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Fear is Good

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 2

Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 2.

Fear, the killer! Fear is a topic we deal with a lot in our skills camps. Even with new and/or greatly improved skills from our camp fear can still hold you back. With this in mind I will share some ways we help our students manage their fear while mountain biking. Fear does have a purpose and it isn’t always a bad thing, appropriate fear (fear that keeps you from doing something you lack the skill to do safely) can keep you safe and save you from injury! We are going to focus on inappropriate fear (fear that is either based in fantasy or fear that doesn’t equal the risk at hand).

 

Mountain Bike at Your Best

You can see from body position I was a little scared here (my weight is a hair too far back instead of being centered) and on King Kong trail a little fear keeps you safe! A lot of fear would of probably caused me to crash.

Of course skill is the number one factor in overcoming fear, imagine our students who race World Cup downhills like National Champions Luca Cometti, Mitch Ropelato and Jackie Harmony riding your local trails. I doubt they would be scared of that section that scares you on your local trail (as World Cup Tracks are gnarly!). They have worked hard on ingraining the correct riding techniques so they are riding in balance and in control consistently so while they may have less “nerve” than you they have great skill.  I’m not trying to sell our coaching though, here are some ways to overcome fear with the skill you currently possess.

1.  Go at your own pace and take “baby steps” when progressing. Taking a big leap over your comfort zone is not a good way to learn. Have you ever been goaded into doing something that you felt was way above your skill level? Even if you make it you often don’t feel like you have gotten better, you feel like you got lucky. Feeling, “Holy cow, I nearly died, that was sketchy!” does not make you feel confident! If you don’t make it,  the crash will often set you back, decreasing your confidence and raising your level of fear. So be gentle with yourself and progress at a pace that is comfortable to you.

2. Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. This sounds simple but pays off big. Our brains don’t understand “not” and “don’t” very well. If you are focusing on not falling your brain has to focus on the concept of falling and then quickly try to refocus on “not” doing what you are thinking about. It is much easier to focus on “getting to that tree” or “ride this section smooth and light” than telling yourself “don’t fall”.

2.5 Ride that trail with confidence! Focusing on not falling does not put you in a confident state and studies have shown that we become less coordinated as our confidence drops. As I have stated in previous blog posts mountain biking is an offensive sport! This means we should always ride on the offense or get off and walk! Mountain biking defensively will get you hurt as you are focusing on what you don’t want to do and you are less coordinated.

3. Live to ride another day! If you are more focused on “not falling” than you are on getting to where you are going, get off your bike and walk that section. Who knows you might go right through it the next time when you are more warmed up and/or focused.

After/while walking that section figure out what about that section is scaring you then “baby step” your way up to doing it.

Example: If a four-foot drop on an exposed trail is scaring you find a one foot drop with no exposure, get really good a hitting that, work your way up to a four-foot drop with no exposure, then an exposed trail with a one foot drop working all the way to a four-foot drop on an exposed trail. This builds on a series of successes, increasing your confidence!

4. Breathe, relax, breathe and smile it is just a bike ride. Breathing and smiling releases tension which improves our balance, coordination and confidence. I mean deep, belly breathes from your diaphragm which are very calming. Smiling releases endorphins which relax you. The simple act of lifting the corners of your mouth, even if it is a grimace will release those endorphins and relax you!

7. As you improve make sure you update your self concept to match. Remember that the past doesn’t equal the future. You may have wrecked or not made a section last week/month but if your skills have improved since then the section may be easier for you now.

Example: We used used to race down the Porcupine Rim climb in Moab (from Lazy Man’s to the stock tanks) and there was a section most of us referred to as “the Gnarly Section”. It was a two foot rock drop into a field of “baby head” rocks and ledges. When I first raced it in 1994 on a hardtail with a 1.5″ travel Mag 20 fork it was kind of gnarly! By 1998 my bike had gone from hardtail to 6″ of travel front and rear and I had ridden that track over 50 times and raced it 10 times (we got two race runs back then!). On my first race run in 1998, I railed the corner before that section and said to myself, “here comes the gnarly section”, what do think saying that made me do? If you guessed, “tense up and slow down a little bit” you are correct! After that run it occurred to me that I had ridden that section at least 61 times and never crashed in it. If you can ride something cleanly 61 times out of 61 attempts is it really gnarly? I realized my bike had gotten way better and I had become way more confident a rider so why did I fear this section and call it “the gnarly section”? I decided to change the name of the section to, “that fun rocky section”, which, on my 6″ travel Yeti Lawwill it was! On my second run, as I railed that corner and said, “here comes the fun rocky section” do you think I slowed down and tensed up? No, I smiled, relaxed and probably snuck in a few pedal strokes!

