August
20

For a lot of cyclists, low back pain is just a part of riding their bike. Whether it hurts before, during or after riding (or all 3 for a lot of people) they know that throwing their leg over their bike will most likely result in their low back getting angry with them.

And while there are exceptions, in my experience a lot of this pain is avoidable. Brought on by mobility and movement dysfunctions, once you address the root of the problem then your low back isn’t under as much stress.

If you are experiencing or just want to avoid low back pain then here are 3 tips that will help you have more fun and less pain from riding…

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1 – Improve Your Hip and Thoracic Mobility.

Your low back is caught between two areas that are notoriously tight for most riders – the hips and the upper back between the shoulder blades. When one or both of these areas is tight and can’t move like they should then the low back comes into play more to make up for it.

The problem is that the low back isn’t meant to create a lot of high stress movement. Just like using your lower back for squats or deadlifts in the gym, you can get away with it for a little while but eventually this overuse will catch up to you.

This is one of the reasons that mobility training is one of – if not the most – important thing for you to focus on when you are off of the bike. The nature of riding a bike creates a lot of tightness and tension in the hips and upper back and this leads to movement dysfunctions that impact the low back.

Spending 10-15 minutes a day focusing on these areas will make a big impact on your mobility and help take a lot of stress of the low back as a result.

2 – Stand Up More To Pedal.

Look, there is no getting around how dysfunctional sitting in the Adult Fetal Position is on your bike. There is an entire industry that revolves around finding the right “fit” to put the best polish on that turd but at the end of the day seated pedaling has a lot of drawbacks for your low back compared to standing pedaling.

A few things to consider about this spinal nightmare…

  • Sitting down on your seat disengages your core to some extent. Not entirely, but as soon as your core has the stability provided by the seat it disengages to save energy. This is one of the reasons that seated pedaling “feels easier”…your core isn’t as active which isn’t good news for your spine.
  • Sitting down makes it harder to engage your glutes. Your glutes have to engage simply to hold you up and keep you balanced on your seat. If they are engaged doing that then they can’t create as much power. This makes it harder to use your hips to drive the pedals stroke and some of that load goes to the low back, which again isn’t made for that.
  • Sitting down has you working the weakest and tightest range of motion in your hip hinge. It is like doing the bottom half of your deadlift over and over again. This is where you are weakest and most likely to need to compromise spine position to make up for tight hips. When you stand up you are working the top of your range of motion, which is much stronger and easier to maintain a better spine position.

To be honest this list could go on and on. Your body simply never expected for you to sit down and try to apply movement and energy with your legs and isn’t really built for it.

The answer is to use Standing Pedaling more. The key word here is more. I’m not saying to stand up all of the time, simply to work on standing up more.

Like anything else on your bike there is a specific skill and fitness behind it that will get better as you use it more. This will make it easier and let you do it more, eventually leading to a riding style that lets you use Standing Pedaling for your hard efforts and Seated Pedaling for easier and recovery efforts.

3 – Stabilize Your Foot Properly.

Anyone who has had any contact with the Barefoot Running/ Training movement over the last few years knows that everything starts with the foot. If it isn’t functioning properly then everything else in the body will be off trying to make up for it.

This applies to the bike just as much as it does anywhere else. However, it is one of the most overlooked aspects of cycling related low back pain.

At its heart your foot is an arch. The arch is one of the strongest forms in all of nature and provides a dynamic base to work from as you can shift weight from one end to the other as needed for balance.

But these things only work if you have both ends of the arch stabilized. Destabilize one end and the whole thing falls apart.

Now when you press down into it you have one end collapsing, which requires energy from the foot to hold up and loses some of the power going into the pedal.

You also lose the ability to apply pressure through both ends as needed. For example, your foot requires pressure through the heel to be able to recruit the hips – if you don’t have anything under the heel for it to apply pressure into then the hips can’t fire and the low back winds up taking the slack.

With a platform that stabilizes both ends of the arch you can get better hip recruitment, plus it makes it easier to stand up and pedal since your feet and calves aren’t working as hard to hold up the back of the arch themselves.

Of course, you will always have those that claim you don’t need heel pressure and that you instead want to be on the ball of your foot when riding. I won’t get into debunking their rather silly claims here – I did so in detail in The Mid-Foot Manifesto Podcast – but I will say that if you are on the ball of your foot and suffer from a tight, painful low back then it may be worth at least considering another option.

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Once you do these 3 things then you body can move better and rely less on dysfunction to get your through your rides. This means that the stress is being placed on the right areas and spread out over the body instead of being focused on the low back.

To help you with these things I have two pieces of advice…

First, if you haven’t done it already then be sure to sign up for the free Standing Pedaling Solution Program. It is a 4 week workout program that addresses a lot of the mobility and strength issues I refer to in this article as well as direct skills training advice on how to apply your better movement to the trail.

Second, get a pair of Catalyst Pedals. As the only pedal on the market that is long enough to support and connect both ends of the arch, I designed it to be your best option for achieving a strong, functional pedal stroke. It also makes standing pedaling much easier since you aren’t balanced on your toes, helping you to stop relying so much on the Adult Fetal Position on the trail.

