BetterRide Certified coach Chris Skolnick demonstrating how easy it is to get over a big rock when have master two simple skills, the coaster wheelie (manual) and the weight shift. This is great test, if you can’t do this you aren’t very good at these two Core Skills of mountain bike riding, if you can do this smoothly and easily you have these two skills pretty wired.
Below I’ll address two things that seem to plague many MTB’ers in the off-season: 1) what I call “gym-rat burnout”. And, 2) body weight management.
The following is purposely not very specific or in-depth, but more of something to think about and address on your own. This is mainly because we all have different goals and aspirations, time crunches, athletic endeavors, etc, outside of biking (which is my area of expertise) and the off-season is the time to partake all kinds of other fun/necessary stuff that we have a tough time doing during the summer because we have other very important things to do … like ride our bikes! I’m also not an expert at weight training, pilates, road riding, xc skiing, or many other activities that MTB’ers use for off-season fitness, but I am very aware of how difficult it can be to maintain fitness over the winter. So again, I’ll keep this kind of loose, but these are two things that most of us, as riders, have to deal with in one way or another.
If you’re a fairly serious rider or racer (and you live in an area where it is the off-season) you should currently be enjoying a break from the intensity of training, racing, serious rides, etc. This doesn’t mean that you have to stay off of your bike. But bike rides should be fun and enjoyable at this time. If you’re a cyclocoss racer, or serious skier, or snowboarder, or something of that nature, great, just make sure that you will be able to get enough time to fully recover and then be ready to go again (both mentally and physically) for MTB in the spring.
Just because we don’t have a race right around the corner doesn’t mean that we can completely forget about what our goals are as riders. The off-season can and should play a very important role in your success next spring and summer.
First, I’ll address “gym-rat burnout”:
We ride bikes because riding is fun. Even if we take it extremely seriously, even if we make money doing it, we still do it because it’s enjoyable. We get outside. We get to compete (even if its with just ourselves). There’s often a good dose of camaraderie. Often, bikes give us a reason to travel. For most of us, the gym offers nearly none of this. The gym is a means to an end, and therefore, just not a whole lot of fun (for me at least). Ditto with road riding, running… So, it’s often tough to stay motivated to do these things for a long period of time.
Motivation is the key to anything as far as I’m concerned. This winter, if you spend three intense hours per day on your trainer in your basement, putting in thousands of miles and tons of interval work, and also hitting the gym like Lou Ferrigno, and then when you emerge in the spring, you hate your bike and the pain that it represents… well, you’re probably not going to be very motivated to kick the season off correctly. I’m guilty of this myself pretty much every year (kinda). I take about a week off somewhere in November, and after a week off of the bike, I get super motivated!!! I then get in the gym and put a program together, start trail running, start backcountry snowboarding like a banshee, ride my bike in the snow… I feel like an animal all winter long until around March and then I peter-out. I’m over it, over winter, over the gym, over running, over snowboarding… I end up eating like crap and being lazy for a couple of weeks right when I should be ramping up for the riding season to start. This has happened, consistently, for as long as I can remember. Sounds like I need to make some conscious adjustments to my off-season program, huh?
I’m not the only rider guilty of this. This happens to a lot of people. So relax a little and pace yourself. Stay active but do some other things besides road riding and the gym (that are fun or, at least, mix it up a bit). If you are very serious and want to make some fitness gains over the winter, cool, but be conscious of your mental state and put yourself on a pace where you’ll be chomping at the bit and ready to rip out the throats of your fellow competitors’ and/or riding buddies’ in the spring (literally, of course!!!). You want to be hungry when the season starts.
Something else that many of us need to deal with in the off-season is weight. And I’m not talking about shaving grams off your bike! The off-season is the time to make adjustments in body weight, or, at the very least, keep weight gain (or loss, for some people) under control. In my own case, I would like to slim down and improve my power to weight ratio (o.k., keep it under control, also!). While I’m not necessarily a fat-ass, 5’6” and 165 isn’t really ideal for getting from point A to point B (got some great ‘short-and-stocky’ genes from my mom). I do have a nice layer of beer and pizza induced baby-fat that I can rid myself of, but also, I can lose a bunch of muscle (especially upper body) that actually hinders me, speed-wise, on the bike. But in order to do this correctly, I need to maintain a calorie deficit. During the season — though I definitely don’t get to race as much as I’d like to — I do a lot of hard riding. This includes a lot of intense trail riding, motocross, dirt jumping MTB’s – stuff that I could easily get hurt doing if things go wrong (which, of course, they do from time to time), and often, on back-to-back-to-back days, whenever I have the opportunity. So during the season, recovery with adequate food intake, and being strong and fit is more important then focusing on losing weight (and doing it correctly, which is difficult). The time for me to do this is now (please don’t ask how its going!).
