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How To Use Your Imagination To Mountain Bike Better!

How to mountain bike article by BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton

Your imagination is more powerful than you think it is and it can help you greatly improve your mountain bike skills! As a young snowboard racer I thought that the strongest/bravest/most naturally athletic person won, imagery was hocus pocus bs! Turns out, imagery is one of the most powerful learning tools that you are equipped with. Fortunately as a mountain bike racer I started to use imagery and it played a big role in helping me to not only mountain bike better but also consistently perform at my best.

If you are one of our skills progression students you know how much we stress imagery and have read the article I wrote on imagery. If you haven’t read the article or are still doubtful of the benefits of imagery please watch this short video and read the article below! (recommended by BetterRide student, Gregg Austensen)

Imagery article:

USING IMAGERY (VISUALIZATION) FOR MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING SUCCESS

Imagery or visualization is a great way to improve your riding and/or racing. Imagery has been proven in many studies to be more effective than actual practice in improving skill in sports. When using imagery you have no fear, can practice absolutely perfectly, can practice without fatiguing and simply rewind and correct any mistakes. Other than the fact that you won’t be physically tired from imagery your body can not tell the difference between imaging and actually doing. Consistent imagery will make a bigger difference in your riding than actually doing the drills I teach if you spend 20 minutes twice a week working on it. So add 40 minutes a week of imagery to your training program

Imagery can also help you improve and keep a positive attitude when weather or injury prevents you from riding.

I’m sure you have noticed that the most skillful or strongest rider doesn’t always win. This is because at the higher levels of competition most competitors have about the same skill. Winning races is a mental war and often a more prepared, focused and confident competitor will beat someone with slightly more “skill”. I have a few friends who are amazing bike handlers, definitely better bike handers than I, but I usually manage to beat them on race day. The key to winning any competition is being able to have a “peak” performance during competition. Consistently performing at your peak is easier said than done. One way to improve your consistency is to imagine or “visualize” you runs. Imagining is a very important skill and just like any other skill the more you practice it the better you get. If you haven’t imagined before or your imaging needs some improvement work on the information below.

What to Imagine (this isn’t just for racers if you don’t just substitute the word ride for race in the exercises below).

1. How you feel mentally in the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: excited, strong, confident, fast, elation after winning, etc.

2. How you feel physically at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: muscles relaxed your breathing, lactic burn in legs, steering and balance movements, absorbing shocks, etc.

3. What your eyes are focusing on when you are at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: looking ahead, reference points, course conditions, etc.

4. What you hear (or don’t hear) at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: wind rushing by, crowd noise, bike noise, and announcer screaming that you have just taken over the lead! (I recall Myles Rockwell saying that he imaged the announcer saying that prior to winning the Kamikaze years ago), etc.

5. Imaging can also be used to master a new skill and break bad habits. To do this imagine doing the particular skill perfectly using both first person and third person views. Start by imaging riding on a easy, predictable surface such as pavement then an easy trail, working your way up to doing it on a challenging section of trail.

How to Imagine

1. Imagine from 1st person, you are actually racing the course.
2. Imagine from 3rd person, you are watching yourself.
3. Imagine flawless runs, if you make a mistake back up and correct it.
4. Imagine in slow motion to learn new skills or master a difficult section.
5. Always imagine positive performances, feelings and thoughts.

How to Get Started

1. Imagine riding the 1st “section” (the 1st fourth or fifth of the trail, start new sections at major changes in terrain) of your favorite trail. Practice until your experience everything you experience on an actual run. For skills work on one skill three times then work on another skill three times (use the rule of three when visualizing too)

2. Start adding sections until you can imagine an entire 5-6 minute run.

3. Time your imaging sessions and compare their times to actual times on course. If your imaging is faster than real life you may being using to few reference points (physical features such as big rocks, stumps, ruts, or trees that you use to keep your bearing on the course (more on the use of reference points in my course inspection article) and skipping parts of the course or you might not be imaging all the steps it takes (braking, shifting, pedaling, jumping gaps) to get down the course. If your imaging is slower than real life you either have too many reference points and you’re getting bogged down on details that you don’t notice when racing or you don’t have enough RPs and are getting lost on the course. Figure out why you are not getting similar times and make corrections so you can image a perfect, fast race before race day.

