Ever since I was a teenager running track in high school I’ve been fascinated with how to manipulate the human body to perform better. To me it was like a video game – you could literally level up your character if you did the right things with your strength and conditioning program.

That fascination led to a career as a strength coach and eventually to becoming the first coach to focus exclusively on mountain bike strength training. Of course, that choice was a selfish one since I wanted to find the best ways to help me ride faster and longer on my bike and helping other riders seemed like the best way to do it.

And while I can’t ride quite as fast and as long as I used to – injuries and time catch up with us all – I’ve never lost that fascination with how to use training to “level up” my character as much as possible. Over the last few years I’ve been using a lot more Steel Mace and Indian Club exercises as part of my “level up program” and seeing some really impressive results.

But while I could feel the results it was hard for me to explain exactly what the difference was between training with a Kettlebell or Dumbbell and training with a Steel Mace or Indian Club. This was frustrating for me because I know that these training tools had a lot to offer mountain bikers if I could just figure out how to explain the benefits in a way they could relate to.

Luckily for me the universe tends to put the right people in my path at the right time and I recently heard a presentation that made it all click for me. Now I understand exactly what the difference between these training is and why mountain bikers need the results that Steel Mace and Indian Club training provide.

First, to understand this difference you have to look at your muscles as being made up of two basic parts.

The first are the muscle fibers, which is that most of us think of as “our muscles”. They are responsible for contracting and creating tension like when you are doing a Deadlift or Squat.

The second part is the Fascia. The fascia wraps your muscle fibers, kind of like a balloon with your muscle fibers on the inside.

Among a lot of other jobs, the fascia is responsible for helping to stabilize the body. Holding a weight out to the side and holding it there is a good example of this function.

So, it is the interplay of Tension and Stability that makes up your ability to perform both on and off the bike. And the types of exercises we use target these two functions differently.

Tension is targeted with Compression Based Tension. Compression Based Tension loads are characterized by symmetrical loads that are close to the hands and/ or centerline of the body.

A Goblet Squat or a Deadlift are good example of this type of loading. There is a lot of compression straight down onto the muscles and joints from the weight. There isn’t much stabilization needed and so the muscles fibers’ ability to create tension is often the limiting factor.

Stability is best targeted with Leverage Based Tension. Leverage Based Tension loads are asymmetrical and/ or have the weight being held far away the centerline of the body.

Holding a Steel Mace and doing a Squat or Deadlift is a good example of this. The Steel Mace is only loaded on one end and the weighted ball is far away from the centerline of the body.

This forces the body to stabilize the load before it can create tension to lift it. This puts stress on the fascia, which in turn responds by adding collagen to increase its stability.

These are two very different adaptations by the body and transfer over differently to the trail.

On the trail we need a lot of Leverage Based strength because that is usually our limiting factor, not the ability to create a lot of tension at one time. Building strength using Compression Based Tension won’t transfer over the same way that Leverage Based Tension does.

This explains why some riders don’t see as much from their training programs as they would like. The emphasis on Compression Based loading builds the wrong kind of strength, especially in the core and upper body.

On a quick side note, this is not the same as using an unstable surface to “train the stabilizers”.

This type of training usually just a Compression Based exercise on something like a BOSU Ball and while it certainly makes you have to stabilize more than normal is not the same thing as having to stabilize a Leverage Based exercise. It is the wrong approach to the problem of creating more stability in the system, which is better trained with tools and exercises created for that purpose.

Understanding the two types of tension that you can expose your body to and the different results it produces opens up a whole new way to look at “leveling up” your character. Sharing more exercises and ideas to help you train this important element of performance is going to be something I will be focusing more on in the future as I think this represents the next evolution of Functional Training for mountain biking.

In the meantime, you can sign up for a free Steel Mace for MTB Workout and get some ideas of how you can use these unique training tools to help you ride with more speed, endurance and confidence on the trail.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Ultimate Program

Over the last 5 years few exercises have gotten as popular as Kettlebell Swings. With it’s blend of hip power, cardio and grip strength it has a lot to offer mountain bikers.

However, over the last few years I’ve started to thing that we can do better than the Kettlebell Swing. In fact, I know that we can do much better.

A couple of months ago I shared blog post and video showing the Indian Club Swing and several variations that I think are more specific to what we really do on the bike. It is also much easier to learn and has a higher margin for error before you get hurt, making it my current “go to” swing variation for the riders I work with.

