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Training for MTB

The 40 Year-Old Gym Virgin

Words Deniz Merdano
Photos Deniz Merdano
Date Oct 27, 2021
Reading time

Before November of 2020, I had never set foot in a gym. I was 38 years old and I wasn’t born into an athletic family; neither of my parents participated in competitive sports. Heck, my father injured himself watching football (not the American kind) so playing was definitely out. We went on hikes occasionally but living in a big city meant limited access to pristine nature and little priority was put on fitness.

Despite the absence of athletic discipline, I wasn't a lazy piece of lard, as I managed to have various adventures on my bikes growing up. I moved a lot and often. Found it difficult to stay still enough to get a haircut. I ran away from home at age 5, only to return for snacks and a bathroom break not long after.

I don’t remember seeing a gym anywhere in the neighbourhoods of suburban Istanbul, where I was born and raised. It just wasn't part of the culture. Our form of exercise was trying to catch a city bus at full sprint or making a long jump for the passenger ferry that took you from Europe to Asia. Metropolitan olympians we were, trying to navigate the daily city-anxiety olympics.

Before Bond, I weighed 148 lbs at 5'9" Would the training change my weight? Would it affect my times? Will it make me taller?

Then I started biking on the North Shore in the early 2000s; not only mountain bikes but also bmx and road bikes. It wasn't until mountain biking became my main sport that I started getting seriously hurt on a bicycle. The list of injuries that befall riders on the North Shore can be thought of as mountain biker’s bingo. The numbers are called at random so you need to practice, train, and strengthen yourself out of the game, which moves faster than the human body can progress. When the probability of injuring yourself is this high, I figured I should try to get some insurance so I can chase the sport's elites down the side of darkness with a heavy camera pack.

I reached out to Jason Bond of Bond Strength Training to join his 6 month MTB Dryland training program. A little background on Jason is that he not only shares the last name of a certain secret agent; he has just as many tricks up his sleeve as the double 0 himself. With a background in BMX freestyle and racing, Jason is no stranger to the hours of cardio and strength training it requires to compete at a high level. He is not much taller than 5’9” but you couldn’t knock him over if you tried.

Bond developed the MTB Dryland program to help local racers accelerate their training regime in the winter. You may know some of his previous clients from the World Cup circuit: Henry Fitzgerald, Daniel Shaw, Ben Wallace, and quite a few more have benefited greatly from Jason’s program. I figured with a resumé like that, he could easily turn a Regular-Joe like me into a Fitter-Joe that can take a beating. (Sorry Joes)

When I told Jason I’d never been to the gym before, he didn't believe me. He knew that I wasn’t particularly slow going up or down the mountain. As a matter of fact, I am quick for a guy who carries lots of gear chasing some very fast people for the sake of photos.

I expressed my interest in upper-body strengthening and lots of core work during our time together. The skinny top, wide thigh was working out fine but I wanted a more well balanced body that can steer a big bike around while hauling 30lbs of camera crap. That is where I struggled the most. Holding on to the bike for longer descents while being pulled from side to side by a heavy pack.

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I would love to do more chin-ups at home, but logistics won't allow for a permanent bar


I was planning to ride through winter and record my progress, turning fatness into fitness, but I also wanted to set a tangible goal I could achieve. 100 pushups in one go was a thought, but those got really hard on the wrists because of couple of radius fractures. Instead I decided to pick a low trail on Seymour that had a mix of all the elements that make riding on the Shore fun. Apart from mandatory skinnies, the trail has both cardio, tech and speed built into it. I figured it would be a good test base.

I wasn't sure if I was going to measure and compare my descent times or average heart-rate going down. I figured there might be a plateau, when I wouldn't be able to lower my time any further, but perhaps I'd be able do the whole thing with a lower average heart rate. Measuring times isn't highly accurate on GPS devices, but heart rate is easy enough to read throughout the whole ride.

Jesse Melamed's 2016 time on the trail is still the KOM (4:19) and the fastest time in 2021 is 14 seconds off that. I do not subscribe to Strava and do not intend to just to further pick the statistics apart. I got 50 seconds off of Melamed's time at my best effort.

