Shoulder Season

The 40 year-old Gym Virgin - Part 2

Photos Deniz Merdano
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Find PART 1 here

So where were we?

We were monologuing about my training adventure

A friend of mine once told me that “I had discovered fitness by accident”. He wasn't much off the mark. Renting a suite from his house and working with him at his shop , we got to share a few rides together and we still do. At the time I was just trying to keep up with his rear wheel. I was basically trying to survive our rides.

The mountain biking owner's manual fails to mention this, but the sport is quite a bit more fun if you are somewhat fit. I learned this when I first built up a Banshee Rune that weighed in around 36lbs. Heavy, long travel bike was a handful unless I muscled it back into line the entire descent. Compounded by less than ideal skills, It was tiring as hell. I raced a 16 minute(for me) enduro stage on it and I was ready to sink the thing at the bottom of the lake by the end.

Faster I wanted to go, fitter I’d have to be. When you think about it….

Most of the crashes that claimed injuries have been when the bike got away from me. When I didn't have the strength to reign it back in line of safety. I would stop piloting the bike and become a passenger instead. Some crashes were just bad luck.

Stronger core and body would allow me to corner faster, hold on through rougher terrain longer and even allow for better balance over skinnies that I dread riding so much. Stability had to come partly from strength.

After the shin splitting crash mentioned on the Part 1 of this melodrama, It took me around 3 weeks to ride at my regular pace and working out at full-strength again. I ramped up the intensity and moved on from the mental distress of the unexpected crash that sidelined me.

In the Gym, I got very familiar with the TRX suspension system. TRX is a suspended, resistance training system that works the upper body and the core. I like the simplicity of the device and have one at home to use when the sessions are over. Being able to get a decent top-up on the workout quota sans weights is an easy motivator. Along with the TRX, the resistance rubber bands were readily available at the gym. The most utilized work-out was the Pallof press and the wood chopper.

With feet at shoulder width and the band under tension, parallel to your chest, you double hand grab the band and push it away from your chest and bring it back. This simple exercise, much like the seemingly simple stick'em ups, works your lower back and core extremely well. Something that again can be done at home on the regular. An old pair of inner tubes of a couple of different widths would be ideal. 29er and a 700c perhaps.

Deadlifts were also ramping up close to the 180lbs mark for 8 reps of 3 rounds. These were an 8 out of 10 difficulty for me. I had never lifted this much weight except for helping a friend move a couch down some sketchy stairs, which is arguably more difficult. But boy did they feel good! Like a wintering Red Cedar tree, I could feel my trunk getting thicker and stronger. The more I stressed my body, the more it responded to the regime.

It was late January and the weather was pretty miserable. Skiing was good and I was having fun reigniting a long forgotten skill from my childhood. I was also learning a few new tricks along the way by riding bikes in deep powder, which is not too different than the loam we are blessed with on the Shore. The white stuff never lasts forever and it requires a different set of skills to float on top of deep, loose precipitate.

On February 14, the day of the celebration of love, I chose to go for a Cam-bitious snowy bike ride. The term is generally reserved for ambitious and technically challenging rides Cam gets us into. It was very snowy day, but the climb trail was exceptionally rideable. Conditions like these don't happen often and I think we all rose to the occasion by risking our relationships. We must have hoped our partners would understand the rarity of the situation and let us play, and they did. Thanks to them!

Hovering around -4deg or -5deg at the top, the snow was sublime. The depth and the incline we were working with summed itself up to one of the most unique and joyous rides of our times. It is really special when you can lean into corners on snow and come out of the turn rubber side down!

I was on a long travel, coil sprung Canfield Balance with a problematic (at the time) MRP fork, which had developed a dead spot on the top 10% of the initial travel. It made it a little unpredictable to ride jumps but was fine in the mid and deep stroke used on technical terrain. A mere 100 meters from the exit to the trail head, I nose cased a small jump following Cam and landed on my right shoulder. I tucked and rolled and was back on my feet in under a second. There is a video of said incident that I will spare you because it looks like nothing dramatic has happened and yet I could feel something seriously wrong with my right shoulder. I knew there was damage but I could hold on to my bars. I needed to get back to my car quickly, before pain set in. I even had to skip the post ride beer with the guys.

