Elite Cyclist Marissa Axell Dishes on Racing, Coaching, and Planking

Photo:  Craig Huffman

Marissa Axell rarely stops moving. When she's not leading indoor cycling, TRX, or strength circuit classes at 17th Street Athletic Club—or training private clients—she's on her bike. A real bike. In addition to co-owning a gym and teaching all the fitness, Axell is also a Category 1 USA Cycling athlete, which means she's among the best cyclists in America.

When you take one of Axell's classes, you quickly pick up on her racer mentality. She comes across as someone who has spent a lifetime competing as an athlete, and her knowledge of the biomechanics of cycling runs far deeper than your average Spin instructor. Since Marissa is often challenging her clients with modified road-cycling training schedules, I was curious to find out how she stays competition ready.

The short answer: It's a relentless blend of hard work and self care.

Rockyt: How do you prepare for the classes you teach?

Marissa Axell: I keep a meta-schedule divided into quarters. During each quarter, I have a training focus loosely-based on the cycling season: aerobic/muscular endurance, aerobic and anaerobic threshold, top end/race pace/breathless efforts, and aerobic base training. Within each quarter, I break down the weeks and plan to progress my classes several weeks before we take an active recovery week and then re-test for functional threshold power values. 

Photo:  Alex Chiu

Photo: Alex Chiu

Strength Training is driven in a similar pattern, but less focused on "season" and more focused on traditional six to twelve week progressions through strength and power plans. I make sure we keep it fun, but avoid the sporadic workouts. I like clients to feel they are making and seeing progress week over week.

Rockyt: How do you cross train?

Marissa: I do my core work at my home studio, 17th Street Athletic Club, and occasionally I get to work with my clients when there's an advanced group that doesn't need too much monitoring. Clients think it's "fun" to outperform the instructor, and I find that the pressure of me working next to them raises the level of work/commitment. Everyone stops groaning, because I'm there doing it, too. From March through September, I focus on strengthening core: gluteus medius and minimus are my weak focal point, as well as planks. All the planks. From October through March, I focus on total body strength; primarily doing all the same style of functional workouts I employ all year long.

Rockyt: What are your favorite studios/gyms/locations for cross-training?

Marissa: I love going to my sister's gym—FIT Studios—when I'm at home in Salem, Oregon, and I love training with my partner in crime, Shannon Boughn, at 17th Street Athletic Club. Additionally, you can find me lurking at the Presidio YMCA. 


Rockyt: Are you training toward a particular fitness goal right now? 

Marissa: I train to race bikes: I'm a category 1 USA Cycling athlete. You can find me at a bike race nearly every weekend from March through September. My biggest race of 2017 is May 3-7, the Redlands Cycling Classic, located around Redlands, CA down in So Cal. It's where the fastest and best women (and men) road cyclists in the USA will convene to race for five days. I look forward to the pain and suffering.


Rockyt: What's your training regimen?

Marissa: I'm riding outdoors and racing six days per week right now; I take Mondays off. When not out riding 12–15 hours per week, I'm stretching, doing yoga, or strengthening my core three to four times per week. Plus, I keep a regular appointment with my massage and chiropractic care. It takes a village! 

Rockyt: What's your rest day like? 

Marissa: My ideal rest day is sleeping in! Then I get up, eat a big, leisurely breakfast, lots of coffee and work on the computer: planning business and reviewing data files of my coaching clients. I usually lunch with a big protein and salad, and then meal prep for the rest of the week in the afternoon. Once a month, I use my rest day for a big massage/self care day, too.

So there you have it. If you want to race with the best, you've got to train with the best, and Marissa Axell is without a doubt one of the best cycling coaches in the city. You can sign up for her classes through 17th Street Athletic Club, or follow her racing adventures on Instagram, @Axellrocks.