Ever struggle at the beginning of ride? Wish you could mountain bike your best, every ride? I received the following question from a student and it lead to a this article on warming up.
“I have a question about getting into the groove. It happens to me a lot that when I start out on a trail it takes a while for me to get into riding smoothly and comfortably. Even on trails I know very well. Sometimes it takes 20-30 minutes of riding before I feel comfortable. Darn good thing I’m an endurance racer and not a downhill racer, but it is frustrating. Can you give me some help as to how to overcome this? Is it common?
This is quite common for many riders and I (and many of my students) have the same problem. I always like to warm up for at least 20 minutes before I hit the trail. For a trail ride or before my first downhill run of the day I usually warm up by doing my cornering and skills drills in a parking lot and riding a mellow trail or road. Recently I have added a dynamic warm up (jumping jacks, dynamic stretching) before I ride and this has really helped my focus (by lengthening my warm up a bit) and my body (by opening up my body, especially my back). As I often state in my coaching sessions most of my crashes happen within 5 minutes of getting on my bike when I don’t warm up (because I am not focused).
Dan Millman (author of Way of The Peaceful Warrior and Body, Mind Mastery) recommends transition periods when going from one aspect/role of life to another (mother to bike rider, business person to bike rider, stressed out business person to patient, loving father, etc.) and this can really help you get rid of distractions and focus on the present. A pre-ride routine (see article below) is a detailed example of this. I have a short one that I do when I get to the trailhead. As I am changing from street clothes to riding gear I take a few breaths and think about: 1. The day I have had so far and then putting it behind me 2. How fortunate I am to be going on a peaceful mountain bike ride when there is so much turmoil going on in the world. 3. How beautiful the woods/mountain is that I am about to play in. 4. How much fun it is to ride my bike! 5. What I am going to focus on (vision, counter pressure, body position, etc.) to help me enjoy the ride even more. 6. Something Missy Giove told me, she makes peace with the mountain before riding. I believe she learned this from a native American tradition. She really looks around at the beauty of her surroundings and tells the mountain, thank you letting me play on you, you are beautiful, I am not here to harm you but enjoy your beauty and trails (probably slightly mis-quoted this conversation was about 20 years ago). It may sound a little new age but I have found it to be really calming and help clear my mind.
In conclusion, I stress to all of my students the importance of a warm up. It helps clear your mind and get you focused, helps loosen up your muscles and relax you and helps you get the most out of your ride. Remember that you want to do dynamic stretching before you ride, not static stretching (where you hold the stretch). Static stretching takes away up to 20% of the elasticity in your muscles for up to three hours, it should be done after exercise.
Creating a Pre-ride or Pre-race Routine
To make themselves feel comfortable and confident, top competitors in many different 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 race.
I have added a night before the race routine to eliminate most causes of worry and allow you to get some sleep.
Your pre-race 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 racing where keeping a journal can really help you find out what works..
Night Before Race (taking care of all these items really helps me sleep!)
a. inspect and tune bike completely with checklist and put on number plate (how many racers have arrived at a race and realized that their # 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 start with you, spare goggles and gloves, walkman with charged batteries, food, drink etc. use check list
d. add your own topics
a. 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 Race
a. shower, stretching, what to eat and when to eat it, etc.
b. add your own
a. Imaging, stretching, meditation, etc.
b. find out what works for you
At Race Site
a. dressing routine (always dressing in a certain order can be almost like a meditation and make you feel at home even when miles away)
b. warm up
c. practice run (if offered)
d. find out what works for you
a. find out what your racing fears are and how to put them to rest (weeks before race) and put. Many people worry about their competition’s performance , remember only concern yourself with what you control
b. Image race run at least three times (good use of chair lift time)
c. Put yourself in optimum mental state for racing (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 racers
d. Create an abbreviation for the things that you need to remember to have a good run and tape it to your stem or bars. Mine is RAILUM which stands for Relax, Attitude, Intensity, Look Up, and Moto. Saying 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.
What do you do for a warm up? I would love to hear your routines.