How to mountain bike article by BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton
Your imagination is more powerful than you think it is and it can help you greatly improve your mountain bike skills! As a young snowboard racer I thought that the strongest/bravest/most naturally athletic person won, imagery was hocus pocus bs! Turns out, imagery is one of the most powerful learning tools that you are equipped with. Fortunately as a mountain bike racer I started to use imagery and it played a big role in helping me to not only mountain bike better but also consistently perform at my best.
If you are one of our skills progression students you know how much we stress imagery and have read the article I wrote on imagery. If you haven’t read the article or are still doubtful of the benefits of imagery please watch this short video and read the article below! (recommended by BetterRide student, Gregg Austensen)
USING IMAGERY (VISUALIZATION) FOR MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING SUCCESS
Imagery or visualization is a great way to improve your riding and/or racing. Imagery has been proven in many studies to be more effective than actual practice in improving skill in sports. When using imagery you have no fear, can practice absolutely perfectly, can practice without fatiguing and simply rewind and correct any mistakes. Other than the fact that you won’t be physically tired from imagery your body can not tell the difference between imaging and actually doing. Consistent imagery will make a bigger difference in your riding than actually doing the drills I teach if you spend 20 minutes twice a week working on it. So add 40 minutes a week of imagery to your training program
Imagery can also help you improve and keep a positive attitude when weather or injury prevents you from riding.
I’m sure you have noticed that the most skillful or strongest rider doesn’t always win. This is because at the higher levels of competition most competitors have about the same skill. Winning races is a mental war and often a more prepared, focused and confident competitor will beat someone with slightly more “skill”. I have a few friends who are amazing bike handlers, definitely better bike handers than I, but I usually manage to beat them on race day. The key to winning any competition is being able to have a “peak” performance during competition. Consistently performing at your peak is easier said than done. One way to improve your consistency is to imagine or “visualize” you runs. Imagining is a very important skill and just like any other skill the more you practice it the better you get. If you haven’t imagined before or your imaging needs some improvement work on the information below.
What to Imagine (this isn’t just for racers if you don’t just substitute the word ride for race in the exercises below).
1. How you feel mentally in the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: excited, strong, confident, fast, elation after winning, etc.
2. How you feel physically at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: muscles relaxed your breathing, lactic burn in legs, steering and balance movements, absorbing shocks, etc.
3. What your eyes are focusing on when you are at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: looking ahead, reference points, course conditions, etc.
4. What you hear (or don’t hear) at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: wind rushing by, crowd noise, bike noise, and announcer screaming that you have just taken over the lead! (I recall Myles Rockwell saying that he imaged the announcer saying that prior to winning the Kamikaze years ago), etc.
5. Imaging can also be used to master a new skill and break bad habits. To do this imagine doing the particular skill perfectly using both first person and third person views. Start by imaging riding on a easy, predictable surface such as pavement then an easy trail, working your way up to doing it on a challenging section of trail.
How to Imagine
1. Imagine from 1st person, you are actually racing the course.
2. Imagine from 3rd person, you are watching yourself.
3. Imagine flawless runs, if you make a mistake back up and correct it.
4. Imagine in slow motion to learn new skills or master a difficult section.
5. Always imagine positive performances, feelings and thoughts.
How to Get Started
1. Imagine riding the 1st “section” (the 1st fourth or fifth of the trail, start new sections at major changes in terrain) of your favorite trail. Practice until your experience everything you experience on an actual run. For skills work on one skill three times then work on another skill three times (use the rule of three when visualizing too)
2. Start adding sections until you can imagine an entire 5-6 minute run.
3. Time your imaging sessions and compare their times to actual times on course. If your imaging is faster than real life you may being using to few reference points (physical features such as big rocks, stumps, ruts, or trees that you use to keep your bearing on the course (more on the use of reference points in my course inspection article) and skipping parts of the course or you might not be imaging all the steps it takes (braking, shifting, pedaling, jumping gaps) to get down the course. If your imaging is slower than real life you either have too many reference points and you’re getting bogged down on details that you don’t notice when racing or you don’t have enough RPs and are getting lost on the course. Figure out why you are not getting similar times and make corrections so you can image a perfect, fast race before race day.
Don’t be discouraged if you struggle with this at first. Imaging is a learned skill and gets better with practice. Mastering imagery will greatly improve your riding and/or racing.