The trainer to the stars speaks about his new clients newfound speed and fitness.
Photos by James Lissimore
Aldon Baker has been involved with some of the top riders in the sport of supercross for a long, long time now. This South African who’s specialty was bicycle racing and personal training, hooked up with Ricky Carmichael for the 2000 season and the two of them combined for a ton of championships and race wins. When RC retired, it was on to Ben Townley for a few years and then James Stewart. After those two parted ways, people watched with interest as Baker moved over to Ryan Villopoto’s camp.
Aldon’s off-season work with Villopoto can be seen in the fact that RV has never been this sculpted before. Early on this season, RV has two wins and the sx points lead as I write this. I got a few minutes of Baker’s time to talk about his deal with RV and his split from Stewart.
Me: Aldon, can you tell us about your deal working with Ryan Villopoto?
Aldon Baker: He approached me actually and the thing was when I was approached by Ryan, right out of the gate, he mentioned the areas he's got to be pushed. That’s a cool thing when the athlete knows his strengths and weaknesses. Also his girlfriend Kristen also gave me some feedback, which was awesome because you then get a fair idea of how much pushing he needed and what was going to be in place. Because I didn't start with him until November, we didn't have a lot of time to kick it in and had to go straight into it, getting a good plan together, and moving it forward from there.
What do you think about the tendency to have the trainer working so close with the riders nowadays?
I don’t mind it in fact I enjoy a lot of hands on, like with Ricky back in the day. I was with him a lot and enjoyed that part of it, motivating the guy and seeing the changes, and then you can really isolate the problems, and make sure he’s staying on the plan, doing things right. By no means baby-ing, I’m not a babysitter, but monitor him and just doing things the right way.
Well you certainly have had a big effect on Ryan, in the past he’s kind of had to ride himself into shape in the series. What did you work with him at specifically?
I think it started good because once we had setup to move forward with a plan, this is what I can do, and then also having a plan in Florida, then obviously it would be good in California too. It really wasn’t too bad, we just put him on a structured plan which has a lot of detail; from the diet, to the training, to the strength stuff, the cardio stuff, the whole thing.
Once we got thru the initial part of just getting into a new type of structure, and monitoring how it’s monitored, it required a lot from his end meaning accountability. I think it’s a good balance between the two and it basically snowballed from there.
The guy has always had the ability and speed but hasn’t been in the shape to let that really loose because that’s an area that has been holding him back and well out of balance. I think coming through that, and just a sense of confidence in your fitness and your ability, because now he doesn’t get tired like he used to and knows he’s still going to get fitter, and we've got areas that will improve through time and that’s good. It’s a real big turnaround. We just keep honest and maintaining his side of all the little pieces and make sure that’s covered.
Aldon's worked with the best and has been there for a lot of championships.
What made him go out there and spend the money on a guy like yourself in your opinion?
I think he was at the right place to where, he was coming off of injury, he’s got to prove something, he knows that you only get so many kicks at the can. Then when we linked up, I ran the tests that I would normally run with any one of the guys I start with. The standard period that I thought needed improvement, from flexibility to certain strength issues to specific cardio, to make what I call a good power to weight ratio.
You know, just getting all those lined up and just working day by day and being with him a lot was quite a big commitment from my end to say "ok, I’m prepared to do that", and we can move forward. We just started things off and it’s definitely been good. I wish I could have had more time to prepare before the season but it is what it is. I kind of feel like I've got to know him well in which areas he does need pushing in and other areas where I have figured out how to set the flame under his rear end a bit and get him going. It’s been going good and there are a lot of area that are going to improve as we go along, so that’s motivating for me and the athlete, when they see the improvement, and see how much they have in them, it’s quite a big improvement anyway. So that’s more my side I focus on, making sure we make those gains that are needed in the sport.
Yeah, I know from being around him that one of the areas that needs working on is his love of food!
Well, that’s for everyone, that’s a big point or weak point you could for him. In the past, he loves food, he loves eating, he loves having a good time in that area. You know, one of the first things he would put on TV was that show Man vs Food and I was like what are you watching that for? (Laughs)
You know, just constantly about food, even now I got to watch him because when he’s bored he starts wanting to think about food, looking for food, being in the wrong places. But the cool thing is getting him to understand why you've got to eat this, and it’s tough for anyone! He might think I’m brutal on him but it’s really a lot of discipline. At least it helps when the guy sees the changes in himself and that gains momentum and motivation, then you don’t really need to be so on him, he sees the changes and get motivated.
What are some of your general philosophies when it comes to training a supercross racer?
