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Trainer Talk with...Aldon Baker

by Racer X Virtual Trainer


If you’re a fan of motocross and fitness, Aldon Baker may have one of the coolest jobs in the industry: Baker gets to ride and train every day with the Ricky Carmichael. He also has the distinct pleasure of being the man responsible for transforming Carmichael from an unconditioned kid on a 125 to a physically fit man on a 450. Any champion will tell you that it takes hard work, dedication, and a full team of experts backing you up to reach the top. Aldon is one of the key experts involved in making sure that RC remains the G.O.A.T for many years to come. This is what he had to say on training for MX.

Aldon Baker and Fox Racing's Scott Taylor flank Ricky Carmichael

Photo: Simon Cudby

Racer X: Aldon, to get started, what is your background and how did you get into MX training?
Aldon Baker: Well, originally, I was a personal trainer and received all my training in London, actually. I was with two sort-of big companies and big gyms in London for about four years. From there I got hooked on mountain biking. My dad comes from running and is a top marathon runner back in South Africa, but he had an injury, and part of his recovery was to cycle. So with that, I was always involved in running or cycling. So to make a long story short, I raced a couple of years in South Africa and did really good there but realized you had to get out onto the world scene to really do anything, at least to do it professionally. I came to America, spent a couple of months here, did a few races, and got a sponsorship here in the States. That’s what I did for another four years professionally and then retired out of that.

Actually, that was all stemming up to the Olympics. That was my plan, and I had enough points and was picked to go to the Olympics for South Africa, but then at the last minute in 2000, they pulled the plug on it. It was a big political thing. That was sort of the last straw for me, and I retired out of that. During my time that I spent in the U.S., I was sponsored by Oakley and got to know Johnny O’Mara. And through Johnny, I actually met Ricky a couple of times when he was still riding 125s, and we used to joke about how if he would just get into good condition, man, he could be really good! Then one day, Ricky approached me as I was considering retiring, and Johnny set everything up—I had actually already moved back to South Africa. Ricky got in touch with me, and he had a rough start on the 250, and Johnny knew that Ricky needed someone to be with him a lot more, so I decided to go back into personal training. So I gave it a six-month go to see how we’d get on together. I flew straight to Tallahassee, and our first year we stayed out on his farm where the tracks are and all that. It was kind of rustic but was really good, because all we did was start to fix things that he was doing wrong. The first thing right off the bat was his diet, And then we started on conditioning and strength. Basically, I was just trying to find his weaknesses and cure them as quickly as possible. So everything started developing from that, and gosh, I’ve been with Ricky for over five years now.

What exactly does your job entail being RC’s trainer? Do you set his day-to-day schedule and things like that, or are you just there for guidance?
I plan his training schedule to fit in with the riding and racing, both cardio and strength. I also go with RC to the tracks for his practice. I have been with him long enough now to see how his riding is improving and what he needs on a day-to-day basis. His mother is a huge part of how he operates each day by taking lap times and keeping his structure at the track and making sure no corners are cut in that area. His dad keeps up all the bike maintenance and also keeps an eye on the overall setup. While Ricky is out riding, it helps me to determine not only his physical state, but his mental state as well. I am basically with Ricky from 8 to 5 every day. We basically meet every morning and train, and then we break for breakfast. Then we go out to the track, and then off to the gym. And then we finish up with anything else after that.

Baker says RC's mom, Jeannie, keeps everyone from cutting corners

Photo: TFS

So basically, Monday through Friday from 8 to 5 you are completely dedicated to Ricky and his training.
Yeah, I do all the training with him too, which is good because I can get an idea of how he is coping with the training, and when he gives me feedback, I know what he is talking about.

So when you say you do all the training with him, do you ride MX also?
Not every day, but I do suit up and take it for the team—I am totally an amateur on the MX track! I ride with him on the outdoor track, but I don’t dare touch the SX track. I don’t want to kill myself on one of those things. I ride so that I don’t lose sight of what he is talking about and what he is dealing with. It also makes him feel like there’s someone else out there with him sweating and kind of suffering. I mean, it’s a lot harder for me to do a 40-minute moto than him, that’s for sure. I can’t do all the jumps and stuff that he does, but afterwards when we go to the gym, he can’t say to me, “Man, I’m beat, look at all the riding I did today and I still have to go to the gym!” Because I’m going with and I’m going to do the same stuff you’re going to do.

It really balances out well. Over the years we have really become close and I look at him as a brother to me. It’s personal too, which is nice, and we really have a good relationship. But then on the other hand, he understands as well as I do that there is a line drawn. You have to have a friendship and you have to have the trust, but you also can’t be too buddy-buddy so that you feel bad for the guy and want to start letting him off the hook and stuff. It also works out pretty well that I am a lot older than Ricky. That helps with the balance.

