Active health: Ten ways to be a better, fitter mountain biker
Three-time downhill mountain bike world champion Greg Minnaar shares his tips for upping your mountain bike ante
1. Mountain bikers should try running and road cycling too
“Cross-training is the best part of our sport because you don’t have to train in the same way every day. My base training over winter is usually about three hours on the road bike. I also run up to about 15km. That slowly comes down to about an hour and a half of interval training as I get into the season. I run a lot and enjoy it, so I try to fit it in twice a week. I also ride motocross once a week to keep the speed and develop my upper body and forearm strength.”
2. Think about your centre of gravity
“Body position is really important. A lot of people spend too much time too far forward or back. You need to get your centre of gravity over your bottom bracket where your pedals are. Always make sure that is the centre of your weight.”
3. Build power and resilience in the gym
“Downhill racing is seen as being for people who just like going downhill, but to train for it is pretty tough. You need a decent amount of endurance because you are practising for days coming up to the event. And you need a strong body so you can stand the whole way down, and push and pump and get through the track and steer.
“I spend three sessions a week in the gym — full-body, leg, upper body and core — so it’s pretty physical. After breaking my radial head a couple of months ago I am trying to keep my back and shoulders active, and get my muscles to fire up on my forearms and lower biceps. For me it is mainly push-and-pull exercises in the gym, trying to make sure I use my back muscles and not just my shoulders and chest.
“You need a lot of strength in your legs as you are in a half- or three-quarter squat position for four and a half minutes downhill. And throughout that, you are balancing against different forces, so I do a lot of squats and deadlifts too.”
4. Fuel up with soaked oats
“Growing up I hated oats. I couldn’t stand them. But my girlfriend showed me how to soak them in almond milk in the fridge overnight. It makes them much tastier. I also throw some fruit in there. That is my latest way to start the day before training.”
5. Build strength and balance at the same time
“I like to include core work in most of my gym exercises. For example, if I am doing a standard dumbbell press I will do it with one hand and use my core to balance myself when I am lifting. I do that as much as possible to try to simulate the stuff we do on a bike, where you are often off balance, and get the core as strong as possible. So it’s important to combine both strength and core work.”
6. Look further ahead
“Sight is really important when you’re going downhill. Most people, when riding, look straight in front of them, but you need to look further ahead and see what is coming up so you can react to obstacles. That is the most important thing for riders to learn.”
7. Stick to salmon before a big race or ride
“I have always tried to maintain a full and balanced diet. I am South African so I eat a ton of red meat, but I try a couple of vegan days here and there to balance things out. It’s great to have a barbecue with steak and red wine. However, before a big race I always try to go for a fatty fish like salmon. I love steak but fish is really light, so it is perfect before a race. I’ll have that with lots of veg and some nice grains.”
8. Bolt on some yoga
“Flexibility becomes really important with age. I don’t feel that I recover slower or I am slowing down as I get older, but I do know about it when I am stiffening up. So I try to do a yoga session twice a week. I am terrible at stretching. But I try to do a few poses and it is a good way to wind down mentally and physically.”
9. Pump up your power with plyometrics
“I do about four weeks of a plyometric programme most seasons. That is a mix of single-leg hops and jumps. They are super tough on your legs, but they fire up your muscles for power and get you going.”
10. Keep your wheels rolling
“When cornering a bend downhill it is important to make sure your outer foot is weighted and a bit lower than your inside foot. If you are looking out of the corner it is better than staring right at it. People tend to look at the corner itself, and then don’t see what is ahead and therefore don’t carry enough speed to keep them moving. Always keep the tyres rolling, because when they are rolling they have traction. They are designed to keep rolling. As soon as you stall or lock the brakes, things can happen.”
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