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Mountain biking

Mountain Biking, Make Skill Improvements Stick! Forever! Starting Now!

When mountain biking we often overlook crucial mental skills that help us use our physical skills better and more confidently. The mistake we will work on today I have nicknamed, “Riding with Fully Rigid Eyes”.

I came up with the name, “Fully Rigid Eyes” when I realized I was looking at the trail with the same “eyes” as I did on my first mtb ride in 1989! It was 1998, nine years later and my skill and my equipment was head and shoulders better than it was in 1989 but I was looking at the trail like I did on that first ride (on a fully rigid mountain bike)!

Let me explain the situation and how you can use this to help make your mountain biking skill increases “stick” and become much more confident. From 1994-1998 (dates might be off my a year) the first downhill race of the year for me was down the Porcupine Rim Climb (Starting at the Top of “Lazy Man’s and finishing by the stock tanks on Sand Flats road). I always walk the trails I race and memorize them (where I do EVERYTHING, where I brake, where I let off the brakes, where it get’s rocky, the lines I take, where I shift, where I sprint, etc.) and to help remember the track I make up names for each section (the fast section, the steep section, the wooded section, etc). At this race there was a rock garden which I called the “gnarly section” and on my hardtail with 1.5″ of fork travel up front and a 120 mm stem it was kind of gnarly.  However, by 1998 I had a 6″ travel full suspension bike, a 60 mm stem and my skills were much better than in 1994 (and way better than in 1989!).

On to the race! There I was, blasting through the “Gnarly Section” on my sweet Yeti/Lawwill Straight 6 with a big grin on my face. As I crossed the finish line after my first run it occurred to me, it isn’t gnarly anymore! At this race I always got a minimum of ten practice runs and the promoter gave us two race runs so by my race run in 1998 I had 50 practice runs and 10 race runs on that track! In that time I never crashed in that “gnarly section”. If you can make something 60 times out of 60 attempts, it must not be too gnarly! But, I was still calling it the gnarly section! What do you think I was thinking as I railed the corner before it and said to myself, “here comes the gnarly section”? If you are thinking I might of tensed up a bit and slowed down a hair you are right! Why? With my improved skill and way, way better bike it was easy know! So I renamed it, “that fun, rocky section”. On my next run, as I railed the corner before the “fun, rocky section” instead of tensing up and slowing down I relaxed and threw in a few pedals! Five seconds faster and I moved up from 5th to 3rd!

You can put this into practice and make skill improvements stick and increase your confidence in you and your bike! Think about it, on a scale of 1-10 my skill from 1989 to 1998 had gone from a 1 to 7 and my bike had gone from a negative 1 to an 8, yet I was still looking at the trail like I was on that negative 1 bike with a skill level of 1! Don’t to this! It is hard not to do this though, do you have a rock like the one in the short video below or a section of trail that you have never made before? Well, you probably have a name for it, something like, “that gnarly section” or “widow maker” or that “f’ing. f’ing rock that always screws me up”. Well, let say your skills improve (because you took a BetterRide camp!) and now you ride that rock or section of trail for the first time. You didn’t get lucky, you know exactly how you did it, “I looked at the rock, spotted my line, looked to victory, manualed and shifted my weight” (just like in the video below). Well, now is the time to update your reptilian brain and make sure it knows how much better you have become!

Walk up to the rock/section of trail that used to riddle you and say to yourself, “wow, for 3/5/10 years I couldn’t make it over this rock, now it is easy, simply look at the rock, spot my line, look to victory, manual and shift my weight and I’m over it.” Then ride it again to cement in that it is now easy for you. This is a crucial step to making improvements stick! Think about it, for nine years I looked at the trail with the eyes of a beginner yet I had gone from beginner to pro racer! Simply because I had not upgraded my self-image as a mountain biker (despite great upgrading my skills and my bike!) I was not allowing myself to have the confidence I should of had!

A word of caution, often men feel they have way more skill than they actually do (especially when they are between 10 and 35ish) which is why about 90% of emergency room visits for traumatic physical injuries are young males, so over confidence is bad! Make sure your skill has honestly increased and your weren’t just lucky!

