When I turned 40 I had to admit to myself that it was more than just a number. Maybe it was a coincidence but it seemed like a lot of my bad decisions earlier in life were starting to come home to roost.
I’d spent almost 2 decades with riding my bike and training to ride my bike as a daily pursuit and things were starting to hurt. I even found that my riding was starting to slide backwards because of the lack of strength and power I felt on the bike as a result of things being sore or hurt.
My ability to recover from hard workouts and rides and to come back from injuries was also starting to get noticeably longer. In my mind I still felt like I was in my 20’s or 30’s but I just couldn’t power through the same way as when I actually was that age.
In some ways you just get used to being sore and having something hurt – in some ways it is part of the process of getting really good at something. But eventually you reach this tipping point where your body can’t deal with the accumulation of bad decisions (which everyone who is pushing the envelope will make) and the current loads being placed on it.
We call it “getting old” and it sucks but it is a reality, and for me that reality started to set in around 40. I’m sure this number is different for everyone, which is why it is hard to say when it will happen to you, but odds are high that it will happen someday.
As I started to try and figure out what to do about this problem I started to come across some things that made me question some of the approaches I was using. I’ve been around long enough to see the entire fitness industry shift from the “bodybuilding” approach to the “functional fitness” approach and while it is a good step, I started to realize that there is still some work to be done in finding the optimal way to train.
All of this has led to a new approach that has proven much more effective and sustainable for me. After several years of having different pieces of the puzzle come together, I’ve finally developed a training system that I’m excited to share with the rest of the riders out there who are facing the same problem.
This new system has 2 things that make it different from my previous approach.
First, I had to stop lifting heavy weights to “get stronger”. It was beating me up and leading to too many acute and chronic injuries.
This insight came from a workshop by Steve Maxwell, who shared his Ramping Isometrics technique. Through my experience with the exercises at the workshop and his insight that “building the general skill of creating tension is one thing, applying it to a movement is another” I became very curious about isometrics to build strength.
This led to the creation of my Atomic Strength Training System and a complete change in how I look at building general tension skills, a.k.a. Strength.
By using isometrics to build those general tension skills and then using select exercises and our sport to teach the skill of applying those tension skills to movement you have a way to build strength without putting the same kind of wear and tear on the body that heavy movement based training will.
Plus, the science behind isometrics is pretty interesting, showing results that include not only increased strength but also improved aerobic metabolism (an important part of overall cardio). They also build a type of mental toughness and ability to grind through pain that you usually need hard intervals for but, again, they carry much less injury risk.
Which leads us to the second thing I had to change – I had to stop doing hard intervals. Like lifting heavy weight to build strength, hard intervals were leaving me feeling sore more than anything else.
Part of the problem was that after a while, you can push your body pretty hard. This puts a lot of wear and tear on the same joints you use for riding.
Plus, after the initial period of training, it takes a lot of effort to see significant improvements either in training or on the trail. This takes energy and recovery potential that you most likely need for other things, like riding your bike or playing with your kids.
On top of this, I found out that there was a difference between “running out of gas” and getting “breathless” while riding. The first involves losing the ability to metabolize energy through a lack of raw materials and/ or a build up of waste products. The second is triggered by a change in blood chemistry.
While intervals work on both to some extent, there is a much more efficient way to target the “breathless” feeling you get while riding, which is triggered by rising levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This “breathless” feeling is a much bigger problem for most riders than genuinely running out of gas during a ride.
By using breath holds during cardio training, you create a stress response with much less physical effort that targets the mechanism behind the breathless feeling. And since the breath holds are creating the stress to trigger the results we want, you don’t have to push yourself as hard physically. This in turn places less wear and tear on the body and requires less energy to recover from.
Plus, like isometrics, the science behind breath holds is extremely interesting, showing results like improved strength of the respiratory muscles and increases in EPO. I’m convinced that breath holds will be a big part of the future of cardio training and I was lucky to get exposed to it early.
Now look, I still train hard and ride hard. I am also pretty freakin’ sore a lot and have to do stuff to manage that. But it is manageable and it feels much more sustainable than what I was doing. Hard work and dealing with discomfort is still part of the equation…but so is being smarter as we gain more experience.
I know that this sounds like sacrilege coming from the guy who preached heavy weights, hard intervals and ride until the wheels come off for years, but if I wanted to keep doing this at a decent level now and for the rest of my life I had to take a different approach. Yes, it’s different, but it’s helped me and I know it can help a lot of you as well.
Which leads to an announcement – I’ve been working on a new 40+ MTB Rider Training Program update that I will be releasing in a few weeks. It incorporates Isometrics and CO2 Tolerance Training into a new type of workout you won’t find anywhere else. It will be a great way to start the new year and get some momentum going into 2022.
I hope this post has given you some things to think about when it comes to how you approach your workouts. Getting older doesn’t have to mean losing the ability to do what you love due to aches, pains and injuries. With some new approaches you can shift your focus towards riding better now and for a lifetime.
Until next time…