BetterRide Certified coach Chris Skolnick demonstrating how easy it is to get over a big rock when have master two simple skills, the coaster wheelie (manual) and the weight shift. This is great test, if you can’t do this you aren’t very good at these two Core Skills of mountain bike riding, if you can do this smoothly and easily you have these two skills pretty wired.
Below I’ll address two things that seem to plague many MTB’ers in the off-season: 1) what I call “gym-rat burnout”. And, 2) body weight management.
The following is purposely not very specific or in-depth, but more of something to think about and address on your own. This is mainly because we all have different goals and aspirations, time crunches, athletic endeavors, etc, outside of biking (which is my area of expertise) and the off-season is the time to partake all kinds of other fun/necessary stuff that we have a tough time doing during the summer because we have other very important things to do … like ride our bikes! I’m also not an expert at weight training, pilates, road riding, xc skiing, or many other activities that MTB’ers use for off-season fitness, but I am very aware of how difficult it can be to maintain fitness over the winter. So again, I’ll keep this kind of loose, but these are two things that most of us, as riders, have to deal with in one way or another.
If you’re a fairly serious rider or racer (and you live in an area where it is the off-season) you should currently be enjoying a break from the intensity of training, racing, serious rides, etc. This doesn’t mean that you have to stay off of your bike. But bike rides should be fun and enjoyable at this time. If you’re a cyclocoss racer, or serious skier, or snowboarder, or something of that nature, great, just make sure that you will be able to get enough time to fully recover and then be ready to go again (both mentally and physically) for MTB in the spring.
Just because we don’t have a race right around the corner doesn’t mean that we can completely forget about what our goals are as riders. The off-season can and should play a very important role in your success next spring and summer.
First, I’ll address “gym-rat burnout”:
We ride bikes because riding is fun. Even if we take it extremely seriously, even if we make money doing it, we still do it because it’s enjoyable. We get outside. We get to compete (even if its with just ourselves). There’s often a good dose of camaraderie. Often, bikes give us a reason to travel. For most of us, the gym offers nearly none of this. The gym is a means to an end, and therefore, just not a whole lot of fun (for me at least). Ditto with road riding, running… So, it’s often tough to stay motivated to do these things for a long period of time.
Motivation is the key to anything as far as I’m concerned. This winter, if you spend three intense hours per day on your trainer in your basement, putting in thousands of miles and tons of interval work, and also hitting the gym like Lou Ferrigno, and then when you emerge in the spring, you hate your bike and the pain that it represents… well, you’re probably not going to be very motivated to kick the season off correctly. I’m guilty of this myself pretty much every year (kinda). I take about a week off somewhere in November, and after a week off of the bike, I get super motivated!!! I then get in the gym and put a program together, start trail running, start backcountry snowboarding like a banshee, ride my bike in the snow… I feel like an animal all winter long until around March and then I peter-out. I’m over it, over winter, over the gym, over running, over snowboarding… I end up eating like crap and being lazy for a couple of weeks right when I should be ramping up for the riding season to start. This has happened, consistently, for as long as I can remember. Sounds like I need to make some conscious adjustments to my off-season program, huh?
I’m not the only rider guilty of this. This happens to a lot of people. So relax a little and pace yourself. Stay active but do some other things besides road riding and the gym (that are fun or, at least, mix it up a bit). If you are very serious and want to make some fitness gains over the winter, cool, but be conscious of your mental state and put yourself on a pace where you’ll be chomping at the bit and ready to rip out the throats of your fellow competitors’ and/or riding buddies’ in the spring (literally, of course!!!). You want to be hungry when the season starts.
Something else that many of us need to deal with in the off-season is weight. And I’m not talking about shaving grams off your bike! The off-season is the time to make adjustments in body weight, or, at the very least, keep weight gain (or loss, for some people) under control. In my own case, I would like to slim down and improve my power to weight ratio (o.k., keep it under control, also!). While I’m not necessarily a fat-ass, 5’6” and 165 isn’t really ideal for getting from point A to point B (got some great ‘short-and-stocky’ genes from my mom). I do have a nice layer of beer and pizza induced baby-fat that I can rid myself of, but also, I can lose a bunch of muscle (especially upper body) that actually hinders me, speed-wise, on the bike. But in order to do this correctly, I need to maintain a calorie deficit. During the season — though I definitely don’t get to race as much as I’d like to — I do a lot of hard riding. This includes a lot of intense trail riding, motocross, dirt jumping MTB’s – stuff that I could easily get hurt doing if things go wrong (which, of course, they do from time to time), and often, on back-to-back-to-back days, whenever I have the opportunity. So during the season, recovery with adequate food intake, and being strong and fit is more important then focusing on losing weight (and doing it correctly, which is difficult). The time for me to do this is now (please don’t ask how its going!).
