The Most Important Mountain Biking Skill

Have you ever been told you are really smart? Told/know that you have a high IQ? Are you really analytical?

Then you probably suffer from the same mountain biking skill error I have been fighting all my life, trying to think your way through physical skills!

This was written for a student who frustrated me because he reminded me so much of myself! They say people are mirrors of you and when something bugs you about someone it is a reflection of something about yourself. It definitely was in this case and I desperately wanted to help him overcome is reliance on his analytical, thinking brain. That part of your brain is great for solving math and engineering problems but terrible at athletic skills. It’s actually not so much that it is terrible at athletic skills it is that it has nothing to do with athletic skills.

Have you ever noticed that knowing a skill doesn’t seem to make you able to do that skill? That’s because you need to train your “procedural memory” not simply understand the skill. If understanding the skill was enough to get you to do a skill there would be no coaches, simply read a book and aha, you’re a great skier, snowboarder, surfer, mountain biker, etc.

I’ve had the same problem as this student all my life. I have to completely understand a skill before I will commit to it! Ever hear the phrase “dumb jock”? Well, most jocks aren’t dumb but often the best athletes don’t sound too bright when they are asked about their performance.

This has nothing to do with what we think as intelligence, the reason they don’t sound bright is the questions they are asked can’t really be answered. “What were you thinking as you took off for the double backflip?” Well, she wasn’t thinking, she was doing. Her conscious, thinking brain was shut off. So she has to make stuff up when asked that question.

You’ve experienced this, it’s called the zone. Where everything just seems to happen perfectly as when it needs to be done. It is a blissful state and one of the main reasons you enjoy mountain biking enough to read this article but, you wish you could hit that state more often.

Another hard question is, “how did you do that?” Often, top athletes have trouble with this question because they don’t know exactly what they are doing and have trouble putting it into words. This is because skills are stored in our procedural memory, where a circuit is designed for each skill. That circuit is called the cortex-basal ganglia-thalamus-cortex loop.

The book Choke goes into great detail about this. I noticed this the first time I worked with Greg Minnaar. I was explaining a skill and Greg kept saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what I do! You could tell he was astounded that I could break it down and put it into words. Greg executes most skills so well he has long forgotten or maybe never knew the mechanics of the skill.

You know what, Greg is very bright too! His good fortune is though he is bright in the IQ sense he also bright in the body sense (using his basal ganglia). He knows when to use his IQ (managing his career, businesses, and investments) and when to turn off that thinking brain and use his basal ganglia (all physical activities).

I’ve been a geek trying to be cool all my life. It all started one day when I was seven and came home really upset that I didn’t make the baseball team. My sweet mom trying to protect me said, “honey, your just not a natural athlete but, you are so much smarter than those boys, your IQ is blah, blah, blah ..”. Not exactly what this seven-year-old boy wanted to hear.

Looking back though there was a lot of truth in that statement. School was easy for me, I didn’t even buy textbooks my senior year of college, I just went to class and paid attention and got mostly A grades. Sports, they were a struggle though. I never passed the presidential fitness test (was often the slowest in the 50-yard dash) and in college, I learned that I had asthma.

So when it came to the two sports I actually did okay in, snowboarding and mountain biking, I knew I couldn’t out power the competition so I tried to outsmart them! Sometimes it worked a bit with strategy and “smarter” training programs but where it didn’t work was in the skills department. I tried to think my way through the skills.

Are you proud of your knowledge of skills? But, deep down you know that you aren’t always or perhaps are rarely doing what you know? That was me.

In 2007 I took a great motorcycle camp (American Supercamps) with the hope of learning more about bike handling. I was the only one who asked questions, out of 16-20 riders. When I asked questions all the other students just looked at me with that STFU look. They completely trusted the coach and just did what he said (lucky guys!). I had to know “why” before I would buy in, which, looking back was my problem all through my athletic career (or lack thereof!).

The athletes that just do what the coach says are the lucky ones, their mind doesn’t get in the way! Now, knowing why a skill works does help most of us buy in and I have spent the last 28 years helping students understand that why. However, my best students, aren’t focused on why it works. Once they felt a skill work that was all they needed, they practiced it until they couldn’t get it wrong.

