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Mountain Biking and Back Pain, The Final Piece of the Puzzle!

If you have been reading my blog for awhile you probably know that I have been suffering from back pain for the last 10 years or so. I had found some temporary cures and a lot of pieces of the mountain biking and back pain dilemma but had not found something that got rid of the pain for good. I have found the problem and the solution to my back pain! Since many of you have asked I will share the cure I discovered. Remember, I am simply a mountain bike skills coach so I left the details up to the experts.

It all started with this article aptly titled Why Your Approach to Fixing your Low Back Is making It Worse : http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/why-your-approach-to-fixing-your-low-back-is-making-it-worse BTW, I have no relationship with this website other than owing to them my sanity as this article and the ones below fixed my back pain!

Note: Before doing anything to do with your back make sure something isn’t really wrong such as a bulging disc, slipped disc, fractured disc, etc. See a doctor and make sure your body can handle these therapeutic exercises before you start.

I’m still doing a lot of the exercises/stretches I have blogged about in the past as I feel they are important to this process. By process, I do mean process, you will have to do your version of my back routine daily (some pieces twice a day if/when you notice your back pain starting to flare up). My original mountain biking and back pain post can be found here:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-Pp  

The new exercises I have found MUST BE DONE BEFORE all of the exercises in my previous article. As a matter of fact, most of the stretches and yoga postures in my previous article can exacerbate your back pain if the new exercises aren’t performed first. It turns out mountain biking isn’t the pain culprit in my back pain, it is all the sitting I do, while writing articles like this and driving from camp to camp (or driving, flying then driving again!).

The main new “exercise”, lying on your back with your feet and legs up a wall. Sounds hard and complicated, huh?! Seriously, one of my students emailed back, “that’s it” and replied, “yes”. It seems to simple and easy to be true but this “exercise” is life changing!

mountain biking and back pain

This simple exercise will eliminate most back pain! Photo courtesy of Breaking Muscle dot com

For details on how to do this correctly (doing almost any exercise incorrectly can lead to more damage than good) and why it works so well please read this article: http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/banish-pain-permanently-basic-drills-to-repair-your-posture I do the above for two to fifteen minutes at time one to three times a day and always for at least two minutes before doing yoga or any back, hip or core stretches. When driving long distances I will often pull over and do this and yesterday I did between rounds of working on my bikes (as by back always starts to hurt when working on my bike).

The second one is lying on your back with your feet and lower legs hinged over something at knee level, like a couch. More details on it in the linked article above. Honestly, I don’t do the other three exercise in the article (but I probably should). The angle of the knee bend is really important so I don’t want to most a photo, I want you to read the linked article and do all of these exercises correctly!

I have also been working on my standing posture using the exercise in this article: I added in this posture exercise and now I can stand through a two hour concert with no back pain! http://bit.ly/1DWCHKD This allowed me to stand for two hours, on a concrete floor at a concert without ever having the urge to stretch my legs or feel any back pain! I had not been able to do that since my early thirties!

The next piece of the puzzle is rolling out your gluteus medius with a lacrosse ball. I thought I had written a blog article on this but apparently I haven’t. Here is a video describing this process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5KlQtqnGNE when he mentions “it’s easy to find the muscle” he means when you touch it it will hurt a bit!

My routine, I start with 2-15 minutes of the legs up the wall exercise (easy and relaxing, great time to meditate)  then I do 5-10 minutes of gluteus medius rolling on a lacrosse ball (OH, the pain!, you may want to start with a tennis ball). Then I do the exercises in my previous article linked above. It takes an hour a day on average but I feel it is worth it!

I really hope this helps you! Please post your results here or email me, would love to hear if/how this is working for you.

 

Mountain Bike Crash

Mountain Bikers are Athletes, Act Like One!

Many “casual” mountain bikers and even some racers don’t feel like they are athletes. Well, I have news for you, mountain biking is an athletic sport, so mountain bikers are athletes and you should act like one. Acting like an athlete will make you safer, give you more control and allow to ride faster and more efficiently!

I get some form of this question once or twice a year from a student, “How do you prevent your quads from getting tired and burning on long descents while standing the whole time?” This always makes me smile, just because of how one of my coaches replied once when asked this question by a student.

He bluntly replied, “mountain biking is a sport, you need to be in shape an athlete to do it”. While he is right he could of been a bit kinder in his reply.

As I stress in my camps, mountain biking alone is terrible for you (physically), you need to add sound strength and mobility training to your riding. Yes, mountain biking is wonderful for your heart, lungs and some muscles in your legs but it causes imbalances (by working a muscle but not the opposite muscle). Your quads get really strong but your hamstrings don’t get much of a workout which puts uneven tension on your knees, which can lead to knee problems and an extremely tight IT band, causing major problems. Most riders favor a “forward foot” when standing and costing, working your trailing leg and forward leg much differently leading to hip and back problems, etc.