But as great as that option is, after learning some new stuff at the recent Perform Better 3 Day Functional Training Summit I came home and worked up a new swing variation I’m calling The Perfect Swing.

My big insight was that the glutes – which are the biggest muscles in the body – act at the hips in 3 different ways.

The first in hip extension. This is the most common form of hip training and is usually referred to as the Hip Hinge movement pattern. It was you work on when you do Deadlifts and regular Swings and it the basic movement pattern behind good body position on the bike.

The second action is rotation at the hips. Rotating through the hips and not the lower back is a key skills to cornering on the bike and lack of this skill is the #1 reason most riders struggle with that skill.

The third action is abduction, or pushing the knees out. This helps keep your knees from caving in during the pedal stroke and placing extra stress on the knees.

As you can see a regular Swing only addresses one of these things. And while you can work these other two elements seperately to round things out you also need to have a way to integrate these things since that is how they will function on the bike.

With the Perfect Swing you are using a Rotational Swing with a band around your knees to combine all three of these actions into one movement, addressing all the main functions of the glutes at the hip joint in one exercise.

Here is the catch, though…you can’t do it with a Kettlebell. The nature of the movement requires a different loading pattern and this isn’t possible with the way the Kettlebell is shaped.

The best training tools I’ve found so far are the Steel Mace, a single heavy Indian Club or a RAMRoller. To see how this looks in the video below:

My favorite variation is the RAMRoller, followed by the Indian Club and then the Steel Mace. You can also do this movement with a Sandbag but I personally prefer these other tools.

I use these where I would normally do Kettlebell Swings in my workout, hitting 2 sets of 10 reps on each side and call it good. My hips are definitely feeling it by then and pushing your glutes too hard in the gym isn’t a great idea if you plan on pedaling you bike in the next week.

The functional training movement has made a lot of progress towards helping people train better for the demands of their sport instead of just “looking good”. Exercises like the Kettlebell Swing were a giant leap forward from the bodybuilding inspired stuff we were drowning in at the time.

But like everything else things evolve with time. Tools like the Mace, Indian Clubs and RAMRoller and exercises like The Perfect Swing that you can do with them promise to help us advance the Functional Training movement.

One last thing – this is an advanced Swing variation. If you have not mastered the basic Kettlebell or, preferably, the heavy Indian Club Swing then this is not a good choice for you. However, you can get an idea from this post of what is next for you once you do.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

Pedaling Innovations

In this episode of the BikeJames Podcast I recap the insights and lessons I took from the recent Perform Better Functional Training Summit. It was a 3 day event in Long Beach that brought in some of the best coaches in the industry to share their knowledge.

It was also a great excuse to catch up with some old friends in the coaching industry and get an idea of where the Functional Training movement is headed. I learned a lot but I also left feeling a little disappointed with some things that I saw. Calling a Steel Mace a Leverbell strictly for marketing purposes, for example.

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

Download the MP3 file for this episode (right click and save)

My Big 5 Take Aways from the Perform Better Functional Training Summit:

1 – Leverage and Torque based tension are different than Compression based tension. This is why the Mace and Indian Clubs are more effective for “real world/ farm boy” strength.

2 – The Glute Bridge/ Hip Thrust deserves a spot with Squat and Hinge as lower body movement patterns that need to be trained. Ramping Iso Bridge achieves the goal of the loaded hip thrust.

3 – The hips are made to create and absorb force along multiple planes and they need to be trained that way.

4 – Keto is overrated and misunderstood.

5 – Functional Training needs to evolve past the current “Correctives + Kettlebells” formula.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Skills and Fitness Program

I wanted to wrap up this week by explaining in more detail exactly why Ramping Isometrics are a key part of getting stronger. Since releasing my Ramping Isometrics for MTB Training Program earlier this week I’ve had a lot of people asking why they need to use it and it all comes down to helping you get stronger in the fastest and safest way possible.

To understand the real value of this training technique you need to first define the word “strength”. The goal of strength training is, after all, to get stronger so it only makes sense to know what we’re really after.

Strength is usually defined as the ability to exert and/ or resist force. Something else to keep in mind is that implied in this definition is the fact that strength is contextual.

Being strong with running doesn’t equal being strong on a mountain bike – the movements are different and so you need to be able to exert and resist force in different movements for each of these sports.

What this means is that we want to improve our ability to create and resist force within the movements specific to our sport.

To do this we have to look at strength as having two parts.

The first is your ability to generate tension in a muscle. The more tension you can create the more force you can produce and resist with that muscle, which is the building block for strength.

