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Interview: Ricky Carmichael

by Racer X Virtual Trainer


Virtual Trainer: First of all Ricky, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me about training. I have wanted to do this interview for a long time since you are considered by most to be the rider who set the bar when it comes to training. Thanks to Clint as well for getting this all set up.
Ricky Carmichael: Sure, Tim no problem.
Clint Friesen: Yep, no problem. You know I love to sit and talk training!

So let’s start with how the two of you came together to work at the Carmichael Farm. Clint was the long time trainer at MTF and when he left there he ended up down in Tallahassee at Carmichael Farm.
RC: Well, when Clint came on board we were at a point at the Farm where we were trying to do some stuff at the Farm and the one area where we knew we were lacking was with a full time trainer. Clint was making some changes in his life and professional career at that point and he contacted my mother who then contacted me. A couple of months later I met with Clint and we sat down and talked about what he wanted to do and what my long term goals at the Farm were and one thing led to another and now, here we are. That’s the short version of a long story.

The Farm in Tallahassee, Florida

Ricky, you have always been one of my favorite riders and not just because you won. I have only met you a few times and very briefly at that, so most of my opinions of you are fan based and what the media tells me. I’ve always had the opinion that you were like most “old school” riders and didn’t give much credit or value to off the bike training. And I say that knowing that you are the poster child for setting the bar for training in motocross. I’ve talked to several top ex pros who think trainers are just taking money from riders. So when I heard that you teamed up with Clint I knew my opinion had to be false since Clint is a trainer who gives off the bike training a very high value.
RC: Well, I think that times are different. People get stuff a lot easier these days. Riders make a good living without a lot of work compared to the old school guys. Let me explain it to you this way. I got thirty-thousand dollars my first year as a professional. I spent half my salary on having a supercross track built. I was dedicated to my job and was making an investment. Call it training, practicing, whatever. At the end of the day it was an investment to be better and to someday be a champion. I feel like I had to make that investment to work hard and to win races because I wasn’t making that much money relative to what some guys are starting out with today even coming out with less credentials as amateurs. So when you don’t have much and you have to perform to make more, that comes down to working harder and in our industry that relates to training. It seems like now-a-days, every one has a trainer and everyone is riding together. But for a while there they weren’t. It wasn’t all based on training and moto’ing. It was a little bit of training, a little bit of moto’ing, and having a lot of fun and going out and racing. I think that I am the one responsible after the McGrath era to turn that around and getting to where training is so important today. So that is my synopsis on why I think some of the older riders say ’Ah training isn’t that important’. Well it’s not when these guys are handed a lot of money and they didn’t have to perform to make a lot of money. They got it up front if you will. But when the economy turned down and those salaries started to drop, riders figured out that to keep making those high dollars they had to perform well. And the only way to do that is to go out and train and work hard. So that is where we are today and I can see why the older guys say that.

Riding on a rough track teaches you to respect the conditions otherwise you run the risk of getting hurt. I see some riders these days riding with zero regard to the conditions. - RC

So tell me about what you all have going on down at the Farm.
RC: Well, the Farm was just my private practice facility when I was riding. I bought the property in 1999 and that was where I rode pretty much every single day until I retired. I kept it ultra private and I didn’t like riding with my competition. When I was working with Aldon he was a huge advocate of not practicing with your competition. So we never rode with anyone I raced against. It was always someone in a lower division. But that is completely different now. Times change and you have to make adjustments to benefit your riders. After I retired I kept the Farm semi-private. Ryan Dungey rode there for several years. Ivan Tedesco rode there as well and so did Jeremy Martin. As time went on it was just something that I felt like I wanted to open up to more riders particularly amateurs. When we started talking with Clint that’s when we really opened the door. We are very select and have no intention of being an MTF (Millsaps Training Facility) or GPF (Georgia Practice Facility) type of facility. We want to be the Farm. We want a limited number of riders so that we can move the needle and you are not just a name and number but you get really good individual coaching and instruction. I think that is very important. We don’t want the place flooded with riders. I think smaller groups is the way to go and I don’t want a revolving door of riders. I want to have my guys where you are treated like family and we want to work and at the end of the day get results. We are different from the other facilities in the sense that we don't need a large group to pay the bills. We are not trying to make a living or run a business like the other places. At the end of the day we have some bills to pay obviously but really, it’s more of a hobby for us.