 

 

Luck vs. skill, update self image, crucial skill (that you can can start working on now!)

mountain biking in Sedona

Mountain Bike Skills, How to Ride Your Best Under Pressure

This is an updated version of a mountain bike skills article I wrote in 2010. It starts off about racing but my answers will help in any “pressure situation” on trail (an unexpected gnarly rock garden, a challenging and/or exposed section of trail, etc).  I had received this email from a student:

“Hi Gene,
I’ve really started to feel the effects of your camp and my technique has got a hell of a lot better, when I’m racing i feel so confident and fast in practice.

But then when it gets to seeding and race runs this all goes out of the window and i just end up falling off, I’m not riding outside of my limits and i know that i can ride well enough to be threatening the top spot in my category but i just seem to not be able to manage the pressure and the mental side of things.

Any tips on race mentality etc??”

My updated answer for anytime you are mountain biking, not just racing:

This a tough thing for many racers and as I mentioned a few times in our camp, what good are all the mountain bike skills if you can’t use them when needed?

Before we get to your mental game, have you mastered the skills from the camp? As you know, one of my favorite sayings is, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”. WHAT THIS MEANS IS,  just because you can do a skill doesn’t mean it is now hardwired as your “go to” skill. Your old habits are likely still dominant so the second you feel pressure your body reverts to what it knows best, you old, self taught “survival” skills. As you know, change takes work! The longer you have gone without learning the correct skills the more ingrained your bad habits are and the more likely they will fire under pressure instead of the correct skills. Double up your drill time and practice like Jerry Rice (who spent 99% of his football related time practicing) and you will overpower your old habits and create new, correct habits.

mountain bike skills

Mary Pat executing proper mountain bike skills over a log pile in our Durango camp last summer.

You can also toughen up your mental game. First, remember there is no difference between a race and a practice run, same track, same racer, same bike, same goal. The only difference between your race run and a practice run is the pressure YOU but on the run. Treat your race run as another practice run (especially if you are doing timed practice runs using a stopwatch) then, read these two blog posts and practice the mental skills in them: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/are-you-tough-part-1/ and http://betterride.net/blog/2010/are-you-tough-part-2/ and most importantly read, study, practice, master one of these books from your homework assignment:

The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, and Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists
by James E. Leohr, Chris Evert, Dan Jansen

Excellent book with work sheets to help you practice what it teaches.

The Mental Edge: Maximize Your Sports Potential with the Mind/Body Connection
by Ken Baum, Richard Trubo

Excellent book with work sheets to help you practice what it teaches.

Body Mind Mastery: Creating Success in Sport and Life
by Dan Millman

Really, really great book that goes a little deeper into why you compete in sports and helps you integrate sport and life (helps you see and create balance in your life so the sport does not take over your life).

mountain bike skills

Jon Widen staying centered while descending one of the steepest lines at Whistler!

Most importantly have fun! That’s what keeps Steve Peat and Minnaar on top.

 

MTB Skills

MTB Skills, How We Actually Learn/ Why “Experts” Often Make Poor Coaches

There has been an amazing amount written about MTB skills and our students are always asking me to write a book on mtb skills. My book is in the works but it is taking a lot of time because I want the book to actually help you become better, not fill your head with knowledge. Knowledge is worthless if you can’t put that knowledge into action on your bike!

Why is so hard to actually do a skill you understand? You read a well written article on the skill, you know Exactly how to do the skill, yet you still struggle, why? Put simply that is because the wrong part of your brain understands the skill. The part of your brain that read that MTB skills article has absolutely zero input in doing a physical skill, a completely different part of your brain handles physical skills. What you need to do is train the correct part of your brain to do the skill, which is hard/impossible to do by just reading or listening.

The book “Choke” covers this well and I will explain what 26 years of coaching people just like you and what Choke has taught me. I have always noticed a disconnect between “knowing” something and being able to “do” what you know (both in me and in our students). Choke explained the reasons for this better than anything else I have read on the subject and they actually use riding a bike as an example!

 

mtb skills

When Greg Minnaar works with us he makes me sign a contract saying that he is not a qualified mtb coach as he realizes he isn’t the best at coaching.

