Thursday, March 28, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hard skills & soft skills

As I continue reading "The Little Book Of Talent", one of the really interesting chapters are on defining and developing the two types of skills; hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills refer to a skill that must be done and repeated with machine like precision every time. A Soft skill is more about building the ability to recognize patterns, becoming agile and flexible to many different situations.

When I read this chapter through my BMX filter, I can see how hard skills and soft skills totally relate to BMX riding. To me a gate start is something that is going to be almost identical no matter where you go. Your set up and form will be something that will stay consistent and requires a huge amount of accuracy, thus making this a Hard skill. This is important to recognize because it shapes the way we would go about training a hard skill.

Gate starts need to be trained slowly and more methodically than working on a soft skill. You would want to prioritize this kind of training by doing starts after you warm up but while you're still physically and mentally fresh. Gate starts shouldn't be done to failure or in an exhausted state. Building the fundamentals are going to be essential to this process. If you have a terrible start this would be where you would want to really focus and visualize a good gate start. If you can't balance very well, start there. Practice balancing and nothing else for a week or two before moving on to the actual start. Balance sitting, standing, left foot, right foot forward, eyes closed, these skills are fundamental to building confidence and a great gate. Think about what it takes and pay attention to how you look while doing it. You will probably want to fall back into what you already know, but it's essential to maintain working on doing it the right way and building a new skill. The author compares skills to sled tracks in the snow. It's hard to erase the old tracks but it is possible to build new tracks that are deeper.

I would consider riding the rest of the track a soft skill. These skills need to be built through practice but not necessarily the same way as you would train gate starts. You need to work on taking jumps in multiple ways, different speeds, choosing different lines around a berm and working on race strategy by trying different moves. Trying different lines on a rhythm section after a race would be another way to develop soft skills. The goal is to be as flexible as possible, possess many bike handling skills and be able to read what the competition is doing before they even do it. Seriously buy this book! It has tons of tips that relate to so much in bmx, other sports, music, and life.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January book club

So I just bought the book, err I mean e-book "The Little Book Of Talent". I'm about 20 pages in, and this thing is F'ing awesome. I can actually feel myself get a little smarter as I read it, If I retain that intelligence is another story. The book, basically is all about the best, most efficient ways to learn a new skill. This is particularly helpful for us BMXers, because building new skills, honing the ones we already have, and breaking bad habits are so important in this sport.

I'll probably be doing short blog posts as I read along in the book. The first one that I really felt to be important is "Steal without apology".  In short, it's about really paying attention to what the masters do and how they do it. Steal it and make it your own. Focus on the specific motions, not the general impression of the motion. When you see someone do a gate start or carve a berm, notice exactly the way they do it. Notice the little things like how the elbow bends while cornering or torso angle while doing a gate start. Now pay attention to how YOU do it, and figure out what's different.

This applies to almost any skill. If you want to get better at shooting a basketball, make your free throw look like Jason Kidd's shot and not Shaq.  Study it, emulate it and take the time to make it a natural thing and you will get better. There's a reason why almost every Elite pro rides in a very similar way, and do gates that look quite similar. It's because that is the right way to do it.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Things I learned in 2012

Alright, it's time for the yearly re-cap of what we have learned this year. After probably hundreds or thousands of hours of reading and working with a group of kids I train, I have began to really see a pattern in what makes a successful athlete/bmx racer. Take a few minutes to read and think about some of the mistakes you make and how some of these could improve your racing.

1- First thing and I think the most important is the realization that no matter how strong you are, you can never out muscle shitty movement on a bike. You may be able to squat 600 pounds but if your mechanics of your start are not right, you will get blown away by a 14 year old kid wearing skinny jeans.

I can't emphasis this enough. This time of year is the BEST time to work on these problems. If your gate isn't right watch as much video of the professionals starting techniques and compare them to yours. Really pay attention to their mechanics, and sequence of movement.  Don't just practice the gate the same way you have been doing, try to get out of your comfort zone. The worst thing you can do is to keep practicing your bad gate over and over and cementing that bad movement into your brain.