My process was to ride up to the trail from my house, which takes 40 minutes at medium pace and 36 minutes full gas. All the timing has been done on the 160-130mm Forbidden Druid which delivers a great balance of climbing and downhill performance. Weighing 35lbs, it is no XC rabbit and getting it to the top is always a challenge when you are trying to move quick.

Before Bond, I weighed 148 lbs at 5'9" Would the training change my weight? Will it affect my times? Will it make me taller?

I rolled my pants up to see if there was much damage, I was shocked to see my tibia staring back at me.

Holy shit, going to the gym is time consuming! Not that you need to be in the gym for hours at a time but the commute, work-out, and recovery all take time. There is a reason a lot of these training programs happen very early in the morning or later in the evening.

After a long day of bike-shop-work or shooting photos on the hill, heading to the gym was literally be the last thing on my mind so I needed to remove barriers. I opted for the hour-long 8:00 am session. The warm ups were basic, and involved couple of cool positions that I hadn't thought about before:

The Founder

Alternating hand wall pushups


A general inventory check with the leg and shoulder warm up meant that we could direct the workout around a certain joint or muscle issue. I appreciated this flexibility. Jason was very conscientious about checking in with each of us to see how were feeling before we started.

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I kept the bike consistent for timing myself even though I had two other bikes I was testing.

Slow is fast

First few weeks of the program was tiring. There were alot of rapid, explosive moves that seemed likely to benefit a hockey player more than a cyclist but the idea was to simulate the agility and sudden directional inputs that are required continuously on the trail. Fighting the handlebars to stay on track requires constant effort and faster you go, more intense the fight.

My legs and hamstrings were quite sore, and the size and shape of baseballs. Not to the "can't get off the can" kind of sore, but I was walking funny for sure. The massage gun got to do overtime for a few weeks. (I use a Theragun and I love it to pieces).

The base fitness and cardio were also important to supplement the workout in the gym, so I did some miles on the Tacx trainer at home, focusing mostly on Zone 1 and 2 workouts. If the weather was bad, 30-45 mins on the trainer was all I could bear for the day.

And what did I observe? I got slower and slower on my trail, on the way up and down. It was annoying to say the least. I was just too tired on the days I could go ride to push the limits. I would go to the gym, come home and eat as much as I could. Then I'd go for a quick spin to test the trail and maybe even do a photo session for NSMB. It didn't feel possible or sustainable. I didn't think it was fair to share my riding day with the gym. I wanted to ride, not go to the gym. Hoping the gym would eventually allow me to ride faster, kept me on track.

Then on Dec 28th I crashed, hard. I was tired and distracted. I couldn't hold on to my bars anymore and I fell on an easy section and exploded shin first onto a rock. Apart from mild pain, anger and humility, I didn't feel terrible. I rolled my pants up to see if there was much damage and was shocked to see my tibia staring back at me.

I gathered myself up and rode the rest of the trail home pretty freaking quick. I knew this would set me back a few weeks at the very least. Gym would be difficult with 9 stitches on the leg as too much pressure would pop the sutures pretty easily.


Jason with "the Founder" I find this position to be a great first move to get going in the Gym.

As you can imagine. I had some time to reflect on my stupidity and I would have yet another opportunity to do so later. Happy to not to have broken anything, I was back on the bike two weeks later when the stitches came out.

I became more aware of the importance of checking in with myself if I was too tired before a ride. It isn't always clear but I can detect signs of sloppy riding more easily now. Backing off the gas or riding around some features is harder on my ego but easier on my body.

During my downtime, Jason and I focused on upper body and core work. Push-ups and 3 minute planks were the main course. I slowly eased my self back into full program by late January. The confidence was building and I was feeling better on the bike day by day. And then on February 14th riding in snow, having one of the best rides of the last 5 years, I crashed again.

To be continued...

Deniz Merdano

Photographer and Story Teller



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+5 Deniz Merdano Andrew Major Pete Roggeman jason@bondtraining Zero-cool
YDiv  - Oct. 27, 2021, 12:26 a.m.

Yikes!! That gash looks nasty.

