Video: Ben Cathro Does Baseline Testing & Builds A Home Gym For World Cup Training - Walk The Talk Episode 3

May 21, 2020
by Pinkbike Originals  



Ben Cathro may be stuck at home but he isn’t going to let that stop him. With some good ol’ fashioned ingenuity he constructs a home gym to allow him to stay fit for when World Cup racing starts back up again.

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  • 35 0
 They didn't show it, but that MAP result gets an estimated FTP of 329W, which is a whole lot for a non xc racer.
  • 18 1
 Cathro is a unit
  • 7 0
 That’s a whole lot for an XC racer! I know he’s pretty tall, not sure exactly how much he weighs but 329 would have him near the front of pretty much any amateur race that doesn’t hinge on huge climbs.
  • 32 0
 I actually asked Max not to mention FTP in this episode, as it would add to the confusion surrounding FTP as a performance indicator for mountain bikers. You're right that a lot of XC racers can, and often do, have a high estimated FTP (based on a percentage of a 20-minute test or MAP test) but this is usually down to their high Vo2 Max and W' (anaerobic tank). So even though a lot of XC racers have a high FTP by proxy, having a high FTP doesn't really make you a good XC racer, and it certainly won't make you fit for DH. It does however allow me to set Ben specific training zones so that I can help him get in shape to race downhill.

* It's worth noting that FTP tests usually calculate or model FTP from a percentage of 20-minute effort or 1 min MAP, so depending on your physiology it isn't always a true representation of FTP. If you really want to check your FTP value is correct from a MAP test or 20-minute test, complete a 40-minute effort and see how you fare. You might be surprised that the output isn't sustainable and you are riding way over anaerobic threshold heart rate.
  • 3 0
 I cant express enough how much a high FTP will increase your speed going down. I ignored this for years, then paid attention and destroyed every PR. It works!
  • 6 0
 @RabWardell: Whoops, I can delete the comment if you'd like. I'm just a training science nerd and got curious so calculated an estimation.

You're correct about these tests being very dependent on physiology. I have a strength sports background and I think that because of it I score about 15% higher on a ramp test than a 20 minute test, and this gap has been diminishing the more time I've spent working a solid aerobic base.

Regardless, it's an awesome result for Ben and I can only dream of getting something similar. After years of training I'm not even close.
  • 7 0
 @bentopi: No you don't need to delete the comment at all. It's good that training and fitness are being talked about regarding mountain biking! It's just there seems to be a lack of understanding of what FTP is and why it's useful. I'm not saying it's not valuable or worth noting, it is a really useful metric, and people love it as it means you can discuss and compare a value with your mates. But there is a hell of a lot more to being fit and fast on a bike than FTP.
  • 4 0
 @noplacelikeloam: Improved fitness can (not 'will' - there's more to it than that) increase your speed going downhill, and as you get fitter your FTP may well increase. However, unless you're riding a continuous downhill where you pedal steady-state for up to an hour, Functional Threshold Power isn't the metric you should be looking at.
  • 3 0
 @RabWardell: if we follow the critical power plus anaerobic work capacity model (Coggan) that underpins most modern endurance cycling training methodologies, the argument would be that a higher CP (and therefore FTP) allows the athlete to less often dip into the anaerobic work capacity bucket, if you will. So in this sense, a riding tide lifts all the boats.
Many professional trainers hang their hat on the development of CP as the cornerstone for being faster.

I'm interested if you think this concept does not apply to downhill, given races are long enough to be considered aerobic efforts.
And if not to downhill, then Enduro?
Short track XC?
  • 3 0
 @mmmitch: CP definitely has it's place, and it's used a lot of top-level XC racers not just for Short Track but also XCO, as well as Track Endurance athletes and Road Cyclists. I think what is worth noting is that all of these tests do serve their own purpose, and you may want to train and monitor multiple metrics. What's it boils down to is understanding the demands of the event, and training to meet these. My concern around emphasising FTP is that riders will latch on to this (in the same way road cyclists have in the past) and think that FTP is the golden ticket to fitness. In reality, a training programme which boosts FTP may not be the best way to help you perform in DH, Enduro or XC mountain biking, unless you are starting from an untrained level of fitness.
  • 2 0
 @RabWardell: what metrics do you suggest monitoring for DH/Enduro training progress then if FTP isn't really all that useful?
  • 3 1
 @lognar: The ones I get Ben to do in the video. They are really good tests and are fairly simple. Most riders can do them at home, providing they have access to a smart trainer and a gym.

