It is funny how I get reoccurring themes throughout my day when training people. For example, I’ve been explaining to several people over the last few days the importance of “pulling” yourself down instead of just controlling a fall.

Most people simple unhinge their joints and free fall for a second before catching themselves towards the bottom when lowering down into a rep. I had one client who had a distinct popping sound coming from her left knee as she did some split squats – the same knee that has been giving her a lot of problems lately.

After watching her for a second I saw that she was “unhinging and falling” down rather than staying strong and tight. I told her to get her core braced tight and then actively pull herself down into her next rep. Her control and balance were vastly improved and the pop in her knee disappeared.

I had a similar experience last night with a client and their squats. By being strong on the way down as well as on the way up bad movement was improved and strength levels went up. I just figured it would be a good time to remind everyone about this point.

Be strong from the moment you start a set to until the end of it. Beware of your body’s tendency to find ways to relax at the expense of high quality movement. Strong is a mindset – if you are strong you are strong all the time.

Someone watching you should be able to tell that you are in complete control of your movement from start to finish – or at least that is the goal. Yes, some exercises like single leg squats will make you wobble at first but knowing the standard you are seeking will push you to get better.

Anyways, some words of wisdom from the trenches…

-James Wilson-

28 thoughts on “Don’t just control a fall…

  1. Greg Hart says:

    Hi Guys,
    Great debrief on study James. I was particularly interested in the breathing rate and the use of the ‘Valsalva Maneuve’ is stabilise the spine from the impacts experienced while defending. This reminded me of a martial art move I was taught a while ago by a Grand Master however the stability was generated by increasing static muscular tension the lower abdominals and obliques to coincide with impacts and was also regulated and timed with exhalation patterns. The reason that this technique may be an improvement over generating pressure in the upper torso is that when the ‘Valsalva Maneuver’ is performed in this way it decrease what they medically call ‘preload’ to the heart, which is essentially the autonomic system reducing blood flow volumes as a reaction to the increased internal pressure in the chest area generated by the maneuver. (see here for medical clarification of this process https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtGg9j8yJTc . The point being that if this manever is engaged enough during a DH race it will decrease blood flow to the heart which may translate to a reduction of oxygenated blood to the brain required for high level cognitive processing critical to making instantaneous decisions on the decent. I think this could defiantly, from a physiological point of view, impair performance. What are your thoughts of this perspective?

  2. Greg Hart says:

    Just a quick follow up on my previous comment. James’ kettlebell swing movement encourages the stabilising tension of the Valsalva Maneuve to the lower region (similar to the martial art technique) of the body potential reducing the ‘preload’ effect in the upper chest cavity. And there may be medical support for it to improve performance.

  3. Greg Hart says:

    Hi Guys,
    Great debrief on study James. I was particularly interested in the breathing rate and the use of the ‘Valsalva Maneuve’ is stabilise the spine from the impacts experienced while defending. This reminded me of a martial art move I was taught a while ago by a Grand Master however the stability was generated by increasing static muscular tension the lower abdominals and obliques to coincide with impacts and was also regulated and timed with exhalation patterns. The reason that this technique may be an improvement over generating pressure in the upper torso is that when the ‘Valsalva Maneuver’ is performed in this way it decrease what they medically call ‘preload’ to the heart, which is essentially the autonomic system reducing blood flow volumes as a reaction to the increased internal pressure in the chest area generated by the maneuver. (see here for medical clarification of this process https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtGg9j8yJTc . The point being that if this manever is engaged enough during a DH race it will decrease blood flow to the heart which may translate to a reduction of oxygenated blood to the brain required for high level cognitive processing critical to making instantaneous decisions on the decent. I think this could defiantly, from a physiological point of view, impair performance. What are your thoughts of this perspective?

    • bikejames says:

      I know what you mean in that a true Valsalva Maneuver isn’t what you want on the trail. You aren’t trying to poop (which is the most common use of the Valsalva Maneuver) and you need a more subtle approach to stabilizing your spine than that. The ability to “ground” yourself to absorb an impact without getting stiff and placing an undue stress on the cardio system is a skill that has to be trained. I like swings because you can’t stay stiff and do 20 swings with a decent weight – you have to learn how to time your tension and use your breath to help you or else you will gas out quickly. Good catch on the difference between a true Valsalva Maneuver and what we are really looking for on the trail. While they are related they certainly are not the same thing.

  4. Greg Hart says:

    Just a quick follow up on my previous comment. James’ kettlebell swing movement encourages the stabilising tension of the Valsalva Maneuve to the lower region (similar to the martial art technique) of the body potential reducing the ‘preload’ effect in the upper chest cavity. And there may be medical support for it to improve performance.

  5. Mark Buckley says:

    Hi James that’s for highlighting this article. I also found it a while ago and found it very interesting. I think however you have misrepresented the aerobic capacity data. The conclusion to the fourth study was that the v02 data showed downhill riders have a reasonable large aerobic capacity, admittedly from the studies data not as large as pro road racers , cross country skiers etc. I think an over emphasis on strength, mobility etc at the detriment of developing aerobic power will result in sub optimal performance. A balanced approach to development that emphasises all the desired elements would be better, after all mountain biking is predominately an endurance sport, very different to road riding/racing but still endurance s base. I am a fan off your work have bought a couple o f your programmes but sometimes I think you sell the message of strength maybe a little to hard! To support your stance with a little more science have you seen Ronnesstad et al Strength training improves performance and pedalling characteristics in elite cyclists Scandinavian journal of medicine and science in sports 2015 : 25 e89 – e98? Interesting read done on road cyclists, but I’m sure you can extrapolate something useful from their findings!

