In today’s interview, we chat with Arielle Martin about her career as a certified strength & conditioning coach for some of the top BMX racers and freestyle athletes competing for the Olympics today. If you were looking for guidance for your next journey in BMX, take note below.
Arielle, thanks for doing this interview. For the readers who might not know you, could you give us a high-level overview of your BMX career before you started coaching?
My parents say I was off training wheels by 2.5 yrs old and I started racing BMX when I was 5. I don’t even remember not racing to be honest, so as far back as I can remember I was obsessed with the bike. It was all about fun for us as a family but I had some early success on the state level so when I turned 10 my parents took me to my first national event to see how I would do and I finished 2nd, so from there we hit the national circuit full time. I won 4 national #1 titles in my age group in NBL and a load of top NAG plates in ABA before I decided I wanted to turn pro at the age of 15. I podiumed at my second pro race and had my first win within the first year turning pro but it was hard juggling high school and then college and a broken back injury when I was 17 almost forced me to call it quits, but I loved competing at the highest level and when the Olympics were announced for BMX racing I wanted nothing more than to be a part of that.
In the first Olympics for Beijing, I was the lead American going into the final qualifying event, I had just placed 2nd at the World Cup in Adelaide a few months prior and we thought we had two spots secured but I crashed in my quarterfinal and with a twist of fate lost both our second country position and my own spot by one point to my teammate Jill Kintner. I was her alternate and she went on to win a Bronze which was really cool. Going into London I was determined to not make the same mistake so I memorized the criteria inside and out and landed quite a few podiums on the World Cup circuit. In 2011 I became the first American woman to win an SX World Cup on my home dirt in Chula Vista and I secured my London Olympic spot with 4th place at the World Championships in Birmingham in 2012.
Unfortunately the day before departure to the games my chain came off during a training session and landed me in the hospital with a crushed liver and punctured lung which took 4 operations to get under control, so I watched the games from my hospital bed which was pretty hard. In 2013 I made the decision to put in one more year in the sport and had one of my most successful SX seasons finishing the UCI BMX World Cup series ranked 2nd overall, I retired at the series final in Chula Vista and was pregnant with my daughter two weeks later 🙂
When you became a certified strength and conditioning coach, was the path specifically to apply your knowledge to BMX?
Yes! My undergraduate degree from BYU is in Exercise Science, I initially planned to become an athletic trainer and pursue physical therapy but I fell in love with sports performance after taking a physiology class and had an amazing professor who introduced me to high-level strength and conditioning, so midway through my college education I changed degrees and started focusing more on strength and conditioning and physiology for sports performance.
I ask this question because I want to be realistic with anyone who is interested in going to school to become a BMX-specific coach because it might not happen, just because it’s such a niche demand. So with that said, do you personally find yourself with mostly BMX clients?
BMX is such a niche sport and my pathway to becoming a coach in the sport was significantly aided by the fact that I had established a name for myself as a racer and even prior to retiring I had already started coaching, so I didn’t have trouble lining up clients. I have done programming for athletes in different sports and for a handful of people just generally looking to get stronger and fitter, but my passion is high performance in cycling, I also do S&C programs for some endurance track and road athletes which have been really fun as it’s different from the explosiveness needed for BMX race and freestyle. So my pathway wasn’t a conventional pathway and it would be really hard to just focus on BMX coming from a different angle or background. I would suggest when starting, build a client base from a variety of areas to see what you enjoy and just to get established before trying to isolate specifically to BMX.
If you could outline a path for someone who is interested in coaching in BMX, on top of being an athlete in BMX, what else do we need to look at?
Almost anyone can go online and print off a certificate that says they can coach these days so it’s hard to know what to pick and choose from. Having a background or good understanding of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics is important because you need to understand how the body moves and responds to movement. College degrees like Exercise science, physiology, kinesiology, etc all contain those foundations but I recognize that not everyone has the ability to devote a 4yr college degree to it. I’m not super familiar with what is available outside of the US but here, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is a good place to start for some pathways to certification. I hold the CSCS certification which does require a 4yr degree and pretty extensive testing to achieve, but there are other courses and certifications that can be done through NSCA that are also pretty good that can bypass that 4yr degree if you don’t have it. I also hold a certification with USA Weightlifting which I highly recommend, USAW does clinics all over the country to teach proper weightlifting form and programming.