The second is your ability to apply that tension to a movement. The more efficiently you can create movement with that tension the more force you can generate within that movement and the less energy you will use.

So what we need is the ability to create high levels of tension within a muscle and the ability to apply that tension to specific movements.

The mistake we’ve been making is seeing these as the same thing. But in fact they are two different things that can and should be trained separately.

When we try to use movement to generate higher levels of tension we run into problems. Injury risks and the physical toll start to become more of a reality as the risk-to-benefit ratio starts to get higher.

For example, if you wanted to get stronger with you Hip Hinge pattern you would usually use a variety of deadlifting movements. In order to advance the Tension side of things you would start to lift more weight and do more reps, increasing your load and volume in an attempt to get the muscles to produce more tension.

But this also exposes the body to more injury risk as the weak links in the system start to take on more stress. The joints also take on more load over time, leading to more wear and tear.

You also start to hamper the skills and efficiency gains from training. When you are using heavy loads and lots of volume you aren’t “learning” as much as “surviving”. Trying to survive heavy loads in the name of Strength is where a lot of bad movement habits are formed that come back to haunt us down the road.

With Ramping Isometrics you are able to separate Tension Training from Movement Training, which allows you to optimally work on both.

Now you can get into a position – usually the weakest part of a movement pattern – and then safely apply and ramp up the tension in the muscles used in that movement pattern. The intention to move against an immovable object fires the same muscles used to create that pattern…but without the movement itself.

You can also focus on perfect posture and breathing as you take your muscle tension levels higher and higher. I’ve found that the body will sacrifice breathing and posture to get through a movement so when you take the movement part out you have nothing left to focus on than.

This means you can safely ramp up the muscle tension as high as you can go and take it to failure. This allows you to work on the skill of creating tension in a much more effective way than trying to work on it using movement based exercises.

This takes care of the Tension side of the equation but you still have to work on the Movement side as well. And this is where your traditional movement based training and playing your sport come into play.

The best way to transfer your new tension skills to the specific demands of your sport are to play and practice your sport. In fact, Ramping Isometrics plus a heavy dose of practicing and playing your sport is a formula that would work surprisingly well for most people.

This is also where your movement based exercises would also come in. You can still do all your favorite exercises, the difference is that now you treat them as Movement Skill Training and don’t try to train Tension with them.

Research and experience show that you learn best when you are in the Goldilocks Zone, where you are being challenged but not overwhelmed. For most people this is in the 75-85% effort range, which is far below where most people spend their time in the gym.

To go back to the Deadlift example, here is how this would play out in the gym.

You would use Ramping Isometric Deadlifts and other Hip Hinge positions to train the Tension Creation side of things. You would pick 1-2 positions each workout and do 1 set to failure.

Then you would get in the gym once a week and do Deadlifts. However, since you are treating them as working on the skill of picking something up off the ground (which is how you should be looking at it) then you will build up to a few sets in the 80% effort range and go nowhere near failure.

This accomplishes two things. First, as your Ramping Isometric “strength” improves you’ll be able to generate more force in the Deadlift movement pattern.

Second, you’ll be improving the actual movement skills behind the Deadlift in a safe way because you aren’t pushing the limits, only focusing on the improving your technique.

The result is that you are lifting more weight – i.e. getting stronger – with less effort and risk for injury.

And if you’re an athlete, that’s the Holy Grail of sports specific training.

So once you see that Strength consists of two elements – Tension Creation and Movement Skill Efficiency – you can see how there might be a better way to go about developing it. Train each element separately and then bring them together when it counts, which is during your sport.

This is also why I developed the B.P.T.M. System for improving performance. It represents the hierarchy of skills you need to improve:

1 – Breathing (the ability to maintain efficient breathing patterns under stress)

2 – Position/ Posture (think Mobility and the ability to get into positions)

3 – Tension (the ability to create tension in those positions/ postures)

4 – Movement (the ability to create movement within this positions/ postures)

Without the previous elements supporting it then your Movements will be sub-optimal. For a lot of people the Tension level is lacking and that is the gap that Ramping Isometrics fill.

So now that you understand what strength really is you can see how Ramping Isometrics play such an important role in your overall development and results. By addressing Tension and Movement as two different skills you get the best of both worlds while avoiding common problems that plague a lot of us on the path to getting and staying strong.