Riding mountain bikes hurts enough already so why make it harder than necessary by suffering through low back pain? Apply this advice and you’ll be able to stop the cycle of pain and dysfunction, letting you enjoy riding even more.

So give this advice a shot and let me know how it works for you.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Ultimate Program
August
13

Warning: Do not listen to this podcast if your identity as a rider is tied up in your clipless pedals because you won’t like what you hear and I’d hate to ruin your day.

In this podcast I dig into the claims used to sell clipless pedals and expose why they are nothing but gimmicks.

Which makes clipless pedals a gimmick, sold to unsuspecting riders who trust that those they rely on for information have actually looked into it for themselves.

But enough of that right now, check out the podcast and let me know what you think…

Download this episode (right click and save)

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

Show Notes:

  • The definition of the word Gimmick: A trick or device used to attract business or attention.
  • This includes things that are untrue and have no basis in science or facts.
  • Clipless pedals are sold based on two things that based on this definition are, in fact, gimmicks.
  • The first is the Round Pedal Stroke and the Need to Pull Up on the Backstroke.
  • There are countless graphics illustrating a “perfect” pedal stroke that have never been seen or re-created using an actual EMG.
  • Real EMG readings look nothing like those charts.
  • That makes these charts untrue and, by definition, a gimmick since they only exist to help attract attention and business for clipless pedals.
  • The second gimmick is being on the ball of the foot and the need for a repeatable foot position.
  • Again, there is no science to back up either claim.
  • What studies do exist are either unclear or actually point towards a more mid-foot position.
  • The body is also not designed to be locked into the same movement over and over again, which leads to overuse injuries from not enough “noise” in the movement pattern.
  • This is why machine training is bad for your joints compared to free weights… now imagine doing thousands of reps locked into a machine.
  • Both of these things have no basis in science or functional movement principles, making them “a trick used to attract business or attention”. In other words, a gimmick.
  • In my mind this makes clipless pedals the biggest gimmick in mountain biking since they are sold to most people based on these untruths.
  • They also have some very real drawbacks that no one wants to discuss.
  • First, they force a very unnatural movement onto the legs.
  • Your legs are not designed to apply force in a straight line but instead uses a spiral or screwing motion as it applies force into the ground.
  • If you do this motion on a clipless pedal you either move within the free motion known as float – which is like applying force into ice and wastes energy – or you end up unclipping.
  • This forces you to either let your knees bow in to create some of that spiral – which is bad for your knees – and/ or you end up learning how to minimize that spiral and move in a straight line up and down.
  • Second, when cornering you need to be able to apply pressure in a spiral motion into the pedals to “set the edge” and drive the movement. If you do this on clipless pedals you float/ and or unclip which, again, forces an unnatural movement on the bike.
  • Last, your foot wants to apply pressure into “the ground”, or something that is supporting it from the bottom. A stiff soled shoe is not supporting your foot, only making it stiff. You need something underneath that it can apply pressure into for it to be supported.
  • If you have the foot supported by the pedal then you can’t twist your foot, which is good for the foot because it allows the spiraling motion since your foot can’t twist but it is bad for getting unclipped since you can’t turn your foot.
  • This means that a properly supported foot literally can’t turn like you would need it to in order to unclip, making it very hard if not impossible to clip in and allow natural foot movement through a proper platform.
  • They are also more dangerous, especially for beginners, and the consequences of not getting unclipped are much worse than slipping a flat pedal (head, shoulder or arm injuries vs. cut up shins).
  • These very real drawbacks are never brought up or discussed in the cycling world and we only hear about the gimmicks used to prop up their “superiority”.
  • I’ve also had conversations with people in the cycling industry who admit that they are overhyped and sold to people who don’t need them but because they companies that sell them pay for advertising and sponsorships it isn’t worth saying anything, giving me insights behind the curtain that most riders simply don’t have.
  • So what would you call a product that is sold based on a gimmick and has very real drawbacks that are never discussed or simply downplayed? I call it a problem for our sport but we’ll be nice and just call it a wonderfully successful gimmick.
  • If you think I’m wrong then I challenge you to simply look into for yourself. I’m willing to bet that less than 1 in 1000 riders out there who ride clipless pedals have ever done this and that if more did then we’d be having a very different conversation as a sport.
  • I’ve put together the Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto to help riders learn the truth and break free of the gimmicks that we’ve been sold in the past and it’s a great place to start if you are really curious about the truth about foot position and pedal stroke.
Pedaling Innovations
August
6

Sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself “why am I choosing to do this?”, especially when it comes to your training and riding.

Why are you skipping that workout?

Why are you sitting and spinning rather than standing and pushing a harder gear when you climb?

Why are you looking for another cardio workout instead of focusing on mobility and strength?

Why are you riding the same trails the same way year after year?

The answer to this question for most people is because they are seeking comfort instead of seeking real growth.

Real growth comes from turning into pressure, not trying to find and easy way out of it.