And that is the reason why I wear shin pads too, no matter how dumb I look in them.

Usually they're covered by my pants though, because one must always stay looking cool when passing by strangers that they probably won't see again.


+3 Pete Roggeman YDiv jason@bondtraining
Deniz Merdano  - Oct. 27, 2021, 1:17 a.m.

It was disgusting but surprisingly not painful. The healing pains set in after a week but never in the debilitating magnitude.

I was wearing my 7idp sam hill pads at the time of the crash. I had to cut the left side off my leg which hurt emotionally as the inventory was low. I imagined pad like the sam hills would have extended low enough to prevent a damage like this, but i was wrong. 

Pants definitely did their job of keeping the debris out of the wound, which would have been a nightmare to clean.


+3 YDiv Zero-cool Kerry Williams
Hbar  - Oct. 27, 2021, 6:48 p.m.

I mean, your shin was unfortunate and all, but was the Druid ok? :)


Deniz Merdano  - Oct. 27, 2021, 10:23 p.m.

Binned the enve bars because of a sizable gauge near the stem. Also a decent sized scratch on the deity stem face plate. Which hurt the most!


+1 Timer
YDiv  - Oct. 27, 2021, 11:15 p.m.

I can imagine pretty soon people will start RideWrapping their entire cockpit to protect against OTBs haha.

Maybe we need to RideWrap tires too, those punctures and tire slashes are pretty pesky...


Timer  - Oct. 28, 2021, 12:48 a.m.

There are people who would argue that it is never a bad idea to bin Enve bars, whether they are gauged or not.

[Edit:]Nothing personal against Enve, just riffing on their reputation which they have worked hard on over the last few years. Mostly with the rims, though.


Deniz Merdano  - Oct. 28, 2021, 1:59 a.m.

Glad to not be one of those people. 

I didn't have any issues with the M6 31.8bars before the crash. They never felt harsh or unfamiliar. They were quite comfortable too. I was upset to have damaged them. If the scarring wasn't as close to the stem, I would have kept using them too.

+2 jason@bondtraining Boomshakalaka
Agleck7  - Oct. 27, 2021, 4:28 a.m.

A nice little hole in my shin on yesterday’s ride has me looking for a good shinpad. Any recommendations?


+3 jason@bondtraining YDiv Jerry Willows
DanL  - Oct. 27, 2021, 9:24 a.m.

Race Face flanks have saved me from several trips to the ER, bonus is also that they are open back so can be put on without removing shoes. They are a little burlier in that way, especially compared to Sam Hills


+1 DanL
YDiv  - Oct. 27, 2021, 3:07 p.m.

As Dan mentioned, Flanks are a pretty good option.

But somehow those damn rocks (or pedals) will always find a way to slice your leg open wherever it's exposed. My previous shin pads left a 1 inch gap between them and my kneepads, and as luck would have it, a root slipped straight through and gave me a real good bruise/cut.

If you want really good coverage, I think ION has a full leg version (although pricey!)

Soccer shin pads are great if you can get them to overlap slightly with your kneepads.

I'm currently on a pair of POC shin pads, but I think they discontinued those ages ago.


+3 jason@bondtraining Pete Roggeman Kerry Williams
Cr4w  - Oct. 27, 2021, 8:32 a.m.

So you opted to do the thing that's going to make you look better, function better, feel better, be more crash resistant, sick less often and able to kick ass much deeper into your life? Sounds like a good choice!


+3 jason@bondtraining Pete Roggeman Cr4w
Deniz Merdano  - Oct. 27, 2021, 10:34 a.m.

It sure is a no brainer when you think about it that way! 

The strength progression is not as parabolic as I imagined it would be.

I wanted to get stronger right away. Second part will cover more of this but the fruits of the gym labor is not immediately apparent.


Cr4w  - Oct. 28, 2021, 2:25 p.m.

Real strength gains take a while to achieve by the numbers in the gym, and even longer to solidify in such a way as to be apparent while riding. Gym performances need to be replicated consistently over time to become 'settled'. The longer you can be consistent with the training the more permanent those gains become, effectively raising your baseline. But it takes time. 

