a solution to strapping your foot to the pedal, which is a product of the unstable forces going into the pedal. 
  • Your foot doesn’t need or want “float” as you find it in no other sport or situation. 
  • If you fix the problem of the unstable energy through a pedal like the Catalyst Pedal then you don’t need to strap your foot on the pedal in the first place.

Gear Review

Sense Of Motion Shoes

  • Small operation making shoes in Montrose CO.
  • Foot healthy shoes.
  • Light and breathable.
  • Dry quickly.
  • Just enough sticky rubber to do the job, especially on Catalyst Pedals.
  • www.SOMfootwear.com 

Until next time...

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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In this episode I cover...

 

Training - The 3 Axioms of MTB Training:

 

 

  • Behind every technique on your bike is a movement skill your body requires - you can’t control your bike if you can’t control your body.
  • Athleticism is contextual - movement demands are specific to the environment.
  • Mindful movement practice helps to supplement the rest of your training.

 

 

Skills -  Effects of bar rise on your body and ride: Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of more rise and what you shouldn’t be using them to make up for.

Rider Q&A - Isometric Training for Low Back Pain/ Slipped Discs: Should you avoid certain exercises and should you feel you low back getting “sore” from training?

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In this episode of the BikeJames Podcast I talk about a few topics and how they can help your training and riding.

On Bike Movement Skills

Inside hand pressure for front wheel traction during cornering - The #1 thing you need to focus on to corner with precision.

Bro Science

1 Set vs. Multiple Sets for Strength Training - Why you need both for best results and how I’ve been using Isometric Training to help me safely do this.

Gear Review

Wim Hoff Method app and Fundamentals Course - I’ve spent the last 4+ weeks following the Wim Hoff method and I’m convinced that it has a lot of value for riders looking to improve their performance and recovery.

If you have any questions or comments please leave them below this post or send me an email to james@bikejames.com, I’m always happy to help.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

 

James Wilson

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I’ve always thought of mountain biking as a great way for men and women to come together. My wife and I ride together, I’ve had several female riding buddies over the years and, in general, if a girl was willing to show up and get a little dirty, she was welcomed into the group.

Unfortunately, over the last few years I’ve seen the slow creep of the social justice warriors into our sport, which has led to the idea that women would flock to mountain biking if the stinky guys would just get out of the way. Part of this idea is the argument that mountain biking is “gender neutral”. At its heart this is well intentioned - no one should be discouraged from riding based on their gender - but it also ends up harming the same people it is trying to help.

Nothing in nature is “gender neutral” and that includes mountain biking. It is in understanding the differences that we can help each individual find the best path for them. Pretending that there are no differences between men and women means that we can’t have honest discussions about the best path for each to improve.

In this podcast I explore this idea and explain why mountain biking is not gender neutral, why this is alright and what this means for really empowering women riders to take control of their improvement.

Like I say at the beginning of the podcast, my intention with this is not to discourage women from riding but to help them find their own personal path to mastery and enjoyment. Nothing is more discouraging than not knowing how to find that path because people won’t be honest with you, and in the end that will lead to more women quitting riding.

I hope this podcast can help you better understand the differences between the sexes and how you can use that to make better training and riding decisions. We need more people using mountain biking as a tool for self improvement, not as a battleground for ideas that are not based in reality.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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In this podcast I share my insights in the concept of Riding For A Lifetime. Based on my own journey with getting older along with my 30 years of strength training experience - 20 years of it as a fitness professional and 15+ years focusing on mountain bikers - this concept is based on one simple idea...

There is a difference between training for short term performance gains and training for longevity. 

Performance enhancement and longevity can’t both be most important, you have to choose one. And for too long the info we’ve been getting from the fitness and cycling media places performance enhancement first...and we’re paying the long term physical price for it.

In this podcast I share where the idea came from, why I think there is a critical need for this type of info and the three pillars of the Riding For A Lifetime concept, which are -

1 - Sustainable Fitness Training.

2 - Sustainable Riding Strategies.

3 - Efficient Movement On & Off The Bike.

My goal with the Riding For A Lifetime concept and the camps, workshops, programs and other things I will create based on is to help riders understand the best ways to prioritize sustainable practices that will keep them riding strong tomorrow and for years to come. If you have any questions about the info in this podcast post a comment or send me an email to james@bikejames.com, I’m always happy to help.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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