The test Ben does is a Ramp Test on Zwift to determine Max Aerobic Power (Vo2 Max) and tests to determine maximal lifts for the back squat, deadlift, overhead press and bench press. We do these to set training intensities for the training phase and to monitor progress.

When it comes to maximal lifts you have to be very careful. Don't start lifting weights without guidance of a professional or without knowing what you are doing. I don't recommend doing absolute 1 rep max lifts unless an athlete has a history (years of experience in regular lifting) of Olympic lifting. I usually calculate 1 rep max from either a 3 rep max or 5 rep max test. As mentioned in the video, we had to get creative as Ben only had a certain weight and a combination of plates.

It's also a good idea to monitor peak sprint power (over a 6-second sprint) on the bike, but usually this is best recorded outdoors on the bike with power cranks, on a direct drive trainer like a Wahoo Kickr or on a dedicated smart bike. A wheel-on indoor trainer isn't great for peak power tests as the wheel often slips, and the kind of power Ben puts through the bike isn't great for drivetrains. Box jumps and depth jumps are also good.

My advice for testing at home would be to understand the reason why you are testing. Then choose a test that mimics your event demands and make the most of the equipment you have available. So if you have a power meter or smart trainer and you're training for DH/Enduro measure efforts similar to the length of the event. In my opinion, you'd be much better off measuring 3-minute power for DH or Enduro than you would be measuring 20 minute power to estimate your FTP, which is basically the maximal power output you can sustain for 1 hour. That really doesn't matter in downhill or Enduro.
  • 1 0
 @RabWardell: what would you consider as good markers of strength when it comes to numbers on the bar? There are some numbers circling around American coaches who tend to look for particular percentages in people doing different sports, off course most of them are employed for NHL. I read something in the lines of. Minimum body weight percentage per 1 rep max for DL/SQ/Bench being 2xBW/1.5XBW/1xBW. Optimum being 2.5xBW/2xBW/1.25BW. They call reaching the second set of numbers as game changing factor for virtually every sport. Judging by what Dutch BMX racing team does, these are some rookie numbers. Should we atrive to reach them?
  • 3 0
 @WAKIdesigns: First up, I'm going to be 100% honest and say that I am not an S&C expert. There will be other coaches better placed to comment on this.

The figures you're quoting are high-level performance indicators. If you are close to hitting 2 x bodyweight for deadlift, 1.5 x bodyweight for back squat and 1 x bodyweight for benchpress then you are an experienced weightlifter. If you're striving for 2.5 x bodyweight for deadlift, 2 x bodyweight for back squat and 1.25 x bodyweight for benchpress, you are probably a world-class athlete, especially if you are hitting these numbers as a bike racer.

The Dutch BMX racing team is a good example of this, as they have some of the best professional athletes in the world in their squad and are aiming to win World and Olympic titles. You can presume that they have been training for a long time. We're talking years and years of consistent training, including regular, year round S&C. They will also have a team of support staff looking at their training, including S&C, physiologist, psychologist, physiotherapist, coach, manager and more.

Regarding what you and other riders should strive for, it's really going to come down to what stage of development you are at. Training is different for every individual. With most riders I coach I first need to assess their ability and experience. I'll look at fundamentals like range of movement and control through range of movement. If things are looking good then we'll take things further with some loaded strength work, starting small and increasing load as appropriate over time. If an athlete I am working with is hitting 2 x bodyweight for deadlift 1.5 x bodyweight for squat and 1 x bodyweight for benchpress then I've probably done my job and they need to start to work with a specialist S&C coach. Hopefully they keep me on board for their on-bike coaching!

To sum up, should you and other riders strive to be an experienced weight lifter or a world-class athlete? Why not? Dream big! But reflect on where you are right now and don't underestimate what you'll need to do to get there. Like I say in the episode above, gains come fast at first, but as you get better you need to work super hard for small progress, and it will take time. It's all about consistency and effort over time. You need to assess where you are at and set realistic, smart goals for where you want to go.