I find metabolic training finds notable improvement within a few sessions but comes off easily too. 

The trick is to never stop. I find the older I get the quicker gains come off. It's easier to stick to the plan but with an extra rest day or a workout at half intensity as required. 

And if you haven't already, do a session a week that's just movement and patterning - yoga, pilates, stuff like that.


+4 Deniz Merdano jason@bondtraining Pete Roggeman Andy Eunson
SixZeroSixOne  - Oct. 27, 2021, 10:27 a.m.

So I tried to do some "Stick 'em ups"...not a chance that I can get my elbows against the wall in the vertical (position 4). Is that the aim??

If so, I guess I gotta work on my flexibility!


+2 jason@bondtraining Pete Roggeman
Deniz Merdano  - Oct. 27, 2021, 10:36 a.m.

That's the goal! It's a tough move that improves your shoulder flexibility to the max. 

I love to hate it..


Andy Eunson  - Oct. 27, 2021, 1:25 p.m.

I can do it. Barely. But my trainer had me doing these a while ago. The take away from this article should be that gym time is important for all athletes and you need a trainer of some sort to assess your strengths and weaknesses to properly target your training regime. When people are young they often don’t think they need to “cross train” in the gym. Elite athletes all do this. We have ski cross athletes stay with us often and thy hit the gym almost daily. You can’t just ski or just ride if you want to be elite. Or if you want to ride for most your life. Working at a desk on a computer all day is really bad. But then only riding can also be just as bad. Overuse of some muscle groups and underuse of others, poor bike fit and postural issues.


Timer  - Oct. 27, 2021, 2:11 p.m.

I started going to the gym in my mid-20s specifically to balance the amount of XC riding I did. Turned out to be a good thing, even if the benefits were mostly making themselves known in areas unrelated to bike riding.

But it's true that the time investment is significant. Once responsibilities start piling up in life, the regimes which require hours of training 3+ times a week become unrealistic. Especially if you still want to do any actual riding.


+5 jason@bondtraining Pete Roggeman Deniz Merdano Andy Eunson Kerry Williams
Dave Smith  - Oct. 27, 2021, 11:41 a.m.

I've found that the gym is necessary and just a function of getting older. I have chronic pain and weakness at this point in my riding life so every time I slip off the daily home program and or the regular gym rat program and/or yoga practice and add heavy periods of slinging a camera bag I can guarantee a few months of rehab and expensive physio treatments.


+2 Timer Dave Smith
Deniz Merdano  - Oct. 27, 2021, 1:02 p.m.

Mountain Biker Photographer specific training program coming right up. Squats with a monkey on your back!

Is it weird that I am good friends with my Physio?


+2 Deniz Merdano Cr4w
Dave Smith  - Oct. 27, 2021, 1:27 p.m.

I make fast friends with my whole team of physio peeps!


+1 Derek Baker
Cr4w  - Oct. 28, 2021, 2:27 p.m.

You're in here again? What did you do to yourself this time??


+3 jason@bondtraining Pete Roggeman Deniz Merdano
KavuRider  - Oct. 27, 2021, 11:50 a.m.

Gym time is so important for riding. I am not a gym rat, but I spent a solid year doing an hour of free weights 3-4x week. Mostly the big moves (squat bench deadlift) with smaller stuff in between. Made a HUGE difference in how I felt and how I rode.

I have been slacking for a while and really need to get back to it. I have lost a lot of flexibility, my posture is starting to suck again and I don't have the same control/power on the bike. With all of the injuries I have racked up, combined with getting older, it is crucial to add some weight training and stretching.


+1 Deniz Merdano
jason@bondtraining  - Oct. 27, 2021, 12:23 p.m.

Hey Deniz, and, thank you for posting this article. It's been a blast seeing Deniz' progression in the gym and I can't wait to see the successive article(s) from him on the subject. I wanted to spill the beans on one aspect of the story line....I have yet to figured out how to make Deniz and myself taller...but I haven't given up and I feel like this might be the winter. In the meantime if you're seeking to improve your strength and power on the bike, as well as add new levels of resilience to your riding I ask that you consider joining Deniz and I for this 2x week, 6-month group program- registration for the 2021/22 edition of the program is open. 

