Crafting Performance: From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Mar 18, 2017
by Chris Kilmurray  


Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Warm up is time for an athlete to prep and coach to assess.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Training the torso to deal with and transfer energy - here in 'anti-extension' and 'anti-flexion'.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Shoulder health and performance are one and the same and a price component of the downhiller's physical potential. The shoulder joint when not working optimally will not transfer force from lower body to the bars and vice-versa. Leaving the rider in a situation where slowly but surely their brain and body will begin to perceive the trail differently as the 'system' knows the shoulders will not do their job optimally.





What goes on behind the scenes during a long winter's preparation for a DH World Cup rider?

A question asked often but seldom answered. Certain things in downhill have changed a lot the last decade. Physical preparation is one area that has now been embraced by all, wholeheartedly so that it's integrated into the sports culture so seamlessly that 'liking' a picture of your favourite rider in the gym, barbell loaded, glutes tight and chest up happens as automatically as dropping that 'like' on the latest #wheeliewednesday post!

However, this wholesale acceptance of barbell, med-ball, deadlift and squat has created a gap - a gap between physical preparation and technical execution. Known to coaches as "Transfer." An eternally challenging coaching problem. How do we transfer training gains made in the gym or even on a road bike to the sport itself? Realistically there is no clear answer. The outsider or on-looker with some knowledge of training and racing may assume science has the answer; but the reality is different, the complexities of sports performance are vast. Science provides us with tools to investigate and a method of inquiry that will help drive better coaching and racing decisions, but transfer of training from gym floor to mountain top can only happen through long-term effort. Hard and smart work. Fine tuning.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Got gains?

That reality is pretty self-evident once you’re within the performance playground. A coach is an artisan, a craftsman, not a scientist. You chef, not cook, build recipes not follow them. Blending scientific skills with the 'soft' skills of coaching a person, the human. The deeper you get into that realisation that the human 'spirit' (a mixing pot of emotions, feelings, beliefs and experience) trumps all in determining performance outcomes the better you then understand the relationships that create consistent performance. Relational thinking trumps categorical - always; cause and effect assumptions are one of coaching's greatest challenges. If we complete action A do we always get result B? While the answer to that is not quite black and white, the short answer to that question is no. A does not always cause B!

Keeping the mind open and your vision wide lets us see the interaction and relationships between everything the athlete does and doesn’t do. Abusing science when needed and applying a little emotional intelligence peppered with hard fought and reflected upon experience to all problem solving usual provides athlete and coach with the solutions needed to continue to deliver effective training.

Downhill World Cup is a beast; the complexities of performance are monstrous. The minute interaction between variables, tangibles, and intangibles! Bike, set-up, suspension, tyres, rider, emotions, cognitive abilities, the crowd, the changing dynamics of the course, the riders changing physiology, their movement mechanics, their desires, fears and goal setting strategies...the list of potential performance variables is more monstrous than the courses themselves. So how is training planned to adequately prepare the athlete's for these demands and most importantly transfer that physiological potential built in the gym to the race track?

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Warm up and fuel up, a Welsh winter's day requires both.

Well, for all the above bluster it often turns out quite simple, at least on the surface. Underneath that simple exterior, the subtleties of creating an environment for athlete learning and training transfer are well planned but easily adapted. Athlete-driven, coach led! Scroll on for some insight into how a very wet Welsh day at Revolution Bike Park, Llangynog helped training transfer for FMD Racing.

Every riding session starts with a dynamic warm up, aided passively by plenty of layers of clothing. More often than not a rider would choose to do 2 to 4 'warm up' runs to start the day off, feel out the conditions, make sure the bike works and most importantly fire up all the connected systems within the body so riding feels fluid and effortless. This particular session had some fatigue test benchmarking. To see how the lower body reacts to and deals with multiple punishing runs at Revolution Bike Park. A not so big hillside in Wales that demands plenty from bike and body.

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Test what matters not what's easy to test; post warm up, pre-ride jump testing. With such a wealth of similar data from the gym, we can start to piece together a clear picture of how riding DH with World Cup style demands creates fatigue and whether that fatigue is short or longer term in nature. Allowing for better decision making in all aspects of the performance puzzle.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Staying warm between runs while still resting enough to perform at or near maximum each run is a challenge during the winter. A well trained aerobic system goes a long way to helping make the most of both the quick turnaround between runs as well as the sudden change of intensity each run brings. Preparing for the demands of World Cup DH means being able to complete multiple high quality runs back to back during practice as well as staying fresh enough to lay it all out for one wild one come Sunday. Getting to race day prepared but fresh to execute is key.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Jamie Edmondson threading the tightest line off a drop; being watched from above.