Mountain Bikers are Athletes, Act Like One!

Mountain bikers’ IT Bands are notoriously tight!

 

Many riders think riding is enough and lifting weights will add weight and/or feel they don’t have time for it. Mountain biking is very physical and demands a stable core, coordination, strong legs and reasonably strong upper body , unfortunately cycling does little by itself to strengthen our bodies and keep our bodies functioning well so we must add strength training to perform at our best and stay safe (muscles protect us in crashes).

Yesterday I did ten 7-9 minute downhill runs then one 3,500 vertical foot 20 minute descent, all standing and yes, I was tired and a little sore but I feel great today. It was first my first lift served downhill day of the year and I expected to get worn out quickly and not be able to do top to bottom runs (how I felt last year) but working out this year saved the day!

Sarah Kaufman on her way to 2nd place!

Maintaining good body position requires a strong and mobile body! Sarah Kaufman in great position!

My back had been giving me trouble the last few years and I quit working out, at first I felt OK on the bike despite not working out, probably the lingering effect of working out for years. A few months after I stopped working out I noticed I couldn’t do a five minute descent without my quads cramping up a bit and I couldn’t make some climbs I used to make.

This winter I finally found some exercises that got my back feeling much better (more on them in a future blog) and I started working out again. At first I didn’t notice much (probably because you don’t gain strength quickly) but in the last few weeks I have been stoked to be able to hang with friends who last year would simply ride away from me!

Downhill riding at Deer Valley yesterday was the best I have felt on a downhill bike in years, despite being the first day this season actually riding downhill trails! I’m over the moon excited right now because I feel like I’m forty again!

Enough about me, how does this help you?! I HIGHLY recommend you find a qualified strength and mobility coach and start working out! No, you won’t bulk up but you will become stronger, more confident, faster, more efficient and much safer on your bike!

* Stronger/faster: James Wilson explained this to me years ago. He said something to the effect of, “… you are  right, by riding hard, pushing big gears up hills and doing intervals you will make your “engine” much more efficient. You will take you 1/8 horse power engine and get it running at 90-95% efficiency. However, if you workout and turn that engine into a 1/4 horsepower engine you can run at 50% efficiency and go faster with less perceived effort.” That really drove home the power of working out! Over the long term (that was 11 years ago) this advice has proven to be so true as I had one of my best seasons as a pro downhill racer when I was 40 years old!

* Safer: Many crashes happen when the rider is worn out. Why, being tired leads to bad habits, like sitting down while descending and sloppy control as your arm strength and coordination fades. Also, muscle makes great padding! A strong, limber rider is much less likely to get injured in a crash as a frail, weak rider.

* More Efficient: A good strength training program works movement patterns, not just muscles! A few years ago I worked out really hard in the gym and was surprised to have a personal best time on a climb the next day. I thought I would be worn out but instead climbed stronger than ever. When I asked James about this, he said that I had strengthened not only my muscles but my bodies ability to “fire” that movement pattern so, Of Course I climbed faster.  This phenomenon has happened many times since and it still blows me away.

What to work on:

Mobility/Stable Core: Years ago when I was a snowboard coach I was introduced to the idea of “effective strength”. There is a big difference between the strength one can produce pushing weight and the strength one can produce doing something that requires strength, mobility, balance and coordination. To ride our best we need “effective strength”! An example of this is doing squats instead of using the leg press machine or “leg sled” at the gym. With a squat you are not only working your quads, you are working the every muscle needed to produce that motion, including stabilization muscles and your core. When using the leg press machine you are bracing yourself against a solid platform and pushing away mainly working your quads (not your hips, gluteus maximus, core and stabilization muscles). When riding a bike we don’t have that solid platform to brace against and have to create that platform with our core and stabilization muscles. We Create that platform by creating a stable core.

Strength: All body strength and movement strength. We want to strengthen the movements we use when pedaling, absorbing shock and controlling our bike. This requires a well thought out, mtb specific workout program and the help of a personal trainer to make sure you are executing the program correctly.

You don’t have to bulk up, a good strength training program will pay HUGE dividends on the trails and allow you to effective use the skills I teach. So first, learn to ride a bike in control and in balance then invest in your body so you use the skills longer and more consistently.

 

 

Mountain bike cornering foot placement

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners:  Another question I get all the time is some version of, “how is my technique different in a bermed (banked) corner than in a flat corner?”

As I explain in my camps a bermed corner (banked) is still a corner. That means everything depends on traction, speed and your goal. If I feel I’m going slower than the max speed that berm will allow and I want to gain speed, I’m going to keep my feet level and pump that berm to gain speed.