According to “Choke” as an expert gets better and better at doing a skill they start to forget stuff. Their example: “Think about riding a bike. How exactly do you do this? Well, yes, first you have to get on a bike and pedal. But there is a lot more to it than that. You have to balance, hold on to the handlebars, look at what is in front of you. If you miss any of these steps, falling is a real possibility. This usually doesn’t happen when proficient bike riders are actually riding, but if you were to ask a bike rider to explain the “how tos” of this complex skill, he would forget details. This is because the proficient bike rider is trying to remember information about bike riding that is kept as a procedural memory, as we psychologists term it.”

“Procedural memory is implicit or unconscious. You can think of procedural memory as your cognitive tool box that contains a recipe that, if followed, will produce a successful bike ride, golf putt, baseball swing …. Interestingly, these recipes operate largely outside of your conscious awareness. … because when you are good at performing a skill, you do it too quickly to monitor it consciously. …”

“Procedural memory is often distinguished from another form of memory: our explicit memory that supports our ability to reason on the spot or to recall the exact details of a conversation we had with our spouse the week before. … Simply put, explicit and procedural memories or largely housed in different parts of the brain …” More on those different parts of the brain in this article: You Aren’t Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do!

So, how to we train our “procedural memory? Drills, with a focus on quality, not quantity! Remember, perfect practice makes perfect! Not just any drills of course, drills designed to get you doing the correct recipe. Our free mini-course has quite a few of these and our three day skills progressions are designed around specific drills to get you actually doing what we teach you.

What gets in our way when learning the correct way to do something? Our experience! If we are experienced but doing things incorrectly we have solid (but in correct) procedural memories. In this case being a complete beginner is better than an experienced rider when learning as the complete beginner has no procedural memory. The experienced rider has to weaken their incorrect procedural memory while strengthening the new, correct procedural memory.

So, do the drills from our mini-course and/or take a skills progression camp but most importantly do your drills!

Lastly, this why “skilled” athletes rarely make good coaches, they can’t access their procedural memory to articulate what they are doing. Think of the great athletes who have made lousy coaches, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson, Mike Singletary, Ted Williams, Mike Ditka, Isiah Thomas, etc. as a matter of fact goggle “why “skilled” athletes rarely make good coaches” and there are a lot of articles on the topic!

Mountain Bike at your best

Mountain Bike At Your Best By Taking Care of This Overlooked Factor!

Most mountain bikers know that they get stronger through cycles of physical stress and recovery. A 100 mile ride wears you down, good nutrition and good sleep after that ride helps you recover and grow stronger. What I never realized (until I read “The New Toughness Training For Sports” years ago) is that mental and emotional stresses can be just as debilitating as physical stress. This means a lot of your life away from the bike and/or other forms of exercise can wear you out too. To mountain bike at your best you need to manage and make sure you recover from all stresses.

Mental stress is just as it sounds, anything that mentally taxes you. This can be a challenging problem at work or home, financial worry, learning, etc., basically anything that makes you concentrate intensely or think hard. Guess what is super mentally stressful, mountain biking! The harder the trail is skill wise (to you) the more intensely you have to concentrate and this can be really taxing. At places with high consequences for failure (like Bootleg Canyon) I find I can ride a max of three days in a row before I am worn out and my riding starts to suffer. After three days there I need some mental recovery before I can ride at my best again. I do this by taking a day off or riding easier trails which take less focus.

Mountain Bike at Your Best

Riding trails like King Kong is stressful!

How do you recover from mental stress? Relax! Shut your brain off! The absolute best way is to meditate (which will help in many other ways both on the bike and in life) but meditating is hard wish turns many people off. If you are interested in meditating and it positive effects start doing it! There are probably many teachers in your area and tons of information on the ole inter webs. If meditating isn’t your cup of tea then simply try shutting your brain down, deep breathing exercises, taking a nap, watching a simple movie (not an intense French film with subtitles), have a beer or glass of wine or two (much more than two and you may be harming yourself in other ways), yin yoga, anything that slows you down and shuts your brain off.

In our busy, over stimulated lives (smart phones, traffic, long work hours, etc) it is easy to become overloaded mentally and all aspects of your life will suffer. The “work hard, play harder” philosophy almost guarantees mental stress. SCHEDULE time to alleviate your mental stress and you will see a big difference in your performance on trail (and life in general) riding.