How Metabolic Skills Training & High Tension Cardio help you ride with more power, endurance and confidence on the trail.

Today I wanted to share some insights behind two of the factors that make my program so unique and effective – High Tension Cardio and Metabolic Skills Training – and how they can help you ride with more power, endurance and confidence on the trail….

Q: What exactly is High Tension Cardio and how can it help me ride with more power and endurance on the trail?

A: The cardiovascular system works to provide the fuel we need for movement and how well it can do that is very specific to types of movement we perform. At the root of all movement is tension – your muscles produce tension in order to create movement and your core creates tension to provide the platform for that movement. So, at its most basic level, your cardiovascular system supports the tension producing capabilities of the muscles since without tension there would be no movement and without movement there is nothing for the cardiovascular system to fuel.

Powerful efforts on the bike require a lot more core tension and muscular tension in the legs and upper body than what you find just sitting and spinning at a high RPM and these are what I call High Tension Cardio efforts. For example, standing to sprint up a steep, technical climb calls for your core to lock down, your legs to start producing more tension against the pedals and your upper body to get tight as well. Standing up to float through a technical rock garden also requires in increase in core, leg and upper body tension to sustain the impacts and muscle the bike over and around trail obstacles.

Most riders find these kinds of efforts very taxing and that is because they lack the High Tension Cardio needed to attack them without finding their heart rate redlined and lungs burning. No matter how much sitting and spinning you do your cardiovascular system will always struggle when presented with a High Tension Cardio effort because it simply does not know how to efficiently fuel and recover from those types of efforts. However, once you train your cardiovascular system to be more efficient at them then High Tension Cardio efforts like standing up to pedal and floating through rock gardens can actually become a strength.

DB Combo Drills are the perfect way to train High Tension Cardio because they combine strength training exercises into a cardio workout. Since strength training is the best way to improve your ability to produce tension then being able to combine several key exercises into a continuous effort places a huge demand on your ability to produce and sustain tension for prolonged periods of time, quickly recover and then do it again. This is the essence of High Tension Cardio and something that is very tough to train effectively with most other types of cardio training.

Q: What is Metabolic Skills Training and how can it help me ride with more confidence on the trail?

A: Metabolic Skills Training is the term I have given to the art of using strength training exercises to improve your technical skills on the bike. By understanding how each exercise relates to the skills you need on the trail you can ensure that you are getting maximum transfer from the gym to the trail. In addition, the right exercises done correctly will help you more easily learn and apply technical skills on your bike.

While attending a skills training camp I noticed that several riders were struggling with the most basic skill on the bike โ€“ body position. After watching the instructor try unsuccessfully to get them into better position I realized that they needed to get off the bike and learn to perform the movement without the added stress of balancing and moving. It then dawned on me that there were specific exercises that taught those movement skills and that if these riders had spent time learning and practicing those exercises then they would not struggle as much to apply them to the bike.

As a mountain biker you can not just pound out mindless reps and hope that it will help you on the trail – you must understand the movement lessons behind the exercises. Each exercise in your training program should be chosen because it represents a way to work on a fundamental movement skill that supports a technical skill that you need on the trail.

By understanding how an exercise applies to technical skills like cornering, manualing and body position you go beyond “strength training” and turn your workouts into “skills training”. When you move with more efficiency and power then you will find that everything you do on your bike comes more naturally, resulting in more of the elusive “flow” that so many riders hear about but rarely get to experience.


For too long mountain bike training has been lumped in with general “cycling” and treated as an afterthought. However, by recognizing the unique nature of trail riding we can start creating programs that address what it really takes to excel on the trail. By using a program like the DB Combos Program, MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program or Ultimate MTB Workout Program to improve factors like High Tension Cardio and Metabolic Skills Training you can see ride changing results in just a few weeks. Spring is right around the corner and it is not too late to get started on the road to improving the most important “component” on your bike – you!

-James Wilson-

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  1. John (aka Wish I Were Riding) says:

    I hate to say it, but since I don’t have DB’s, I will probably wait to get a KB program instead. Any plans on putting out an updated on? I’m sure the basic contents are pretty similar though?

    Reply • March 2 at 10:35 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The DB and KB Programs are pretty different. I do plan on doing an update to the KB Program in the near future, though.

      Reply • March 3 at 9:17 am
  2. OK james… I’m taking you at your word. I’ve signed up for the new combo program. Let’s see if this 70 year old can “learn” some new tricks ;-). BTW: I ride with Nancy Harris & Roger every once in a while. She’s the one that turned me on to you several months back. Oh, and by the way, I’m riding flats for a change (back to the future) after years of clipless. Now training for Vision Quest (Warrior Society member) in SoCal: 56 miles, +11,000 ft of climbing in the dirt.

    Stay healthy, grasshopper….

    Reply • March 2 at 11:59 am
    • Nancy says:

      Thanks Greg!

      Reply • March 6 at 5:14 pm
  3. Wacek says:

    I just took the lactic threshold test on spinning bike after the first two phases of your UMTBW and a break of 4 weeks of being sick/lazy. Ok, ok I’m training again, with phase 2 now! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Heh I got some good numbers, especially in higher heart rate zones and with regeneration. The guy was very impressed when I told him I train 1h 3,4 times a week with only 10-15mins of cardio per session. I told him that it might some magic bullet program ๐Ÿ˜‰ Nevertheless I’m doing th test again after I’m finished with your program

    Reply • March 4 at 6:44 am
  4. hey ive been dong the phase 1 of time crunched trail rider program now for 4 weeks. I can already see great improvements static posture and bike handling skills. I take turns more aggressive by drifting through them with confidence. And there is back pain after 4 hrs of riding. Thanks man, ill keep ya posted.

    Reply • March 4 at 6:24 pm

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James Wilson
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James Wilson