The Amateur Athlete

Milway on the training that benefits us all

Words: Alan Milway
Photos: Oakstone Visuals 

My focus for years has been on working with professional racers to help them be at their best when they arrive at the track – wanting to win at international level has always been a big driver for me, and having worked with some great teams and athletes over the years it still is a big motivation and excitement as we prepare for the 2018 World Cup season.

However, I have seen a number of issues recur time and again with amateur riders who are not specifically training for a certain race or series, but still want to improve their general fitness level and performance on the bike. These guys are going to the gym, riding their turbo trainer, but without any decent guidance – reliant on the murky pages of forums, Google or social media to glean exercises and sessions that might work for them.

Training – also useful for suncream application

I really wanted to address this problem and help resolve this issue – by offering workshops for small groups of riders who could be treated properly; assessed on their individual strengths and weaknesses, and be given a starting point from which to work they could have a clear direction in their training. It isn’t trying to convince someone to jump in to a five day a week training plan, or suddenly take on a new routine that they might not realistically stick to, but to help stop this plateau or worst of all lack of any progress due to pain or recurring soreness/ injury.

The Driscoll brothers - future champs here

Here is an overview of a recent day I put on for a group of mountain bike racers – of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, but with an eagerness to change what they are currently doing for the better:

On arrival at The High-Performance gym at The University of Birmingham each rider had a cubby hole with a form to put fill in – to highlight some key information we wanted – and as a reward for this there were some goodies to help them through the day from the guys at Clif Bar, Nuun and Muc Off!

Looking at anatomical differences helps us understand some likely problems or weaknesses from the off– these might be there through injury or simply genetics. Hypermobility is one area we want to see and be clear on as it can play a part in how we advise and the exercises we might choose. Georgia Leslie from Specialized was in attendance and broke her elbow recently; having seen how hypermobile she was this would have certainly contributed to this injury.

Following the initial screening exercises, we moved on to assessing a number of key movement patterns. Sometimes a lack of training history can cause general weakness, but quite often a previous injury isn’t rehabilitated properly and the stiffness or weakness can linger and cause imbalances or problems in movement. I wanted to try and highlight these issues and show the riders how it is affecting their movement, balance and control. If it affects balance and control on a gym floor – it is certainly going to be a problem on a mountain bike!

It is important to understand weak areas, but more important to know how to address them! I didn’t want to highlight a load of problems and not offer a tool kit for the rider to go away and work on fixing or improving these areas.

Lunch was welcomed but the session was dismissed with the key parting words that the intensity would be turned up in the afternoon so not to have a heavy meal as no one would want to see it again!

Power output and repeatability of these high power efforts are two key areas of fitness that are called upon during a mountain bike ride or race and getting some clear numbers and comparing these to benchmarks was the aim of the afternoon. Seeing where you stack up against others is useful – and can also show the gaps in training. Huge power output but fading very fast? You need more cardiovascular conditioning to allow more work to be done. Really repeatable efforts but at a very poor/ low level of power? You probably are ‘fit enough’ but not progressing due to lack of strength and power to get you down the track as fast as you want to go.

The Watt bike lends itself to this well and with a custom test programmed into it, each rider could have all data collected for me to analyse and feedback on after the day. We also worked on some more strength and strength endurance tests and in one of them an amateur rider got pretty close to Dan Atherton’s ‘all-time’ record! Terry was an impressive athlete and you could see this throughout all the movements to this point, but I was still surprised and impressed at this, so dug a little deeper….turns out he is a Royal Marine! I was more impressed with the Marines physical fitness than Athy’s ability to still be fitter than a Marine. After 4 years of working with him I reckon if anyone can get close to him then I am more than happy and grateful to have them protecting our shores. Thanks Terry!

So concluded a great day of coaching- with great supporting coaching from Ray, the Head of Strength and Conditioning at The University of Birmingham (the venue for the day). Over the past couple of workshop days we’ve seen young teenagers, middle aged guys, a talented female and of course a marine…all who love riding and racing mountain bikes.

Training shouldn’t just be seen as something the top racers or front runners do, but as a way to maximise your enjoyment on the bike and as an insurance policy to reduce injury risk through better mobility and muscle strength and balance.

I’ll be running more days in the New Year so do drop me a message if you are interested.


Alan is a fitness coach working with bike sport athletes and has coached 6 Downhill Mountainbike World Champions.


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