The North Vancouver program, in its 13th edition, starts this Tuesday Nov 2nd. 

AND we're excited to announce the addition of the South Surrey edition. The start date for South Surrey is Monday November 22nd. 

Program details and registration at

See you on the trails!


+2 Deniz Merdano jason@bondtraining
Mark  - Oct. 27, 2021, 1:17 p.m.

Is it okay for me to gloat after having sung the benefits of strength training for mtb'ers for what, maybe 20 years or more now? If we're going to be 100% honest, some form of resistance training is something everyone should do at least a minimum of 3x/wk no matter what other activities you do or don't do.


+1 Mark
Deniz Merdano  - Oct. 27, 2021, 1:20 p.m.

It is so difficult to develop the habit from after 38 years of age.. 

I struggle with it... 

I have been off my gym routine for the past couple of weeks due to travels and I can feel my core strength suffering greatly..


+1 jason@bondtraining
Mark  - Oct. 27, 2021, 1:34 p.m.

Yeah, developing any new habit later in life, unless one has a strong passion or incentive for it, is difficult. It's part of the reason I support QDPE (quality daily physical education) in K-12 that includes some form of resistance training. Developing those habits through kids formative years makes a huge difference in long term adherence and health outcomes.

I find for adults, the key to maintaining  some sort of resistance workout is attaching it to social interaction and trying to make it fun. So I think for a lot of people routines that are less routine and more like play will produce better results. So do things that make you feel like a kid again or introduce challenges that are interesting. Things like gymnastics and parkour or have those types of movements in them are great because they are very similar to the type of "free play" that most kids do when they're young - things like climbing a tree, monkey bars, jumping over a puddle, etc. Over the years I've probably recommend more people do something other than a standard strength training program or do a minimal level of resistance training to complement their other activities.

My experience tells me that of the people that do partake in some sort of resistance training program, less than 15% of them commit to it on a regular basis over the course of their lifetime. In terms of the general population that's probably less than 5%.

#1 piece of advice is having a training partner or two. That way you can hold each other accountable and motivate each other. It's no different than having a regular group of friends to mtb with.


+1 jason@bondtraining
Alex D  - Oct. 27, 2021, 4:41 p.m.

When I was younger, I was into heavy weights, gym-style equipment, and marathon sessions. These days, with older joints and less time, I have a pullup bar in my office door, parallettes, resistance bands, and a foam roller. It's always readily accessible, so I bang out ten or twenty of whatever on a whim. It's hard to talk yourself out of a workout when it's sitting right in front of you.


+3 Deniz Merdano jason@bondtraining DanL
roil  - Oct. 28, 2021, 10:50 a.m.

Get a door frame pull-up bar for home use. I recommend the kind that uses the door frame's molding to stay in place and is easily to remove when not in use. 

Also, get some kettlebells! Turkish getups and single-armed KB swings are great exercises that you can do at home with minimal space.


+3 roil jason@bondtraining Cr4w
Deniz Merdano  - Oct. 28, 2021, 10:58 a.m.

My KB swings were a great laugh at the sessions. But I got better.

We have some weights and a TRX at home but not a great dedicated space for it. Actually commuting to the workouts have been more motivating


DanL  - Oct. 29, 2021, 12:22 p.m.

You can perform Turkish getups with any weight or object laying around if you don't have KBs. A great stability one is holding the bottom of a dumbell and trying to keep it vertical all the way through the movement.


+1 jason@bondtraining
Kerry Williams  - Oct. 28, 2021, 12:19 p.m.

I joined a Bootcamp to help recover from a tibial plateau fracture in 2019.  Best decision my wife ever suggested to me and I still go to this day because the benefits to overall strength and flexibility, as well as learning proper movement, will last me a lifetime.  30 minutes each session and well worth the effort.


Vik Banerjee  - Oct. 30, 2021, 6:16 a.m.

I've done injury specific weight/band programs at home as needed, but I know I should really be doing that in a general/preventative way all the time. However, the resistance to resistance training is real. Not sure why. I like suffering on the bike. I can't seem to enjoy this though.


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