Depending on the steepness and traction I might even lean with my bike! But, those berms are rare, especially at your favorite local trail or in a downhill race, usually a berm in a downhill race is there to “save” you. You are hauling tail into the corner and just hoping to eek out enough traction that you make the corner without sliding your tires (sliding scrubs your speed). In a berm like this (where you simply want to make it) you are going to use proper, outside foot down and weighted, “flat” cornering technique. More on that here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15o , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15P , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-159 and here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-18L

Many riders want to think that ALL berms are magically different than a flat corner but in reality, some berms are massively different than a flat corner (steeply banked, perfectly placed and either tacky or hard-packed, grippy surface) and some are the same as a flat corner (barely banked or really loose).

Many berms are simply “push piles” of dirt that won’t hold your tires and some good looking berms are no where near the optimal line for that corner. I remember a race in the late 90′s at Big Bear where they built these massive, beautiful berms but they taped the inside of the corner about 8-10 feet inside of the berm. Most of the amateur racers were target fixated on those berms and enjoying them while all the pros were cutting way inside of the berms shaving 30-50 feet off the distance around those berms saving time. Those berms were fun but useless if you wanted to do your best in the race.

Recently I have found some outright dangerous berms.  Last summer we were riding some fast trails with a few newly built berms in Oakridge, Oregon . Unfortunately, many of the berms ended about 60-75% of the way through the corner, right as you really needed the added traction of the berm it either disappeared or flatted out too much to hold you. If you aren’t looking through the corner (looking well past the exit at the start of the corner) you might get caught by surprise as the bank decreased in size and steepness while you were relying on it for traction. In short, 60-75% of the way through the corner your traction got cut in half and if you were relying on the berm for traction (leaning into the turn a bit) when you hit the end of the berm you will slide out. If the berm was solid for the length of the corner you would already be standing the bike up straight when the berm stopped.

On a really steep berm with great traction (some of the ones on A-line at Whistler for example) I might even initiate my turn by dropping my shoulder and “throwing myself” into the berm. If I overestimate the traction in the berm this can put me on the ground, if there is enough traction I will rocket through and gain speed.

A great example of this is Greg Minnaar in one of my Bootleg Camps. We use the little BMX/pump track there to work on pumping and pumping corners. When Greg was flying into the first berm at top speed he ALWAYS dropped is outside foot and did what I would call a “perfect” in balance in control corner.

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp! With his outside leg straight and down with most of his weight on it!

When we were demonstrating pumping corners and Greg hit the same berm going quite a bit slower he kept his feet level so both knees would be bent so he could pump with both legs and gain speed. We (Greg and I) never taught the dip your shoulder technique because berms that allow you to do that are extremely rare and there are zero berms at Bootleg with enough traction to use this technique

LASTLY and more importantly, most riders (including many sub world cup level pro racers) fail to look through the berm which is Much, Much more important than all of what I just wrote! So there is a hierarchy of skills and most of us need to focus on the more important parts of corner (looking through #1, finishing cutting speed before the corner is #2). This is the problem with all the “tips” out there, they fill your head with “knowledge” but don’t get you doing that “knowledge” on trail because you haven’t trained your body to execute that skill tip.

First, learn, practice and master proper cornering technique. Then use that technique in every corner, especially the first time you hit that corner. If, after riding that corner and/or stopping to scope it out, you decide that the berm will add more traction than necessary at the speed you are going you can try out “bermed cornering techniques” that briefly put you out of balance but when executed correctly will increase your exit speed.

Mountain Bike Pre-ride Routine to Help You Ride Your Best

Mountain Bike Pre-ride Routine to Help You Ride Your Best

Most of my crashes and injuries have occurred within five minutes of throwing a leg over my bike. Usually because I wasn’t mentally “on my bike”, I was still worried/thinking about something that happened before my ride (Did I leave the stove on? Who won last nights primary’s? Do these fat tires make my butt look big? ;) , etc.) and have a silly crash on an easy trail. We need to be focused and in the moment to ride our best!

Being mentally somewhere else, not “in the moment” is the cause of so much pain (mentally and physically) as we stumble through the day (or ride) without a true focus. I use the following in my racing and riding and it really helps me ride my best.

To make themselves feel comfortable and confident, top competitors in all sports utilize a personalized pre-race (or pre-game) routine to help them perform at their best. Routines are not the same as rituals, a routine is a structured plan designed to help you reach your optimum performance while a ritual relies on superstition to control your performance (things like not washing your “lucky” socks or stepping on a crack). In other words a routine helps you take control of your performance while rituals assume fate (not you) will control your ride/race.

This was originally written for a downhill team I coached but works equally well for all riding and racing. A big goal is to eliminate thoughts that will distract you and instead, put yourself in the proper mind state to ride with confidence!

I have added a night before the ride/race routine to eliminate most causes of worry and allow you to get some sleep.

