Trainer talk with....Dr. Jeff Spencer, Part 1
By Tim Crytser
Jeff Spencer trains not only one of the most popular athletes in the world, Lance Armstrong; he is also heavily involved in our sport training Chad Reed and Nathan Ramsey. Jeff was an Olympic athlete back in the day, has more degrees than a thermometer and has been involved in the sport of MX for a very long time. We decided to give Jeff a call to pick his brain and find out how he trains Chad and Nathan for the worlds most demanding sport. This is what he had to say.
Racer X: Jeff, first off I would like to thank you in advance for taking the time to sit with me and discuss the all important topic of training. To get started, I know you have been in the training business for a long time, give me the short story version of your background and how you got into MX training?
Jeff Spencer: Well, I was an Olympic cyclist with a masters degree in Exercise Physiology and have always been interested in conditioning in other sports and one of my neighbors, Bruce Burness, the Ohlin suspension expert back in the late 70’s and early 80’s and I were discussing the conditioning demands of motocross after I had just seen the 1978 USGP at Carlsbad that weekend and was really interested in what they did to prepare for racing. Bruce told me what they did and I saw quite a disconnect between the demands of motocross and what the actual training programs for the riders were. Bruce talked with a person at American Honda in ‘79 with regard to my comment and we discussed the idea of me coming on board to work with the team to create a formalized approach to improve the fitness of the riders so that they could ride the motorcycle to the fullest of their capabilities for the entire moto. That started a four year relationship with American Honda.
And the rest is history.
Yep, the rest is history with many great moments and friendships that I will cherish forever.
So, how did you hook up with Chad Reed?
Chad was introduced to me through his agent, Bob Moore, who I worked with back in 1994 when Bob won his 125 GP World Championship and Bob and I have remained great friends since that time. Chad had a shoulder injury that Bob felt I could help with, since injury prevention and management are areas that I am very passionate about. So, what started out as treating an injury evolved into my working with Chad full time.
Who else do you work with in MX?
I also work with Nathan Ramsey who’s a good friend of Chad’s and his next door neighbor.
What exactly does your job entail being Chad and Nathan’s trainer? Do you set their day-to-day schedule and things like that or are you just there for guidance?
My end point is to improve their performances, reduce injury risk, accelerate injury recovery and extend their careers. To do that involves creating and adapting their training programs from week to week throughout the entire year. Elements contained in the program include strength, endurance, flexibility and motorcycle training, injury prevention, injury management, nutrition and developing the capacity to sustain an entire season and career at the highest performance level. We are always adapting and improving the program. I think that one of the most important things is not who you train with but what you do and how you do it. The body only understands what you do. Accuracy of training for the individual is the most important element. An important characteristic of becoming a champion is being self motivated. It’s awesome spending time with them because they’re motivated, great people and we have a lot of fun beating each other up in competitive situations. We talk on the phone a lot making little corrections and amendments to the training program as we go through the training day and week. As a matter of fact, I just got off the phone with Chad 5 minutes ago. There’s a lot of discussion between us about what the training issues are and once identified I tell them my opinion for the day or weeks training based on what I consider the best solution for the circumstances.
Currently, the great athletes in MX, namely Ricky, Chad and last year Bubba were lapping sometimes up to third place and just killing the rest of the field. Do you attribute this to superior talent and superior desire or lack of ability and effort from the other riders?
Talent, will, perseverance, good planning, great training, knowing how to win and evolution are what determine racing success. This year’s difference between the top riders and the rest was all about the top riders again raising the bar higher than their competition. They knew that to beat each other they had to take their game to a higher level which forced them to be innovative in finding the elusive 1-2% that’s the difference between winning and losing at their level. To find that small percentage often takes 10 times as much effort, skill and creativity to find than most people are willing to give because it requires stepping out of the box and discarding things that were once successful that will not work now.
As far as lack of ability and effort go they’re modifiable personality traits but require a very serious long term commitment from the rider to permanently turn around. I’ve very rarely, if ever, seen a lazy rider develop the motivation necessary to be consistent top performer.
I think the most important question is what is a person willing to do to get to where they want to go? Chad and Ricky are willing to do whatever it takes, without hesitation, to reach their goals. It’s all about commitment and having and executing the right plan. Talent, in fact, can be a curse. We’ve all seen very talented riders who never made it because they never developed their talent by cultivating a winning mindset.
Let’s talk a little about what Chad and Nathan do to get into such great shape. Do they get the majority of their conditioning from pounding out lap after lap or is supplemental training the key to their conditioning?
Balanced cross training is the only way to go. It’s not possible to ride hour after hour day after day and develop the full range of fitness necessary to consistently perform well. Training must be balanced with recovery to let the teardown from training rebuild the body to a higher level of conditioning. The key is to address all the fitness variables required to excel on the motorcycle when it counts; on the race track. And that involves elements of riding, weight training, cardiovascular cross training, flexibility training and recovery. As far as how much time Chad or Nathan spend on the bike versus the gym or bicycle that changes day to day and week to week. Every week has its own best scenario and we build the week’s program based on the week’s best scenario considering all the things that have to be done including travel, testing, PR, open riding and supplemental training. So that isn’t really answering the question, but in another sense it really is. What I want at the end of the week is to be able to look back and say that we maximized the week’s potential and minimized the downside by correctly analyzing the opportunities and modifying unforeseen obstacles. And as long as all the training elements are in the proper proportions and we have met our goals for that week and that is all I care about.
I’m sure one of your primary jobs is to keep Chad’s mind focused on the task at hand, winning championships. How do you keep him focused on training when he has so many distractions around him?
At the end of the day we all focus on and do what we want to do. Chad’s no exception. It just so happens that he loves to compete and race. The harder the competition the more he loves it. He’s not distracted by things most people are. Chad is all about racing. Always has been and always will be. He has is own motivation as does every top athlete. If you need to be motivated from the outside to get things done it’s questionable whether you have what it takes to be a champion.
Sounds like a great client to have. Have you ever had a client that was just the opposite and very hard to motivate?
No, because I would never take on a client that wasn’t self-motivated. If the person doesn’t have their own motivation then they are never going to go anywhere as an athlete, regardless of what anybody tells them. Every rider has to decide what is important to them and realize they’re the only one who can do the action steps required to develop their full potential. It’s impossible for an athlete to develop full potential it if they’re not self motivated. No amount of will or talent can make up for bad planning and/or lack of motivation. We have all seen athletes with a ton of talent go nowhere and athletes who train obsessively, are super motivated and aggressive and likewise go nowhere. Certainly will, talent and intelligence play a role but the plan and its execution may be more important in terms of producing consistent, top results.
That's it for part one. Check out part 2 where Jeff talks about cycling, arm pump and offers some training advice for the weekend warrior. Until next time, good luck with your training and, as always, VT can be reached anytime at email@example.com
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