We often get into buying speed, lighter parts, better suspension, optimized geometry, faster compounds. Those things surely make you faster, they may cut seconds of your race or Strava runs, but the truth is that vast majority of us are not seconds but minutes behind, to what is possible on a specific track in specific conditions. More skilled and stronger we get, the more fun is riding our bike - that is simple. Being able to scrub a table top on A-line is more fun than rolling on top of it or just jumping it and buying shit is not an effective way of getting from being scared to turn handlebars in the air, to throw whips and no handers riding 40k per hour. Being stronger allows you to enjoy your full skill level longer, if you get battered already 30 minutes into the 3 hour ride then clearly you are not having as much fun as a bloke who doesn't hit a wall after 4 hours. But well, buying stuff is fun and can be a good game on it's own, my Swedish forum friends (hello Nils) enjoy their shopping lives more than "that random grump" on the hill talking shit on eating less and riding more. So if we have the disease of MUST BUY, how about we think outside the box? How about we invest in the engine?
The honest genius, super-ego slave and bike tech hater
Three years ago I decided to trust a wicked man called James Wilson and buy his training program. He is a really weird man that is often to said to be full of it, for having controversial opinions and even though I respect him for all that he does, even I go "why the fuck did you go there?!" sometimes. I mean all coaches have this motivational leutenant bullcrap going sometimes. But whether you like it or not, he is the only bloke providing easily accessible MTB specific training program. Because what's the alternative? On one side you get the bullshit from mainstream magazines testing bikes nobody ever heard of, with some quasi roadie, volume training contaminated crap barely useful for anything else than fireroad racing. Which true MTB enthusiast on this earth has time and will to put 10 hours+ a week on a road bike to get better on one weekend ride on MTB?! On the other side you get body building stuff that no matter how much you lie to yourself, is still something that aims at making you look good and lean in the first place, strong on machines the second, overally strong and healthy somewhere further down the line as a byproduct. If you are very lucky you might have put your hands on some Moto X program that will work for gravity riding but MTB ain't just about descending. Whatever it is though, everything is better than going to the gym and throwing brainless reps hoping that this and that will somehow contribute to your riding, especially when you are not sure how to perform certain exercises, particularly those involving heavier weights. Trust me, you can successfully screw yourself up using only your body weight.
I paid 125$ for Ultimate MTB Workout training program and approximately 350$ for equipment to train at home. I do not have time to train in the proper gym and the program requires no machines and I am also scared of lifting any heavier weights. I could not give a less damn about six pack, looking good or being strong as hell. I want to be healthy and able to rip on the bike a bit longer and harder. Many muscle pains and injuries are result of groups of muscles performing movements to which they are not used to. I work for 6-8 hours a day, 4 to 5 days a week, so my body is accustomed to sit in front of the computer and to support that posture. Then I come home I sit a bit more eat and perform lots of different movements like picking up toys from the floor, cleaning the bathroom, carrying my daughter around the house. Then once maybe twice a week I get the time window to go biking.
James program operates on the principle that you can't get strong and balanced by just riding more. You must spend time working out and you must make your rides more deliberate, focus on one aspect of riding on each ride. The UMTBW consists of several phases first focuses on Functional movement, where you make your body flexible and build basic posture before you head on to larger weights. Each exercise included in the program is thoroughly described in an illustrated PDF, James provides also a video section with most of the exercises being explained by himself. Later on as your core gets more stable you are starting to pick up some more complicated exercises and more weight. I say it from my own mistakes: it is extremely important to acknowledge that in the first phase the exercises SEEM easy. But is a necessary step, at least if you want to do things in tune with your body and avoid eventual injuries.
Apart from the main program that you get basic tips on nutrition, riding skills and injury prevention. Skills section is quite ok, but if you don't have anyone offering quality skills clinics nearby, and must realy on internet advice you will be way better off by reading Gene Hamiltons Betterride.net.
The training equipment I bought is: Yoga matt, Foam Roller, jumping rope, stretch bands, chin up bar, 2 dumb bells, 60kgs of weights to the dumbbells, 3 kettlebells: 12,16 and 20kg.
Trying too hard is worse than being a bit lazy
You don't have to kill yourself to be strong, actually you'd be surprised how easy it is to go up in strength with minimum of organized efforts, and how easy it is to over train and throw a month of hard work to the garbage. During my first year with UMTBW training I was quite lazy, I was working only twice a week and I could not believe how much faster I became. Many uphills I could not make at the beginning of previous seasons, I was riding like in my top summer form, from 5 years ago. My regeneration rate was impressive. Year after I got more serious into training, I was working out 3 to 4 times a week and this time I was much more into cardio (stupidly). By the third month after the riding season got into the full swing, I felt fatigue, but I wasn't really recognizing the symptoms as I never experienced that. One day I went for a all day ride, I felt really strong. I was really ripping it, I was pushing hard and regenerating fast. I just could not believe it, I rode three long trails at a pace which was better than when I was riding each of them separately before. By the time I came home, I felt tired but I was nowhere close hit a wall. The next day I woke up with all sorts of pain in my back, I had three muscle knots around the spine. Two days after I went for a ride and... I felt like a pensionary.
It is important though to have someone check you out while you are doing exercises. I advise to get a coach, preferably a Functional movement specialist. Hire him/her for two hours and go through the exercises from whatever program you are taking.
The bottom line
It is hard to motivate yourself and commit to something you don't know, but I decided to give it a shot. Not only I don't regret it but next year I got even more motivation to train again! As the autumn sets evey year, I feel my body decomposing and the lust to train just comes back by itself from my own experience. You just don't want to be so slack, you just want that engine back! So at this moment , as I write this, I am having a blast. I feel strong, quick, I feel fulfilled. I know that this speed comes from within, despite having just bought a set of carbon rims. No bike or bike part purchase can make you feel this way! If you are looking for a good training program that does not break your life Ultimate MTB Workout from James Wilsons MTB Strength Training Systems is a great thing!
The link to James Wilsons website. He offers other, simplier programs as well, but I'd recommend to go all the way and try UMTBW.