2- Keep it simple stupid. In the past few years, I was finding all these cool new exercises and figuring out how to incorporate them into my training. They're probably all great exercises, but I had to be honest, I wasn't that advanced that I needed all the variety, and didn't progress at the rate I should have. The most success I've had this year was when I did a program where I dead lifted 5 times a week. You varied the load and reps from 1 rep and 10 sets to 10 reps and 1 set depending on how you felt that day and what you did the previous days. Just focusing on this one lift and perfecting technique over the course of a month dramatically improved my dead lift.

The other program (which I'm currently doing) consists of basically 2 different workouts and 4 exercises. On paper it looks very simple and too easy. Turns out, when you focus on quality movement and creating tension, 4 exercises is more than enough and not simple at all. Go back to the basics every so often and re-learn what you may have forgotten.

3- Specificity is key. Lots of people try to do Crossfit, p90x, Riding a road bike, Insanity or Sweating to the oldies and call it training for BMX racing. They all may have some good things about them but none are specific to anything we do on the track. We already beat ourselves up enough by doing a thousand gate starts a year and taking some bad crashes. Lets not beat ourselves up by doing a ton of high intensity work for 10-60 min at a time. There's a time and place for that, but really a little will go a long way. Focus on creating a workout that mimics a race, or what ever part of the track you thing is your weakness. Think you're out of shape and need cardio? You actually probably would benefit more from working on specific strength and some breathing drills than you would from road biking for 80 miles.

4- Just because you can lift a heavy weight does not mean you're strong. I'm working with a few really talented, very quick racers. and two of them are in a weight lifting class in high school. One of them just dead lifted nearly 300 pounds the very first day of deadliftng. The other kid squats nearly that much. When I work directly with them though, I'm not totally comfortable having them pull any weight off the ground. They both lack the core strength and hip mobility to properly and safely do the exercise.

Our bodies are very clever, and can overcome many weaknesses. Those kids bodies are not ready for dead lifting or squatting nearly that much weight, but that doesn't mean they can't do it. Our bodies will figure out a way to lift a load, but you may not lift that load for long until you hurt yourself. Start simple and light and develop great movement before you start lifting several hundred pounds. Maybe start with body weight  than progress to a single leg or single arm version of a lift to reduce load before lifting that barbell loaded with plates.

5- No matter how much you know, if you want to improve get a coach. I recently bit the bullet and bought a kettle bell program from another coach. 95% of the program is things I either do or have done. But, the way it's programmed and the frequency of what I'm doing seems to be working and also way more fun. A good coach not only designs a program around riding a bike but can also spot weaknesses in technique and prioritizes training. Listen to your coach!

6- Set specific performance goals! Try to come up with some kind of measurement of performance and test and re-test it to see if you have improved. Buy a SRM, G-cog, speedometer, tape measure, timing lights, starting gate with timer, anything that can measure your performance. If you can't afford a power meter or timing lights, use a tape measure and find your vertical leap and a standing broad jump. Maybe test it once a month or every few months to see if you improve.

I'm sure there is much more I could add to this list. Start working on these 6 things and I can almost guarantee you will be more successful in your 2013 racing season.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Core training

So I was reading a training post on today about core training. Although I agreed with the trainers reasoning for the importance of doing core training, I didn't fully agree with a few of the exercises he suggested. A few of his suggestions were probably not optimal, and potentially dangerous. I'm feeling like I should post on vintage a response to what I think would be a better and safer way of training the core, but don't want to come off as a dick and hijack his thread. I do feel it could be a safety issue so I do feel the need to post something.  So here is the trainers post that I wanted to respond to.

Ok Boys & Girls, let's talk core work...

Yea, yea, I know you already do core work. Do you really? Are you doing the right core work?