I had to scale a couple of gap jumps and step-downs on the way out that really tested the stability of the shoulder and my personal pain threshold. I drove myself home and took a painful shower. Couple of Ibuprofens later, I went on with my day as usual. On the next day, with mobility of the shoulder reduced, I broke the news to my partner who is no stranger to injuries. No judgement was passed and she drove me to get checked out at a local non-emerg clinic.

The quick diagnosis was a Grade 2 separation. Bugger.

With time and expensive physiotherapy I should be on my way to managing a lifelong short-coming in the best way possible. Upset would be an accurate depiction of how I felt and disappointment with myself is more realistic.Two injuries within 2 months of each other was a little much to handle for my brain. But I had a great group of family and friends around to coach me through.

A week after the incident, I booked a session with my Physio to get started on the healing process. As a mountain biker himself, Nathan had a ton of great direction to put me in the right track to get back on the bike strong. We started with mobilizing the shoulder. Without bearing any load, I kept it moving with the help of my left arm and a pulley system. As it is fundamentally a weak joint, the shoulder can benefit from as much muscle mass as one can build around it. Muscle armour is strong and will always preserve ligament structure. When the tendons and ligaments give-out, the muscles will hold the clavicle together and allow it to track within the scapula.

I was motivated to get back on the bike fast. So I did my homework as much as I could. I skipped a week of Gym, but I returned with a “cautionary” sling to remind myself not to load the shoulder doing work-out. We focused on leg and core work. I loaded up with squats and a ton of balance board work and I realized how much work I had to do here.

I resisted the bike as much as I could but I took a couple of sitting up rides on the trainer and hated every second of it. A month after the crash, I went back to physio and got the yellow light from Nathan to get back on the bike. He was very pleased with the apparent stability of the shoulder. He made some disgusted expressions when he was checking the muscle tissue around the shoulder and then expressed a strange satisfaction while using IMS needles to relieve tension deep under the skin.

The needles focus on the extreme tension points in muscle groups and Nathan could manipulate them to contract to their maximum potential to force them to, relax. Bringing them to full contraction meant they could go towards relaxation. 5-6 needles and lots of tears later, the muscles felt like they had been massaged by a magician under your skin. I’ve grown to very much like the results from IMS sessions. Along with IMS, Electro pulses were also utilized to work the muscles to begin repairs around the joint.

The yellow light to go on the bike meant that I would feel better before I was actually better. This was a tricky place to be in. Feeling stable on the bike a month after a grade 2 separation meant that a simple crash or a sudden movement could tear the ligament more and grow the grade to 3. That would mean an endless cycle of half recovery. I had to be extremely careful to not get injured again so quickly. I did a few very very easy laps. Trails were carefully picked and I refused rides with friends who love a good hound dogging.*

( *high speed trail chase)

I was in good company with a friend who was recovering from another condition to have easy rides together. My partner was also very eager to take me on easier rides where I didn’t have to feel like I was after progression. It was a humbling experience to hold myself back and just enjoy being out in nature. Hikes were plenty but trail work was out of reach as shovel and pick-axe work would surely further damage the shoulder.

Around the 6 week mark, I had a ride-shoot with Wade Simmons, Steve Vanderhoek and Gully. Dropping in front of these guys on any trail on the Shore is a brave move, add the shoulder injury and the camera gear to the equation and I was nervous the entire ride. I did some personal bests on familiar trails that day. Apart from some soreness, my shoulder was feeling GREAT.

Both Nathan and Jason(Bond) were very happy with the progress and without a doubt chalked recovery speed up to the time in the gym over the previous few months. I didn’t need this experience to remind me of the importance of strength training, but the story would definitely play out differently if I hadn’t.


Windmill is a difficult one to execute cleanely

I now weigh in at 155lbs. 8 or so lbs more than I did before the gym experience. Apart from the workout and exercise, my eating habits have stayed fairly consistent; a diet that is about 90% plant-based with a slight bump-up in home baked Sourdough intake.