It takes becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable and focusing on your real weaknesses.

So why are you making the choices you are? Are they to seek comfort? Or are you looking for growth?

The great thing is that every day offers a new chance start making better decisions. And a big part of that for you as a mountain biker is having a weekly strength and mobility routine.

Hopefully you have a training routine that is working for you but in case you don’t you can get started with this month’s Workout of the Month. It will give you the structure you need to start reaping the benefits of MTB specific training using short, targeted workouts.

All that you need to do to get instant access to this month’s workout is enter your name and email below so I know where to send it. Plus, I’ll be sending you a new workout each month along with weekly training tips to help your training and riding.

I hope you enjoy this month’s workout and get some good results from it. If you have any questions then just post a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Skills and Fitness Program
July
31

Over the last couple of years I’ve been introduced to some things that have made me re-think how I approach training myself and other people. These things aren’t “new” exactly but better ways to look at some “old” things and how they can be applied to your training.

I’ve recently started to codify this new approach into a system I can use and teach to other riders. These are the 4 steps I’m now using to help riders improve their movement and performance which includes…

1 – Breathing

2 – Position

3 – Tension

4 – Movement

I sat down yesterday and recorded a short podcast sharing this system and some examples of how you can apply it to your own training.

You can stream the episode or download the MP3 file below:


Download this episode (right click and save)

I hope you’ll get some insights into things you can start doing today to improve your performance. Like I say in the podcast, you are only as strong as your weakest link and for most riders those weak links aren’t cardio and power, it’s the things previous steps that support them.

Trying to expand the conversation about what it takes to improve as a mountain biker is my goal and hopefully you’ll get some things to think about from this podcast. If you have any questions or thoughts about this podcast please post a comment on the blog or send me an email and I’ll get back to you.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Fitness Membership Program
July
25

The plank is one of the most popular core training exercises being used today. It is a great way to strengthen the entire core and helps riders improve their pedaling power and posture on the bike.

And while holding a plank can be a challenge at first, eventually they start to get a little easy. At this point a lot of riders will start to look for more advanced exercises and the plank gets relegated to the “remember when I used to do those more” pile.

Which is unfortunate since this exercise has something to offer riders at all levels, especially if you use the Ramping Isometrics technique with them.

In this video I show you how to get more out of your planks through this unique training method.

I guarantee that this will be the toughest plank you’v done in a long time. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Kettlebell Workout
July
23

As I lay on the ground trying to get my legs to stop shaking I was dumbfounded at what had just happened.

In just 90 seconds, without moving an inch, I had just reached a level of tension in the deadlift that I didn’t know was possible, taking my muscles to the edge of their limits and further than I had ever taken them before…all with almost zero risk of injury.

The small, unassuming man in his 60’s standing at the front of the room just looked around and smiled. He knew what we were experiencing, which was disbelief that what he had just put us through could be so hard.

The man with the amused look was Steve Maxwell, a legend in the fitness field and someone who has experienced just about every training method under the sun. Steve was teaching a seminar on Ramping Isometrics, which is what I had just experienced.

By the end of the seminar I was a believer. Ramping Isometrics held the key to the next evolution of my training programs and I left ready to commit to using them for the next few months to see how things went.

And after 8+ months of doing them twice a week I’m more convinced than ever than Ramping Isometrics are a vital part to getting stronger as a mountain biker. They help you improve in 3 important ways that are vital to your performance on the trail…

1 – They teach you how to improve the skill of creating tension.

The skills of creating tension has two parts – 1) the ability to generate the highest levels of tension possible and 2) the ability to control your tension “knob”.

2 – They improve your High Tension Cardio/ ability to breathe under tension.

Since they last for up to 90 seconds you have to control your breathing as the tension levels increase. This also works on your cardio systems ability to fuel higher levels of sustained tension more efficiently.

3 – They let you build strength in a safe, joint friendly way.

Because you are not moving you greatly decrease the risk of injury. You also decrease the stress on the joints since you aren’t relying on the mechanical stress of lifting a weight but instead on the metabolic stress of fueling the tension.

Now the warning, though. Ramping Isometrics aren’t easy. They can be a mental grind and they aren’t going to win any awards as the Hot New Fitness Trend.

Plus, it will probably take doing Ramping Isometrics a couple of times before they start to make sense. Most people struggle with knowing how to create optimal tension and how to ramp it up so give it a coupe of workouts before drawing too many conclusions.

But they do work, so if results are what you’re after then they are a must to add to your program.

So, what are Ramping Isometrics and how can you start using them to help your riding?

For starters, you can check out this BikeJames Podcast where I covered Ramping Isometrics and went into detail about how to do them and why they are so effective.

You can also watch this video I shot a sharing my 3 favorites Ramping Isometric Exercises for Mountain Biking, where I also cover how to perform Ramping Isometric Exercises.

So there’s your challenge…give these exercises a try for the next 3 workouts and see what you think. If you’re like me you’ll realize that you’ve found a vital new part of your training program.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson
MTB Strength Training Systems

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James Wilson