You Don’t Need a Trail to Mountain Bike Better….
As the trail riding season for many riders ends it doesn’t mean the end of your riding season. When the trails are covered in snow and/or mud is the best time to improve your skills!
Learning takes place best away from the sport you are learning! That’s right, if you are spending a lot of time doing a sport it is hard to improve. This is because perfect practice is what builds skill, not simply doing something for hours. There is a general rule among coaches, teachers and physiologists that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a sport (or a game, an instrument, etc.). While your goal might not be to master mountain biking the more time you spend doing deliberate practice the better you will get.
When a rider says, “I ride 20 hours a week! I am getting tons of practice!” I have to smile as chances are not one minute of those 20 hours was deliberate practice. Deliberate practice means working on one specific skill (or movement) with a focus on quality, not quantity. A great example of this would be, “I am going to practice riding with 100% of my weight on my pedals down these stairs,” then riding down those stairs while focusing on keeping your weight on the pedals three times, stopping and analyzing what you did right and wrong then refocusing and doing it three more times. Practicing many skills, such as saying, “I am going to practice on perfect body position, weight on my pedals, hinged at the hips, chest down, chin up, elbows up and out, knees bent, looking ahead, with a light grip on the bars”, is overwhelming and often you will do none of those skills well. This especially true if you try to do that on trail. There is an old saying, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong!”
Practice is hard to do when a beautiful singletrack is beckoning you to ride it! In season it is hard not to just go out and ride mile after mile with a big grin on our face! The only problem with riding as much as we can is that we get really good at what we already are doing, which is often a series of bad habits. So to improve we have to step away from the trail, learn the proper techniques and then practice these techniques one at a time with a focus on quality. This is why you see all the basketball players, football players, ski racers and pretty much every professional athlete in a sport requiring skill doing drills more than 80% of their practice time!
There are two big things working against us on trail when our goal is to mountain bike better:
1. Even with the best intentions we forget what it is we are supposed to be working on. The trail becomes too fun and we stop practicing and just get in the moment (one of the most fun parts of riding! But it doesn’t help us work on skills!)
2. The concern for our own safety makes us revert to our survival instincts (like braking in a corner) instead of focusing on what we want to practice. This happens to pro racers on beginner trails in our camps. Something I and our coaches hear all the time from our most experienced (20 to 30 years of riding experience) and most accomplished students (World, National and Pan American Champions and an Olympic Silver Medalist) is, “Wow, I can’t believe how much I am looking down!” This is said on trails most of us would call beginner trails, hardly challenging to ride, but hard to ride perfectly.
Ever notice that football players spend a great deal of practice doing drills with no defense trying to break up the play? Watch a pro basketball team practice, the best basketball players in the world practice layups with no one defending the hoop! Heck, I can make 10 out of 10 layups with no one defending the hoop but I can’t make 1 out of 10 layups with a 300 pound, seven foot tall player trying to stop me from making that layup. So why do the best pros in the world practice in an easier, less dangerous environment than what they get paid to play in? They practice in a safe environment to ingrain the correct movements. Let’s face it, if the best basketball coach in the world taught you the correct technique for shooting a layup and then had you face Shaquille O’Neil to practice you couldn’t do a thing the coach told you. You would resort to self-defensive mode.
Use the off-season to learn the correct core skills and then practice them with a focus on quality. Your skills, confidence and enjoyment will soar. Snowing outside?! Hit that parking garage and spend 20 minutes doing the core skills drills we teach in our camps and then spend 10 minutes imaging perfect technique. A few weeks of this quality practice (mixed with resistance training and cardio work) will do more than years of just winging it on the trail (according to World Champ Ross Schnell who said, “I learned more today than in the last 10-11 years of just riding” (in a rushed 3.5 hour lesson, BetterRide camps are 19-22 hours over 3 days!). Ross however didn’t master those skills in our 3.5 hour lesson; he simply learned how to do them and how to practice them. The real improvement comes with deliberate practice. Check out this article on how to practice: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/great-mountain-biking-skills-tips-are-worthless-how-to-make-them-work/
Stop selling yourself short and start actually practicing the sport you love. Keep your eye out for our next few blog posts as we will be focusing on specific skills and drills you can do.