I guess if you're unsure if you should strive to squat 2 x bodyweight for a 1RM back squat then you're probably not at that level yet. I've raced World Cup XC in the past and I'm nowhere near squatting that, and I try pretty hard!
  • 2 0
 @RabWardell: thank you very much for such a long and thoughtful response. I am very close to those first numbers 2/1.5/1 would you then recommend higher bar speeds? More of explosive work? My goal is actually nothing more than DH racing like performance, (good downhill endurance - grip strength, ability to get down half of a WC level DH track without feeling horrible arm pump and quad burn, then abikity to apeint, getting a lot out of each pedal stroke).overall health and good posture
  • 2 0
 @WAKIdesigns: maybe make your 5rm closer to those numbers. More strength is always good in my opinion.
Way back when I was a track sprinter most of our work was based on 3 or 5 rm. Partly because the coach didn't want us to sacrifice ourselves for a single lift, partly because a 10 second strength effort is more useful for a 10 second running effort.
Quad burn and arm pump - some more volume could help.
  • 1 1
 @mmmitch: I do 3-8 RM at different bar speeds and different RPE, depending on the time of the year, but now during the season I just find it hard to try to up my lifts. It also sucks to ride after a harder work out on the gym, sometimes even the day after, particularly after 3-5 sets of 5. I am slow as hell. But it’s perfectly fine with 8 sets of fast 3s. I can’t work on higher RPE either, at least for DL because My SI joint won’t take it. For DL I am now running basically 2 reps left rule. Anyhoo, I’l try some more hypertrophy during the winter Smile

I wanted to know what are the numbers according to Rob and few other coaches wince I wonder how hard should I try. Many try too hard I realized. What I discovered When talking to a few elite BMXers is that they always put quality above everything else. Like with plyometrics. All the crossfitters will tell you to go all out on box jumps, set it as high as possible and do as many reps as possible as fast as possible. Some Olympic level BMXers will set the box at no more than 1.5ft (they will simply land with straight legs on it) do a set of 5 with drop and wait a minute or two. There are a few more nuances in there on how to contract muscles and how to land on eccentric.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: Unfortunately I think there are way too many unknowns for me to be able to comment on how and what you should do. You may see benefits from improving strength and power, but equally you may need to rest more, work on pacing runs, get more bike time... I dunno?

A quality, consistent gym programme is one part of your physical preparation and (as I think you know) reps, weight and speed should be considered and tweaked depending on your goal, the training phase and time of year. On top of this, there are so many other facets to riding a bike downhill at speed with control. Put the Dutch BMXers down a run of Fort William and I think they'll get arm pump and quad burn pretty bad, even though they can squat your car.

If you really want to optimise your riding performance I'd recommend seeking a coach to work with 1-2-1 over a prolonged period of time. I may be telling you something you already know, but having a coach is way more than being told what sets and reps to do. It's about getting a programme you believe in, adding accountability not only to training but to recovery, nutrition and lifestyle, getting quality feedback on all aspects of your training and riding, having support when you need it, knowing when to go hard and when to back off, and more. It sounds like you have a good level of knowledge but that is almost adding to the confusion of what you should do.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: definitely after a certain level the gains are marginal. Squats and DL are just great physical exercise fullstop - but the carryover to improved power on the bike has its limits.

Particularly if you are cramming heavy lifting and riding into the same day. That's a trade-off you have to manage.