Crunches, sit ups, plank work, hot yoga, etc., although good for you, and espeically good for those who are couch athletes with hurt backs and tight muscles - it's only maintenance work and barely scratching the surface. much can you leg press? 4 million lbs? 5 million lbs? Probably...and it shows that most seasoned bmxers have some pretty incredible leg strength. But how come you can't squat half the amount of what you can leg press? Seriously?!?! Most peoples' legs don't give out on a squat. Their core folds over, right?

Now I'm not going to argue semantics, but the leg press is doing all your core work.

If you did some HEAVY core work, what do you think will happen to your squat? You guessed it, it will sky rocket.

Now how does this help a BMXer?
- bigger squat means more horsepower
- the stronger your core, the more your limbs (i.e. legs) can push off from - imagine that
- the easier it will be to lean back (and manuaul or have better sprint posture) as opposed to riding with your core over the bars
- you will become a chick magnet and all your wildest dreams with come true

Ok, Biggy Bird...what HEAVY core work should I be doing?
- Weighted Cable Ab Pull Downs (standing prefered)
- Banded Ab Pull Downs
- Sit Ups On A decline bench with weight on your chest or held behind your head (very advanced) - no need to go all the way down
- Kettle Bell Or DB side bends
- Landmines
- How someone toss a medicine ball back and forth while doing decline sit ups
- Banded side twists
- Front squat holds
- 1 arm deadlifts
- good mornings
- weighted planks (have someone put weight on you) that enough for you?

If you can do more than 6 reps, it isn't HEAVY. How often: 1 to 3 times per week.

I highly suggest you start with lighter weights, look this stuff up on the Unversity of YouTube. If one of these hurts your back or private parts, you have 10 more to choose from

I totally agree that most bmxers need to develop the core. I started working with a group of top level experts this summer. I was blown away on how 2 of the kids had such a weak core they couldn't do a proper push up. The other racer was having pretty severe back pains and needed to see a physical therapist. Then a few days ago I saw a picture on Facebook of another top 17-18expert that was going in for back surgery. This is crazy, It's not just an old guy problem.

I think first we need to establish what is considered the core. When most people think of core they think abs. But really core stiffness comes not only from abs but also hips, shoulders, lats, chest, back and even the way you breathe, and how they work together. I define core as everything from the junk all the way to the neck.

Next we need to think about how we actually move on a bike and adjust our training to suit these movements. When we do gates, manual or sprint, it is optimal to maintain good, strong posture. For example think about Kyle Bennett and the way he rode a bike. When you look at pictures of him you will notice he had extremely good hip mobility and was able to get extremely low over jumps. But the other thing I notice is while he's sucking up a jump or doing a gate start, his spine was almost always perfectly straight. This is indicative of having a really strong core.


The cool thing about our body is when it senses core instability it tightens up to protect us from hurting ourselves. Think about walking on ice. When you walk across ice you take tiny steps and you're stiff as a board. Your body can tell it's unstable and locks up your muscles without you ever thinking to do it. This should be an important example of how the body works and why we need to create stability. Without stability you will never get the flexibility you need to ride a bike.

There's been a significant change in the way most coaches program core work recently because of some research that has been performed on pig spines. Dr. McGill basically put a pig spine in a machine that simulated ab crunches, and found out somewhere around 10,000 crunches the disc will start to bulge and herniate. Here's a video I found that much more eloquently describes how the spine works.

If you watched the video I think you might see why I have a problem with a few of the exercise suggestions from the other trainer. Heavy crunches, twists, and poorly performed good mornings can be really tough on your back. Another thing to think about is heavy back squats and the compression on the spine, but that's another post in itself. For my training I haven't done a crunch in probably 2 years and my abs and core have never been stronger, and I've never been more flexible. Well maybe when I was a little kid. Not only am I stronger and more flexible, but I rarely get any back pain after working out or riding my bike. I really think us racers need to consider how much stress doing gates and manualing jumps puts on our backs. It's really tough to get stronger and faster when you're in pain. 

