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Increase your anaerobic output.
Like many other X Games-era sports, an average run in a BMX tournament may last less than a minute. That may not sound like long, but linking aerial trick to aerial trick is as anaerobically taxing as sprinting up a steep hill. So that’s precisely how Nyquist trains for his events.
“It takes about 45 seconds to get to the top of a hill near my house, which is usually the length of one BMX run,” Nyquist says. “So I sprint up, walk down – which takes another minute – then immediately sprint up again. I do that five or six times.” If you are preparing for a high-intensity event, set your training time to mimic the duration and intensity of your competition output. Nyquist also trains aerobically to maintain a base level of fitness, but the point is that he focuses on developing the energy system that he will be using in his competitive event.
Develop functional strength.
People walking their dogs in Nyquist’s San Jose, California, neighborhood often stop in their tracks when hearing the sound of wood being ground on asphalt. A look around reveals Nyquist chugging down the street with a rope around his waist, dragging behind him a massive truck tire that’s screwed to a piece of plywood. He says this medieval sled is his favorite training tool.
“I feel like Rocky Balboa. I walk up and down the street dragging this thing, and it just destroys my legs,” Nyquist says. “People come over and try it and always walk away with a sore butt.” Nyquist chose this challenge because it blows up his quads, hamstrings, and the surrounding tissue – the main muscles he relies on when pedaling like a madman on the track.
To supplement this workout, Nyquist says he is also an avid member of Fitness Never Sleeps, a functional training facility in Santa Clara. There, he works on leg-strengthening exercises, such as jump squats and explosive split-squats.
Support injuries with the right exercises.
The law of averages says that if you perform any extreme sport long enough, you’re going to accrue injuries. Depending upon their severity though, that doesn’t mean you’ll get knocked down for good. Nyquist for one is still going strong despite the complete absence of one ACL.
He says that the key to working through injuries is no big secret: Stay fit overall, but focus on body-weight exercises that strengthen the various muscles and tendons that surround an injury so that it is stabilized. He cites Rob Darden, who tore both ACLs, as someone who has helped him intelligently deal with his own knee tear. “At one point in his life, Rob was a little overweight. But he really got focused. He showed me that I could still do what I do, even with my injury,” Nyquist says. “I’ve been riding without my ACL for a while now, but I could only do that by supporting the muscles around the area.”
Strike the right balance between types of workouts.
Engaging in a variety of aerobic training methods reduces the chance of acquiring an overuse injury. At the same time, it conditions muscle groups that might be neglected when focusing on just one form of cardio. Think about it: In an explosive sport like BMX, you don’t want the slight build of a marathon runner, nor the larger upper body and slimmer legs of a swimmer. If the aerobic exercise itself isn’t your sport, then you want to stay aerobically fit through a variety of training types, while maintaining a balanced physique.
Nyquist says he has completed two Olympic-length triathlons through the Lava Man series. It’s not surprising that he noticed a massive increase in his in-event stamina while training for them. “Each event [running, biking, swimming] had its own benefit. Swimming got me in amazing shape. The only downside was that I was really losing body weight – I need some of that armor for when I fall!” he says. The goal is to strike a balance between the benefits of establishing an aerobic base and keeping the muscle mass required for a particular sport.
Stick to food classics when you're on the road.
“I usually eat pretty clean, but it’s more of a challenge when I’m on the road,” Nyquist says. That’s an issue with most athletes, who tend to spend long stretches on tour buses, and in and out of hotel rooms. Ryan’s solution is to go with the basics: “A lot of eggs in the morning with fresh fruit and vegetables.” Besides packing plenty of protein and nutrients, that streamlined breakfast menu has the advantage of being almost universally available, unlike most specialized “healthy” foods. While it’s self-evident that eating a clean diet is good for you, Nyquist says that it’s really about discipline – holding yourself accountable for making commonsense nutritional choices.
Nyquist says he is also a fan of smart supplementation, and in particular likes Pre-Race Formula by SFH. “Rob Darden is pretty connected in the fitness world, and he hooked me up with it,” he says. “I drink one of those 20 minutes before I go and I’m ready – it gives me that extra little boost of energy I need.”
If your job is to launch your body into the air, upside down, over a stretch of concrete, physical fitness and proper nutrition will only get you so far. According to Nyquist, at the moment of competition, full-on commitment to carrying out your plan is a must. He knows exactly what he’s going to do as he prepares to drop in: “I feel a seriousness come over me. I think to myself, You didn’t come here for nothing. Now’s the time,” he says. The same could be said for any major challenge you will undertake.
Nyquist says that his friends chuckle when he drags his finger through the air, tracing out his route before beginning his run. “I learn the run and I learn what is possible given the design. You have to land perfectly after each hit or you lose your momentum. Basically, a lot of what this sport is, is studying,” Nyquist says. He may know exactly how he will hit each ramp over a month before he drops into a run, or he may end up debating what tricks he will perform up until the night before his competition. But the point is: When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Even if you’ve planned up until the last second, there’s a threshold that, once crossed, demands the mental discipline to (perhaps paradoxically) surrender to what must be done. To us, that’s not only solid BMX advice, but life advice, too.
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