I’ve got a new podcast for you today covering some important topics to help improve your training and riding. In it I’ll be sharing my thoughts on dumbbells for MTB specific training, the findings of a study that looked at breathing patterns and functional movement, plus I’ll answer a rider’s question about how narrow is too narrow when it comes to handlebars.

You‌ ‌can‌ ‌stream‌ ‌or‌ ‌download‌ this episode ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌link‌ ‌below‌ ‌or‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌on‌ ‌‌Itunes‌,‌‌ ‌Podbean‌,‌‌ ‌‌Spotify‌‌ ‌‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌other‌ ‌major‌ ‌podcasting‌ ‌platforms.‌ ‌

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You can also check out the notes below in case you don’t have time to listen to the podcast.

Training – In Defense of Dumbbells

I’ve used both tools extensively over my training career and while kettlebells are a great tool, there are some things that I think the dumbbell does better. Here are 3 things I think dumbbells are still a valuable tool for the mountain biker to use.

1) The DB Cheat Curl is a better power movement than KB Swings

By using a narrow stance, the DB Cheat Curl is more specific to the explosive hip hinge we use on the bike. Plus, you can do Stagger Stance and Pedal Stance to make it even more specific, which you can’t do with a KB Swing.

2) The 5 pound weight jumps are much more manageable, especially at the lower weights

KB’s use 4 – 8 kg jumps, which is 8.8 – 17.6 pounds. This is a large jump, especially when you are looking at it from a % of the previous weight. Going from 16 kg (35.2 lbs) to 20 kg (44 lbs) represents a 26% increase in weight, while going from 35 lbs to 40 lbs represents a 14% increase. 

3) DB’s don’t smash into your wrists and forearms and are more comfortable to train with

I know this is a personal preference but after taking some time off from heavy KB lifting and trying to get back into it I realized WTF am I doing? I can get the same results with DB’s without the forearm grinding nonsense. 

I know that some people will say “What about the offset weight of the kettlebell? Doesn’t that make it more functional?” To which I say, it isn’t offset that much and so no.

If you really want to work with an offset load then get a Steel Mace or Heavy Indian Club. These are tools created to train that specific strength quality, which I think is very important.

However, the KB isn’t really offset that much, especially when compared to these other tools. If you want to train that quality, use a purpose built tool that does it much better.

I’m not saying to go smelt your KB’s, I’m just trying to defend the DB as a needed training tool. You’re not at a disadvantage because you only have DB’s and the DB Cheat Curl may be worth making sure that they are a part of your training program.

Bro Science – Breathing Pattern Disorders And Functional Movement


Study looked to find a relationship between Breathing Pattern Disorders and Functional Movement.

They used tests in each area that are known to produce consistent results.

Breathing: Because breathing pattern disorders are multi-dimensional, the researchers used a variety of tests to assess different elements of the participants breathing.

etCO2 -End Tidal Carbon Dioxide: This is a measure of CO2 production and clearance. A high than normal measurement on this test indicated excessive production and/ or trouble clearing CO2.

Nijmegen Questionnaire – This is a 16 question test that is among the most popular ways to identify BPD. It has been specifically used to identify anxiety related breathing disorders.

Resting Breath Rate – They measured how many breaths per minute were taken and scored anything greater than 16 bpm as a fail.

Hi – Low Assessment: By placing one hand on your stomach and one on your chest you can more easily observe faulty breathing patterns. Lack of expansion in the core as you breathe in and/ or excessive chest breathing indicates faulty breathing mechanics that can affect your blood chemistry and breathing efficiency in negative ways.

Breath Hold Times: Some research has suggested that a breath hold time of less than 20 seconds might indicate poor CO2 exchange.

Functional Movement Screen: This assessment has been shown to be predictive of future injuries for those that fail. It is an established way to assess functional movement, finding dysfunctions and asymmetries that lead to faulty mechanics in your sport. It is a 7 movement assessment and a score of less than 14, a score of 1 on any assessment or if something hurt during an assessment were considered a fail.

They found a strong correlation between BPDs and low scores and failures on the FMS.

Of those that scored 14 or more on the FMS, 66% of them were diaphragmatic breathers. 18 people scored 14 or greater, so that means that all but 6 were diaphragmatic breathers.

However, to pass you have to have a score of 14 or more and you can’t have any asymmetries. This brought the number of people down from 18 to 8. Out of them, all but 1 were diaphragmatic breathers (87.5%). 

Two takeaways here. First, out of all the tests they used, the simple Hi-Low Test worked the best. It had the strongest correlation and so you don’t need anything fancy to test your breathing. This is why the Hi-Low Test is part of the breathing assessment in the 40+ MTB Rider Training Program.

Second, if you value functional movement and how it can help you on and off the bike then you need to give breathing the attention it deserves. While you can do it – one person did in the study – the odds are greatly stacked against you. Better breathing also leads to improvements in other areas as well, making it a low hanging fruit that’s a great investment in your performance. 

Rider Q&A – What is “too narrow” for handlebars?

Q: I tried the handlebar width exercises. Falling forward is consistently 610mm and similar to push ups when I keep my elbows in. I think a 610mm handlebar width is a bit too narrow! Do you have any thoughts?

A: I would guess that 610 cm is a bit too narrow from a steering point standpoint. The narrower your bars the less input you need to get the bike to start leaning over when turning and too narrow can make it “twitchy”. My handlebars are about 675 mm wide, which is a bit wider than my push up test but wide enough to keep the steering from feeling twitchy.

Of course, the only real way to know is to test it but that requires handlebars you can cut down and be fine with throwing away if they don’t work. Maybe your local shop has a used pair you could get for cheap and experiment with.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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