On the other side of this is simply not gaining unwanted weight. We all know how the wintertime, football season (obligatory beer drinking), the holidays, etc, can be a fat-laden kiss of death for keeping weight in check. Let’s be realistic about this: ideally, we’d all get down to our perfect “fighting weight”, during Nov, Dec and be on our way with our off-season training (and if you’re serious, you need to do this). But sometimes real-life does get in the way for real people. However, there’s no excuse for coming into the riding season 10-15 lbs heavier (fat wise – bad heavier) then you were at the end of the previous season. Five lbs.…? O.k., I’ll give you that… But, trying to dial in weight while you’re also trying to get stronger is a difficult thing to do and you’re starting in a hole if you begin your fitness and race training overweight.
A great way to help you keep things in check weight-wise? Keep a food journal. Especially over the holidays! Write down absolutely everything that you eat. Make sure that this is a small notebook or something that can be kept conveniently with you at all times so that you WILL actually do this! Every cheese sample at Whole Foods, every stray piece of Halloween candy, the dressing that you put on the salad… EVERYTHING! If you have to write it down, you’re conscious of it, you can’t simply “pretend it didn’t happen”. You won’t be saying, “man how’d I get so fat… I thought I was doing pretty good…”
So, a little advice on two things that most of us wrestle with during the off-season…
A heart felt thank you! BetterRide has helped more riders reach their riding goals than I ever dreamed it would! It has been an amazing 13 years for me. I now help 14 other people earn a living as well as helping over 500 riders a year greatly improve their riding with our skills curriculum and I couldn’t have made it without your support!
When I started BetterRide in 1999 my goal was to provide a core skills based training program like they use in all sports except mountain biking at the time. I never realized the resistance I would get from riders (many of whom have been coached, trained or taught in so many other aspects of their life). It was a struggle at first to get riders to understand the value of quality coaching (and many riders still seem personally attacked by the idea of coaching), but fortunately enough of you have trusted us that we have been able to grow, learn and improve! The emails I get from our students on their camp experience and/or their riding improvement since their camp makes my day! My passion for riding is nothing compared to my passion for coaching, I can’t imagine anything more rewarding.
I feel very fortunate to make a living doing what I love and I really appreciate your support. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Create a great holiday season,
PS If you have had a great coach/teacher in your life let them know! I bet there is a high school teacher or college professor who would love to know that they had a positive impact on your life.
As I write this, it’s late November out there. For most of us, riding-wise, we’re in some version of the “off-season”. While there are many important things that we can be doing in the off-season to get us prepared to go-for-it when the new riding season ramps up (which I’ll go into in future articles), a lot off us probably could use some much deserved time away from the bike.
If you’re a serious rider, this may mean that physically, you can use a little break. But, I feel that the mental break we get from riding during this time, is just as – if not more – important then the physical. Its very easy to get wrapped up in race results, training programs, fitness goals – or maybe just the stress of beating yourself up for missing those rides you promised yourself you’d do — losing the battle of time-juggling to real-life.
So, in this “skills article”, I’m going to give you a break. This is an easy one (and if it isn’t, then maybe we have problems!).
Take a deep breath and look back on this past year, and think about all the FUN you had on your bike.
We all had some great rides, some great days. We all had many “victories” whether that means a victory on a results sheet, or a personal goal accomplished with no one to witness but the trees and the rocks (often the best victories). You probably met some cool and interesting people out there on the trails. Maybe you made some new friends, or maybe you’ll never see that person again in your entire life, but because of that quick exchange, for whatever reason, you’ll remember them. Maybe you traveled and rode new places. No matter your skill level, there was a time when you felt like an animal out there (man, I’m killin’ it today!). Maybe you had the world’s most horribly-crappy day at work, or whatever, and then you were able to squeak a ride in and, next thing you know, your day wasn’t so bad … then decent … then, all of a sudden, you were laughing at yourself for letting all that meaningless BS get you bummed in the first place (Bike Therapy).
The list goes on and on. But we ride these things ‘cause it’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating… and sometimes we forget about that.
The following photos are from phenomenal photographer, Joshua Duplechian. Check out more of his stuff – and not just bikes – at: www.joshuaduplechian.com
Josh tagged along on one of the fairly regular, early-am-Friday-rides, that a bunch of us buddies managed to (usually) squeeze in before work (or before running damage control and catch-up-on-your-life after traveling and teaching bike camps for three-or-so weeks).
This was a perfect fall morning, just a few days before the first snow of the season. Nothing special, but still … one of those great rides … enjoy.
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