And remember that you can take advantage of Ramping Isometrics with my new 12-week Ramping Isometrics for MTB Program. It is only $15 and will change how you view getting stronger for mountain biking. Click here to learn more and get your copy today.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson – MTB Strength Training Systems

MTB Fitness Membership Program

Getting better at mountain biking is never easy. It’s a tough sport that requires a different breed of person to excel at.

But while there is no getting around a certain amount of pain and effort, there’s no reason to make things harder on ourselves either.

I mean, we may be crazy but we’re not stupid (at least, most of the time).

This is especially true about your training program. Yes, it is going to require some time and effort but no one wants to spend more time than needed and no one want to get hurt.

Teaching riders how to walk that fine line has been an important part of my mission with MTB Strength Training Systems and I’m always looking for ways to help you get better results in less time and with less risk of injury.

Which is why I am so pumped on Ramping Isometrics. While I thought I had seen it all when it came to safely getting stronger for mountain biking, they opened up a whole new world for me to explore and share with you.

Ramping Isometrics have several benefits that make them a must for mountain bikers. To help explain what they are I shot this video going over what Ramping Isometrics are, how to do them and covering the 3 reasons they should be a part of your program:

In short, Ramping Isometrics have these 3 benefits for mountain bikers…

1 – Safest Way to Build Strength.

Because you are not moving you don’t run the same injury risk as you do with movement based exercises. With Ramping Isometrics you can generate extremely high levels of tension within a movement pattern and it is almost impossible to strain a muscle or joint.

You also are not placing as much compressive force on the joints themselves. This leads to less wear and tear on them, keeping them healthier and feeling better than traditional weight training.

2 – Builds the Top Level of High Tension Cardio.

On the trail you some efforts force you to produce high levels of tension. Grinding up a technical climb, bombing through a rock garden or sprinting for the finish all require this high level of tension and your body has to fuel it.

Ramping Isometrics have you training your cardio system to fuel high levels of tension for 60+ seconds. This requires you to maintain good posture and breathing habits as well, both of which are essential to good cardio on the trail.

Since nothing – not even interval training – can put your body under the same levels of sustained tension Ramping Isometrics let you work on this highest level of High Tension Cardio, giving you better cardio for the hardest efforts on your bike.

3 – Efficient and Convenient Workouts.

While it sounds like something from a late night infomercial, Ramping Isometrics can produce results in just 2 workouts a week, each taking less than 20 minutes to complete. That’s less than 40 minutes of training time needed to see noticeable results in the trail.

And since all you need is a jiu-jitsu belt, a rope or even a large beach towel they don’t require any special, expensive equipment. They also travel well, letting you stay consistent with your training while on the road.

That makes them the most efficient and convenient training method I have come across. And since the #1 reason riders give for not strength training is lack of time and/ or equipment, Ramping Isometrics can make strength training accessible to far more people.

They have been a game-changer for myself and the people I work with. Over the last year I’ve been using them as the cornerstone of my own training and I’ve learned a lot of lessons about the best ways to use them for mountain biking.

Based on these lessons I have put together a new 12-week program that you can get for just $15. Click the link below to learn more and get your copy.

Ramping Isometrics for MTB

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Kettlebell Workout

Ramping Isometrics are the most effective training technique I’ve found for the unique demands of mountain biking. Able to increase your MTB specific strength and cardio with workouts that take less than 20 minutes, they have completely changed how I train myself and the small handful of riders I work with.

I’ve been using a Ramping Isometric training program for almost a year now, giving me a lot of insight into how to best use them for improving your performance on the trail. And now I’m ready to share those insights and the power of this unique training method with you.

I just finished the Ramping Isometrics Training Program for Mountain Biking manual and you can download it now for just $15. I’m also throwing in two bonuses – my MTB Mobility Training Manual and my MTB Skills Training Plan.

Click here to get your copy for just $15.

If you have some questions you can learn more about the program and the benefits of Ramping Isometrics by clicking the link below. I also have an FAQ section at the bottom that covers a lot of the common questions I get about the workouts.

Click here to learn more about the Ramping Isometrics for MTB Training Program

Ramping Isometrics have a lot to offer us as mountain bikers and I hope that this new program will help you as much as it has me. I’ll be in touch later this week highlighting some of the unique benefits of this type of training but in the meantime get your copy and so you can get started with them today.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

p.s. Seriously, I can’t emphasize enough how much Ramping Isometrics have helped me and the people I work with. They are a complete game-changer and I think they will be a major part of functional training in the future. Get you copy of the manual today and let me help you get the same results I’ve come to expect from this type of training.

Click here to learn more about the Ramping Isometrics for MTB Training Program

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