  6. Mark Buckley says:

    Hi James that’s for highlighting this article. I also found it a while ago and found it very interesting. I think however you have misrepresented the aerobic capacity data. The conclusion to the fourth study was that the v02 data showed downhill riders have a reasonable large aerobic capacity, admittedly from the studies data not as large as pro road racers , cross country skiers etc. I think an over emphasis on strength, mobility etc at the detriment of developing aerobic power will result in sub optimal performance. A balanced approach to development that emphasises all the desired elements would be better, after all mountain biking is predominately an endurance sport, very different to road riding/racing but still endurance s base. I am a fan off your work have bought a couple o f your programmes but sometimes I think you sell the message of strength maybe a little to hard! To support your stance with a little more science have you seen Ronnesstad et al Strength training improves performance and pedalling characteristics in elite cyclists Scandinavian journal of medicine and science in sports 2015 : 25 e89 – e98? Interesting read done on road cyclists, but I’m sure you can extrapolate something useful from their findings!

    • bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback. Sorry if there was some confusion about my conclusions, in the “That’s not what I’m saying…” portion of the article I pointed out that I am not saying that you don’t need to train your cardio or that it isn’t very important. I’m pretty sure I also used the term “balanced approach” as well in my conclusions. Can you point out where I gave the impression that focusing on strength and mobility to the detriment of aerobic power is the best way to go? I need to fix it if I did say that because that is certainly not what I think or what I had intended to say.

      If not then all I said was that while cardio is important, it isn’t more important than these other factors. By focusing on cardio to the detriment of strength and mobility you will also hinder performance. In a sport that is obsessed with cardio training I have to speak up loudly about the benefits of strength and mobility training but in no way am I saying that cardio is not important.

      I also pointed out that the best cardio training you can do is on the trail and that other forms of cardio training aren’t able to challenge the system in the same way a trail ride can. You do need to do a lot of cardio training, I just consider trail riding to also be cardio training along with what you do on the road or a trainer. Too many riders don’t look at trail riding as cardio training and then spend too much of their other training time doing extra cardio when some of that time would be better spent getting stronger and more mobile.

      Mountain biking is an endurance sport but your cardio system is only one factor and over-emphasizing it isn’t the best way. I’m sure we agree on this approach and I’m sure if you re-read the article you will see you might have missed a few things I said to that effect.

  7. David says:

    Hey James, do you know what your avg heart rate and peak heart rate is, on a typical extreme downhill descent? I would guess it would still be in the arena of 160bpm+ due to the adrenaline, and muscle exhaustion, from the full body stabilizing over the rough terrain, and periodic intervals of high cadence pedaling for position or time advantage.

  8. David says:

    Hey James, do you know what your avg heart rate and peak heart rate is, on a typical extreme downhill descent? I would guess it would still be in the arena of 160bpm due to the adrenaline, and muscle exhaustion, from the full body stabilizing over the rough terrain, and periodic intervals of high cadence pedaling for position or time advantage.

    • bikejames says:

      No, I don’t know because I’ve never worn a HR monitor on a DH run. I’d guess it is higher than people would guess as well. It is always funny when people say that riding downhill is the easy part!

    • Jimmy says:

      I’ve worn a heart rate monitor on DH runs lots of times. If it’s a track where there’s a fair bit of pedalling at the start it’s easy to max out your heart rate if you go 100% out of the gate – the highest I’ve recorded is 196 bpm. I found over time though that for me personally, if my heart rate climbs above around 180 bpm then I actually start to perform worse and make mistakes. I’ve got to the point now where I can pace myself and keep my heart rate pretty constant at around 170 – 175 which seems optimal for me on a typical UK downhill track i.e typically between 2.5 and 4 minutes top to bottom.

    • MattyBoy says:

      I’m pasting part of an abstract from a study on heart rates while DH mountain biking from 2012. The article also mentions a reduction in grip strength. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23025296
      We characterised the physiological demands of downhill mountain biking under typical riding conditions. Riding oxygen consumption (VO(2)) and heart rate (HR) were measured on 11 male and eight female experienced downhill cyclists and compared with data during a standardised incremental to maximum (VO(2max)) exercise test. The mean VO(2) while riding was 23.1 ± 6.9 ml · kg(-1) · min(-1) or 52 ± 14% of VO(2max) with corresponding heart rates of 146 ± 11 bpm (80 ± 6% HRmax). Over 65% of the ride was in a zone at or above an intensity level associated with improvements in health-related fitness. However, the participants’ heart rates and ratings of perceived exertion were artificially inflated in comparison with the actual metabolic demands of the downhill ride. Substantial muscular fatigue was evident in grip strength, which decreased 5.4 ± 9.4 kg (5.5 ± 11.2%, P = 0.03) post-ride.

  9. David says:

    Agreed. I would say at 20-30+ on avg. in extreme downhill sections, the adrenaline, plus the braking, all the obstacles, jumps, landing recovery, and stability control on top of the pressure to win the race, my best guess is an anaerobic zone of 140-160BPM avg. Extreme MTB racers must have solid cores!

  10. David says:

    Agreed. I would say at 20-30 on avg. in extreme downhill sections, the adrenaline, plus the braking, all the obstacles, jumps, landing recovery, and stability control on top of the pressure to win the race, my best guess is an anaerobic zone of 140-160BPM avg. Extreme MTB racers must have solid cores!

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