There is hope for the rest of us though. We simply need to find ways to either shut off the over analyzing part of our brain or distract it.

I first experienced this in 1992 when my snowboard coach would yell multiplication problems at me when I was training. He said when I was solving problems I rode my best. Unfortunately, I didn’t truly understand it then, as a matter of fact, I was confused. How could being distracted be good?

That was before I knew about procedural memory. Once we have trained our procedural memory with structured practice (something I had plenty of as a snowboarder) when we shut off or distract our analytical brain our procedural memory takes over and we rip!

So far, the best way I have found to distract my analytical brain is to use music. I ride best with music at low volume (I have to be able to hear my tires, chain slap, and wind all of which give us cues to what is happening). My favorite riding song is the Gin and Juice cover by The Gourds.

I also practice meditation which also helps by focusing my analytical mind on my breathing, letting my body “just do”.

Your assignment is to drill, drill, drill the proper skills in (riding trail is not skills training as you quickly lose focus and return to any dominant habits you have (which are often, old ingrained bad habits)) in a controlled environment like an empty parking lot. On the trail work on shutting off or distracting your analytical mind and letting the drilled in skills take over.

Experiment, try singing, listening to music at a low volume, do multiplication problems, learn to meditate, anything you can do to let your procedural memory take over.

Do have a favorite way to shut off that overactive mind? Let us know below.

If you know anyone who could benefit from this article feel free to share it.

Shut that brain off and create your best ride yet!

 

 

 

dumb motorcycle camp guys asked zero questions

used to think I needed to know every little detail of how and why a skill worked to commit to it.

I have work with GM, very bright guy, was amazed I can but what he does into words so smarter than me because he knows when to use analytical brain and when to use body brain

For this article we have two brains, our “smart, thinking brain that solves math problems” and our “body brain” called procedural memory (book Choke?) when to use each… smart when stopped and figuring out a line, body while riding

Answers: meditation, music, distract the overthinking brain, math problems racing slalom  examples to prove my point but condoning these uses Doc Ellis , Wille Warren , Sutton,  ross rab, Jimi Scott

Important MTB Skills That Are Often Overlooked

Important MTB Skills That Are Often Overlooked
Most mountain bikers are purely focused on improving the physical skills of riding, body position, vision, cornering, braking, wheelies, bunny hops, drops, etc. and they don’t put much time and effort into the equally or more important skills that can be worked on off their bike. Your focus, confidence, mental game, balance and physical condition (flexibility, core stability, upper body strength, leg strength) all play as big a part in your riding as your “riding skills”.
Here is a list of books I recommend to my students after their camp with me. Don’t be in a hurry to read them all! Take your time, reread each book/chapter and apply what you think will work for you in your life. We are not in search of knowledge, we are in search of change.
One of my favorite Zen sayings is, “when the pupil is ready the teacher will appear”. My take on this is that the teacher (and/or lesson) has always been there, you just either didn’t need their teaching yet or were not ready for it yet. I will give you an example from my coaching experience. My most famous students, Cody Kelly, Mitch Ropelato, McKay Vezina, Shawn Neer all have repeated my three-day core skills camp many times and they all say things in the second to fifth camp like, “wow! you have should have said that in the first camp!” and I reply that I did say it, you just didn’t need it yet.
Mountain Bike Skill

Shawn Neer, who just earned 10th place at the first EWS in Chile, showing great form. Centered, neutral and eyes looking way ahead! Thanks to mtbr.com for the photo.

Often, when being exposed to a new concept like braking (Mitch and Cody came from BMX where they didn’t even have a front brake so learning that the front brake does 70-100% of the slowing/stopping of them and their bike was a new concept to them) a student will be letting that new knowledge soak in (the big picture) and miss some details about that concept. The second time they hear the concept they already know it so they then are able to focus on the details more (such as braking body position, modulation, where to brake, etc.).
The same can be said for these books. Don’t just get the big picture, reread them and get the important details too.
Knowledge is worthless without action! So many people (who I have recommend these books to) have said to me, ‘Wow, that book was a great read, thanks!” I always reply, “Cool, glad you liked it, what concept/s from the book are you applying in your life?” Sadly, many of them can’t name a single thing from the book that they are applying in their riding or life.
These are life-changing books, not novels, USE them!
These are all great books not just meant for competitive athletes. Anyone can learn a lot from them and if you study them they will improve your riding.  They are in no particular order and my short review follows each listing.