As I've gotten older I've gone much more towards a high frequency training approach, the extreme version being squatting every day but only really getting up to doubles on 5rm weight. The body adjusts to the habitual exercise quickly and most of the negatives associated with soreness and fatigue disappear.
  • 1 1
 @RabWardell: that makes sense thanks! You made me chuckle about BMX racers in Fort Bill hahah. Erm, I’d love to get Ben or you as a skills coach. Have to do it at some point. Last year me and my friend followed some beginners on a DH track and we were shocked how battered we got riding at their pace... more skill = less strength needed.
  • 2 1
 @mmmitch: yes the carry over was a problem for me. However deadlifts and improving grip strength definitely helps with arm pump. Last year due to si joint injury I couldn’t lift and I sucked on any longer run. And when I can’t hold the bars confidently at the bottom, when I no longer can bunnyhop on demand due to leg and lower back fatigue, I get stressed, grab the bar even harder, death grip is on, and it all goes to shit. Teo years ago I was strongest and could do a whole Hafjell DH WC track top to bottom on 160 bike, having endurance issues before the last woods, and barely holding on at the bottom, but still. Another crossover is low cadence on steep uphill stuff. But lately I went for Louie Simmons high bar speed, did quality plyo and my power per pedal stroke went up noticeably. If I follow a coasting rider and add pedal strokes with right gear selection, I am catching up very fast. It wasn’t the case before. I have never had this much acceleration.
  • 28 1
 This is so well done, loving the series
  • 13 0
 LoL I would watch video's of Cathro making toast or doing laundry. Maybe get some good split times on buttering toast top to bottom vs side to side. We're so lucky to have this content Big Grin
  • 11 0
 Ps congratulations on the arrival of junior Cathro ????
  • 9 2
 well, I'm gonna need an update on those transplanted trees.. sometimes trees die when not properly transplanted.. otherwise yo're gonna have to plant new ones mate.. can't be having fewer trees just for the hell of it.
  • 7 0
 With Big Ben finally training, will he turn into a 7ft tall Gorilla?
  • 1 0
 What're you talking about, he already is!
  • 2 0
 @tgent: more of a giraffe, really.
  • 8 1
 Cathro deliver as always
  • 2 0
 I feel like the best training in the video was probably the yard work. On that note, I have a yard if anyone needs some training. Also, I genuinely wish being strong would offset my complete lack of skill on the bike.
  • 6 1
 Noodle Arm Daddy
  • 4 0
 Stoked for footage of this upcoming downhill track! Loving this series.
  • 1 1
 Was anyone else concerned about leaving such nice expensive equipment outside in effectively a tent? I will in a nice upper middle class neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia and on the rare occasions i leave the garage to my shop area open in the morning i am always relieved everything is still there. I couldnt image leaving 10s of thousands of bike equipment out EVERY NIGHT!
  • 2 0
 Hey Ben...How about your training program is just doing all that landscape work? That's a heck of a lot harder than training. Keep up the great work!
  • 2 0
 Great edit - very interesting and entertaining. And inspirational, good luck.
  • 2 0
 Can you explain how that max power output works? What do you have to do and how do you measure it?
  • 1 0
 P.s. the hill where you're building the trail looks so idyllic
  • 5 0
 Essentially he did a ramp test on Zwift. You need a smart trainer or a power meter for it. It starts at 100 watts and increases 20watts every minute and you pedal until you physically can't anymore.
  • 1 0

You will need a bike trainer that can measure power output (watts)
  • 3 0
 @jaredpbt: Don't forget the trashcan so you can puke after
  • 3 0
 @bentopi: I seeee.... sounds like fun.
  • 3 0
 Class! Very much enjoyed with a brew
  • 1 0
 What turbo trainer does Ben use there? Looking at direct drive vs wheel mounted ones at the moment.
  • 3 0
 He has a Wahoo KICKR Snap and chose it for use at home and in warm-ups at races. I'd recommend investing in the KICKR or KICKR Core direct drive if you can though.
  • 2 0
 World Cup and a kid!?! jeepers you gonna be one tired boy!!
  • 3 0
 He’s not the only one
  • 1 0
 Yeah dude, I pretty much shut things down for the first year of kid life. It's just....a lot. Hope him and his wife are getting some outside support.
  • 3 0
 No ebike comments huh?
  • 1 0
 Its called a wheel barrel and you can pick one up for about $50 at a hardware store
  • 3 1
 go ben go !
  • 1 0
 Awesome! And Congrats on the new baby!
  • 1 0

oops - wrong spot.
  • 1 0
 Love Cathro! Wishing you all the best...
  • 1 0
 Cathro, this was pretty dam cool
  • 1 0
 "Gim meh the beh-beh!!!!" - Fat Ba****d LOL
  • 1 1
 I didn't know privateers had so many sponsors

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