Your pre-race/ride routine should make you comfortable in strange/new surroundings, build your confidence, eliminate stress, and prepare you to do your best. I have listed many common practices to get you started but you must experiment and find out what works best for you. This is another aspect of riding and/or racing where keeping a journal can really help you find out what works..

Night Before Ride/Race (taking care of all these items really helps me sleep!)

1. Equipment

a. inspect and tune bike completely with checklist and put on number plate (how many riders have gotten to the trail head without shoes, helmet, shorts, etc and/or how many racers have arrived at a race and realized that their number plate is back in the hotel?!)

b. prepare race clothes, shoes, pads, helmet, goggles, gloves. use a check list.

c. prepare bag to take to the trail head/start with you: spare goggles and gloves, mp3 player with charged batteries, food, drink etc. use check list

d. add your own topics

2. Mental

a. “Riders” Know what you are getting into! By reading/asking people/watching videos about the trail. You need to be prepared for your ride, knowing: how long, how rough, how much climbing, etc the trail is/has will help you prepare and feel more confident that you are ready for the ride (helping you feel comfortable, relaxed and making it easier to fall asleep).

a. “Racers” Know the course by heart, no missing sections, have a confident plan on how you will ride from top to bottom (worrying about how to handle that “big jump” will keep you up all night).

b. Image race run (at least twice) from standing in line at the start to your feelings of elation after crossing the finish line with a perfect run

c. Remember, only concern yourself with what you control (which basically is your equipment and your riding) worrying about how your competition will ride is a big waste of time because you have no control over their riding

c. add your own preparation (meditation, stretching, yoga, etc.)

Morning of Ride/Race

1. Physical prep

a. When to wake up (how long before ride/race do want to wake up? So you have time to shower, eat, do dynamic stretching, take care of any lose ends?

b. What to eat and when to eat it, etc. Experiment with what you eat and how long before your ride/race you want to finish eating. We are different in this department and it may be different for a 40 mile ride with 8,000 feet of climbing than it is for a 10 mile hammer fest at full speed. This what a riding/training journal is for

c. add your own

2. Mental prep

a. Use Imaging, stretching, meditation, etc. to get you in the right mental state to ride your best.

b. find out what works for you

At Trailhead/Race Site

1. Physical

a. Dressing routine, always dressing (changing from street clothes to your riding clothes) in a certain order can be almost like a meditation, putting you in the right mental state to ride and making you feel at home even when miles away.

b. warm up, get your body ready for the ride!

c. practice run (if offered)

d. simple routine, before every ride I tap my chest on my stem a few times and go over my acronym below

e. find out what works for you

2. Mental

a. find out what your riding/racing fears are and how to put them to rest (weeks before race)! Many people worry about their competition’s performance , remember only concern yourself with what you control

b. “Riders” image riding smooth and in control

b. “Racers” Image race run at least three times (good use of chair lift time)

c. Put yourself in optimum mental state for racing/riding (again find out by experimenting while training) many people make a short list or mantra of why they will perform well, (i.e.. I have trained hard all winter for this, I know the course, I’m fast, I will ride my best etc.) also music is a big help to many riders/racers, make a play list of songs that make you feel good!

d. Create an acronym for the things that you need to remember to have a good ride and tape it to your stem or bars. Mine is BRAILUM which stands for Breath, Relax, Attitude, Intensity, Look Up, and Moto (Moto was my old expression for elbows up and out). Saying B Railum and then thinking about each component of it really helps me focus.

e. find out what works for you

Use this as a rough outline adding what works and getting rid of what doesn’t through experimentation. A well thought out routine will make you confident at the start while your competition worries about their run and wonders why you are so confident.

Dan Millman calls these “transition routines” and uses an example in his married life. Often he would have a stressful day at work, then a stressful commute home and when his loving wife opened the door and asked him how his day was he would unload that frustration on her! He quickly realized that though he wasn’t upset with his wife in the least, he was yelling at her and this probably wasn’t to good for his marriage.

He decided to create a transition routine when he got home. After he pulled into his driveway he would shut the car off but not leave the car until he had gone from frustrated coach and frustrated commuter to loving husband. He would take a few deep breathes and think something to the affect of, “wow! what a long and frustrating day! My boss can be such a jerk! and what is it with these impatient and rude drivers, I must have been cut off six times on my drive home. Geez, what a day! Now, I’m home and my loving wife is waiting for me. How fortunate am I to have such a sweet, caring. loving wife!”

Then after a few more deep breathes he would walk to the door. When his wife asked him how is day was he would, calmly, without raising his voice say, “it was rough honey, but first give me a hug, then I will tell you about it …”. He says that this routine saved his marriage.

Can you see how a similar routine will help you get much more out of every ride?!