I was going to divide them into “sport” and “life” but as Dan Millman often mentions, if your life is in a state of “dis-ease” so will be your athletic performance. So, in my humble opinion, all/any of these books will have a profound effect on your life and your mountain biking.

Pick ONE that sounds interesting to you, read it, study it, apply what you have learned in your riding/life, reread to find all the nuggets you missed (or were not ready for yet).

The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, and Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists

by James E. Leohr, Chris Evert, Dan Jansen,

Excellent book with worksheets to help you practice what it teaches.

The Mental Edge: Maximize Your Sports Potential with the Mind/Body Connection

by Ken Baum, Richard Trubo,

Excellent book with worksheets to help you practice what it teaches.

Body Mind Mastery: Creating Success in Sport and Life

by Dan Millman,

Really, really great book that goes a little deeper into why you compete in sports and helps you integrate sport and life (helps you see and create balance in your life so the sport does not take over your life).

Way of the Peaceful Warrior, 20th Anniversary Edition: A Book Those Changes Lives

by Dan Millman

Not really a mental training book but a book that gave me a much better outlook on life.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.

by Daniel Coyle

Fascinating book on how your body/brain/nervous system respond to practice and how to “grow” your talent.

For Your Back!

Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence

by Eric Goodman and Peter Park

The exercises in this book fixed 16 years of back pain and are the sole reason I can still ride for more than a half hour without major pain (actually, should have said “I can again …”, as from 2012 through 2016 I could not do that)! Well worth the $12.95!

For Your Balance!

Balance is Power

Jim Klopman and Janet Miller

Extra Credit Books

Flow and Flow in Sport/s 

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I have this on audio, really interesting research on the “flow” (or zone) state. Not as helpful as the above books but interesting.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else 

by Geoff Colvin

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

by Chip Heath

Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster

by Ernest Dras

A short, easy read that first explained most/all the concepts in Outliers, Talent Is Overrated, Mastery and The Talent Code but written by a coach in laymen’s terms. When reading the books mentioned above I kept saying to myself, “hey, that backs up what Ernest Dras said in his book!”

The Untethered Soul

by Michael A. Singer

This is the most amazing book I have ever read! It is like an advanced The Way of The Peaceful Warrior (in that it is changing my life, content is much different), it is truly changing my life (as The Way of The Peaceful Warrior did 20 years ago). I am very slowly and deliberately reading and practicing what this book teaches.

Peace is Every Step and You Are Here

by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Two great books that explain how to be happier, more peaceful and more grounded using Buddhist principles in our “Western Society”

I hope you get as much as I did our of them.

Have you read a book that helped with your mental game? A book that changed your life? Let us know below!

Feel free to share this article with anyone you know who could benefit from it.

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

Mountain Bike at your best

Overcoming Fear When Mountain Biking (and using it to your advantage)

Overcoming Fear When Mountain Biking

Mountain biking can be anything from a really fun experience to outright terrifying depending on your skills, experiences, and perspective. Of course, skill is the number one factor in overcoming fear, imagine my students who race World Cup downhills and EWS races like National Champions Luca Cometti, Mitch Ropelato and Jackie Harmony riding your local trails. I doubt they would be scared of that section that scares you on your local trail (as World Cup Tracks are gnarly!). They have worked hard on ingraining the correct riding techniques so they are riding in balance and in control consistently so while they may have less “nerve” than you, they have great skill. Here are some ways to overcome fear with the skill you currently possess and ways to use that fear.

1.  Go at your own pace and take “baby steps” when progressing. Taking a big leap over your comfort zone is not a good way to learn. Have you ever been goaded into doing something that you felt was way above your skill level? Even if you make it you often don’t feel like you have gotten better, you feel like you got lucky. Feeling, “Wow, that was scary!” does not improve your confidence! If you don’t make it,  the crash will often set you back, decreasing your confidence and raising your level of fear. So be gentle with yourself and progress at a pace that is comfortable to you.

2. Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. This sounds simple but pays off big. Our brains don’t understand “not” and “don’t” very well. If you are focusing on not falling your brain has to focus on the concept of falling and then quickly try to refocus on “not” doing what you are thinking about. It is much easier to focus on “getting to that tree” or “ride this section smooth and light” than telling yourself “don’t fall”.

3. Use your fear, it can be good! Listen to the fear, maybe it is trying to save you from a trip to the emergency room. Live to ride another day! If you are more focused on “not falling” than you are on getting to where you are going, get off your bike and walk that section. Who knows you might go right through it the next time when you are more warmed up and/or focused.

After/while walking that section figure out what about that section is scaring you then “baby step” your way up to doing it.

Example: If a four-foot drop on an exposed trail is scaring you find a one foot drop with no exposure, get really good a hitting that, work your way up to a four-foot drop with no exposure, then an exposed trail with a one foot drop working all the way to a four-foot drop on an exposed trail. This builds on a series of successes, increasing your confidence!

4. Breathe, relax, breathe and smile it is just a bike ride. Breathing and smiling releases tension which improves our balance, coordination and confidence. I mean deep, belly breathes from your diaphragm which are very calming. Smiling releases endorphins which relax you. The simple act of lifting the corners of your mouth, even if it is a grimace will release those endorphins and relax you!

5. As you improve, make sure you update your self-concept to match. Remember that the past doesn’t equal the future. You may have wrecked or not made a section last week/month but if your skills have improved since then the section may be easier for you now. (more on this in the next article on fear as this is very important!)

6. Wear knee pads and elbow pads when practicing a tough section are learning a new skill. I have found that having padding on really increases your confidence when learning or trying to push your limits. As a matter of fact, I never ride without knee pads anymore, knees are too valuable and easily damaged!

7. Debunk your fear/s. Is your fear realistic? Often fear is not based in reality and when we realize this the fear goes away.

8. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up or wreck do your best to figure out why it happened and correct that mistake or improve your technique so it will not happen again.

9. Use that fear to motivate you to improve! You know just riding your bike doesn’t improve your skill, practicing the correct, in balance, in control techniques with a focus on quality is the ONLY way to improve your skill. So spend more time practicing deliberately using drills and boost your skill level and confidence.

Stay tuned for part two which will cover why/how/when we feel fear and how this affects us and a few of these techniques in more detail.

Let me know about your fear. How is affecting your riding? Is it a good amount of fear? Or is your fear holding you back? Please comment below. Feel free to share this with anyone you feel could benefit from it. Thanks and create your best ride yet, Gene.

Fear and Mountain Biking Part 2, Decreasing Fear by Improving Skill and Confidence

Fear and Mountain Biking Part 2 (Read part 1 here: https://wp.me/p49ApH-1vq)

Fear is a powerful and often misunderstood emotion that has some effect on every mountain bike ride we do. The fear we ALL experience while mountain biking varies greatly in intensity from rider to rider and from trail to trail. Most riders think of pro downhill racers as fearless but in my 19 years of coaching them and 15 years of being one I have found that even the fastest pro downhill racers experience fear, on beginner trails!

So the idea of “No Fear” is comical at best, we all experience fear and it isn’t always a bad thing, fear can save us from injury and keep us from doing things we aren’t skilled enough to do. On the other hand, fear that is not in proportion to the risk we are taking can really mess us up! Too little fear and we do things over our head and get hurt! Too much fear and we question our ability and end up not riding or crashing on a section of trail we are capable of riding smoothly and in control.

There are a ton of macho guys reading this right now saying, “Not me, I am fearless!”, please, anyone saying that needs to ride a world cup downhill track or the new Redbull Rampage site! Do some people experience less fear than others?  Of course, that is why I and thousands of other mountain bikers have ended up in the emergency room! We either didn’t experience the appropriate amount of fear or charged in despite the fear. Fear that keeps you from riding Cam Zink’s line at the Redbull Rampage is good! Fear that keeps you from riding a section of trail you honestly have the skill to ride in control is bad.

The worst fear though is that minor fear, where you keep riding but are too concerned with your own safety to ride at your best! As a matter of fact, when our confidence drops so does our athletic performance! Coordination is directly tied to confidence when you lose confidence you also lose your coordination. So, until you are confident walk the sections of trail that scare you (and design a plan to increase your skill so you can ride that section confidently one day).

