A few weeks ago, ex-pro Jason Thomas explained that most riders put in their hardest training through the fall, and then actually back it down and rest a bit as the season approaches. For more on the timing of it all, we called Seiji Ishii, trainer for Andrew Short and Jason Anderson, for an update on what happens in the months leading up to Anaheim 1.
Racer X: Anaheim 1 is approaching. Where is a rider physically at this point?
Seiji Ishii: We're now in what we call a pre-competition stage. It's going to sound weird, but I think it's very critical to know when to back off your training. You've hopefully already recuperated a bit after the season, maybe a few weeks off. You're well rested. Then the off-season is when you do the heavy work, high intensity stuff, and working on weaknesses from the previous year. There's also a lot of testing and riding, too. At this point, you're kind of backing off, in my opinion. It's high volume, but not as much as it was, because you don't want to be running into the first round of supercross tired. You should be so fresh that you're almost jumping out of your skin—you want to get on that bike and race.
So what's the hardest time of year?
Depends on the person, of course, but for me it's September and October. By Thanksgiving you're testing and that's a high intensity day—you have to run at race pace to really test the bike, so you can't spend as much time on off-the-bike training.
Also, the younger the rider is, the further you can push it. In Jason Anderson, I can keep him at a high volume of training much later than Andrew, who has been around for 12 years as a pro.
And that's because a younger rider recovers quickly?
Well, it's recovery, but also the mental factor. How excited are they to get the season going? How excited are they to go riding every day? Because some of these testing days are dawn until dusk, 90 or 100 laps on the same track day after day. It can get kind of boring. We're talking minute details here, but when a guy is older, maybe all of that riding and testing and training wears on him a little, where a younger guy doesn't care, he'll get on the bike and do a ton of laps every day. To give you an idea, a week for Jason right now looks like a week for Andrew a month ago.
Some of Seiji's (pictured above) top riders include Andrew Short and Jason Anderson, among others.
Coach Seiji photo
The biggest myth out there is, when a rider gets tired in a race, that he'll, “train harder this week and get in better shape.” But you can't make a big impact on fitness in a week—how long does it really take?
To do it right, it takes years. But that's not just a physical training thing, it's also a matter of learning your body enough to come up with a training program that times out best for you. But if you want me to put a rough number on it, I'd say it really takes 12 weeks to re-add some base to your fitness so you can go 20 laps no problem.
But 12 weeks is hard to find, even in the off-season.
Right, but that would be a rider starting from nothing. You're already in pretty good shape when the previous season ends. And what's interesting is the longer a guy has been around, the longer he can go and still have that base. A guy like Andrew can sit on the couch for a month, pick up his bike and go 20 laps. A rider like Jason isn't there yet—when you have a lifetime base built up, you don't lose it very quickly.
Also, Andrew knows his body. He knows sometimes he needs to take a week off and he knows if he does that, he's not going to lose that base. A younger rider doesn't know that, so he'll get freaked out and nervous that he should be doing more all the time. So they're balls to the wall the whole time—luckily the Lites riders only have to race eight or nine weeks in supercross. Because they only have half the races, they have to be on it at peak for round one. For a 450 guy, I'll tell the rider and team, he may not be at peak for round one. It might be round four until he is really feeling it.
So there's a lot more than meets the eye. Most of us will judge who has what at the first race of the year.
Yeah, and I never say it because it sounds bad, but for a 450 guy you're looking at racing from January to September. That's a long season to prepare for, lots of travel, a guy like Andrew has kids in the house running around. There's only so much energy to go around. If you blow out all of your energy for round one, you're in for a long season. So, I say I have to meter the energy use. I want Andrew at round three to wake up at 5 a.m. fired up and wanting to go to the track—I don't want to have to wake him up and get him going.
You mention something interesting. Look at boxing, they set themselves up to peak maybe for one of two fights per year. And I know cycling, which you have a backround in, is set up the same way—a few key events you build the whole year around.
Yeah a pro cyclist peaks two or three times a year. A guy in this sport has to do it 29, or even more with some other races.
Andrew Short's (pictured above) prep for A1 is much different than Jason Anderson's.
Simon Cudby photo
Oh yeah—and I actually look at the GP schedule in Europe, and it would be so much easier. They'll race once per week and then have two weeks off. But that's what makes this sport so hard to train for—there isn't a double points race or one event is bigger than the other. It doesn't have playoffs like other sports. Every race is the same. So I made the decision that I couldn't just have a guy at peak fitness for 29 weekends. It can't be done. So you have the mentality of peaking at the third or fourth round and then you try to maintain that for as long as you can. But that leads to a question for the rider. Would you rather peak a few races in, maintain that for as long as you can, and have a solid season of thirds and fourths, or would you rather just blow it out early, win one of two races a year, and get eighth at every other race? You could, say, do Anaheim 2, taper down and not train all week, come into the third race feeling awesome, win that, maybe do the same thing the next week, win that, but then you've taken two weeks off and you'll lose maybe 10 percent of your base. But for some teams, all they want is a win. One win. You could train that way. You could do it. I've lucked out with a guy like Andrew who would rather be top five week in and week out for eight years than win a few races here or there for three years.
There was a time when Andrew said, “Man, I want to win. I always get second or I always get third.” And you know what? He got that win last year. And it was awesome for him, but in the end, he said, “It's better for my long term health, for my family, to just be the guy that keeps plugging away every week.” He understands he could adjust his training to be super strong at the outdoor opener and then really struggle every week after that, but he doesn't want to do that.
Well, in this industry, a lot of teams would rather just have the wins!
Yeah and if you take a step back, some riders can do that for their whole career. You could put your body through the meat grinder and try to win as many races as possible in a short amount of time, and make as much money as you can in that short span. Or, you can be solid for a long, long time and try to make your money that way. Also, remember, if you're trying to hit your peak during the season, you get to use the intensity of the actual race as a training session—and you'll never be able to replicate race intensity at home. You have to count that Saturday racing program as part of your program.
It's crazy to think you guys can target things to that degree.
Oh, it's hard, and I'm not going to say I've hit those targets perfectly, but you're always making decisions based around this. To put it another way, the harder you push yourself training, the taller the fitness peak, but the narrower the peak. The performance gain is very short lived. The more time you spend building a base, but never doing it so hard that you just put yourself in the hurt locker and break yourself down, the longer of a peak you'll be able to maintain.
If you pay attention you can probably see it. And maybe I'm just seeing things because I'm a trainer and I see things a different way, but, you can see riders who just blew their wad in one or two races in the Lites class. They have a few big races, and then they can't replicate that every week. They look at things differently in cycling. They will literally see a 17-year-old kid and say, “He's five years out from being a top-three guy.” And they will work with him for five years. Here, they put expectations on the 17-year-old kids immediately. It's much better if you plan things out—it will help extend a rider's career.