Between the Motos: Aldon Baker

January 14, 2009 6:00am | by:
Aldon Baker is an example of a happy accident. When he got started as Ricky Carmichael’s trainer in late 2000, he had never trained a motocross racer before. A few years later, and together they had basically re-written the entire motocross record book together. Now that Carmichael has retired, he has bounced to the James Stewart camp, and continues to train the Hayden brothers in road racing. We talked to him a week ago, when he gathered up his riders for a photo op in Orange County, California.

  • From right to left: Aldon Baker and his riders Nicky Hayden, Tommy Hayden, Roger Lee Hayden and James Stewart.
Racer X: You were in cycling for a long time, but how long have you actually been in the business of training other people for other sports?
Aldon Baker: Basically, in training people for specific sports at a professional level, that only started when I basically joined up with Ricky [Carmichael] in 2000.

So how did you know that would even work out?
That was definitely kind of going out on a limb, but before that, I was a personal trainer, but in gyms. Even when I was in the army, I had done PTR... Gosh, ever since I had just been out of school, I was involved. I come from a family where my dad was a marathon runner, and the training was something that, even as kids, on Christmas we had to wait to open presents because my dad was out training in the morning. I think it’s been a part of my life forever, and obviously I was a professional mountain-bike racer for five years. Anything linked with some form of training, I would say, has been my whole life. But with regard to actually taking that all in and actually specifically training someone else, that started working in a gym in London, which involved building fitness routines and specific diets for people. All of that laid the groundwork for what I’m doing now. But I think the main preparation for what I do now came from racing bicycles, because you had to test everything yourself and see the results, learn from that, and that’s a good field to use to narrow things down. The one thing you don’t learn a lot about in cycling is strength workouts, but I had covered that enough in the gym over the years.

With the nutrition side of things, did that come from doing a lot of reading on the subject? Or did that also come from experimentation and trying different things on yourself?
I would say it was a little bit of both. I had done a couple of courses when I was in the gym industry. Nutrition’s always been a part of training, but the fine-tuning of it, that I learned a lot through trial and error, and also through coaches that I had when I was cycling, because you had to be optimum on your nutrition. But everyone’s different. So I sort of tried and tested things, and then I figured out what was the best out of all of that, took that into the program, and then incorporated it into what these guys do. Obviously, they’re not so much endurance athletes, but recovery and overall fitness requires a lot of good nutrition to get the benefits out of it.

I think a lot of people have experienced what they call “bonking” when they want to do a workout but having fueled their bodies properly with food in order to complete the workout.
Exactly, and that’s the thing – you can be as fit as anyone, but if you run out of steam, it does you no good. Fitness and nutrition go hand-in-hand, but nutrition is something that is neglected a lot.

Right. It’s like modifying your motorcycle and then forgetting to put gasoline in it.
Right, exactly.

You train road race guys and motocross guys, so how much do you have to study the specific sport before you can really dedicate yourself to training somebody in said sport? Obviously, I don’t think you would train Ricky or James Stewart the same as you would train the Haydens, would you?
No. A lot of the cardio stuff is the same, but even that is very individual, because they have different strengths and weaknesses, and their levels are all different. But with regard to other things, like road racing is not as physical as motocross or supercross, so a lot of the strength stuff and flexibility stuff is different. And I think that comes from analyzing the person and the sport, and that’s what makes every trainer unique and different – because of how they analyze the needs and the abilities of the athletes, and what you feel you need to accomplish with them. It’s not a set standard to say, “These are the exact standards for motocross, and this is what it requires, and that’s how you train that.”

So it’s about making an amalgamation of the specific athlete and their sport...
Right, so that’s where the trainer makes the difference. It’s a fine line, and over the years, I’ve learned so much, too, because obviously some stuff, you just go on your best evaluation of the situation, and you try something, and sometimes it doesn’t always work, so it’s got to go a little off track so that you can learn from it, and then you know. That’s one thing also from my plan, especially with what was good from my cycling days and my training days, which was documenting everything so much that you have so much data that it just can’t go to waste. You can figure out when things all went good, and what that scenario was, and that helps, especially the longer you’re with a particular athlete. It’s just a combination of stuff to get that level.

  • Baker leads his pack.
  • Stewart and Nicky Hayden lead the pack.
Every trainer is different, for sure, and I know that many trainers spend as much time working on their riders’ heads as they do their bodies. Is this something you tackle, too?
The mental side of it – confidence – is huge, and although you always start on the physical side – because I feel you can’t have mental confidence if you’re not confident in yourself physically – and then from there, it develops into the mental side, because at the end of the day, it’s the mentality and the confidence in the whole program that really pulls you through, so that’s a huge part of it. I focus on that a lot with my guys, because at the end of the day, at this elite level, I would expect that most of the guys are training hard and are doing things right, and if you’re on par there, you’ve got to find the edge somewhere. The mental side of it, that’s the computer, so that’s got to be strong, and it’s got to be well-prepared, and it’s a huge part of it. That’s something that we focus a lot on, especially once we get the numbers right and the tests right on the physical side. It’s the last piece of the puzzle.

I don’t want to give away any of your secrets, but for someone who is obviously great at training someone physically, how did you figure out how to do the mental side of things?
I learned that from my bicycle days, because also there, there’s a mentality that you need in order to deal with adverse conditions and deal with the thought pattern and channel it into a more positive way. I learned a lot from those days, and I also read up a lot on it, too, because the mental aspects are unique and different for each person. What one guy finds as a hiccup in his mentality or is a struggle with his confidence or whatever, it can be different to someone else.

Yeah, you could imagine that some riders might be over-confident, and then other riders that aren’t confident enough, so you can’t treat both the same way, right?
Exactly, so that’s why there’s not a set rule for that, but there is a process of correcting that mind’s thought, and it is a form of training because you’ve got to train yourself to register that thought, but you have to change it into the right form of thinking. So it is practice. Humans are not computers, so you can’t just brainwash them, so you actually have to train the brain using repetition and building little blocks so that you’ve got a little wall. There are procedures and a thought process for dealing with that, and that also changes as you go through different years, seasons, and come up with different challenges. But I do feel that as much as you can tell a rider what he should be thinking, or what should be going through his heat, that can go out the window easily, but if you can find a way of backing it up and proving to him that it works, that’s the key there. I don’t want to give away too much, but there’s a link there where you can prove it, and a lot of it does come from the physical side to back up the mentality that you need.