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Is More Power Making You Mountain Bike Slower?!

One of the Huge, Little Things When Mountain Bike Riding!

While riding some steep technical climbs today I realized an interesting skill that I use quite often on my mountain bike yet have trouble with on my dirt bike (which has a lot of power!).  Although I am a professional mountain bike racer I am an intermediate (at best) motorcycle rider but both sports require a lot of skill when climbing steep and loose trails.

More power! Isn’t that what us men are always searching for?! The more power I have the faster I climb (and sprint!), right? Well, not so fast power boy. Often power can be our biggest weakness. Sometimes we power through sections on power alone, so we make the section but we weren’t particularly efficient and we got lucky, we could not consistently rely on power alone to make that section. Other times power is what slows us down or stops us. Loose and/or technical sections (especially climbs and switchbacks) require precision. The precision I am talking about isn’t line choice precision (which at .5-2 miles an hour is much more important than it is when going faster but not the topic of this post) but what in motorcycling is called throttle control, for mountain biking we will call it power control.

I was climbing a tight, steep, loose and way off camber switchback today. At about the 3/4 point around I almost came to a complete stop on nearly the top of the “berm” (banked part of the turn). Years ago I would of just put all of my power into at this point and would of had a 50/50 chance of making it. I might have flew through, might have spun the rear tire and stalled or slid out. Today, I realized I was slightly off balance (a little leaned down the hill) and because of the off camber and loose conditions I could not power through. So I stalled, shifted my weight up the hill a bit and then eased on the pedal pressure and crawled through the switchback, but I made it! This was situation where patience and a couple of key core skills (trackstanding, body position, switchback line choice and vision) really paid off.

This switchback was approximately number 10 of at least thirty switchbacks in about 25 straight minutes of granny gear climbing. It really got me thinking about power control (and how bad I am at it on my motorcycle!) and I started really paying attention to this seemingly little detail for the rest of the climb. I was blown away but how much modulation I used in my power out put for the rest of the climb! One of the big goals of climbing that we teach is to apply constant, steady power to the rear tire (not sudden surges that can break the tire free) but I never realized that on some climbs (like this one) it isn’t steady. It is carefully modulated power, accelerating or increasing power as much as I could with breaking loose, slowing or backing off the power when necessary then increasing power again.

This precision of power output  is easy to explain but it takes years of deliberate practice (not just random riding but really focusing on the skill) to master. It is mastered when you can subconsciously adjust you power output so that you can make all but the trickiest steep climbs and switchbacks. Which like so many skills means you will never master it! One day you clean all the switchbacks the next ride you miss one or two.

The fact that you can constantly improve with deliberate practice and drills but never completely master (where no matter how challenging the trail you never make a mistake) mountain biking is what keeps me riding! The challenge is always there no matter how good you get!

So go out and practice your power output and if you don’t have the core skills wired (remember, we do a lot of things wrong because they are intuitive, humans intuitively move away from danger, which on mountain bikes, skis and snowboards means we instinctively move or lean back away from the downhill. While instinctive it puts us in an out of balance, non-neutral, out of control position in all of those sports*) make the best invest you will eve make in your riding and lean the core skills (and dills to master those core skills) in one of our three day skills progression camps.

*Please checkout this article on intuition and instinct. http://betterride.net/blog/2011/why-our-instinicts/

Top 4 Exercises for Better Body Position w/video

Great exercises from James Wilson!

Top 4 Exercises for Better Body Position

One of the most important movement skills for any mountain biker to posses is the basic “hip hinge”. This is your ability to bend at the hips and not at the lower back and it is directly related to your ability to get into good body position on the bike. Without this movement skill you will always struggle to find balance and flow on the trail.

However, it can very tough to learn this movement skill on the bike if you don’t already posses it off the bike. This is where smart strength training comes into play – by using strength training as a basic means of “skills training” you can re-train and strengthen your movement skills which will make it much easier to apply on the bike.

The following 4 exercises are a great way to teach yourself a good hip hinge movement pattern, strengthen it and then make it powerful. Remember that the goal is not to get through all 4 exercises the first time you try this routine – stop when you find the exercise that offers you a challenge and spend time getting it down before moving on to the next step. If you don’t prioritize movement quality then you’ll never be able to learn how to do it better.

- Ball Popper X 6 reps: This strange looking exercise is the first step to learning how to bend at the hips instead of at the lower back and ankles. You should feel as if you can really apply a lot of pressure to the stability ball between your butt and the wall before moving to the next step.

- Touch the Wall Deadlifts X 8 reps: Now that you now how to drive your hips backwards instead of just sinking down you can start to pattern the actual movement. By standing in front of a wall and bending over until you touch it you force yourself to learn the hip hinge since the wall won’t get any closer without the right movement strategy.

- Deadlifts X 5 reps: Once you have control of the hip hinge with your bodyweight, it is time to add some load and “cement” it. Everything that you have learned in the first two steps should be applied here – don’t change how you move now that you are using load. Remember to load the hips at the bottom before standing up, drive your heels into the ground to start the movement and then squeeze your thighs together at the top to ensure proper technique.

- Swings X 10-20 reps: The swing is simply a dynamic deadlift so if you don’t have strong command of the previous three exercises then you will really struggle with this one. However, few exercises are as valuable for teaching you how to absorb impacts with your legs while maintaining strong body position and how to power movement with your hips and not your legs and arms.

No matter where you are on this exercise continuum, practicing the appropriate level of exercise for you will go a long way to helping you gain better command of this all important movement pattern. Without it you will struggle to apply all other techniques to your bike and quickly hit the ceiling on how fast you can go while maintaining balance and control. Add these exercises into your training routine and you’ll see a marked increase in your balance and flow on the trail.

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MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for the Yeti World Cup Team and 3 National Championships, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. As a regular contributor to several popular magazines and websites, James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit www.bikejames.com to sign up for the free Trail Rider Fundamentals Video Mini-Course

What the Best In the Industry Do To Improve Their MTB Riding

Just Found this “Thank You” email From MTB Strength Coach James Wilson dated 10/1/10

Gene,

I just wanted to say thanks for all the help with my riding. this last riding season was one of the best ever for me and I can attribute it directly to the time I spent with in February. Learning how to clean up my cornering technique and how to manual totally changed my riding. I’m living proof that fitness is one thing, knowing how to apply that fitness on your bike is another. Every serious rider should take a skills clinic and I think that you’re the best at what you do, thanks again for sharing your knowledge with me. Let me know the next time your in town, I’ve got some cool new kettle bell exercises for you.

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

It feels great to know that the pro seek out our help when they want to start riding their best. Although 90% of our students are just enthusiasts and weekend warriors it is nice to have the best in the industry seeking us out too.

How to MTB Video: Using Strength Training For Better Body Position

My strength coach James Wilson has given me a great article to help you achieve better body position!

Touch the Wall Deadlifts for Better Body Position

Everything starts with good, balanced body position. Good balanced body position on your bike comes from being able to “hinge” at your hips and not your lower back. Being able to do this movement effectively will make a dramatic impact on everything you do on the bike.

The Touch the Wall Deadlifts have quickly become one of my favorite exercises in the facility. It is the best way I’ve found to teach the all important hip hinge movement pattern. Here are the progressions for this exercise, plus what you want to be learning at each stage of the progression. Don’t be afraid to replace your swings and/ or deadlifts with these if you feel you struggle doing them right.

You can download the Coaching Cue Handout for this exercise by right clicking on the link below and selecting Save as…

Touch the Wall Deadlifts

-James Wilson-