I love to train and I love to play but I hate to workout. Confused by that statement? According to emails I get from riders trying to piece together a program to take their riding to the next level, if you are confused then you are not alone. However, knowing the difference and how to balance the 3 is the key to being able to see progress month after month and year after year without burning out.

First up is the word Training…

The definition of the word training is “deliberate practice in the attempt to acquire or refine a skill”. This means that you know exactly how what you are doing relates directly to the specific skills and/ or fitness you want to acquire or improve on the trail. Training has to be at the cornerstone of any training program but that is rarely the case, especially when it comes to trail riding.

For example, knowing how a deadlift relates to proper body position on the bike and the creation of a strong, powerful pedal stroke and then thinking about that as you are in the gym is training. Knowing how a windmill applies to the lateral hip movement you need to corner a bike is training. Spending time with some cones in a parking lot working on your basic handling skills is training. Simply going through the motions and trying to act it out is not enough – you have to know what you are supposed to be feeling.

I tell my clients that you can not look at the programs I create as a list of exercises to get through without any thought of the lessons behind each of those exercises. If you don’t walk out of the gym feeling that you learned something about how you move and how you can apply that to the bike then it wasn’t “training”. Just going for a ride with no idea of how to execute basic skills and a plan on how to practice them on the trail isn’t “training”.

At the heart of it is a desire to understand the “Spirit of the Thing Itself” (to quote Miyamoto Musashi from The Book of Five Rings) and, more importantly, a desire to understand how you suck and can tap into that spirit to get better. A humble attitude is needed to really train and, to be honest, is probably the biggest obstacle for most riders to overcome – knowing that you simply aren’t that good no matter how you stack up with the riders in your local riding group is tough for a lot of riders to accept.

Next I want to delve into Playing (I’ll get into Working Out in minute)…

Playing is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Training, when you don’t think about or worry about how what you are doing is going to help you improve. As you can see from the definition above, true training requires as much mental as physical effort and no one can do it all of the time without burning out, meaning that playing is also in integral part of a program.

For a mountain biker this means simply going out and having fun riding your bike, playing another sport or even goofing off with your family. Sometimes I get the feeling that a lot of us have forgotten how to do this – we want everything to count towards our fitness goals.

I get questions all the time from well meaning riders who are trying to calculate how their morning bike ride to work or weekend hike with the family is going to count towards their fitness goals and how to fit it into their program. While I will admit that a pro rider who is “peaking” (an overused term that I really hate) for an event needs to make sure that they don’t overextend themselves in the days leading up to it the vast majority of us need to relax and just have – gasp – fun!

Remember that bike riding, and on a larger scale life, is supposed to be fun and that adults have the uncanny knack of taking the fun out of everything. Most of us can simply relax and enjoy most of our rides and extra-curricular activities without having to worry about how it will impact our training plan.

Don’t feel that every ride you go on has to take your overall training goals into account. Don’t pass up a chance to play with your family and friends because you are afraid that it will affect your “mileage” or “training hours”. If you can’t go on a ride with your wife because waiting for her at the top of a hill lets your heart rate drop and interferes with your “training” so you can finish 15th instead of 18th in Cat 2 in your local race series then you need to chill out. If you can’t go on a hike with your kids because it might kill your legs for your big “training” session at the gym the next day then you need to get a clue.

No one will be lying on their deathbed wishing that they had trained or worked more but countless people realize – too late unfortunately – that they did not have enough fun when they had the chance.

Now, I’ll dig into the worst of the 3 – Working Out…

You don’t have to be religious to appreciate what Jesus meant when he said “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out.”

Working Out is the lukewarm area of a program and the one that we should spend the least amount of time in but, unfortunately, where the vast majority of riders end up. They know they need to be doing something but they don’t really know what and so every time they hit the gym or the trail they are neither training (with a specific understanding of what they are working on and how it applies to the trail) nor are they playing (just having fun with no thoughts as to how it applies to the trail).

Most training rides are not really “training”, they are hammerfests with riders going as hard as they can for as long as they can with no real plan or idea of how their previous ride set them up for this ride or how this ride is going to set them up for the next one. Most gym time is not training, it is a list of exercises that was acquired from a magazine or off the internet that riders rush through in an attempt to build up their “cardio” or “fitness”. And don’t get me started on skills training – the epidemic of riders on $5000 bikes with $5 skills is out of control.

Being able to differentiate between Training, Playing and Working Out is vital to your ability to improve on a consistent basis while also staying mentally fresh and keeping your passion for mountain biking. Understand that being lukewarm in your approach is the worst thing you can do – you either need to be training or playing, which means having a plan that you have confidence in and execute with a purpose and also being able to chill out and have fun.

-James Wilson-

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