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

The Unhealthy Side of Mountain Biking

As you probably know, I love mountain biking but mountain biking isn’t all good, it can be bad for you. I am not talking about crashing (which is definitely bad for you) but simply riding mountain bikes. Mountain biking, like many sports, can be PART of a very healthy lifestyle. I stress the word “part” because mountain biking should not be your only form of exercise and you need to take care of its ill effects.

This is multiplied if you spend the bulk of your now riding time sitting down! Sitting with poor posture can really exacerbate and even cause major back trouble.

The idea for this article came when I saw two very fit looking road cyclists get off their bike and then hobble to the door. They could barely walk! They were hunched over, stiff and very wobbly! Luckily, because mountain bikers stand, absorb shock and are more dynamic than road cyclists (who often stay in the same hunched over position for hours) mountain biking isn’t as bad a road cycling but it still can lead to imbalances in our body. Few sports work all muscles, ligaments, and tendons equally which is one of the reasons “cross-training” is popular in most sports.

If you like to mountain bike as much as I do don’t forget to mix things up every week! The best thing I have discovered to help me stay fit, healthy and balanced is yoga. A structured weight training program with mobility exercises and self-massage/myofascial release (foam and lacrosse ball rolling) is also a great compliment to my mountain biking. Weight training and yoga are also great mental breaks from mountain biking (which due to the concentration needed to ride single track is very mentally stressful).

Why strength training for mountain biking?

  • Mountain biking requires a stable core and a strong lower back, yet riding really doesn’t build a stable core and a strong lower back. It takes work to build a stable core and a strong lower back and achieving both will give you more power on your bike, as well as more control and greatly decrease your chance of injury!
  • Mountain biking is asymmetrical exercise when standing and coasting all riders have a foot that they prefer to put forward and a preferred trailing foot. This works each leg’s muscles quite differently and twists your hips. A good exercise like Bulgarian Split Squats which works each leg separately can help rebalance and realign you!
  • Consult a qualified trainer to help with finding the correct exercises and executing them correctly, incorrect form while lifting weights can cause more harm than good.

Why self-massage/myofascial release (foam and lacrosse ball rolling) for mountain bikers?

  • Mountain biking can really tighten us up! Short tight hamstrings, tight IT bands, tight hips, tight chest, neck, and back are all symptoms of mountain biking, no matter how fit you are. Foam and lacrosse ball rolling are great forms of self-massage and can really loosen you up! I would have had to of stopped riding years ago if I had not discovered the benefits of rolling.
  • Once you buy the roller and the lacrosse ball it is free! It just takes time and some uncomfortable work but it pays off my opening you up for peak performance (or, often in my case, simply allows me to ride!).
  • Not familiar with self-massage/myofascial release foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball, do a quick google search, there are probably 100 books on the subject as well as hundreds of youtube videos and free articles on the how and why of it. Or talk with your trainer, physical therapist or yoga instructor.

Why yoga for mountain bikers?

  • Yoga helps your posture, your breathing, your mobility, your focus and helps calm you.
  • Yoga really helps with your body awareness, proprioception, and balance which many of my students struggle with as did I as pro snowboarder and in my early days as a professional mountain biker.
  • As a mountain biker, who also lifts weights I get plenty of “yang” my favorite form of yoga is called “yin” yoga and it really opens up your body my holding poses for one to five minutes at a time.
  • Yoga done poorly can really mess you up, especially if you like to “push” things. Take classes from qualified instructors and make sure you aren’t “cheating”. The goal isn’t to force yourself into a position, the goal is to gently open up your body.

I find the more yoga I do the better I ride (because I breathe better, have better focus and have greater effective strength and flexibility) and the more I enjoy and look forward to riding (my back doesn’t hurt, the day off from riding made me miss riding). The same goes for strength training and self-massage. With warm weather on the way and great trails beckoning you to ride, it is hard to take a break and do something else, but if you force yourself to be more balanced in how you exercise and recover you will have more fun on the trail in the long run.

In short, balance your riding with other athletic pursuits to be healthier, happier, faster and have more fun!

Yoga, self-massage/myofascial release, and weight training are my favorite forms of exercise to balance with my riding, what others forms of exercise do you do to compliment your riding? What do you like about it and how does help you? Please comment below.

As always, feel free to share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it.

If you are as obsessed with mountain biking as I am please read/re-read this article:

Mountain Bike Climbing Video Tips (Back Pain Saver and Power Producer)

When I purchased my first two mountain bikes the guys at the shop told me to tilt my seat slightly toward the rear so I “would slide back to the more comfortable part of the saddle and take weight off my hands”. Turns out, they were right, if you only ride retaliative flat terrain! If you have long, steep climbs that setup can lead to back pain and greatly restrict your power output, by tilting your hips backward making it nearly impossible to hinge forward. This causes you to use lower back instead of your strong gluteus maximus and hips to power your climb.