Once warm up runs were done I took the opportunity to watch the riders through a pretty interesting section of trail. Steep, heavy braking on entry with lots of very small variations in line choice on offer. Video taken for head to head review, and to make sure the handheld stopwatch was as accurate as it often proves to be.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Same section as above; Kaos vs. Jamie, same exit, same time...very different choices made.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Shaping the 'environment' and manipulating the constraints which the athletes are under is a core part of facilitating change and improvement when training on the bike. Purpose and intent.

There is no "I say," "you do," in this sport. The rider takes all the risks and makes all the decisions when it counts come race day. So training reflects that. Facilitating change and learning is the main aim. Pushing the riders to the edge of their current bandwidths. Full runs while fatigued, athlete chosen mock race formats, deliberately creating an environment that will allow physiology to be pushed or mental strengths to be challenged. All of that is built on trust and empathy. So getting to ride a little with the athletes means we can chat about what needs to be done, changed or tried on the spot. Reading from the same hymn sheet so to speak.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Nothing like being chased down by an athlete you coach to build a tighter coach/athlete bond!


The athlete's eye view of a productive days training. The true elite riders, like Tahnee Seagrave, are able to channel and focus energy (cognitive, emotional and physical) throughout a long day of runs. Working within a framework set by a coach or working on key areas of performance defined and benchmarked in her own head. As you can see from the Instagram caption, DH is a thinking "man's" game.

DH is a thinking "man's" game
Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Hips never, ever lie!

Wild moments under time pressure (the clock) often dish up the best topics to reflect on. How wild did you get? Why? Was it "race run" wild? Mixing subjective insight with objective data like timed runs or power testing can really help an athlete piece their own performance jigsaw together. Instinct should never be pushed aside.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing

Objective knowledge of results drives performance to higher levels. There is nothing more effective than the stopwatch in creating just enough stress and pressure to push intent and focus to a level high enough to allow for learning and transfer of training.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Always time for a little steeze and style, even when training hard. Kaos Seagrave.

Once we had finished chatting lines, vision, position, direction and pacing it was time to get to business. The meat and bones of the day was timed runs. Two tracks, chosen by the athletes. One practice run of each. Then it was up to coach to choose the track to 'race' - 4 to 5 timed runs later and transfer of training was quantified.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
Last man on the hill, Joe Parfitt, once the timing equipment came out, motivation found 6th gear.

Crafting Performance From Gym to Trail with FMD Racing
End of a productive day! Squad goals?

Images by Dan Griffiths


MENTIONS: @FMD-Racing / @Point1Athletic / @moonheadmedia



44 Comments

  • + 36
 Can top racers still go for a fun ride or is it all analyzed? Do they ever put the bike down for a month?

I really like these kinds of articles. I feel like it touched on some cool topics like transfer issues and objectivity, but if I could get the answers that would be greeeaat.
  • + 16
 Hey dude, for sure I think all pro riders put the bike down, some may pick up the motocross bike but most put the DH bike down for a few weeks, I've worked with riders who take a two to three month break after the last WC.

