Words and Photo by Danielle Baker
I have always taken a certain amount of pride in the fact that I don't go to the gym, I like having a neck and I don't need to jack certain parts of my body up to the ceiling just to run on a treadmill. I have always thought, "why be inside when you can be outside?"
Apparently there are some very good reasons to take shelter. Aside from all the general health benefits of resistance training such as getting stronger, increasing metabolism and blood sugar control, and improvement of bone density, it can directly affect your riding season.
Studies show that lifting weights builds muscles with stronger and thicker fibers, as well as muscles that are better able to use oxygen, allowing athletes to preform better in endurance sports. Coordination, balance and flexibility are also improved. Additionally it strengthens your connective tissue, you know, all those ligaments and tendons people keep tearing and snapping. Long story short, training with weight makes you faster and keeps you on your bike longer.
A strong voice and role model in the movement that has taken us from beer crushing and multiple vehicle shuttles to off-season training and yoga, Monika Marx believes in the gym as much as she believes in being on your bike. She can outline the direct link between what you are doing with your kettlebells and how it is going to improve your riding. Deadlifts will make you a better technical climber. Turkish Get-ups will, well, make you a better person. While Monika's training is open to everyone, she is at the heart of our community and has gained a reputation for training mountain bikers; mountain bikers who want to go faster.
Monika is passionate about dispelling some common myths widely believe about strength training:
1. Athletes benefit from as much variety as possible.
"For an individual to actually learn a movement and experience a training adaptation, one actually needs to repeat the exercise over and over. The body will not adapt to an ever-changing program."
2. Balance training improves core stability.
"Standing on a bosu or wobble board makes you feel like you're working hard, but this will not cross over to the dynamic core stabilization necessary for sport. I'll stick with front squats, deadlifts and kettlebell swings, thank you."
3. Strength training will make me bulky and ultimately slower.
"Strength training with the appropriate dose and variables will lead to increased strength and power, NOT bulk!"
4. A female trainer can't kick your ass.
Ask anyone training with Monika, they will dispel this myth for you!
Inspired and motivated by the results I have seen around me I started training with Monika, when people hear this, the first question I get is, "Are you going to crush your race season?" She has that kind of power. For two days after my first training session I felt like I had been hit by a bus, a bus that insisted on a flat back, locked out arms and giggled when I boxed myself during a poorly executed deadlift. During my second session I struggled to keep down a waffle breakfast while learning the proper technique for plank.
Monika can be terrifyingly motivating for her small stature if that's what you need or she can laugh with you every time you punch yourself in the face on your Cleans. Perhaps most motivating is that Monika is not just giving you a vague notion of fitness, she, herself is living it. She is a powerhouse and not only rides bikes but has also completed her level 1 Instructor Training certificate. There is an amazing amount of confidence in your workout that comes with a trainer who does what you do.
Ten years ago, when Monika discovered mountain biking it changed her life. At the time she was a married, stay-at-home mom of two, had a beautiful home and a successful husband. In the 50’s she would have ruled PTA meetings and been the envy at neighborhood cookouts. However, for Monika something was missing. It takes a brave person to question what you have in life when society is telling you that you have it all.
Monika began training for a 10K run using the popular north shore trails and found that she loved being outdoors. A chance encounter at her children's school got her out on those same trails on a fully rigid bike that she pulled out of the garage. Something clicked for her. Monika bought herself a sweet new Cannondale with a Lefty—I forgot to ask if she also had switchblade helmet—and started riding regularly. She joined the local pedals and pints club and began to build her life out in a whole new direction. She had found her passion.
Already strong from her own personal workouts, it didn't take long for other female riders to start asking Monika what they could do to handle their bikes better or even just be able to load them onto a roof rack. This became the inspiration that lead to Marx Conditioning. "I wanted to feel alive all the time, not just on the trails", says Monika.
Monika became a certified trainer and over the years moved through the ranks of working at a big box gym to owning her own. She developed a natural following of mountain biking and outdoor enthusiastic women who want to be faster, better and stronger. From there it was only a matter of time before the men, impressed by their wives, girlfriends and female riding friends, started coming through the door.
At Marx Conditioning there aren't any competitions about reps, times or weight. Monika believes that competition is best left to the races and that training should be focused on the individual; the right form is more important than the number of reps every time. There are no transformation contests to be found here either; Monika doesn't care as much about how you look in a bathing suit as she does about how much faster you are on your bike. Marx Conditioning hosts an environment of support and community. I hope this is the new trend in gyms.
One of Monika's clients put it best, after being off the bike for some time due to an injury, he said "It feels careless to get back to riding without building up my strength first, it would be like jay walking on a busy street." Our bodies will compensate for a lot when it comes to riding, but it is not until you start to train and explore your strength in the gym, that you will truly realize what your potential can be. Give yourself the tools to enjoy riding to its fullest and for a long as you possibly can.