Don’t judge a workout based on how sore it makes you

As more riders use my Ultimate MTB Workout Program I seem to get more questions regarding how “easy” Phase 1 seems to be. I know that more people who already workout are finding my programs and as such they come into it already having and idea of what training is supposed to be like and Phase 1 ain’t it.

The problem lies in where their idea of what a workout is supposed to look like come from sources that have been heavily influenced by bodybuilding. Joe Weider and his fitness magazine empire have spread the bodybuilding mindset far and wide and today most people don’t even recognize it for what it is.

Bodybuilding is a sport and the training programs and mindset used by them is for one specific purpose – get big and shredded so they can shave their bodies, apply some fake tan, oil up and pose in front of a bunch of people. There’s nothing wrong with it if that is what you want to do but if you were to ask me if I wanted a program designed specifically for that goal I’d say no.

 Even some well meaning “sports” training program still pull heavily from bodybuilding without even realizing it. So, in an effort to help educate riders about these influences I’m going to cover them in future blog posts and why they don’t work for getting you better at mountain biking.

1) Judge the effectiveness of a workout by how trashed you are after the workout and how sore you are the next day.

Bodybuilders are trying to create as much micro-trauma (literally little tears) in the muscles fibers as possible with their workouts since this micro-trauma is a signal for muscle growth. They also want to burn as much muscle sugar (glycogen) as possible since this also leads to increased muscle size. This means that they want to do a lot of sets and reps and “exhaust” the muscles, which is exactly the opposite of what you need as a mountain biker.

The downside to this approach is that along with micro-trauma comes soreness, also know as Post Workout Muscle Soreness or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. The long, grueling workouts also produce a lot of fatigue and require a lot of recovery time. We need workouts that will make us stronger and fitter without causing so much soreness you can’t ride for a couple days.

If the gym is your “sport” then beating the holy hell out of yourself on a regular basis is fine but if you’re trying to build fitness to help you in a sport or activity outside of the gym you have to factor that in.  When you look at how athletes in other sports that have to get fit while also practicing and playing a sport you find a much different approach. You see programs that don’t beat you up as much and few people who are happy when they are super sore from a workout.

Now, this isn’t to say that you should never be sore or that there isn’t a time and a place to go all out in a workout and leave nothing in the gym. The ideal amount of soreness is something that lets you know the muscles got worked but after a hot shower and some light stretching you’re good to go. Being super sore all the time is a sign that something is wrong and you are doing too much.

You want to judge the effectiveness of your workouts based on your progress with strength levels and better technique. You also want to judge them based on how they affect your riding – if you aren’t seeing a significant impact on the trail then it is probably the wrong approach.  Be aware of the false goal of “soreness” that has been spread by people who have very different goals than you do. Seek better strength and movement, look to learn something from every training session and look to minimize soreness so you can get out and ride your bike.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Rafael says:

    Very interesting. I know I have the bodybuilder mindset and you have made me question it. The hard part is knowing if I have worked out enought? If I’m not to suppose to use the soreness as a sign of a good workout.
    It’s gone be interesting reading about this.

    Have great weekend.

    Reply • February 17 at 11:53 pm
    • bikejames says:

      What are your goals? Why are you training? Whatever those goals are is how you judge your workouts – they are either getting you closer or they are not. No where in any scientific research is there a connection between soreness and results, it is just some “gym wisdom” that has been taken too far.

      Also, please keep in mind that I didn’t say that you should never be sore, simply that soreness is not a real indicator of a programs effectiveness. I shoot for moderate soreness, the type that lets me know something got worked but after a hot shower and some stretching I’m fine. Also, as some other people have noted, the first time you do a workout that stresses you body in a way that it is not used to being used you will also experience some pretty good soreness, however that is not the “goal” of the program.

      Reply • February 19 at 10:46 am
  2. WAKi says:

    That’s the worse thing you could say to me today James… I’m so.. soo.. soooo sore after yesterdays gym and you tell me it’s my fault – I wanted to blame someone, you particularly, for this cruel program I got from you. You are lucky it’s friday.

    Good write up! 😉 Cheers, ouch…

    Reply • February 18 at 4:33 am
  3. Could not agree more. I was talking to a few Riders the other day, and I was explaining what my Training Philosophy is and how much time I spend in the Gym. They were shocked that I am able to ride the way I do when I am not in the gym for hours at a time. It is frustrating what people think the “proper” or “right” way to train is. (Spending hours at a time in the gym, and just killing yourself). I don’t know about you but I would much rather be riding my Dirtbike or Mountain bike than spending hours at the gym, or being to sore to ride at all. Riding is my top priority… but with that being said, since I am a Fitness Professional I still understand that Training is a HUGE part of becoming a better rider. It just takes a different type of Training.

    Thanks James! Keep it coming!

    Reply • February 18 at 3:31 pm
  4. Dustin says:

    What?! right now my legs shoulders chest core and glutes are totally wrecked i’m even having a hard time at work moving around, and all of this is from day one of the “no gym no problem workout” LOL!!

    James I love this program so far, i was formerly a rockclimber/mountaineer and was in great shape. I gave it up due to inury and got back into biking about a year ago. I bought a road bike trained on it did my first century 3 mos after getting into riding. Later i bought a MTB and love it but figured it was just the fun side of biking leaving my serious riding to the road and cranking out miles in zone 3 for hours. I was not getting results on the trail i was still gassing fast on shorter (than road) climbs. I found your podcast and finally decided to try out your free workout this week after the 2 types of cardio podcast. I attempting to do leg lifts over my head from my climbing work out board i used to bang out 10 reps, that day i did 3/4’s of one!!!

    Bottom line I’m hurting but I’m loving it because I feel like I used to after a hard climbing session, the strength will be back soon thanks to this program and your other ones that i will no doubt purchase. Looking forward to shredding faster harder and stronger!

    Thanks James!
    -Dustin R.

    PS I’m a big dude so the bodyweight workout was intense. (6’1″ 200+ built like a fridge)

    Reply • February 19 at 10:32 am
    • bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback, its funny how destroyed you can get from a bodyweight workout! Something about controlling your bodyweight that really gets all your muscles involved in everything, which is the kind of strength you need on the trail.

      The soreness will get better once your body gets used to it again.

      Reply • February 19 at 10:40 am
  5. L Chap says:

    I live in the northeast so i will not be able to judge if your workout is working or not till at least late may, maybe even later. But so far i am enjoying it.I am 6″2 but rather slim like a broom.

    Reply • February 19 at 11:18 pm
  6. Cy says:

    Good timing on this post, James.

    Last night I had a conversation with my wife about our vastly different workout philosophies — she comes from more of a bodybuilding background and “wrecks” herself in the gym once a week with a really long recovery. Her approach certainly keeps her generally strong …and looking hot… and sometimes it’s tempting to think her methods would be right for me. But she doesn’t ride, and our goals are totally different. Your post reminded me why I see the results I do on the trail. Thanks!

    Reply • February 25 at 11:25 am

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