So, don’t do what I did for five years, failing to update my self-image as a rider. As you improve make a conscious effort to raise your self-image as a rider!

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

BetterRide Coach and National Champion Jackie Harmony experiences fear too, she just as more confidence than most riders so it takes a tougher trail for fear to affect her.

7. Wear knee pads and elbow pads when practicing a tough section are learning a new skill. I have found that having padding on really increases your confidence when learning or trying to push your limits. As a matter of fact I never ride without knee pads anymore, knees are too valuable and easily damaged!

8. Debunk your fear/s. Is your fear realistic? Often fear is not based in reality and when we realize this the fear goes away.

Example: I was working with a pro downhill racer on calming his pre-race nerves and I kept asking him, “why are you nervous?”, finally after four of five answers that couldn’t be the main cause of his nerves he said, “I don’t want to let my wife and kids down.” I then asked, “so you doing well in a bike race is really important to your wife and kids? If you do poorly they will lose respect for you and love you less?” He laughed and said something like, “no, my wife and kids see how hard I train and want me to do well but I’m pretty sure they don’t base their love for me on how well I race my bike.”  When we got him to bring this fear into the light he realized it was completely made up and he was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on himself. After this he still got nervous before a race but the appropriate amount, enough to give him energy but not hurt his performance.

9. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up or wreck do your best to figure out why it happened and correct that mistake or improve your technique so it will not happen again.

 

MTB Skills Camp Videos, A Peak Into The BetterRide Method

Wow, can’t believe I haven’t posted more actual mtb skills camp videos to help you understand how we get riders just like you riding better than they ever thought possible (cleanly riding sections of trail you never thought you would and/or winning World, Pan American and National Downhill, Cross Country, Dual Slalom and Four X Championships). If you have been reading our blog you know that learning skills is not as simple as acquiring knowledge, you must train your “procedural memory” as knowledge is NOT stored in the same part of your brain that helps you do physical skills (if you missed our most recent article on the subject read it here: http://betterride.net/blog/2015/mtb-skills-actually-learn-experts-often-make-poor-coaches/ ). With that in mind we educate you on how to do the skill, why this skill works (the physics behind the skill) and drills so the skill can become the DOMINANT skill in your procedural memory (under pressure (any time you on trail) you will revert to your dominant habit, often an old, incorrect habit).

First, your coach will explain how to do a skill. Why the skill is important, how to do the skill correctly and physics behind why doing this way works 100% of the time. Here is Gene in the middle of explaining weight placement when cornering:

We practice in a safe learning environment (off trail) where you can confidently focus 100% on the skill being taught (not take up brain bandwidth with fear/keeping yourself safe). The only way to train your “procedural memory” is with action, specifically structured drills so you can focus on the movements required to perform the skill. This called “Deliberate Practice”. Some photos of students practicing what they have been taught in a safe learning environment.

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

Once you have executed the new skill quite a few times we then apply the skill on trail. This doesn’t always lead to success at first as the new habit is not your dominate habit (it may take weeks of doing the new habit perfectly while not reinforcing the old habit for the new, correct, in balance, in control technique to take over as your dominate habit, all depending how ingrained the old habit is and how much quality practice you put into doing the drill/s designed to in grain the correct skill)

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Video example two, Gene explaining how to do a wheelie in balance, in control, economically and using zero upper body strength.

Students practicing wheelies in a safe environment.

Practicing efficient/in control wheelies using no upper body strength!

Susan practicing efficient/in control wheelies using no upper body strength!

 

Students practicing wheelies over obstacles on trail:

MTB Skills Camp

Applying the skills learned through deliberate practice on trail.

 

Enduro Camp

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.