On the other side of this is simply not gaining unwanted weight. We all know how the wintertime, football season (obligatory beer drinking), the holidays, etc, can be a fat-laden kiss of death for keeping weight in check. Let’s be realistic about this: ideally, we’d all get down to our perfect “fighting weight”, during Nov, Dec and be on our way with our off-season training (and if you’re serious, you need to do this). But sometimes real-life does get in the way for real people. However, there’s no excuse for coming into the riding season 10-15 lbs heavier (fat wise – bad heavier) then you were at the end of the previous season. Five lbs.…? O.k., I’ll give you that… But, trying to dial in weight while you’re also trying to get stronger is a difficult thing to do and you’re starting in a hole if you begin your fitness and race training overweight.
A great way to help you keep things in check weight-wise? Keep a food journal. Especially over the holidays! Write down absolutely everything that you eat. Make sure that this is a small notebook or something that can be kept conveniently with you at all times so that you WILL actually do this! Every cheese sample at Whole Foods, every stray piece of Halloween candy, the dressing that you put on the salad… EVERYTHING! If you have to write it down, you’re conscious of it, you can’t simply “pretend it didn’t happen”. You won’t be saying, “man how’d I get so fat… I thought I was doing pretty good…”
So, a little advice on two things that most of us wrestle with during the off-season…
I just received this email this morning, it cracked me up!
One Rider’s BetterRide Camp Experience
(or: How I’ve Broken Up With My RideStyle)
By: Anonymous BetterRide Student
Mountain Biking is not just a sport, it’s an art form. Almost anyone can appreciate the beauty of a rider with an appealing RideStyle as they navigate terrain with flow and panache. We can recognize our friends on mountain bikes even when they are too far to see clearly because we know how they move and recognize their RideStyle. My own way of riding a mountain bike was like a place of refuge in my life – time spent there was joyful and relaxing and familiar and fun as hell.
When I signed up for my BetterRide camp (back in 2010), I was really excited to learn to do things I have always struggled with on my bike. I have always ridden bikes with a passion and have put much of the total energy spent in my life into riding like a bat out of hell over the hardest trails I could manage or find. After 19-20 years of this approach to mountain biking, I decided to find out what I hadn’t found out yet. I knew there were gaps in my abilities because I struggled with certain situations (gap jumps, wall rides, high speed rough stuff, manuals and wheelies, etc). I felt like I was already a good rider, as I handled lots of terrain in a way that pleased me (rock gardens, steps, switchbacks, gnarly climbs, etc). I felt that I often had “my own way of riding” that was awesome and was rooted in my RideStyle. I was so excited for the BetterRide Camp to fill in some gaps and add some abilities to my RideStyle, and teach me things I could do differently when presented with situations I currently struggled with on my bike.
That’s not what happened.
Gene taught me the core skills of mountain biking. I didn’t need to do things differently only on certain terrain, I needed to change the way I ride my bike EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME! Yikes. My body was in the wrong place, I was looking in the wrong place (the wrong way), I was approaching corners the wrong way (I thought I was great at cornering before the camp). It took me some time to get through the Five Stages of Grieving after my camp, but it had to happen. Sorry RideStyle, it’s not me, it’s YOU. We’re through!
It started with Denial (it always does). “I’m great at switchbacks and corners” “I’m fast downhills compared to some people” “I’m a good rider, dammit!” “What I do works most of the time, I don’t wreck much, even Gene acknowledged that I am a strong mountain biker, I don’t have to completely change the way I ride!”
Denial always ends with the beginning of Anger. In this case it was spread out as the realization slipped into my brain bit by bit. Anger when I crashed INTO a wall ride instead of riding it. Anger when I sprained my hand wrecking over a gap jump (due to poor body position and vision). Anger when I could not perform the simple drills Gene teaches in camp as well as a beginner. Anger when I realized I spent 20 years of riding building habits that kept me from doing what I wanted to on the bike.
Once Denial is over, and Anger starts to subside, we get to Bargaining. This stage took a long time for me. “OK, Gene was right. I need to lower my chest and spread my elbows. He’s right about the shorter stem. But my vision is OK. I can remember what he taught us without doing the drills. My way of doing switchbacks is cool, and it works a lot of the time. I need to keep some of my RideStyle or I’ll just be a mountain biking robot out there copying Gene’s RideStyle. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Just because what I do is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If I change a few of the things I learned in camp, and keep some of my old Style, I’ll be better and still have my RideStyle (that I have invested 20 years in) intact! Great Plan!
Because it doesn’t work that way. After the Bargaining comes Depression. Once Gene breaks it down to science for you, your brain will know you are trying to fool it. “You know you can do better. If you were looking in the right place, you would have ripped that wall ride! Why did you chicken out on that jump? Why did you wash out on that switchback and get passed?” You know your relationship with your RideStyle has to end. The longer you drag it out the uglier the breakup has to be. It was sad, but I had to move my RideStyle’s shit out of my house and change the locks! (That means you, long stem, narrow bars, and hard tires, poor vision habits, body position habits, etc) The only way to get them out of here was to do the drills Gene taught me. They are like an eviction service for your bad habits. So now it’s Acceptance. That’s the part where I do my drills, take care of myself and enjoy a new way of riding my bike. The best part is, I’m getting to know a new RideStyle now! I think I love her. And I know it can last forever!
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 ride/race.
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