Can you elaborate a little on what type of supplemental training RC does and how you combine that with his riding?

RC used strength training over the years to tame 250s and later 450s

Photo: Simon Cudby
Well, the training itself all varies throughout the season. People always ask me what we do to train, and that always depends on the part of the season we’re in. Like in the semi-off-season, we do our base work, but it’s somewhat hard because our seasons are back-to-back and long. But overall, it’s quite a full day between riding and training. If we can’t get enough riding in one day, then we balance that out with cardio at the gym. Ricky obviously gets to ride a lot, and a lot of his conditioning comes from that, so we’re always trying to find a balance between the two. He rides to keep himself sharp and up to speed and trains off the track to fill in the gaps. You definitely need to ride a lot if you want to be in great shape. The cardio is structured throughout the year where we train the whole line of intensity and endurance. Everything is based from how Ricky is feeling on the bike. I develop all of his training from testing and info when he is riding the bike. Everything is based on that. And that is structured over the whole year.

So from my past experience, I have developed a four-year program because it’s based on when I trained for the Olympics, and then structured it down and linked it to MX heart rates and actual motocross time. We don’t train like we’re going to race the Tour de France or a marathon. We’re constantly adjusting Ricky’s program and trying to figure out where we need work and what we need to fix. Some areas of his conditioning will excel while others may start to come up short. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what we do, because things change so much, but there is certainly a structured plan to it all.

I’m a big proponent of strength training, as long as it is done correctly for MX. What is your take on weightlifting/strength training for MX? Does RC strength train?
Oh, for sure, Ricky definitely strength trains throughout the year. I think it is super important. I have heard of guys who just do their strength training in the off-season and then not during the season. Ricky does it all year round. It has helped Ricky out immensely just from going from the 125 to the 250 and now to the 450. I mean, if he was the same guy from back in the day and only did cardio, he wouldn’t be able to hold on now! But strength training has to be very specific to MX to be beneficial. I think leg strength is crucial. Core strength is also important since it’s the hinge between the legs and the upper body. Your back and posterior are also important. Strength training is also very specific to what the individual rider needs. I mean, a tall, lanky guy probably isn’t going to have much natural leg strength versus someone who is shorter. Maturity is also a big factor. Someone who is 16 may not be ready for intense strength training since they haven’t matured as much as someone who is 23.

Baker watches RC's weight closely: "He can just look at a McDonald's sign and put on a pound!"

Photo: Simon Cudby

You said in the beginning that one of the first things you did with RC was change his diet. Do you continue to shape RC’s diet, or do you just guide him in the right direction?
Now all I have to do is guide him. The whole first year was explaining to him and getting him to understand which foods were better. Everyone has a different genetic makeup and metabolism; it’s just how you were born. Unfortunately, Ricky does not have the best metabolism. I mean, Ricky can just look at a McDonald’s sign and put on a pound! Weight control is probably the hardest thing for him. But now he understands all that and we know what a good weight for him is. I call it his “fighting weight.” I also like to give him a little leeway with that too, to try and preserve him and keep his motivation. It’s not like he is trying to win a championship that he has never won before. So he definitely has some leeway, but we also weigh three times a week, and if there is a problem, then we discuss it and do something about it. I mean, he is married now too, so I can’t always be there at breakfast or dinner to see what he kind of meals he’s having, but he and Ursula understand what a good diet does for you, not only in how you feel, but also how you recover. We try to eat low saturated fat and really just a good, healthy balance. We don’t do any of this no-carb, all-protein stuff. You have to have a balance.

We did an article a while ago with Specialized bikes and know that RC uses their bikes to train. Can you elaborate on how RC incorporates cycling into his training?
The bicycle part of it is good because he has had knee injuries and knee repairs, so the bike is good for training with that. I think that cycling—for at least the MX guys—is the best cardio training out there.

The way I look at it, there are three ways to train for cardio: running, cycling, or swimming. We used to do a lot more running, but since the last knee injury, we had to back off a lot on that and I can’t get out of him what I need with the limited running we do. Cycling is definitely the way to go, and that’s how I started to incorporate a lot more cycling. He has really started to get into it because of the improvements he has seen. He has always admired Lance Armstrong, and he can get an idea of the type of suffering he goes through and therefore has a huge respect for that profession. When he starts to think he is really suffering, I can always pull out one of my training logs from ‘98 and ‘99 and show him there is a whole other dimension to suffering.