At any one time, how many rider are training at the Farm?
Clint Friesen: At the moment we have 8 or 9 guys and the goal is to keep it to ten or less. I’d like to expand on the Farm a little if I can that I think is pretty interesting. When we started with Joey Savatgy we needed a start gate and Ricky was like, ‘Man, I never used a start gate and I won plenty of times.’ Training and training facilities have evolved so much from the era that Ricky was in. And like you said, Ricky was the rider responsible for taking our sport to the next level. And since Ricky the level of training has gone even further. It’s funny because this guy, who created the paradigm shift in our sport towards a more serious and competitive athlete who has all aspects of life from nutrition, rest, cardio, strength and all the rest of it. But when you take him and he looks at what the kids are doing now-a-days, he is like, wow, I would have never thought of that. We didn’t do that when I was racing. We didn’t have start gates. We didn’t train with our competition. We were not doing all sorts of fancy testing and have access to all this data. So that is neat to see it from where it is now to how someone like Ricky did it back when he was racing. It’s cool to know that the sport is still progressing and moving forward. The biggest change has been with technology for sure. Back in the day all we had was heart rate monitors and maybe some wattage. But now we have so much more and the kids just almost expect a facility to have all the latest stuff. To be competitive now-a-days you really have to be on point with everything in your program because everyone is training now.

The Farm in Tallahassee, Florida

Ricky, when you look back at how you trained compared to what riders have available to them now, what if anything do you wish you would have had available?
Well, honestly I still to this day do not think you need anything but a watering truck and a start gate. But as far as a track being prepped all the time and trying to get perfect conditions, I don’t 100% believe in that. Clint and I debate track conditions all the time. I feel that if you practice on something that is totally prepped and perfect and remains that way, how do you expect to perform in a race when the conditions are less than par. I do it and make our tracks nice because it’s just something you have to do. The riders and kids coming up these days are expecting that service if you will, so that is one area I have changed and I don’t argue with them. But I still don’t believe in smooth, prepped practice tracks all the time. I always think that if you practice on rough tracks and I am not saying so rough that the track is dangerous, but definitely less than par conditions that when you get to something good, you are going to go even that much faster. When you practice on a rough track it teaches you to become a smarter rider. Riding on a rough track teaches you to respect the conditions otherwise you run the risk of getting hurt. I see some riders these days riding with zero regard to the conditions. Is it because they are not paying attention or just not being mindful of the track conditions? I’m not sure the answer but some of it may have to do with always practicing on perfectly groomed tracks where they don’t have to pay as much attention to the track. To me the key is to practice in challenging conditions. Keep it safe but challenging.

Clint: You know, it’s funny about finding a happy medium too. On one side of it you say, yea in the main event and towards the end of the day, tracks get really rough and super rutted and somewhat dangerous. But in qualifying and early on in the day the track is smoother. The hard part and the part that I struggle with is you don’t see the tracks on race day get dried out and hard as concrete. They are fresh and not packed down. That is where I struggle with things like setting up the suspension for hard pack vs. soft and tacky. If you test and train in that hard pack, slick type track and you race on a wet, rutted, tacky track then it’s all different. So you have to find that happy medium when you practice. It’s definitely a struggle for everyone.

Ricky, how hands on with the riders are you at the Farm?
RC: You know, I’m hands on when I need to be. I’m a big believer in letting a rider make mistakes and letting the rider make their own decisions. I really feel like a lot of these kids who have come from these facilities where they have 50, 60, 80 riders I feel like sometimes when they get in race situations they don’t always make the right decisions. Or when you go out to the practice track and you say, ‘ok, what are we going to do today?’ and the rider is like, ‘well, I don’t know’. Well, what do you mean you don’t know? How did you feel on this particular section over the weekend or how did you feel yesterday during practice? Where do you feel you need to improve? These are questions a rider needs to know how to answer and they have to take responsibility in their riding and their decision making to make it to the top level. If you want to be the next Ryan Dungey or Ryan Villopoto you have to be able to make those decisions whether it’s at the race or deciding what to work on during practice the rider has to learn how to become responsible for those decisions. So when you hold their hand all the time and make all those decisions for the rider as a coach or parent you can’t expect them to make the right decision in a race situation. So I am hands on when I need to be but a little bit goes a long way for me.