Riding for fun is still 100% a big part of everything riders do; there's a lot less analysis in MTB than say Alpine skiing where you only get race quality tracks when "training" or racing. MTB is quite unique in that that fun element, the reason for doing what you do is there almost every week. It's partly the reason DH racers have such long careers compared to other sports!
  • + 4
 @Point1Athletic: thanks for the insight!
  • + 2
 Consider that as a pro racer, they do not need to "go to work" and therefore have a lot more time off the bike than you might think; say, in the afternoons or weekends when us average Joes will be squeezing our rides in.
As for all rides being analysed, it is probably more frequent during the lead up to World Cup season.
  • + 28
 Cue some slow weak inflexible guy saying that he gets all the training he needs on the bike.
  • + 67
 I get all the training I need on the bike
  • + 3
 With underdeveloped shoulders, arms, and back leading to some Wierd posture issues and longer reccoveries post injuries. Swimmers upper body w/cyclist lower plz.
  • + 15
 @jrocksdh: I have no idea what you're saying.
  • + 4
 @Jimmy0: in otherwords, without off the bike workouts many cyclist have weak upper bodies, leading to injuries, bad posture, and overall weird looking physique.
The best bodies are those of triathletes. Upper body from swim/lower from bike&run.
Usually its the roadies that have these easy to spot weird bodies
  • + 39
 @miketizzle: I get all my workout from pronhub, haven't had arm pump for a while.
  • + 1
 @abzillah: Huge LOL!!!
  • + 1
 Lmao yeah thats me
  • + 4
 @jrocksdh: This is really true. When I used to race road bikes, I had tree trunks for legs and a weak upper body, which wasn't healthy. What I learned is that to d better at any sport, you have to be healthy first. A stronger all-around athlete will be a stronger mountain biker.
  • + 1
 @jrocksdh: As a former D1 collegiate swimmer I would gladly trade shoulders with Average Joe. It would be nice to have those lats again though. Used to lat pull twice my weight.
  • + 11
 Going to the gym 3-4 days per week is the best thing you can do for your biking. Strength in the legs for power, strength in the upper body and core for control. And more protection when I crash going 35 mph. Only problem is the 2-a-days are really expensive with all the food I need to eat...
  • + 9
 As I got older gym time really helped my riding - it didn't help on the clock - but staying injury free and recovering from falls and crashes became easier. Bouldering / rock climbing has also really proven to be invaluable to cross train.
  • + 7
 A while ago I got into bodybuilding but I quickly realized it doesn't give you very good functional strength (at least for the sports I do) so I switched to powerlifting style workouts with a lot of Olympic style lifts and it's made a huge difference on the bike and on skis. I strongly recommend hitting the gym for anyone looking to increase performance (especially deadlifts and squats).
  • + 11
 Tahnee will be winning a World Cup race this year. Only a matter of time.
  • + 5
 I'm curious about the added intensity between warm up and race run. I have done a couple of DH races and you get 4-8 practice runs before the race run, I have always approached it as 'train like you race and race like you train'. So taking chances and pushing it a tad more on the race run has always been a mystery to me. I understand the extra boost I get from the clock ticking and adrenaline, but have always tried to keep the race run as close to my training runs as possible.
I am fascinated by the ability of a rider to ride in that 100% zone for a race run and not make mistakes. Things sharpen up and lines appear different at race pace, but I would like to learn more about 'all out' for the race run, vs. careful preparation on practice runs. (Fabien - "Optimum vs. Maximum")
Do you practice sections at race pace? Like top 3rd, then middle, then bottom third?
More articles on DH race prep or Enduro race prep!
I love spending time in the gym, and as the season gets closer, I move from low reps to higher reps and more explosive, endurance based work.
Love this article!
  • + 7
 Oh the sensations I feel when I see tahnee seagrave..
  • + 6
 The process is as important as the product
  • + 1
 Try indoor rock climbing for a solid workout that is fun. Especially if you get into bouldering. Gives you insane grip strength so no arm pump. Gives you great pull strength in the arms for sprinting and bunny hopping. etc. and a strong cor. Only extra exercise you'd need to do is push ups of bench press.
  • + 3
 Would love to see what the pre-ride warm up actually is! I need to be doing this..
  • + 58
 Black coffee and a trail side piss
  • + 17
 @lukachadwick: don't forget the wheelies on the parking lot
  • + 12
 @lukachadwick: don't forget the quick dump, as you don't want to be caught short with nothing but leaves to wipe your arse.
  • + 10
 I'll see what I can do! There is no magic though; increase body temperature, mobilize joints and "activate" key movement patterns like pushing and pulling with the upper body and hip hinging. Progressively get more dynamic and explosive, increase CNS activity so run #1 and corner #1 finds you feeling coordinated and organsied! There's always an individual component to any off the bike Warm-Up, some riders have injuries to manage or specific issues, but more often than not it's Raise Temp, Activate and Mobilise the Muscular-Skeletal system and key movement patterns; drive motivation in the right direction and increase arousal (music maybe?) and then get on your bike and go shred! Sometimes the best warm-up is a soft pedal with some wheelies and turn-bars
  • + 3
 @ashyjay: holding it in is your reason to go faster.
  • + 2
 @ashyjay: i class this as weight saving, it's the same weight difference between my frame and a carbon version
  • + 2
 not a big fan of the gym, but i started kayaking and i have to say it really helps keeping the upper body in shape, cheers
  • + 2
 I stand corrected then @lumpys , cheers!
  • + 0
 Good article. That video has me cringing, the multiple trail splits right at those trees....geeesh..
  • + 1
 good read!
  • + 0
 I wonder how many kip pull-ups they did (sarc)?
  • + 4
 pretty sure there was at least one muscle-up attempt!
  • + 2
 Bro..do you even do kip pushups, kip lunges, kip dead lift, kip kip
  • + 3
 @litespeed74: Brah, kip lunges and kip deads for life. They don't call me Rudyard KIPling for my masterful command of early twenty century English prose.
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