Don’t be discouraged if you struggle with this at first. Imaging is a learned skill and gets better with practice. Mastering imagery will greatly improve your riding and/or racing.

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!

 

Is Your Bike Loud?

Is your mountain bike loud?

A year and a half ago I was sitting on top of Bootleg Canyon watching the start of the pro downhill race (before my start). The fourth or fifth rider to start was a kid I am fortunate enough to coach named Mitch Ropelato. After Mitch disappeared from sight the racer next to me exclaimed, “wow, I wish my bike was that quiet!”. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his bike is that quiet, it is the rider that is making it loud. While all bikes (especially downhill bikes on tracks as rough as Bootleg Canyon) make some noise (a little chain slap, the tires hitting rocks, rocks thrown from the tires hitting the frame, etc) when they are ridden well that noise should be at a minimum.

How to use bike noise to improve your mountain bike riding:

Something we really stress in our skills progression is being smooth. We stress this because, the smoother you are the more in control, efficient and faster you are! Your bike provides you with great feedback on being smooth. If your bike is making a lot of noise (loud chain slap, loud pings and noises coming from your frame, suspension and/or tires) as you ride you aren’t being as smooth as you could be. Use this feedback to remind yourself to relax, breathe and flow with the trail instead of fighting it! Don’t just rely on your suspension, use your arms, legs and especially your ankles to smooth out the trail.

 

Greg Minnaar looking smooth!

If you get a chance to watch (and listen) to a great mountain bike rider like Mitch or Greg Minnaar pay attention to how smooth and quiet they are on their bikes. They are excellent examples of economy as they smoothly flow down the trail, often taking rougher/faster lines, but taking those lines cleanly. Often, they are so smooth they look slow as they aren’t getting thrown around by the trail.

This ties in with the article on Mountain Bike Rides That Feel Fast but Are Actually Slow!

http://betterride.net/?p=2827

 

 

 

 

Mountain Bike Rides that Feel Fast but are Actually Slow!

If it looks fast or feels fast it is probably slow! How to go faster while riding safer and more efficiently.

Ever have that descent on your mountain bike where you felt like you were flat hauling?! At the bottom you were thinking (or telling a riding buddy), “wow, I nearly hit two trees, a big rock and that huge stump! I was flying!”. Believe it or not, despite feeling like you were right on the edge of your skill limits that was probably not near as fast as you could ride that descent (with your current skill).

I first stumbled upon this phenomenon as a snowboard racer. I had a super fast training run and asked my coach, “Nick did you see that run? What was my time, that was my fastest run yet!” Nick replied, “that was 30.2, your fastest run so far was a 29.1!” I was shocked and thought Nick was lying and trying make me mad to motivate me to go faster. A few runs later I had what felt like a technically perfect run but it felt kind of slow. “Nick, did you see that run? My hips, knees, and shoulders were perfect! I know it was slow but did you see my form?!” Nick’s reply, “slow?! That was a 28.3, you fastest run yet!”. I was really confused and didn’t really understand why the run that felt fast was slow and the run that felt slow was fast. It wasn’t until about 10 years later as mountain bike racer that I figured it out. It all had to do with vision and technique.

With good technique and looking as far ahead as you should riding will feel slow as you stay in you comfort zone and have plenty of time to pro-act to the trail. With poor technique and not looking far enough ahead you have to quickly react to the trail. This does a couple of things to you. First, it feels fast as heck as you are making one neck saving move after another (and probably pin-balling all over the trail, not exactly taking the most efficient line) all these reactions cause the body to go into the fight or flight mode which jacks up your adrenaline and tenses you up. This combined with not looking far enough ahead makes it feel like you are flying when in reality you are not going as fast you could be and not taking good lines down the trail. Ever look down at the dashed white lines when you are doing 75 miles an hour in your car? It feels like you are going 200! Then look up at a mountain a few miles away, it feels like you are crawling. Well the same thing happens on the trail! If you look at rock four feet in front on you, you are going to be there (at the rock) in a fraction of a second, if you see the rock when it is twenty-forty feet in front of you you have plenty of time to go around the rock and you stay calm and relaxed.

So, learn to look much further ahead down that trail! This will make riding much more fun, faster and safer!

This video reminded me of that. Notice how tense you get when the helmet cam is pointed down (you don’t know what the trail is going to do next) and how you almost breathe a sigh of relief when the rider looks further down the trail (and you know what the trail is going to throw at him).