Clint: The other thing about that is Ricky is the technique coach and Jeannie is the day to day person who is with the riders all day. Jeannie is the person who holds the riders accountable on lap times and makes sure there is always someone there with them. But yea, especially when Ricky is around and they get to that pro level like an Austin Forkner or Joey Savatgy, that is when I think he puts a lot more responsibility on the rider for their actions and their program. At the amateur level it’s more about accountability and saying, look we have some basic things that we just have to get done so let’s get it sorted out. But at the pro level the difference between a Gavin Faith who trains with us and is riding Arenacross and really can’t handle a large workload versus someone like Savatgy who is getting ready for outdoors and is going to have to do two 40-minute motos, the programs are totally different. And that is a result of having a small number of riders where we are able to cater to individual needs. So the way Ricky looks and treats a rider like Gavin or Savatgy is a lot different than the way he interacts with our amateur riders. Jeannie is there more for the day to day accountability and Ricky is the race craft coach talking about technique and race situations. Even when we are out on bike rides cruising around we are talking about race situations and what guys are doing in their programs and stuff like that. Honestly, one of the greatest parts of having Ricky around is for a guy like Savatgy or Forkner to talk about testing. I see a huge issue with a lot of the top level riders in motocross who don’t know how to test. With Ricky he has been with so many different teams, and suspension guys and all that that he really knows how the process works. It’s great to have that voice of reason.

Full time residents of the Farm, Gavin Faith, Austin Forkner, and Josh Cartwright. Sit back for a moment and think of how it must feel to have the GOAT as your riding coach.....

Ricky, on a scale of one to ten, where would you rate your coaching ability?
Well, that is a great question and I would say that from a coaching standpoint I’m a six or a seven. I think that from a race strategy position, I’m a solid ten. I think I’m really good at race strategy and prediction, how to set up a bike for different conditions, and stuff like that. Those are my strong points. On the coaching side I feel like I am getting better. I’ve never had to coach and when I was first getting involved at the Farm I was probably a 4. But I’ve climbed the scale a little since I first started. Let me put it this way. I never had a riding coach. My mom and dad were like, listen, ‘this is where I see these guys going faster. I don’t know how to tell you how to do it but you have to figure out how to go faster through that section’. This was back in my minicross days. So I was self taught. So that is what I tell the guys who come through the Farm or go to my camps, or RCU. I tell them, hey I’m sorry if I am not getting my point across as a coach properly because I didn’t have a coach growing up. All I’m telling you is that you need to be faster through here and you have to figure that out. I do that with Savatgy all the time. While I’ve figured out the coaching part and I can tell a guy how to go faster, I don’t always want to do that. I want him to figure it out on his own because that is how I feel I got to where I am today. I figured it out.

Ricky, from a training standpoint, what is one of the biggest differences you see in motocross today than from when you were racing.
I think the biggest thing is what Clint brings to the table. He is really good at understanding workloads and how to apply that to each rider. Look, there are a lot of things that have changed and I am not blind to that. I’ve changed a lot. I am way more understanding about practicing and changing things up. One thing I’ve learned is that not every one can handle the workload I used to do. Some guys can’t and this is where Clint is really, really good at what he does. He has an education in training. When I was working with Aldon I saw guys come through the program and try to do what I was doing and for some guys it just doesn’t work. What worked for me and what worked for other guys, doesn’t work for the next guy. A good trainer has to be able to make those adjustments.

Well, Ricky, not to kiss your butt or anything but man, I am so impressed to listen to you talk about coaching and training. I’ve seen a lot of fast ex pros become coaches and trainers and not too many of them are humble enough to admit that they don’t understand the training aspect as well as an educated trainer like Clint. Plus it sounds to me like you don’t just take what worked for you and apply that to every rider you coach.
Right and I know what worked for me may not work for the next guy. I know my body type was completely different than somebody like Joey Savatgy. I’m not blind to the fact that if he is going to do the volume and stuff that I used to do he is going to have to A, intake a lot of calories that I’m not sure he could handle or B, he is going to deplete himself by the tail end of the season. So my program for him and Clint’s program for him is way different than the other guy’s programs and certainly different than if it was me out there training.

So how does a rider get that elusive invite to train at the Farm? Is it invite only?
RC: Yes, it is invite only. Basically we are in a good spot so we can pick who we want to train. We have people who want to come ride but basically it is invite only. This is where Clint is really good and able to help pick guys who will fit well with the team. We want to make sure every one can mesh together and get along because that is going to be the most productive outcome we could ask for. So we don’t want to open the floodgates. We want to be very selective in our process because at the end of the day it will be good for everybody.
Clint: But we also have camps where regular riders and weekend warriors get to train with us. So it’s not all exclusive. There are ways to work your way up to one day being a member of the Farm.

