An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge. Episode Two - Ben - Pedal Progression


22 January 2018

An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge. Episode Two – Ben

Meet Ben, he is the founder of MTB Strength factory, a Bristol based company that works with high performing pro-athletes as well as MTB enthusiasts and ordinary blokes. Ben has been a personal trainer and rider for many years, bringing a unique combination of experience and perspective to mountain bike strength training. Whether you are looking to push in the upper-echelons of the racing elite, take on a specific big challenge this year, or you just just want to feel faster on your bike because you love to ride…Ben’s your man. Last week I went to see him, with the hope that he could help me to boost my training. First, here’s a little bit about where I am at, a few weeks into the new year.

New Year, New…. Me?

Since the new year I have been really focusing on getting as much time on the bike as possible, squeezing in road rides, MTB rides and turbo sessions. Getting hold of a turbo trainer has been invaluable to get ‘bike time’ when it is not convenient to be out of the house (Dad duties) and also means I can get some cycling in when it is really grotty outside. As seasoned mountain biker I am fairly used to riding in adverse weather and most of the time enjoy it. However it isn’t always practical and when I am on my third session of the week and it’s still filthy in the woods, sometimes it’s nice to not have to go out! Also, a turbo trainer provides different benefits. I can put in regular intervals and/or keep a solid rhythm going for a long period of time. Back to my session with Ben.

I was really keen to get some feedback on the exercises I had already been doing. As mentioned in the previous blog, I had been doing a circuit training routine a few times a week, all of which I’d learned from YouTube videos but wasn’t really sure how effective it would be for the type of strength I needed to build. I was also keen to find out from Ben if I was doing the exercises right! Everyone knows what a squat is but it’s hard to know if you are doing it right until someone ‘in the know’ watches you. I really wanted to get a routine together for strength training that I could work into my week mist all the other commitments I have.

On meeting Ben we went through some questions and chatted about any past injuries and weaknesses I was aware of, and then started with a warm up and stretch routine which, in part, served as an assessment of my flexibility. Normally I would take a short run then stretch before doing circuits, or if riding, just get going slowly and then stretch at the end of the ride or turbo session. Ben introduced me to some active stretching techniques that warmed up my body whilst stretching. This flowed into the assessment where I was asked to do some stuff I was expecting – testing the flexibility of my ankles, strength of my legs and upper body. Some stuff I really wasn’t expecting – seeing how long I could balance on one foot with my eyes closed. Of course this all had purpose and it was really interesting (and useful) to think in detail about how important the symmetry of my strength and flexibility was, to ensure that when my body was being pushed to the limit I was still moving and using it in a way that would cause minimal fatigue and deliver maximum output over a sustained period of time. Also during this part of the session Ben was able to clearly see where my weaknesses were. There were a few areas of focus that came to the fore; tight hip flexors, pushing and pulling strength in the upper body and single leg strength. Most of all it was clear that I needed to work on my core. Roll on the 2 minute plank challenge!

I also have a lingering wrist injury, after breaking it about a year ago. During longer rides this had started to cause a bit of discomfort and the lack of range of movement in the joint is something that I am aware of day to day. Spending a really long time on a bike training and racing would no doubt aggravate this injury and it could potentially become painful over 24 hours leading to a slower pace or worse the need to retire. Also, it became clear whilst chatting about the injury that it had affected my confidence on the bike over technical terrain more than I had realised.  The fear of falling on my wrist combined with lack of strength and range of movement was causing increased tension in my upper body due to an inability to fully relax which was intern affecting my ability to ‘let go’, relax and flow on the trail. This could become a real vulnerability and so was made a key point of daily focus in my first round of exercises.

Once finished with the assessment part of the session we went on to work on the exercises that would be included in my routines. Ben demonstrated the exercises whilst I tried to mirror them. With almost all of the exercises, it was necessary for Ben to make adjustments to what I was initially doing. In some, it was to make sure I followed the correct sequence of movement to ensure I got the most out of it. In others, it was to make sure I was correctly aligned or not trying to go too fast to ensure the movement was as effective as possible.

I now have a short session that I can do fairly quickly (about 20 mins) everyday. I have a longer detailed session that I need to do twice a week. The exercises have been explained to me, so I understand what I am doing them for and I have been coached through the movements so I know how to do them correctly to get the full benefit from each repetition. In short, it’s given me a clear structured approach that I know I can have confidence in and that quality time working on my strength off the bike is really worth it in the pay back I get when out on the trails. Already after 4 days of working on weaknesses in my wrist, it feels stronger and I’m conscious of a wider range of movement.

For me, what was repeatedly reinforced throughout the session was the benefits of having someone who really understands what you need, develop a session tailored for you. From assessing my specific strengths, weakness and the way my body moved to understanding my goals, the specific demands of the challenge I wanted to undertake, making sure I not only had the right exercises but that they were realistic, achievable and I was doing them in the right way. The personalised approach was crucial to ensure I got maximum benefit.

How Does Ben Think I’m Doing?

Ben says, “Ollie’s in a good place though there’s loads of work to do. The challenge is a big one but not un-achievable by any means. His flexibility in most areas is good, probably due to the fact that he is pretty active and out on his bike most days. There are areas of strength focus that will really benefit him, perhaps unsurprisingly legs and core being the main two. I’d also really recommend he focus on his wrist, otherwise it could become a real vulnerability as he continues to ramp up his training and racing hours. Ollie would also benefit from loosing a bit of weight, this will mostly likely follow with increased training, but a focus on nutrition would really help with this and also how quickly he recovers from intense bouts of training”.

Massive thanks to Ben for his time, patience and professional approach in helping me understand how to ride stronger. I’m looking forward to going back in a months time to see how my new workout has benefitted me.


Written by:

Ollie Cain