Aaron Gwin is not the prototypical mountain bike racer you’d expect to see atop the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. That is to say he is, by comparison, a relative new comer and in a field filled with and dominated by Europeans, he’s the lone American at the top. So how is it possible that a guy who just started mountain bike racing in 2008 and has only raced in the UCI series since 2011 is having such an impact? His previous stints as a BMX and Motocross racer gave him the background he needed to make the jump into the sport while an unparalleled devotion to fitness and nutrition has allowed him to dominate it since being there.
To say Gwin was young when he first started racing BMX bikes would be an understatement. He was four! As an outlet for his energy, BMX biking brought him all over the country to race, but like many child superstars, he burned out early, at the age of eight, and was back to being a normal little kid. That is until he picked up motocross, once again dominating the circuit, this time until he was forced out due to injury. The years spent racing both BMX and motocross proved invaluable to Gwin when he decided, on a whim, to pick up downhill mountain biking. Not only was the competition itself second nature, the BMX biking gave him an understanding of how to pedal based on terrain while the motocross taught him how to adjust to traveling at different speeds along different lines. This fundamental background enabled Gwin to dive right into racing mountain bikes professionally, however it was his commitment to fitness that surged him to the top of the rankings.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty
The mountain biking circuit has always been known as a bit of a party scene. You’d ride your race and then head out for a few beers after it was over. To a degree, this still goes on, but not for Gwin. Mountain biking is his business and so is his approach to the sport. Perhaps that is why he has four UCI World Cup titles under his belt. With the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Series kicking off on April 30th in France, you can check out Gwin on Red Bull TV, but in the meantime, we caught up with the American superstar to discuss his training and diet regimen and the impact it has had on his successful career.
How has the mountain biking circuit changed since you first came onto the scene? Are other athletes taking a more businesslike approach?
Aaron Gwin: Overall, there is more of a professional level of training. I came from motocross and didn’t have to train. If you were pretty fit and had some talent, you could win. Originally, there was partying at those races, but motocross had gone through the change where began riders focusing on training. When I came into mountain biking they hadn’t gone through that transition yet. It was headed in that direction, and I kind of finalized that. I wanted to be fit enough to ride from top to bottom. I took training more seriously and others followed.
How have these changes impacted your approach to preparing for the UCI circuit?
AG: As the years go by and I get older, I learn more about my body. I find a weak spot and focus on fixing it, developing that spot so that it is no longer a deficiency. I also keep my training fun and fresh.
AG: My gym program was more specific a decade ago whereas now it is more diverse. Back then, I’d do three different workouts and just recycle them week to week. Now I am smarter, I know what I need. In November we begin with physical therapy movements, push pull exercises to work on imbalances. Working on fixing injuries. Once everything is strong and tight, then we shift to big weights, pushing heavier weights and varying the rep ranges from 8-20. As we get closer to the season, we ramp up the cardio with circuit training. We do a lot of plyometrics circuits, explosive and intense movements with short rest. We have fewer days off as well.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty
What does a typical fitness session look like for you? Is it broken down by body part or are you more focused on full body workouts?
AG: Right now I have three sessions per week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I still go to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday and work on body parts that will help me look good—like biceps and triceps. This is not taxing but it helps build muscle. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday our programming is more structured like this:
2 Warm-up rounds plus three working rounds of
- 150 pound deep, explosive squats x 10 repetitions
- Unilateral leg pulls x 10 repetitions.
Rest 30 seconds and repeat.
Once the five rounds are completed, I move on to the next two sets of exercises:
Box jumps with v-upsHip flexion and hip extension.
Similarly, I use two warm up rounds and three working rounds with 30 seconds rest in between rounds.
I also do torso extension and torso flexion work to develop a strong back. I will also go for a bike ride in the afternoon.
How important is nutrition in your day to day life and overall athletic development?
AG: It is definitely important. As you grow older, you can feel and see the effects. My diet supports my training and helps with my recovery.
How often are you eating during a day and what do you eat typically?
AG: I eat every three hours. Ultimately there are probably five to six meals in the day. Three of those are full meals and the three in between are smaller. The three in between meals are something like a protein shake or a healthy snack. I go heavier on the carbs in the morning and my protein is consistent throughout the day. I am 85 percent gluten free so my meals are mostly meats and vegetables. Back in 2012, I went fully gluten free to see how that felt. Since then I have phased some foods back in. I do have oatmeal almost every morning and I eat more fruits in the morning and more vegetables in the evenings. You just have to be consistent, which can be tough to do, especially when traveling to Europe where many of the competitions are. However, they do process their grains a bit differently so I don’t feel the effects as much. Just be consistent.
What role does recovery play in your training and how is that aided by your diet and exercise?
AG: Recovery is the biggest part. I do quite a bit of yoga. It helps with stretching; I’ve never been one to sit down and stretch so yoga forces me to stretch. I do three yoga sessions per week. Yoga keeps me feeling good and really helps with mobility. I also go to a chiropractor once or twice a week to work out the kinks. A good night’s sleep every night is also extremely important to help you rest. Supplements also come into play as far as recovery goes; protein powder, amino acids and hydration fuel during workouts help with recovery.
Any tips on diet and exercise that you’d like to share with our audience?
AG: Consistency in everything is the key. There is no magic answer to get fit in two weeks. Be smart about it. Use your head. Be consistent four to five days a week. My number one tip (I heard this from a guy years ago and kind of thought it was silly at the time but now I realize it is true): shop around the outside of the grocery store and stay away from the inside aisles. If you think about it, the outside ring is where you can find all the fresh food that is good for you. The inner aisles is where everything is processed and in a box.
Rich Stoner is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.