So, Ricky, let’s go back in time to the very beginning when Johnny O’Mara introduced you to Aldon Baker. Tell me a little about how that all happened.
Okay, so this is how it all went down. Basically I needed better nutrition and I needed gym stuff. I had what I thought, and even Johnny at the time, was a solid practice program. I didn’t hire Aldon for any of that. No on the motorcycle stuff. I basically hired him to be my trainer at the gym and get me on a proper diet. And that basically lead to him doing all my cardio stuff. That is what I hired him to do, the first two things then the cardio stuff kind of came along with it. I believed in his program and we started doing stuff together and it was working. It was basically just more structure on the cardio side, the gym side and the diet side. So that is why Johnny brought me in. I was looking at one other trainers like Jeff Spencer and some others and I just wanted to do something outside of the norm. So that is how Johnny linked me up with Aldon.

I know that the media has given Aldon a ton of credit all but saying saying he is the man responsible for a large portion of your success. I’ve talked to Aldon at length about that and even he thinks he gets more credit than he deserves. After all you were the guy out there on the track twisting the throttle. And like you said, he was only responsible for the off the bike training. With that said, how much credit in general do you think trainers deserve for a rider's success?
RC: That’s a great question. If I had to put a percentage on it I’d say it can be as much as 35-40%. Really depends on the trainer. Now trainers might look at it a different way and think that they contribute more but in my case with Aldon, I had already won three 125 Outdoor National Championships. I was already in the points lead in the 250 Outdoor Motocross Championship when he came about. I’d already won the Daytona supercross and been on the podium a bunch of times and was slowly finding my way. Was it as fast as I wanted to find my way in the 250 class? Absolutely not. 100% no. So in the grand scheme of things I think a good trainer can account for a 35-40% boost.

Wow, that is a huge number to me. As a trainer myself I typically give trainers 5-10% credit for a rider’s success.
Maybe I'm being too generous. As I say that, the structure just came from the gym and a little bit on the cardio because I was already doing cardio. Just different aspects of it. And of course the diet. It’s hard to tell who was responsible for what because at the time I was also growing wiser to my bike setup and really learning what it was going to take to go faster. Here is a perfect example that I will never forget. And I don’t think this came from Aldon so I am going to pat myself on the back for this one. I remember before I went to the US Open at the end of 2000 when we went supercross testing I remember saying to myself, ‘where did I struggle this year in supercross? Why didn’t I win more races and how do I move this forward? What do I need to change on my motorcycle to be comfortable and go fast through certain sections?' So I really put pen to paper and figured out what to do. So through my testing I worked on the motorcycle and made those areas that were my downfalls into my strong points or at least made my downfalls a lot less. So I also grew as a rider and as a person through that period of working with Aldon. So in the end was it 35-40% that he helped me? Maybe I am being too generous. But he definitely helped me and I helped him too. Had we been a bust Aldon wouldn’t be where he is today. All I know is I was winning before I brought him on. Did he help me? Absolutely he did. Everyone can draw there own conclusions but in the end we did a lot of great things together. If I were to do it over again would I do things differently? Of course I would because I’m a lot more intelligent now than I was back then. Was I blind back then and followed everything he said like a robot? No, I questioned him all the time. Not because I didn’t believe in his program but I was asking to learn.

On the diet, I’ll tell you straight up. Aldon always wanted me to weigh 150-152 pounds through out the year. So for supercross where I felt like you had to be a lot more nimble and really have those fast twitch reactions, 150-52 was good. At that weight I felt really good and in tune with the motorcycle. Now in the outdoor series if I was below 152, well actually anything below 155 I felt like I couldn’t manhandle the bike and plow though stuff. I kind of had to let the bike do it’s thing and I could’t force the issue. So I would basically carb load Thursday after weigh-ins to pack on a couple of extra pounds. I felt that I needed that extra strength for the outdoors. I solely went on how I felt and this is where I give myself credit. I was aware of how I felt on the bike at certain weights and I made a note of it. I would make the adjustment by myself weight wise so I would be at peak performance of what I thought and how I felt I was going to perform at my highest level. I mean I had everything else. It was just about the weight and what the scale was saying. And even though the scale was reading what he wanted it to read, I know how I was feeling. And I knew if I could put on a couple of extra pounds I knew how it was going to make me feel physically on the motorcycle.

But back to the original question. I think a trainer, especially an educated guy like Clint can have a very positive impact on a rider's success. The overall percentage is tough to measure but if I didn't believe in trainers and what they can do, I can tell you, I wouldn't have Clint around. Why would I?

