Did You Set an Intention For Your Ride?

What is your Intention?

As you know, (if you have taken a BetterRide camp) we always tell our mtb students to ride with a purpose; “I am going to work on braking before the turns.” “I am going to focus on keeping my weight on the pedals.”  Well, I just realized that these purposes are sub-goals or process goals (smaller goals we use to reach big goals). I still recommend that you ride with a purpose, but recently in a yoga class I learned a more powerful tool for improving your riding!

I’m not very good at yoga (though I’m getting much better with practice) and don’t love it the way I love mountain biking, I do it mostly because I know it helps me mountain bike, snowboard and surf better. Yoga has taught me a lot of lessons though and I apply those lessons when doing sports. In yoga classes the instructor will often ask each student to set their intention for the class. The instructor wants each student to set a big goal, such as staying in the moment or finding inner peace, what they will gain/takeaway from the class. This allows the student to get more out of each class and definitely helps me. Yesterday, while surfing I found having an intention helps in sports too. I caught the best wave of my life thanks to setting an intention!

The toughest parts of surfing for me are actually catching the darn wave and then standing up in good body position. With my snowboard background I am actually a decent surfer if I manage to catch a wave and stand up. So my purpose is usually either, “catch the wave” or “pop up”. Well, yesterday the waves were perfect for learning and I caught more waves and popped up more than ever before, but my rides were short and uninspiring. The tide was going out and the reef was getting dangerously shallow so my coach said, “Gene, this will be your last wave so ride it as far as you can.” Bam! I had an intention, ride my wave as far as I can. So I paddled hard, caught the wave, popped up and had the best ride of my life!

 

My Cousin Michael Dropping in at G-Land

As I was walking back on the beach I realized why my previous waves were so short, I had exceeded my purpose/s! Since I struggle so much with catching the wave and popping up I had no plan for what to do after I popped up. My intention gave me a clear plan, “ride as far as you can”. To do this I had to use a lot of skills or specific “purposes” I have worked on since my first surf camp; looking ahead, staying relaxed, bending my knees, etc. It was my intention that allowed me to access all of these skills, as I had to use all of them to ride that wave so far. Having that intention also allowed me to forget about the two purposes I had spent the last days focusing on (catching the wave and popping up) since my intention was the longest ride possible catching the wave and popping were givens! I wasn’t worried about either, allowing me to just do them!

How does this apply to you as a mountain biker? We need to understand the difference between an intention and a purpose and sometimes have a purpose and other times focus on your intention. I didn’t see the difference between the two before. “Riding as smooth as I can” is a great example, I used to tell students that this is a great purpose yet in reality it is an intention. Riding as smooth as you can requires a lot of separate skills or purposes, relaxed grip on the bars, weight on the pedals, elbows up and out, chest down, chin up, relaxed ankles, looking ahead and working with the trail. When you set the intention of being as smooth as you can be you will do all the skills required to be smooth. If you find you aren’t riding smoothly, you can analyze why (“darn, I’ve got the death grip on my bars”) and set a purpose to help you reach your intention, (my purpose is to relax my grip so I can be smoother). Setting your intention allows you to focus on the big picture, what do I want to get out of this ride? While having a purpose focuses us on a small piece of the big picture.  So, when you are not working on a specific skill, set an intention for your ride!

Some great intentions for mountain bikers:

- I am going to ride as smooth as I can.

- I am going be in the moment.

- Today I’m going to just relax and have fun on my bike.

- I’m going to be as efficient as I can be.

- I’m going to ride as fast as I can. *This one is tricky! Often this focus can make us tense and we start trying too hard. If this is your focus, time the ride and compare the time to being smooth on the same course, you might find being smooth is faster!

- I’m going to let go of all the tension in my body.

- I’m going to let go of all the tension in my mind.

- I’m going to take my time to stop and appreciate this beautiful day/trail/mountain/view etc.

Set your own intentions and let us know about the ones that really had a positive impact on your riding. This really, really helps you focus and improve your mental game on the bike!

 

Accept Where You Are!

Acceptance; love yourself, you are perfect as you are right now. As an athlete I am always working to improve my body; become stronger, faster, more flexible! As a mountain bike coach and human being I have learned that too much focus on who/what we will be can hold us back.

So often we are too focused on our future self, we lose the present moment and can get angry, frustrated or depressed. You are amazing right now! Think about how you can move your body, ride a bike and function in general! Be grateful for this, not everyone has it as easy as you do! You may wish you were more flexible, stronger and more skilled and I hope you are working on all of those. Don’t spend too much time wishing; spend more time in the present. While working on your goals relax, let that stretch happen, let that weight rise, breath through that down dog and stop trying so hard. Accept where your body is, being proud that it works as well as it does and politely ask it to move, stretch and grow.

For instance when stretching focus on stretching the desired area to the point of discomfort, not on a currently unrealistic goal such as touching your toes. Focusing on goals causes stress and can actually make you less flexible and less coordinated. The best advice on this topic I have ever heard was from Dan Millman in his book Mind Body Mastery. He instructed me to set my goals, write them down and then set them aside and simply focus on being the best I could be each day. If the best forward fold you can do today leaves your hands a foot above the ground don’t get frustrated and don’t give up. Focus on practicing the best you can (using perfect technique) instead of focusing on the outcome. As Mr. Millman stated, if you focus on being the best you can be you will likely exceed your goals and if your goals change along the way you will have enjoyed the journey.