Specialized has been a great part of Ricky’s program. They have the most impressive bikes, and the technology they use is unreal. Ricky is all about only having the best equipment, and we are pumped to have them as partners.

Carmichael's strength is his durability. In nine seasons, he has never missed a national.

Photo: Simon Cudby

Is he better than you on the bike yet?
[Laughs] No! I said to him when I first started that I am trying to train him to kick my butt on the bicycle. When that happens, I will know that I have done my job. But I have always told him I will never make it easy.

What is the biggest thing you see guys doing wrong while training for MX?
The first thing that comes to mind is improper weight training. I have seen guys that I know ride and then see them in the gym doing strange things like using a lot of weight for arm curls, trying to build their biceps, and then getting those little things that you squeeze to build their forearms. That kind of stuff is definitely wrong.

The other thing that I see a lot of is with guys when they practice ride, they don’t have a plan for the day. They don’t say to themselves, Can I make five good, smooth laps, or am I having a problem just doing 30 minutes out there? They just go out and ride without a real plan for the day. And I see lot of guys that don’t have a clock on them. If you want to get better, you have to have something to aim for, so you need to have a clock.

Going to the track without a plan is just crazy. And it doesn’t have to be a complicated plan. It can be very simple, like saying, “First I’m going to do a five-lapper and then another five-lapper and then maybe a 10-lapper.” But it has to be linked to how they race. I mean, an amateur may say, “I hear that Ricky trains a lot, so the other morning I got up and I went running.” Well, I would say, “What did you do that for?” And they might say, “Well, I heard you need to do some cardio, so I went running.” And usually a guy like that will have no idea what’s the point of running—if you don’t know why you are running or what you are doing it for or where it is going to help you, you are really just guessing. So you need a plan for training. Just don’t do something because you heard Ricky does it.

Let’s talk a little about drug use in MX. Everyone is very familiar with doping in cycling. Since cycling and MX seem to be closely connected both in trainers that are involved in both sports and the fact that so many guys use cycling as a cross-trainer, do you think there are MX guys that are using performance-enhancing drugs?
You know, a couple of times we have spoken about this and said I wouldn’t be surprised if there were guys using drugs like that. I’ve always said that you are going to get people who look for the shortcut. Plus there is so much money involved in the sport now, and the pressure to succeed is great. I certainly hope there isn’t. But I hope people realize that even that will only get you so far, because you still have to be able to ride the bike. Hopefully that is the equalizing factor. I mean, you could put me on whatever drug there is out there and I still can’t ride the dang thing! I hope that is what prevents anyone from messing with that, and also thinking of the future, because the long-term damage of drugs is what people don’t think about. Many athletes have retired and then, when they should be enjoying their lives, they have major health problems.

One of the Hundreds of Podium finishes for RC that can be attributed to Baker's training skills

Photo: Matt Ware

Do you think there should be mandatory drug testing in professional MX?
Yes, I do. Definitely. I think they should test the top three riders of both classes after every race at every round. I think it is just something that needs to be done. The sport has big money—there is a lot at stake—and I’m all for the guy that puts in all the hard work to succeed. There needs to be testing because there is always going to be the guy out there looking for the easy way out.

Why do you think there isn’t more of a push from the top guys like Ricky and Chad to require drug testing for performance-enhancing drugs?
Well, who would you push to do that? One difficult thing about drug testing is who governs it and who would ultimately have control. Another problem with this for guys like Ricky and Chad is that they already have so much on their plates to deal with. The AMA, as the ruling body, they should have this in place. I mean, they test the bikes but nothing on the rider?

This could even turn out to be bigger in a few years when you have a guy like Ricky maybe on the way down from his career and some new hotshoe shows up and decides to take the easy road.
Yeah, for sure that would be an unfair advantage. That is why I am for mandatory testing, with huge penalties.

My last question: What advice on training would you give the weekend warrior if he has a full-time job, doesn’t get ride during the week, and only has three one-hour sessions at the gym during the week?
Hmm, that’s a good one. You definitely need to balance things out. On the physical side at the gym, you really shouldn’t need more than 45 minutes; if you aren’t walking away from the weights in 45 minutes, you are either talking too much or having too much of a break in between exercises. I think what you really need to train adequately is 45 minutes of weights and 45 minutes of cardio. That would be a good starting point for the average guy.

Thanks, Aldon, I really appreciate your time.
Yeah, sure, no problem. Thanks for letting me share my views on training.

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
    juan marco rodriguez February 21, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    what do i have to eat to be strong enough and recover my muscles quickly after hard hours in the bike. How much hours of cardio do you suggest u have to do in a week?

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer February 21, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Juan - Please join the Virtual Trainer expert forum and post your question there.

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