There has been a significant bump-up in trail building hours as well. This hasn’t been easy on the shoulder however. Apart from being an excellent way to build core and arm strength, the impactful nature of pick-axe wielding and shovel work is really hard on a separated shoulder. I wouldn’t say it set me back in recovery, but the soreness lingers for a longer period after a 3 hour dig. I am going to manage that in different ways for the future.

I stopped timing myself on the trail that I initially set out to PR. I don’t see myself safely extracting more seconds off of my already PR. The flatter bits could use some work and I will do that when I feel like I have the energy. But with the current uptake in mountain bike ridership on the Shore, these tests will have to be done on weekday mornings. Last thing I’d want would be harassing someone enjoying a nice ride by catching up to them with the intention to PR.

I signed up for another season of winter training with Jason at Bond Training. I enjoy his language and direction and it is absolutely amazing to be in the gym with mountain bikers working on mountain bike strength training. Being able to relate and bounce off ideas and talk bikes is such a treat.

I wouldn’t say I am hooked on the idea of GYM life. I still feel awkward as ever when I walk through the door but I'm sure this will change in time as I familiarize myself with the workout I want to be doing, with or without a coach. I plan to make regular training and stretching my weekly and daily priority.

What may work for me may not work for you. Find a program that benefits YOU!

As the bones and joints get older and more brittle, my goal is to be the fittest 50 year old around.

Bond Training Website

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+2 Deniz Merdano Vik Banerjee

I'd be interested to hear how many riders warm up before riding? It's a very hard discipline for me to have learned, even though it's 5 minutes long but I just want to get on it


+4 Vik Banerjee Mammal Timer mrbrett

Pedal up to warm up... Quick stretch before dropping in. Stretch after shower at home...


+1 Deniz Merdano

Yep, here too. Keep my HR low until at least 20-30 mins in, depending on how I’m feeling.


+1 Deniz Merdano

No intentional warm up here. I have been riding to the trails a fair bit. When I do that I get 1hr of spinning on the bike which can't hurt things on the trail...same on the way home.



None for me, beyond the invariably boring km at the trailhead.  The evidence that stretching provides any benefit for injury prevention is extremely weak to my eye, so you’re probably good to keep skipping it.



In my opinion pre stretching helps with flexibility and the ride quality. If you ride more comfortable and fluid, you get to crash less. Best way to avoid injury is to crash less...so there definitely is a benefit to stretching before your ride or the descent.


+1 Deniz Merdano

I'm rolling up on 53 here and I sympathize with your fitness goals. While I am not trying to be the most fit 50 year old out there...since there are some genetic freaks that are unbeatable in that department...I am trying to maintain as much of my peak personal fitness and more importantly robustness as l can through my 50's. 

I've done pretty good on the fitness end of things. I should go to the gym, but haven't managed to overcome my aversion for being sporty indoors. I have branched out so that I have 3 or 4 other sports interests beyond biking to spread out the load/cross train, etc... I've also managed to keep my crashing frequency very low, which helps since I'm not trying to recover from serious injuries often.

Keep on trucking. I'll be rooting for you! Maybe your articles will even get me into a gym...maybe!


+1 Vik Banerjee

I did set an unrealistic goal with the closing remark. But I don't see a harm in trying. After all, untra-athleticism is the new midlife crisis!

Mixing up sports is a great way to crosstrain as long as your lesser sport doesn't hurt your biking.

Thanks for rooting for me. I am excited to be on this journey!


+1 Deniz Merdano

Nice insight into the gym training and the rehab process. Shoulders are tricky so hopefully the rehab becomes maint-hab.

Most of the core/ shoulder/ balance exercises can be done at home (and even better on the back deck or balcony outside) with a little imagination and a carefully placed eyelet (if you have wooden beams) or strap (if you have aluminium). 

Exercise or anti fatigue mat, some bands and a couple of kettle bells (google "Turkish get up") are enough.

After two four to six month semi full time rehab processes (five days at four hours per day) after knee reconstructions has highlighted the important of staying 'riding fit' through using core and full body exercises but it has generated a level of dislike for "the gym" that will last a lifetime.



4 months of 4 hour a day rehab is a dedication that needs acknowledgment. 

I have days i skip shoulder workout/rehab and it peeks it's ugly head as soon as i put my head on the pillow.


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