Just how does Greg Minnaar stay fast, focused and injury free (touch wood!), even into his 40s? Coach Alan Milway lets us peek behind the GOAT's training curtain
Words: Jamie Darlow
It can be frustrating to hear yourself utter the words ‘I used to be able to…’ and to tell anyone who will listen what you could do – and would still do – but for work commitments, family, age….
Re-living a fast and reckless youth on your mountain bike is not the aim here. However, trying to ensure you can enjoy more years of quality riding, fitness and even skills development should still be considered possible when you creep over 40, 50, 60 years of age and beyond.
Greg Minnaar needs no introduction; the four times world champion has been racing downhill World Cups for over 20 years. With Worlds titles spanning from 2003-2021, he has had a huge career at the very top of sport – and enters 2023 as a 41 year old still aiming for the podium.
This quite remarkable achievement shows that high performance in such a high risk and physical discipline can be achieved. Greg is undoubtedly an anomaly, but is there anything we can take from his approach to help us mere mortals to stay fit, keep riding well and enjoying what we do for so many years?
Who is Alan Milway?
Coach to Greg Minnaar, and a host of other pro athletes and amateurs besides, Alan knows what it takes to become a world champion on two wheels. An expert on strength training and fitness, Alan’s adept at applying a science-based approach to what really works to make us faster.
Make it routine
Greg maintains a regular training routine, and has done so for many, many years. This has allowed him to develop a huge base of fitness. Completing every session of an average training plan is far more effective than completing only half the sessions of an incredible training plan. For most of us, just forming a simple, achievable commitment to train a couple of days a week will pay dividends in the long run.
Top Tip: Routines work best when they are written down or involve someone else. Commit to meeting a mate to ride in the week, or train with them at a fitness class once a week. You are more likely to stick to this and an easy routine will be easier to maintain.
The early bird catches the worm
Greg rises early and has done a session before many of us have got up and it frees up much more of the day. Not all of us have the motivation or time to do this, but try and look for any early window where you can get it done – turn the commute into a training session, or squeeze something in during your lunch break.
Top Tip: Running is incredibly time efficient, and a short 20-30mins run is easier to work into a morning routine than most other activities. Short, manageable sessions can be overlooked but can add together over the course of weeks or months to make a huge difference in overall fitness and weight loss too.
That cliché of not being able to teach old dogs new tricks… this is often due to the old dog thinking they know best. Greg is continually open to learning, trying new things and listening to opinions. If you are a rider who has many years of experience put your ego to one side you will be able to develop further.
Top Tip: Seek out coaching and be open minded – I recently delivered a skills coaching day to a group of middle aged riders, including ex racers and high level riders, and saw more improvement than I ever expected – with motivation through the roof because of the things that had been learned on the day.
Master the basics
Hearing Greg explain that he is focussing on flat corners, braking points, or body position during a training ride is incredibly enlightening. Layering new skills on top of current ones or knowledge will make you go faster on the bike too, or perhaps using the latest workout or gadget to improve fitness. Fully understanding the basic foundations of riding and physical movement are the best ways to truly master them and lead to the biggest improvements.
Top Tip: Having an awareness on your bike of where you are looking, whether to keep your pedals parallel or to gradually drop the outside foot through a corner will make a huge difference to grip and speed. In the gym, very little will beat a simple programme involving key squat, hinge, push and pull patterns.
Quality over quantity
Greg will often put the downhill bike away for an extended period in the off season, and take time away to recover, reset and relax after the race season. He doesn’t just ride endless laps on the downhill bike. Variation keeps things interesting, and a change of discipline, trying something different, or deciding to limit the number of runs you do in a weekend is actually a good way to focus on riding quality and keep the fire burning.
Top Tip: Uplift days are often seen as a chance to just ride more in the day – with little thought paid to the quality of riding. Try sticking to one or two tracks to learn them, build up your speed on them and then finish with a couple of fast, flowing runs. Fatigue won’t spoil the riding and you will have better ‘internal’ feedback from riding well which gives more motivation for next time.
Know when to park the ego
Greg knows when to push and when to be ‘all in’ in the hunt for a race win – namely when everything is right and his body, bike set up and focus are all there. He capitalises on this and to witness this first hand is amazing.
Conversely though, he won’t get drawn into racing at risky speeds when he knows he isn’t ready, or something isn’t quite right. Where young riders just want to go fast all the time, Greg is happy to sit back when needed and preserve himself. Having a careful approach and knowing when to go ‘full gas’ is harder than it sounds but is the essence of longevity.
Top Tip: Visualise yourself riding a jump, obstacle, or section. Don’t just give the jump a go with no idea of how to ride it, build a picture of yourself doing it, then you can then try it for real.
Be disciplined with diet
It may be a bit of a sore subject, but fifteen years ago we were all probably fitter and thinner. Activity levels reduce, sedentary tasks increase, and diet choices may go by the wayside. Seeing a dietician is unlikely for most riders, but it needn’t stop us reflecting on what we eat and drink. Ultimately, we need the discipline to say no to something that is offering us no benefit or is clearly a poor food choice. A stressful day may lead to a beer in the evening, or long travel days with work may lead to fast food at service stations. Finding alternatives is possible, and discipline is the hardest thing in these circumstances.
Top Tip: write a note on your phone recording everything you eat for three days. Go through it and reflect on what was the good, bad and ugly. It is often simple, easy changes like cutting out processed food and alcohol that can have the biggest effect.
Be your own GOAT
Having a two-decade long career at the top of a sport, and being known as the GOAT, is something most of us will never know. But improving, developing and maintaining our riding in to our 40’s and beyond is something that many of us would love to do. We can all learn from the best, and by using just some of these tips and ideas you will hopefully be able to enjoy your riding and keep progressing for years to come.