You are perfect, and are right where you should be, right now!

 

The Foundation of Mountain Biking

Written by: Head Coach Andy Winohradsky

Riding mountain bikes in technically demanding conditions is by no means easy. However, if we take the movements of the rider’s body on the bike, along with the mechanics of the bicycle itself, and strip everything down to the most basic elements, the task of riding can usually be seen as relatively simple.

Likewise, when riding, if we simply allow our bodies to work the way that they function best, allow our bikes to work the way that they are designed to, and effectively manage our momentum down the trail instead of forcing things; fighting the laws of physics… Well, most of us would be riding like darn-near-champions!

Riding works like many things in life that at first seem complicated and overwhelming: once we break down the complications and see something at its basic bits and pieces, things start to make sense.

Unfortunately, a lot of riders shoot themselves in their proverbial and collective foot/feet by complicating things with misinformation and subsequent bad technique.  Often, learning to ride the bike properly is as much about UN-learning bad habits and “getting out of your own way” as it is about acquiring new skills. This is one of those times: by understanding the way things work (balance) and simply allowing them to do so (with good position on the bike), we’ll be able to use one of our most important tools to its fullest potential.

In this article we’ll get into how body position on the bike affects our sense of balance and how when we’re in proper position, we can allow this very important sense of balance to shine like a diamond.  Also, we’ll see how when our position on the bike is incorrect, it can make our sense of balance quite ineffective.

The first thing that I’d like to address is how our sense of balance actually works.  Of course, my intent is to relate this information to mountain biking, not to reach the deepest depths and specifics and intricacies of human anatomy and physiology.  So, if that’s an argument that you’d like to have, please save it for another time.  (Preferably a time when you and I are sat behind a couple of cold beers that you have purchased.)

The first element of our balance system is made up of motor and sensory receptors known as proprioceptors.  There are many types of proprioceptors, but basically, the receptors that are afferent (going to the brain) are transmitters within our muscles, joint cavities, tendon/muscle junctures, etc, that sense where our bodies are in space.  Some sense the angle of extension or flexion within our joints; some sense the amount of force or the rate of force being applied in a stretching muscle.  The messages that these receptors send, when combined, and “computed”, with the other elements of our balance system by our brain and “reflex centers”, then send out messages to muscles in the body to make adjustments, counter-act, readjust, etc, to make sure that the movements of the body are actually effective and controlling the movement of the body in the manner desired.  This is obviously an extremely important chunk of riding the bicycle.

The next part of our balance system is the vestibular system that resides in our inner ears.  This system senses movements in the forms of acceleration, deceleration, rotational movement, the force of gravity, etc, via the movement (or non-movement) of fluid in various cavities.

The third part of balance is our vision.  This makes sense because effective balance depends upon determining where our bodies are in space. A large part of vision is about determining what and where “space” actually is.  The vestibular system also monitors head movement to ensure proper vision.

What about body position?  There are many, many reasons why we need to maintain proper body position on the bike and maintaining proper balance is only one of them.  We can’t go into all of them here.  I like to say that body position is the “foundation” of riding.  Nothing else can be built until the foundation is laid down.  Just like building an actual structure, if the foundation is not built properly, you WILL run into problems later on.

Now here’s where things get really… simple?  Yes, simple. When we break things down, the human body, from a motion standpoint, really only performs combinations of a few basic movements.  All of these movements originate at our core (trunk of your body…the thing that your arms and legs connect to).  In recent years, much of training for athletics has moved from throwing around super heavy weights and getting as “strong” as possible to, first and foremost, focusing on the ability to stabilize the core and effectively use strength, power and fitness.  This makes a ton of sense: without a strong and balanced core from which all body movement originates, you’re dead in the water.  (If Lou Ferrigno has crappy balance, he’s going to stink up the local MTB trails because even though he has incredible-hulk-power, he won’t be able to effectively apply it to handling the bike.)

So, we need to maintain a position on the bike that allows our body to maintain balance of the core.  (I say “allow” because we can’t voluntarily control our sense of balance).  This position is what I call the “athletic position of the human body” and it can be seen in the photo below (you will also see this in pretty much all other sports: a tennis player waiting to return a serve, a baseball shortstop, a football linebacker…).  Notice that the appendages of the rider are roughly halfway through their range of motion: halfway through a squat with the legs; halfway through a push-up with the arms; the back is flat and almost parallel with the trail surface; the rider’s butt is sticking out and so is his chest; and the chin is up with the head level.