Modern mountain bike design has greatly evolved over the last few years, finally getting longer reach measurements so we can be stable and use a nice short stem and the headangles have gotten slacker making descending much less scary! Two things I have been preaching for years here (see this article on the most confidence inspiring mountain bike: http://betterride.net/blog/2016/confidence-inspiring-mountain-bike-fun/  ). Most companies are still missing the final ingredient which is a steeper seat tube angle so we aren’t sitting over the rear wheel! My bike has 74 degree seat tube angle, while forward thinking companies like the Canfield Brothers Toir has 77 degree seat tube angle, putting your more over the bottom bracket than the rear tire. This makes climbing much easier! (by keeping your weight more centered so low don’t have to hinge way forward when climbing to keep the front wheel from lifting and so it doesn’t feel like you are pedaling forward like on a recumbent!)

Have you tried tilting your seat slightly forward and down? Slid your seat forward on the rails?  I would love to hear about your experiences or any questions you have! Please feel free to share this article with anyone you think would benefit from it.

Never Bonk and Eat all the Bacon You Want

I was wrong! For the last 25 years I thought I needed a large volume of carbohydrates in my diet to do any form of endurance exercise. Even my 80 year old grandfather laughed about how when he played football for The University of Virginia in the 1920’s “they didn’t know about carbohydrate loading and ate steak the night before a game”. Turns out my grandfather had the right plan (as long as there was a lot of fat on that steak and no potato with it).

I know it sounds crazy but you can eat as much fat as you want (because you can’t eat a lot of fat, it fills you up!) and teach your body to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates! As long as you restrict your carb intake (usually less than 50 grams of carbs, a 12oz Coke has 42 grams!) you will also lose weight on this diet (or, if you already have a lean build, maintain you weight). The best thing, you can’t bonk! Even a lean professional endurance athlete has 100,000+ kcals of fat (energy to burn) vs. 2,000 kcals of carbohydrates*. *http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-bodyrsquos-fuel-sources This way of eating is know as Low Carb High Fat (LCHF), The Keto Diet or in South Africa “Banting”.

Everyone who knows me can’t believe how much I eat! My nickname in college was tapeworm! When I raced cross country I ate over 6,000 calories a day (10,000 on big days), I ate more pasta than you have ever seen, then finished it with a half gallon of ice cream! Yet I weighed 167 pounds (at 6’3″) I now weigh 190 and people still think of me as being slim (must have been really skinny in my xc racing days!)! I had to eat a bar every 30-45 minutes on a ride! My breakfasts were legendary, 3 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon, a quarter of a cantaloupe with a big handful of almonds, 6-8 oz of yogurt with a cup or two of granola (and I would be starving by noon).

On the above diet, after eating that big breakfast, if I did a three hour ride from 9:00 until noon I would eat at least two Kate’s Real Food Bars (360 calories each) and one Clif Builders Bar (270 calories) and finish the ride at Milt’s with a burger, fries and LARGE milkshake.

I was the friend that annoyed friends on long rides! “Let’s keep going, my metabolism is kicking!” I would say after the shortest of breaks. Then I was the one begging friends for food, “I didn’t think this ride was going to take so long, anyone have a bar or some trail mix?”

Now I eat a breakfast consisting of three eggs (cooked in butter and bacon fat!), 4 pieces of bacon and half an avocado. Then I ride from 9am until noon and I just drink water on the ride (have now learned to drink an electrolyte drink)! When finished I have a smoothie and hamburger with a flax seed bun (made without wheat), avocado, tomato and I’m stuffed!

I tried the Atkins’s diet 18 years ago and leaned out until I had a six-pack for the first time in my life but I couldn’t ride more than 30 minutes without running out of energy! The missing ingredient was fat!

Now, this LCHF diet isn’t easy to do at first, there are hidden carbs in almost all prepackaged foods. You have to cook/make most of what you eat. Also, the first week of switching to this diet many people get the keto flu (you feel nauseous and lack energy for a few days to a week), to fight this you need to increase your intake of salt, magnesium and potassium.

It’s also not all bacon, all the time! You still need a lot of fiber, so eat your veggies!

I’m no expert on diet though so I am just speaking from my experience, the experience of a few friends, asking every doctor I meet and from what I have read. If you would like more information I have included quite a few links below (or simply search LCHF Diet and you will be astounded at the amount of information)! Research has proven this diet to be safe, sugar (carbs) are what cause people to become fat and other issues, not dietary fat! When the world went “low fat” obesity and diabetes skyrocketed!

Have you tired to eat this way? Are you currently eating this way? I would love to hear about your experiences or any questions you have! Please feel free to share this article with anyone you think would benefit from it.

Addition information:

This great video from Peter Attia explains Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) for athletes really well: https://vimeo.com/51891286

www.dietdoctor.com has great films, Ceral Killer, That Sugar Film, Film: My Big Fat Diet, about Canadian First Nations Obesity, and written content. They will ask you to join but you can do it for free.

https://www.ketovangelist.com/, full of great articles and 135 podcasts and