Since your retirement you have struggled a bit with your weight. At that time were you just tired of the strict diet and all the long hours on the bike that you said to yourself, ‘Heck with all of this. I’m going to eat what I want, drink what I want and enjoy the fruits of my labor’?
Well, I think I know where you are going with this and I’ll tell you what happened. I got sick my last year of racing with a bad case of Epstein Bar. I basically had it for a year and it took me a year to recover. Luckily it happened my last year of racing. So I basically took a year off. And when I say a year off I don’t mean I didn’t do anything, I mean I still road my bicycle every once in a while. Maybe once or twice a week but it was really easy, long rides. The care that I was getting at the time was telling me that that was the best way to recover. Zero intensity. Just long slow rides. So that is what I did. Well, that year went by and all the dieting stopped and all that stuff. So after that year, it had been about me for so long that I decided to put myself out there for my family and kids and got super involved with them when I was at home. And unfortunately the thing that I sacrificed for that was my training. I just said the hell with it and got super involved with my kids when I was at home. Obviously I didn’t keep up my health and I’m not using it as an excuse because I could have been better with my diet but if I couldn’t go training I wasn’t going to go training and I was going to spend that time with my kids. So I didn’t stop because I didn’t like training. I enjoy bike riding and I love that feeling of being in shape. I love the feeling of doing hard days of intervals and climbing hills and all that stuff. I’m addicted to that feeling. I love it but at the time I decided to put that stuff aside and spend more time with my family.

I find that if I don’t have a structured plan to follow, I make excuses and miss workouts. I know as a trainer I shouldn’t do that but that is who I am.
Yea, I am exactly the same way. For me being involved with my kids my schedule changes from day to day. They have so many things going on and are involved in so many different programs that I feel like if I am rushed at all, then heck with it, I’ll sacrifice the training. That’s where I’m at with it. I like to do things the proper way and I can’t just train one day and then wait 5 days and do some more. I mean I will but if it’s going to be rushed or I feel like I am going to be tight on time then I’ll just take a rain check. But as the kids are getting a little older I feel like I have a little more time to exercise. I've lost a few pounds and I am slowly starting to get back in the swing of things and it’s starting to come full circle again.

Two more questions and I’ll let you go. First, who of the young guns in the sport is really impressing you right now?
Well, that is a good question. I think (Jeremy) Martin in the outdoors is really impressive and Cooper Webb is really good. I think Savatgy has showed us some stuff. He has won a couple of races this year. He finished third in the outdoor series last year and is starting to become a standout guy. So those three guys and then of course you have Forkner coming up. He is the next guy. And Sexton. So those two guys as far as the really young guys coming up fixing to step foot in the pro ranks are who I am going to have my eye on.

Last question. During your career has there been a rider or other industry person who you looked up to and has your respect?
RC: (long pause) Well, I’d have to say a lot of people. I’ve been around a lot of people. I’ve ridden for three of the biggest teams in the industry. I respect a lot of technical guys, some team managers, some of the suspension guys. Not just riders but other people in the industry. I will tell you one of the most gracious champions who has my respect is Steve Lamson. He was always gracious to me and even when I ended up beating him for the 125 Outdoor National Championship in 1997, I always felt like he gave me respect, always talked good about me, never made excuses and just straight up took it like a man. He never seemed to have a chip on his shoulder or anything bad to say. So I’ve always looked up to him for that and I’ve always said that if I ever get beat in a championship, I’d like to take it like he did. He is a true gentleman and I have a lot of respect for him.

RC on Steve Lamson - "He was always gracious to me and even when I ended up beating him for the 125 Outdoor National Championship in 1997, I always felt like he gave me respect, always talked good about me, never made excuses and just straight up took it like a man. - RC"

Well, Ricky thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts and opinions on training. And Clint, thanks for setting this up!
RC: No problem, Tim. You have a good day!
Clint: Yes, for sure. Anytime.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Steve Bissinger April 28, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Great article, Having raced as a pro in the late 80's and early 90's training and nutrition were the two things i struggled the most with. In the end the intensity was what was killing me . I trained too hard, my diet was good but lacked enough quality protein. My body fat was low 4 percent. I figured i needed to consume 5000 calories a day, that was hard to do. I always thought if i could slow down my metabolism i could store more energy. I was a true privateer no help from my parents i did it all alone.The total work load of working as a plumber full time, training and racing caught up to me. I lasted about 3 yrs as an A, Pro Am and burned out. I'm sure a lot of guys had the same situation.

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    Old MX Guy April 28, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    That was a great interview, nice job. I appreciate the depth of not only the answers but the questions themselves.

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    yamalink April 29, 2016 at 6:11 am

    Reiterating what Old MX Guy wrote, that was worth the read. No sugarcoating of questions or answers especially weight gain and lazy pro racers with fat contracts.

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  5. Gravatar
    CR500AF May 03, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Fantastic interview - The areas you explored with Ricky are the questions I've wondered about since Ricky retired. Clearly he was, and still is, a focused person with a lot to give back to the sport.

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