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How to Mountain Bike at Your Highest Capability Level

By BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton

In a culture of more, now, faster, we all want to improve quickly. In mountain biking this means we want to corner faster, climb faster, bunny hop higher and be able to ride technical terrain better, now! As a mtb racer and a coach I am always looking for ways to improve my riding and my coaching too and like you, the faster the better. The funny thing is, we ignore, gloss over and just don’t want to talk about the thing that really holds us back from reaching our goals in all aspects of life. Our focus tends to be on the physical; “what are the mechanics of a j-hop?”, “what should my body position be in a corner?”, “will these lighter wheels will make me faster?”, when it is our mind that is holding us back. We subtly sabotage our efforts with negative and often flat out BS thoughts. I have posted on this before, but I was wrong about the best way to get ourselves to actually perform at the highest level we are capable of.

In our camps and previous posts we have focused on positive and negative “self-talk” and how powerful both are. Negative self-talk (“I am a decent descender, but suck at climbing”),  is probably the number one thing holding most riders back. In the past we have stressed the value of positive self-talk (“I am a good descender and getting better at climbing with practice.”) which is far and away better than negative self talk, but turns out not near as good as interrogative self-talk. Interrogative self-talk is asking, “Can I do this?” which changes your self-talk from declarative statement, “I am a great climber” to a question, “Can I climb this?”. The first statement, ”I am a great climber” will give you an emotional lift but the question, ”Can I climb this?” will lead to a response, “Well I climbed a steeper, rockier hill in Moab last week.”. Then you are likely to remind yourself of how you have prepared for just such a climb, “Of course I can climb this, I have increased my power by 15% in the last two months of training and I have have been practicing my climbing techniques…”. Then you are likely to give yourself some advice, “last week in Moab I resisted the urge to try and sprint the lower part of the climb and maintained a slower cadence which really helped my balance in the loose stuff”.  Positive self-talk makes you feel good and possibly confident while interrogative self-talk prompts you to come up with ways to accomplish the task.

Before or during your next ride, instead of declaring your abilities with positive self-talk simply ask yourself, “can I do this?”. The best time for self-talk is before a ride or when you have stopped to either rest or access a trail feature. A lot of self-talk while riding leads to not being in the moment which can cause mistakes and crashes.

For more information read: “Motivating Goal-Directed Behavior Through Introspective Self Talk: The Role of the Interrogative Form Simple Future Tense,” Psychological Science 21, no. 4 (April 2010), Ibrahim Senay, Dolores Albarracin, and Kenji Noguchi .