Below is a video showing a good way to check core stability. The video demonstrates the test pretty well and also shows a good example of some typical core weakness. Ideally your head, shoulders, and butt should all maintain a straight line while doing the test. You can lay a broom stick on those 3 points to check your form. If you watch the video you can see that this guy has some trouble maintain good posture.  To test, start with hands by forehead, and if you lose form move hands down to chin and re-test. If you still have problems move hands down in line with shoulders. If you can't do that well, you have some work to do.

Here are a list of some exercises I would suggest to work on core stability.

-Stir the pot w/ exercise ball (as shown in previous video)

-Paloff Press

-Goblet Carries

-Push ups

-Val slide core progressions (furniture sliders can be used for this also)
-Single leg opposite arm deadlifts
-Landmine lunges (tebow landmine)
-Arm Bar
-Single leg Skater Squat
-Breathing and bracing drills 

The last video about breathing is something that helped me quite a lot. Take a few minutes to try it out and then try to adapt it to the other core exercises and notice how it feels. I noticed that when I took a breath and filled up the diaphragm, all the exercises became easier. It's also a method I use to help recover just after a race. As you come off the track you will be sucking air in uncontrollably. Try to breath in and fill up your belly. You should notice your heart rate come back down significantly quicker. You will see that some of the exercises are the same as what the other trainer suggested, but without coaching cues they are almost always done wrong. Take the time to watch the videos and learn from some great coaches on how to train the core and get the most out of your bmx training without hurting yourself.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Gym programming for athletes

The title of this article should have actually been "Why your workout sucks and is making you slow", but I decided on something a little more positive. When I go to the gym I almost always see guys doing dedicated workouts solely for either a single body part, or maybe an upper body split. Usually it's just shoulder day or arm day. One of my good friends at the track even told me he did heavy dead lifts the day before so his next workout was going to be a shoulder day. My response was, why not take it a step further and just do your right shoulder today? I was being sarcastic, but I want to give you some explanations why single body part workouts and workout splits for athletes suck.

Reason 1: Frequency

If you do an upper/lower body split 4 times a week, and you do the same lifts each time you only practice that lift 8 times a month. Usually people only do 15-30 reps of each exercise, which adds up to 120 or 240 reps a month. Now if you skip a workout or two you may be down to doing a single lift 6 or 7 times a month. I don't know if you've ever tried to learn to play guitar, memorize something for a test in school or learning to pop a wheelie, but only practicing "Stairway to Heaven" 6 times in a month will not make you as proficient as Jimmy Page.

Getting stronger isn't just about building bigger muscles, it's also about motor control learning and making your movements efficient. Teaching your muscles to contract harder and faster more often is what will make you a better and stronger rider, not breaking them down to exhaustion a few times a week. Swinging a kettlebell 3-4 times a week will help you to learn proper hip hinge and hip explosion much better than once or twice a week. Popping a wheelie twice as often will help you learn to ride wheelies much quicker...It's just good math.

Reason 2: Symmetry

Your shoulders are not designed to work independently of the rest of the body. When you push or pull something your whole body is involved to a degree. Every muscle will fire when you pull up for a jump or do a gate. You're only as strong as your weakest link. So if you isolate and dedicate your workouts to just shoulders, arms, or legs then you will not fully develop the whole chain it takes to power a movement. Not only does this lead to under performance but also could contribute to injuries.

When we tap manual a jump, we power the movement by shifting our weight by a quick pull, then powerfully extend the hips to catch backside. Then shift weight forward and pull the bike up again as we get over the next jump. As the wheels approach the landing  we will extend the hips and pump the backside as aggressively as possible. This is a chain of events that the whole body performs to properly tap manual a jump. If we lack the hip range of motion we can never get into the right position to stay low over a jump. If we lack the hip, core, or shoulder stability we will also not be able to power this movement. Now think about your gate, jumping, turning, how many different movements it takes to complete a lap. This is one reason why working the whole body is so important to bmx.

