Inspired by chats with her fellow riders, Iona Bruce has launched a ladies’ specific training programme for those looking to get more from their riding.
Pete had a chat with Iona Bruce, rider and powerlifter, about where Sport Strength MTB came from and why she chose to go down the ladies’ specific programme route.
Who is Iona Bruce?
I am a strength and conditioning coach from Scotland who regularly works with athletes to train them for their sport and periodise their exercise to help them prepare for races or competition. I’ve also been a trampoline coach for the past 11 years.
Education wise, as well as my fitness qualifications, I also have a MA History, MLitt History and PGDip Sports Performance Coaching (you can see where I changed my career route).
What’s your background in cycling?
I’ve been riding for just under a year and loving it. I ride a Santa Cruz Bronson and a Yeti DJ. I like to ride different things in different places but Morzine has to be my favourite. I also love our Scottish trails and regularly ride at Ae Forest, Fort William and Glentress.
This year I came 3rd in the UK Red Bull Pump Track World Qualifier and was invited to World Finals so I’ve also been enjoying riding that this year. It’s so physical but has helped me bring my skills along really quickly.
What’s your background in fitness coaching?
I have been a strength and conditioning coach for the past 3 years (UKSCA), a Level 3 personal trainer (REPS), Level 2 Gym instructor (REPS) and a Level 3 trampoline coach for the past 11 years (UKCC). I have a PgDip in Sports Performance Coaching from Edinburgh Napier University.
For the past 3 years I have been full-time, self-employed and running my own business from a Glasgow gym. I am also qualified to teach others how to become personal trainers and sports coaches which is a really rewarding part of the job.
My background in training is in powerlifting (not as scary as it sounds). Essentially just big lifts which use your whole body and make you work hard in a short amount of time.
But now when I train in the gym, I train to make my riding better as well as to feel confident in myself. I’ve made my training MTB specific and it still is predominantly weights but also includes plyometrics and flexibility work. I want to make sure I’m developing my speed, strength, endurance, power and explosiveness.
How did Sport Strength MTB come about?
From the first day I ever got on a mountain bike, I’ve had lots of conversations with people I’ve been out riding with as to how I was picking up the sport so fast and how my riding position and cornering were so strong when I had literally just got on a bike. My reply was always based on the strength, coordination and power I have built from weight training.
As a strength and conditioning coach (and the fact that I’ve been weight training for about 8 years) I was frequently asked by mountain bikers how they could improve their fitness/strength or what exercises would improve their x, y, z. So, I decided to combine my job with my love for mountain biking and launch Sport Strength MTB.
Why did you decide to go down the ladies-specific route?
My clients have always been predominantly female, not for any other reason than I think they feel comfortable with another female. There are also things I can relate to in their lives that perhaps guys can’t in the same way.
I’ve also become aware in mountain biking that there are quite a few male trainers already and I don’t want to compete with them, just offer something slightly different.
When I was in Morzine this year I met so many girls who love to ride. Amy Marsh organises trail days for women and seeing other girls riding really helped my confidence on the bike. I’ve made some great friends through it and it’s great to expand this to gym training too.
I run a Facebook group at the moment of ladies who are focusing on MTB fitness training and the support they give each other is awesome.
I’d love to see a broader base of women in at all levels of mountain biking. I’d also love to see women embracing strength as a regular part of their training to help them on the bike and off it and I want to help them do this. It’s helped me so much with my start into biking and it’s definitely not just for professional racers.
How do the training needs differ between guys and girls?
Not massively to be honest. The most common differences that occur are more often explained by body composition differences rather than gender. Genetically, females may need to eat less than a male of the same size (sad times for the girls), however this again will depend on your body composition, size and activity level.
Some studies also suggest some females are better equipped to benefit from strength training than males. Bonus. The main takeaway from this is that you should train in relation to your body composition and needs, not your gender.
What are the pros and cons of doing training in a gym?
Gyms can be expensive (but they generally have all the kit you could need). And they can appear intimidating at first, but that’s like anything else. I’m sure when you started biking there were certain features and jumps that seemed intimidating but then you did them a few times, and a few more, and you got used to them. It’s the same with the gym.
Saying that though, the gym isn’t for everyone and that’s fine, you don’t need a gym to do weights/strength workouts and you definitely don’t need a gym to do plyometric or flexibility workouts.
Do you plan to offer one-to-one coaching sessions?
Until the end of this year I was teaching 40 hours of one-to-one coaching sessions every week and while I would love to do this for Sports Strength MTB, mountain bikers are all over the world and right now I’m in Glasgow.
However, now my coaching is fully online and 2019 is looking like it will be full of travelling, if there’s demand I can take my classes or one-to-one sessions to mountain bikers.
Is there one thing that mountain bikers always seem to do wrong when training?
There is an assumption that the bike is going to give them all the training they need or that cardio training is enough.
Cyclists, from recreational level to World Cup, are always looking to get faster. Adding gym workouts to your routine will do that. Although there is no substitute to riding a bike when you’re trying to get better on a bike, strength training will increase your speed, power and endurance as well as making you stronger and helping prevent injury.
That’s why it’s important to have an exercise programme built specifically for you to fit around your riding and keep the balance in your schedule.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to career in fitness coaching?
Passing the basic qualifications is easy, what comes after is hard. No two people will ever be the same or need trained exactly the same and until you have enough experience to work out how and why different people need trained in a certain way, always ask for advice from people who have more experience.
It’s also really important to know when to refer out to a medical professional etc.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
A social life. Generally you work when people are off and they’re working when you’re off! And normal working/sleeping hours. I have lots of early starts and late nights but it’s totally worth it.
Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?
Before I moved into fitness I worked in corporate oil and gas as a project planner and then logistics coordinator. As much as it wasn’t for me it gave me a good basis in organisation, hard work and experience of what it’s like to sit in an office all day.
Where next for you?
Continuing to work with mountain bikers to develop how they train, how they ride and how they feel about themselves.
Let’s face it, even the most avid gym goer won’t always love exercising, but the difference strength training makes to your physical and mental health is crazy. I know my confidence level is far higher when I stick to a good training programme, and I get so much feedback from clients in person and online to the same effect.
Exercise is such an effective way of helping self esteem and energy levels, and winter training can help stave off the blues when riding your bike becomes a bit more difficult. I want to be able to share this with as many professional and recreational mountain bikers as possible and help them develop in their sport.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
Yes! Thank you to Callum and the guys at Ae Bike Shop for helping me with my bike and getting me started! Always my parents for supporting my crazy life dreams (don’t think they can keep up with what I’m doing half the time).
Lots of long suffering friends, and particularly my partner Euan for getting me into mountain biking, always supporting me and putting up with my random working hours, early starts, and busy weekends.