As for how/where to start I would recommend locally with people you already know and have a relationship with, one on one is ideal. Remote coaching and programming are much harder when you don’t have eyes on the athlete so it’s better to start in a place where you do have access to that. I have experimented a lot on myself too when it comes to programming and exercises to see what works before I assign it to an athlete.
I also recommend taking courses on safe sport, anti-doping, and business to help formulate your business modal as a coach, as well as some liability protection for yourself.
Is there a difference between coaching BMX racing vs freestyle, is there a significant difference in training? Both require a fair amount of explosive movements I would imagine and a focus on legs right?
The sports are very different but also have some commonalities. The biggest difference is the speed and rate of pedaling. Racers obviously have to pedal more and faster but their efforts are shorter, however, more done throughout the day. Freestyle requires the ability to be explosive repeatedly over a minute although less pedaling effort but more explosiveness needed off the top of the ramps. Both sports need good eccentric strength and balance to stabilize when landing and both actually need a significant amount of upper body and core work although most of the work is leg-based.
What’s a common injury or discomfort that you see in your athletes?
Most injuries I see in BMX come from trauma (crashes) so unlike sports of running or swimming where you get overuse injuries that are common in BMX, it can be almost anything. Recently my riders have had more shoulder and wrist problems from crashing.
I remember a few years ago when I was taking my beginners coaching program in Canada, it was mentioned that there would be a huge demand for female coaches, would you agree with that?
Yes! I would love to see more women coaches in all sports! I think a lot of women are intimidated to start coaching but there is a need for more women out there sharing their talents and expertise!
Who is currently on your roster and are you accepting coaching from outside the USA Cycling roster?
Under USA Cycling I am contracted for
Perris Benegas (Freestyle)
Payton Ridenour (Race)
Kam Larsen (Race)
Emma White (Track Endurance)
And outside of USAC I’ve got
Cory Coffey (Freestyle)
Teigen Pascual (Race)
Brooke Craine (Race)
Brooke Craft (Race)
Sophia Foresta (Race)
Zach Van Kammen (Race)
Spencer Cole (Race)
Weston Muerlot (Race)
Cutter Williams (Race)
Cam Mason (Race)
I’m currently not accepting anyone right now as my capacity is a limit, and I’ve got to focus on the riders I currently have. Sorry!
You must get approached by parents all the time to have their kids coached, what are your feelings on this? When is coaching worth investing in?
Yea I get a lot of requests for coaching, personally, I don’t take anyone on younger than 14 and the reason for that is what I do, and what I specialize in is high performance, that’s what I am passionate about, and high-performance training before that age isn’t needed or warranted. That said, coaching and instruction before that age are totally appropriate at an age matching level. For young kids, in-person clinics on the track or park are the most beneficial, they don’t need sprint and gym training regimes when building the foundations on the bike are really the most important thing. As far as strength and conditioning go under proper guidance, kids can start developing good techniques and body movement I’d say after the age of 10 but really I prefer to hold off on structured gym training until they get closer to 12-14.
Onyx Coates wants to know how to figure out pricing for one on one coaching, do you have any recommendations on what to look at to determine that?
Figuring out pricing is hard! Time is money as is the product that you are selling, so it depends on how much time and what is being devoted to the individual. My programs are individualized and I do a lot of communication and video feedback with my riders so my rates reflect that and that’s why I don’t mass-market my programs or take on a lot of riders. Generalized programs work too but you would obviously charge less for that so it’s about knowing your market and what they are willing to pay for your services.
What’s in the future for you in the next 5 – 10 years? What are your goals, where do you want to see BMX?
I love coaching, I love what I am doing and I hope in the next 5-10 to still be as satisfied with my job as I am today. It’s stressful for sure but seeing my riders set goals and achieve them is really fulfilling so I hope to continue in that and see the sport continue to grow.