Reason 3: Recovery

You may be surprised by how easy some athletes work out. From all the P90X infomercials, CrossFit and Nike commercials you would think that to be considered a good workout you need to bring yourself to the brink of exhaustion, and barely be able to walk out of the gym, a little bleeding is also a touch. The reality is, if you train this hard, your body will struggle to recover from a really hard workout. Add life stresses (work, wife/husband, kids) on top of a bunch of hard workouts and you will never be recovered enough to see your full performance. If you single out body parts and crush them with a hard workout, that body part may not be recovered for the next days sprint session or track day.

I can't imagine working out biceps and triceps for a full hour, but I see guys do it all the time. These are relatively small muscles and don't require a full hour of stimulation to get them bigger and stronger. The key to gaining performance is optimizing how much stimulus your body can handle and then recovering. This allows for super compensation and also helps you to feel fresh and energetic for your next workout. Just like studying for a test, your body gets better by giving it some information often and resting. I like the analogy of studying for a test. You can study every night for 30 min all week or you can stay up all night studying the night before. What one do you think works the best?

How to optimize your programming

Body part training and split training has it's place, but I really don't see a reason to do either for bmx, especially in season. An upper/lower body split may be good for off season when your goal is to gain strength and you're not adding to the stress by racing. But only use it as a method to develop strength that fits into your larger plan. For example the months of December and January maybe used to work solely on gaining some strength since most tracks are closed and weather is bad. But even if you split into upper body and lower body, I think doing most upper body work while standing or in a stability challenging position is optimal.

As the race season approaches, you will want to start focusing not only on gym strength but applying that strength to bike speed. Gym sessions should be quick and focus on compound lifts that require the whole body. Get in, stimulate some growth and get out, recover and repeat. Within that you may have things you would like to emphasise. Earlier in the season, focus on getting stronger and transition into more speed work. To optimally change the body, pick a goal and work on that. You can't train for power lifting and a marathon at the same time. Work on getting mobile, getting stronger, then get fast! This is where having a coach will really help you stay on track.

Most of us are not bodybuilders, power lifters or distance runners. We are not training to compete in CrossFit games. We are Bmx racers that train to do a lap quicker than the next guy. Our training needs to reflect that goal.

"The goal is to keep the goal the goal" - Dan John

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Great articles and videos you should be checking out

My first RaceFit blog post in a long time contains many articles and videos that I think everyone interested in training should see. It starts off with some videos on mindset, setting goals, and then gets more into the actual training tips. Take a look around and maybe bookmark some of the authors and coaches, and study some of their work. Hope you enjoy!

"Bmx racing Goal setting" by Greg Romero

Death by chair, how much do you sit?

Touch the wall deadlifts for biking

Biggest lies you've ever been told by Martin Rooney

"Weightlifting vs. Powerlifting which is right for you?" by Allen Hedrick

"Olympic lifts and dumbells" by Allen Hedrick

25 lessons from my 25 years in the iron game by Jason Ferruggia

25 lessons from my 25 years in the iron game part 2 by Jason Ferruggia

"Tapping into the ride changing power of your mind" by James Wilson

The art of flipping the switch by Allie Mckee

Distance running for speed athletes by Mike Boyle

Ninja Warrior bedroom

Another way to build maximal strength by Chad Waterbury

Neuro-muscular development for legs by Chad Waterbury

40 day "Easy Strength" program by Dan John

"Unleash the power of the jump squat"

Are kettlebell swings better than deadlifts?

Exercises to improve your standing pedaling
3 steps to fix your KB swing for mountain biking
TylerVision videos "How to dynamicaly warm up" by Tyler Brown
TylerVision "How to tap manual" by Tyler Brown
This video has almost nothing to do with Bmx training