What this position does (among many other things) is effectively create suspension for the core and allows it to maintain a SMOOTH MOMENTUM PATH down the trail by not being subjected to the harsh forces and abrupt movements of the bike.  And this gives the balance system a great platform from which to do its job.  It should be obvious that the rider’s limbs are in a position to absorb shock, or forces that move the bike toward the body, but equally as important (because the rider’s limbs are approximately halfway through there range of motion), the rider also has the ability to allow the bike to drop away from him or allow the bike to slide or lean from side to side (move in any direction), without upsetting the smooth momentum path or upsetting the BALANCE of the core.  This is absolutely essential.  There IS NOT a top bike handler on the planet that doesn’t do an excellent job of this.  Look to any photograph, video, whatever, that features top bike handlers and you will see that this is the neutral position for all of these athletes when dealing with technical riding.

In the above position, the rider is able to allow his sense of balance, proprioception, etc, to instantly make the adjustments necessary to generate and apply the necessary forces to his bike.  The rider has range of motion in any direction with all four limbs and the core is balanced.  If the core is bouncing around and continually being knocked out of balance, the body has to first balance the core before adequate forces can be generated (which takes way too long).  This happens when riders ride with straight arms and/or legs: in this case, there is only one direction that the bike can move without upsetting the balance and trajectory of their core and that is straight into them.  Movement of the bike in ANY other direction will alter the momentum path of the core, and upset the balance of the rider.

Unfortunately, most riders do ride with straight arms and legs, way too high on the bike.  Most are often in a perpetual state of being knocked around and out of balance, never able to pro-act or react to the situation, but instead, along for the ride (for better or worse!), hanging on with a white-knuckle, death grip, out of control, and hoping for the best until the trail smooths out.

Let’s take things further and talk about the rider’s head.  It’s safe to say that some pretty important things happen in the head when riding a bike.  With very little exception, whatever motion occurs at the core of the body will also be felt in the head.  Take a second and do this: jerk your head in a certain direction and then abruptly stop it.  Notice how it takes a second for you to get your bearings back?  That is because it takes the vestibular system in your ears some time to figure things out and then reset.  Really, this system only works if it can compare movement to static inertia (or movement in a constant direction vs. erratic movement).  If you can’t keep your head still, then you can’t provide this system with a basis from which to work and you’ve given up one of your most necessary tools in riding the bike.  Proper position suspends the core, which supports the head, which allows the vestibular system to work effectively.  Again, watch some videos of the top gravity riders; their heads are incredibly calm.

And how about the vision aspect?  Ever get what I call “eyeball jiggle”?  This occurs when your head is getting jostled around so erratically and forcefully that it seems almost as if your eyeballs are going to jiggle right out of your skull.   Your vestibular system, which sends messages to your eyes to compensate for some head movement (much like image-stabilization in a camera) is being overloaded by excessive motion.  Needless to say, your vision, which has a huge affect on your sense of balance, is pretty much useless at this point, and again, you’ll find yourself “just along for the ride” with very little control, hanging on for dear life, and hoping to survive.

To wrap all of this up, our sense of balance is a very powerful tool, and though it may seem complicated in its entirety, it’s a combination of various, fairly easy to understand systems within the human body.  Though we can’t control our sense of balance the way we can voluntarily move an arm or leg or pedal harder (we can’t really “balance harder”), we can use proper body position to assure that this system is working efficiently and effectively.  Thus, proper body position drastically affects how well you can use your sense of balance to control the bike on the trail.

Though we did not thoroughly cover body position in this article, for now, use what we did learn about proper body position to “suspend the core” and allow that balance system do its thing!

 

What Gives National Champ Jackie Harmony an Edge

I could not be more happy for 2012 U.S. National Downhill Champion and BetterRide athlete Jackie Harmony! Jackie has conquered downhill mountain biking on the National level and is not stopping there. Read on to hear what has given her such an edge this season.

Aaron Gwin and Jackie Harmony

The Mental State

By Jackie Harmony

My downhill mountain bike racing career started with the idea of riding my bike all over the place and meeting all the cool people along the way. However, throughout the past 10 years of racing, I’ve begun to understand in great detail the entirety of what I have chosen to do and what it takes to compete at the highest level of the game.  From what I gather, there are three major roles in becoming the ultimate athlete and they are your physical state, emotional state and mental state. I first learned of these major roles through Gene Hamilton and his BetterRide Camps.  His many years of racing and research are passed on through his coaching and I took it all in.  I have read the books he has recommended and continuously take part in all that he has to offer.

The mental state is what I have been working on for the last couple of years now and have become a pro at controlling my mental state.  This past weekend during National Champs is the best example of how I have complete control of my mental state.  Some things that I have found to help me be mentally prepared and fully present are:

  • My diet –  I pay full attention to how I feel with what I put into my body.  I know what type of fuel my brain and body needs to feel strong and powerful.
  • Meditation –  I have found that breathing correctly allows my brain to calm down, close off all thoughts and clear my mind.
  • Imagery –  Seeing myself ride the entire course, including knowing my shift points, brake points and body movements.
  • Let it be – Some things are out of my control and I need to accept them for what they are. If the track conditions are changing then I will have to adapt and not be upset with rain, mud, dust, wind, etc.

By controlling my mental state, I have found my true self and in doing so I was able to be completely present at all times.  I can now shut the door on the little voice who likes to give me so many options and negative thoughts that really tears me down.  I know for a fact that I am an excellent rider and I know now that I am an excellent racer, because I have created the best run every time, every practice run and every time I ride my bike.