Learning/improving takes place best away from riding on trail!

The winter is the best time to improve your skills and take a mountain bike skills camp.  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 true 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 I rider says, “I ride 20 hours a week! I am getting tons of deliberate practice!”  I have to smile as chances are not one minute of that 20 hours was deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice means working on one specific skill (or movement) with a focus on quality, not quantity.  Many skills, such as cornering involve a lot of different movements/components which means practicing “cornering” is not deliberate practice. Deliberate practice would be practicing vision through a corner three times, stopping and analyzing what you did right and wrong then refocusing and doing it three more times. This 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, football, ski teams and pretty much every sport requiring skill teams doing drills more than 70% of their practice time!

Use the off-season to learn the correct core skills and then practice them with a focus on quality and 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 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!).

Railing Corners, maintaining body position while braking for corner.

Interesting braking and cornering question asked by one of my students:

“Just a quick follow up question.  I have been having a problem getting out of position before cornering, primarily caused by hard braking (especially if there are rough terrain before the corner or if I come in too hot).  As I brake, my body gets behind the center and lower as well, and by the time I start entering the corner, I am out of the “attack” position.  My front wheel feels light, and it becomes difficult to get in the correct cornering body position.

If you have suggestions as to how to properly transition from braking into cornering (especially under hard braking), I would appreciate it.”

Interesting question, I have been working on the same issue, especially last weekend at Snowmass. The problem stems from getting back while we brake, getting low is good but we need to stay more centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner.  I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” which does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake.  Getting back also puts me out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly.  My entire focus at the last two races has been to stay centered as I brake, use A LOT of front brake and then let off and attack the corner. Believe me, the entrances to these corners are really rough and brake bumped, but you can still stay centered. When working with Greg Minnaar he really stresses this. It sounds scary but once you do it you realize two things: 1. you can brake in a much shorter distance with more control (less front wheel slide) 2. you are in a much better position to corner when you let off the brakes. This is another reason to practice the braking drills from the camp you took.

As always it comes down to doing drills to master skills then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality!

Create a railed corner (or two)!