I am well known for my intense curriculum featuring deliberate practice using drills in a safe, controlled environment (often a paved parking lot) and then applying those skills on trail. I have noticed a pattern that happens in all of our camps regardless of our students’ age/experience/perceived skill level, even at our downhill camps at Bootleg Canyon with pros like Cody Kelly and Luca Cometti, students do our cornering drills really well on pavement then not so well on dirt (at first, which is why drills are so important)!

At Bootleg Canyon we use Girl Scout for our on trail cornering practice, the easiest trail on the mountain. Watching our students practicing deliberately on pavement (photo below) I am always impressed by how quickly they catch on to correct cornering technique. Then we head over to Girl Scout and they aren’t doing what they were just doing in the parking lot, they look totally different. Why do they go from executing the skills well on pavement to not so well on dirt? Fear! No, pro downhill racers aren’t scared of Girl Scout Trail, but they are more concerned about their safety than they were in the parking lot. Even on a beginner trail, there is not as much traction as the parking lot, there are rocks to avoid, bushes and cacti on the side of the trail, penalties for mistakes. This concern for your safety (fear) distracts you and hinders your performance.

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick (who has been mountain biking since the early 1990’s) practicing his cornering skills! Look at that outside elbow, up and out where it should be.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Not a “scary” trail but he isn’t as sharp as in the parking lot. He needs to look a little further ahead and lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

 

Fear is stored in your “Lizard Brian” or “Reptilian Brian”, part of your brain stem where instincts and action occur WITHOUT thought. Have you ever noticed that sometimes, despite knowing that you are supposed to do something (like look ahead) you don’t do it on trail? Have you ever driven home and upon getting home said to yourself, “how the heck did I get home?” That is because knowledge and your “thinking brain” don’t help you do, doing comes from the same Lizard brain where fear is stored, and doing is similar to being on autopilot, your body just does what the autopilot makes it do.

This creates a problem as your conscious, thinking brain wants one thing (to float over that rock) while your Lizard brain wants something else, usually to protect you (get off your bike and walk over the rock). As you probably already know, when it comes to riding your mountain bike the lizard brain always wins! (On a side note this often why you might know exactly how to do something yet still can’t do it.)

How do we get our Lizard Brain/autopilot and conscious thinking brain to work together? Drills! The whole goal of drills is to ingrain a habit or movement pattern. By ingrain, I mean make that habit so dominant that no matter how tough that trail is your body does the correct technique without any thought (hence the autopilot analogy). There is an old saying that is so true, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong!” (which means pros never stop practicing!)

Once we understand the correct technique and do drills to ingrain that technique we need to upgrade our self-image as a mountain biker. Let’s say there is tough rock section that has troubled you for years, you have never made it (and probably think something like, “darn, here comes that rock that always messes me up” as you approach it (like the wall in my video above, how to video tutorial coming soon!). Then you take a BetterRide camp and learn the correct combination of skills to get over that rock and wham, you do it! This is when you need to stop, get off your bike, look at that rock and update your self-image. “Wow, that rock used to mess me up every ride, now it is easy, I simply look to victory, manual, shift my weight and off I go (what I did in the video)! That rock is so easy now, watch, I’ll do it again.” Then do it again and really cement the idea that that rock is now easy and you have the skill to do it consistently.

Skill has a huge impact on fear. Cam Zink probably has a lot less fear of the most challenging trail you have ever ridden. Not because he is crazy (he is quite calculating actually) but because his skill at riding steep, challenging line is near/at the top of the sport. More skill (combined with belief in that skill) equals less fear in any given situation.

If you are honestly really skilled but you feel your fear level is not in proportion to your skill work on updating your self-image. If you aren’t really skilled work on improving your skills, then updating your self-image as your skills improve. Remember, fear is there for a reason and it often helps keep us safe but if it is holding you back work on getting your fear into proportion with your skill.

Fear is also where men and women differ greatly! In my next article on Fear and Mountain Biking I will explain what I have learned about how men and women respond to fear and how this difference affects your ride and often your relationship.

Thanks for tuning in! If you know anyone who could benefit from this article please feel free to share it with them. What are you afraid of while mountain biking? What affects your fear? Is your fear based in reality or made up? Please share your experiences with fear below.