Mike Day, nose down in San Diego Justin Kosman/Red Bull Photofiles

The athletes within the Red Bull family are at the top of their game, and whether they’re the fastest, the most stylish or the most innovative within their sports, they know that success is earned through hard work and a commitment to doing whatever it takes to be in top form.

BMX National Champion and Olympic medalist Mike Day is no exception; he puts in as much time off the bike as he does on it, ensuring he’s done everything he can to prepare before he lines up in the starting gate.

Mike Day Fast Facts

  • Started racing BMX at age 9; turned pro in 2002
  • Earned a bronze medal at X Games 2003 in Downhill BMX
  • Captured the NBL National Title in 2005
  • Earned a silver medal in BMX Racing at the 2008 Olympics
  • Underwent surgery to replace a disc in his spine in May, 2010

BMX racing requires rigorous training for full-sprint laps around the track, something that Mike has been committed to for years with stellar results. A natural talent on the bike, he isn’t always happy about giving up trail-riding time for gym time, but he has seen the extra effort pay off on many occasions.

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Currently recovering from back surgery, Mike is now even more serious about proper training habits to strengthen his back and extend his career. We caught up with him on a recent visit to the gym at Red Bull’s North American headquarters to get some inside tips on what he does to stay in shape and be so fast.

Mike Day Q&A – Part One

How important is working out and training – all of the off-the-bike stuff – to your career?
The on-the-bike stuff has been easy for me – I’ve always been able to ride technical sections pretty well, so the big emphasis has been on trying to get stronger and faster. As much as I’d rather be out riding, I spend most of my time doing all the little stuff that’s going to help me in the long run.

What are the most important elements of your training?
Obviously, for a BMX racer, the start – the first ten cranks – is the most important part of the race. All of the training revolves around that. I spend most of my time working on my legs, getting them quick and strong.

What exercises do you do to build up such an explosive start?
In the winter, I’ll do dumbbell step-ups onto a box and try to build up some strength, then convert that into speed in the middle of the year. I don’t want to be building in the middle of the year; I want to be in my prime in the summer, so I’ll spend a lot of time doing everything that keeps me light on my feet, like plyometric exercises and things that don’t require much weight.

Proper form is key; once you get out of form, that’s when you get hurt.

What specific plyometrics do you do?
I do a lot of tuck jumps where I’ll just jump straight up into the air and tuck my knees into my chest, a lot of single-legged jumps and full jumps on and off of a box; every couple of weeks you raise it a couple of inches – you’re just trying to be light and quick on your feet.

Is it important to have proper technique with plyos?
I think for any athlete or individual – and I’ve learned this later in life – your whole body runs off of your core. Now that I’ve been injured, I’m even more aware that I need a strong core in order to have any kind of a lasting career. On any activity, I try to keep my core tight. Proper form is key; once you get out of form, that’s when you start getting hurt. 

Your top output on the track doesn’t end after the first ten cranks - you have to be at peak performance for the whole race. What do you do to build stamina for a 40-second, full-sprint lap?
I go to my local track and do full laps. Usually at a World Cup event we’ll do six or seven laps throughout the day, so I’ll do six or seven laps at the track but only give myself ten to 12 minutes of rest between laps. You think you’d be fully recovered in that time, but by the seventh one, you’re pretty gassed. I try to do that once every 10 days or so.

I also have a set of rollers in my garage, so I’ll hook up my bike and pedal between 45 minutes to an hour, doing sprints in the middle. Every two minutes I’ll sprint for a bit, or I’ll go three seconds on, five seconds off, three on, five off, to where you get a good cardio base going. Again, that’s more at the beginning of the year and it tapers off throughout the season.

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How do you maintain your strength and fitness levels throughout the season?
If you do a good block of building, you’ll be good throughout the year. I still do a lot of things through the year, blowing my lungs out and stuff like that, but not nearly as much as I do at the beginning.

How does your training break down between on-the-bike and off?
I bet it’s pretty 50/50, because I’m also doing sprints on the bike at my house. I’d rather be at the track or riding some jumps or working on technique, but sprinting is probably one of the most important things in our sport, so I spend a lot of time just sprinting. I have a start gate and I’ll do them downhill, uphill, flat-pedal, clipped-in - it’s changing all the time. If it’s a longer sprint to the first jump at the next race, then I’ll switch it up a little bit to prep for that.

Are there any other BMX tasks you have specific workouts for?
I try to do all my cardio stuff on the bike. I don’t run, running hurts (laughs). A lot of guys do squats and there are a ton of different squats you can do, but with my back, I’m trying to stay away from that. I’ve done squats for years, but we’re trying to figure out something else to do.

For core stuff, I do a lot of exercises on the ball, because it seems to fire everything in your core to keep your balance. I wish I would have known how important the core was before I got hurt. I think that could have helped prevent my back problems.

Do you focus on lower-body or whole-body workouts?
I usually focus on core and legs. I’ll do some arms, mainly push-ups and pull-ups. I don’t really focus on my upper body – I don’t want to get any heavier. I’ll spend a little bit of time on it, but trying to get quick on my feet is more important.

I’m not eating Mexican food every night, even though I want to.

Does nutrition tie into your training?
It should, but I’m not a nut about it. I don’t count calories or anything, but I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. I’m not eating Mexican food every night, even though I want to – I watch what I eat, but I don’t eat every hour and a half and drink protein shakes or anything like that…

Are there basic items you do every day?
Since my injury, my hamstrings have been locked tight, so I’ll get up and go to bed every day with a light stretching routine. I think that being a big guy [Mike is 6’ 3”] on a little bike doesn’t help my situation, so I try to make a big effort to stretch. Once again, I learned this later in my riding career; at 19 or 20 there was no way I’d take time to stretch. I wish I would have listened a little more.

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Check out Part Two, where Mike talks more about his recovery from back surgery.

Follow @redbull on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and information.

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