I’ve always felt that they didn’t have to pick up the motorcycle and run around with it, they had to ride it. It’s like the form of a jockey, being loose but having enough strength that’s usable strength. If you look at them on the motorcyle, they are constantly moving, and changing their position on the bike, so the tests I run, will give me area that I need to work on. Everyone is different, Ricky and James they had different strengths and weaknesses but my finding those and putting that into a package that is a good power to weight ratio is key. Because you don’t need to be getting oxygen into a body that’s basically wasting it up, so being economical, flexible and strong, but its more fatigue strength, is important in more than what I call brute strength. So all my gym stuff and training is all tied into getting that person into the shape that is usable strength that doesn’t fatigue easily.
We all knew RV would be good but maybe not this good? Credit his fitness as a big reason why.
Can you compare Ricky, James and RV in any way?
I see that same desire in all three of them, that will to hang it out there and win, that little extra effort that a lot of people are hesitant to push towards. The confidence to go to those areas is key. That’s when I look on the training side , you’re only as good as your weakest link, and each one has been different. Ricky I felt, didn’t have a lot of sheer talent, in the finesse part of the motorcycle, but he would make up for it in a lot of the training and preparation, to make his ability better. James didn’t need as much of that, but in certain strength areas and cardio- he did. So that was a stretch for him and that helped initially with him. And the thing is that all these riders evolve. When I started with Rickey, and when he became the champ, it changes the mentality and what you have to take on with the next guy coming up to challenge you. So you constantly have to evolve area that you see become weakness in a rider. So being around them a lot and really monitoring them helps get you through those areas.
With Ryan, I just felt that there was improvement to be made to his preparation, and especially with fitness and strength areas. Especially in the upper body area, there were areas that weren’t in balance, and it hurts his confidence in a way. There were areas we could help with that would fulfill what he knew he could do and then be confident in that ability. It’s not the same for every rider, but every guy that I work with I look for certain ingredients and its more to do with actual desire on that side of it because I always know you change other areas. Also desire and heart, you can’t train a person for that!
I do see a lot of similarities between RC and RV for sure. They have a similar type of build, and they like their food, and then it would show up quickly. Whereas James has quite a good metabolism and didn’t really have to worry too much about that. On that side of things, just some of the mannerisms between RC and RV are also similar.
With James being Ryan’s main competitor so far, how much does it help that you know Stewart inside and out?
I don’t know if it’s a big help, because obviously yes, I know the other side of things, but every athlete is different. So I don’t really focus on that, and in fact, I use that for my own knowledge and base. So I know I have areas covered that I should be working with on my guy but I don’t really use that sort of information to say “Hey I know what he’s doing, where his weak areas are”. I’ve always said that sort of evolves and changes anyways, so what I’m more focused on is the athlete I’m working with, that he becomes better. It’s more that he evolves and build him up than use other areas to demote another rider and use it as ammunition, that’s not my style and that’s not right.
And it’s also because they are so different, I couldn’t really use much from Ricky with James. And now, what works and didn’t work is not going to be close for Ryan. So what James did doesn’t make a difference for Ryan. So, also out of respect, I never want to be that kind of trainer, running around, because it’s personal. It’s been with every guy I’ve had. They’re all great guys and awesome. I do use some of the things I did with RC because in 8 years, he set the bar in a really high in a good way to tell the other guys that they needed to step it up.
Baker's first guy he helped out was RC and that worked out pretty well I'd say.
So what happened with you and James late last summer to cause each of you to go your separate ways?
I don’t really know to be honest, our contract was coming up, and he had the kind of year where he had been injured and it was tough, there wasn’t a lot we could do. Then, from my end, it was frustrating to keep a guy on the plan when we didn’t really have a plan coming up because what was really coming up you know? The whole thing with him going back to ride the outdoors that one race, I was never on the plan with that. I fought it really, really hard, the preparation wasn’t really there, it was way off on my chart. I think, I was thinking one direction and I don’t think, looking back now, James was thinking the same direction as I. It’s not one thing I can really point at that was a make or break situation. I just think it started to drift to where he didn’t think he needed my help anymore. And in the riding, he’s got good ability and when I started with him, he was in the hole, he came out of the hole and went 24 and 0, he maybe felt like he built it all back up.
I feel he got to the point he felt he’s got it all covered. There was no real reason, because when the contract was up, we started to discuss things, and really it’s a rider’s choice anyway. I’ll always support the rider and when he says I think I will go a different direction, that’s it, I didn’t really question anything really. And that’s how it went down, we spoke, and then when it came to crunch time, he said well, I think I’m going a different direct, and I said that’s your choice James, everything is good and I’ll see you at the races. I know he hired Johnny (O’Mara) and I’m sure it’s more for riding reasons, on the track stuff, but that’s just me guessing.