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2 MTB Off Season Dilemas by BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky

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…

Good luck!!!

Bike “Industy Experts” Sometimes Give Poor Advice!

This is Andy’s take on something that is plaguing mountain biking, bad advice by self appointed experts.

Ok, this may seem a bit harsh, but I’m ready to go to war with ignorant, “industry experts” such as bike shop employees, shop owners, especially “professional bike fitters”, (AND husbands and boyfriends of female students who “…know what’s best for my girl’ ‘cause I’ve been riding for twenty years and use to race!” – I love that one!) that refuse to wake up, educate themselves, and understand what equipment is necessary in order to most effectively ride an MTB — both up and down an incline — in technically challenging terrain and therefore, continue to give riders advice and recommendations on equipment that are just plain wrong.

If you’re a normal-joe, just trying to help out with advice, “well, this is what I use…” or “I heard this works really well…” then, hey, I understand. You’re just trying to help another rider out. (Maybe, throw in a, “I’m no expert, but…” first?). But, it’s the people whose job it is to be an expert on the topic — whom other riders should be able to trust — who are too lazy, close-minded, and/or egotistical (or stocked their shop with the wrong stuff) to figure out what is going on in the bike world (not just right out your front door, on your local trail…got news for you: that’s not ‘the bike world!’) and therefore, not only won’t sell riders what they need in order to ride their bikes more effectively, but bad mouth the equipment and the “True Experts” (ahem…us) that recommend it… those are the ones I’m after!

After every camp I teach, I get emails form students, where the above is the case.

ALMOST every rider that buys a stock MTB, — assuming that their goal is to have the best all-around handling bike (which is the goal of the instruction in our camps – and to be the best all-around rider you can be) — can benefit from wider bars, a shorter stem, and an adjustable height seat post. Control set up, proper tire selection, pedal/shoe combination, a frame with adequate angels… all these things matter, also.

This obviously is not the “bike set-up” portion of a BetterRide Camp, we’re not sitting here discussing things real-time. So, I can’t hit every detail and explanation in this article. However, the following is an email response that I sent to a student that maybe can set a few “experts” straight. If a lot of this stuff is completely foreign to you, get on the ol’ internet and check it out!

Andy Descending

Hey —-,

Sorry to hear about the “opinions” of your local shop owner. Here’s something to consider with bike set up:

Again, we need to know what the goal of our riding is, and what terrain we want to excel on, and set our bikes up accordingly. If I’m racing the Leadville 100 (100 mi’s of dirt road–nothing too technical), or a typical XC race (not very technical, usually not technical at all), then I’m NOT going to use the bike I currently have, which is set up for aggressive trail riding.

However, if I’m riding fun, technically challenging, “expert level” trails, then my current bike set up is exactly what I want. Most campers come to our camp to learn how to ride the latter, and that’s what we focus on with bike set up. And if you can learn to ride this type of riding, and obtain some skills, it will definitely help everywhere else.

I would say that the closest type of MTB racing to the type of riding that I’m talking about above is “super-d” or “enduro” racing (not ENDURANCE racing–different stuff). These are fairly long, primarily downhill races, but also have climbs, flat pedal-y sections, etc. Sometimes, these are multi-day, multi-stage races where as soon as riders finish a stage they immediately have to climb, on trail, to the top of the next course and get there in an allocated amount of time for the next stage. So: fast difficult, technically challenging downhill descents, and large amounts of climbing, sometimes over a few days. You get to use one bike, and, often, your bike is photographed and marked so that you can’t change (most) of the parts.

The idea is that the winner is an all around mountain biker. Endurance, technical skill, proper equipment (a bike that can handle the descents AND climb back to the top–quickly!) is mandatory! True Mountain Biking!

Sound familiar? This is basically what we teach. My bike at the camp is my super-d race bike with few very minor changes. This is the largest growing type of racing because it involves much of why many people ride MTB: scare the shit out of yourself/handle it/have a blast on the way down, but also be fit enough and able enough to crush your competition on the climb. (The races and courses are also kind of unpredictable, forcing riders to be able to adapt — in the true nature of MTB!)

The reason I bring up this type of racing is because — as I said — it is essentially what we teach, and if you look at all the top riders in this type of discipline, their bikes will almost always be set up almost exactly like mine/what we emphasized in camp: the best all-around handling mountain bike you can put together. And, racing isn’t about fashion or what’s cool (when it really comes down to it). It’s about function. As they say, “the clock doesn’t lie”.

Again, I know super-d racing isn’t the goal for all of us, but being a great all around rider is the focus of the camp so that’s also what we focus on with the bike.

DIRT magazine had a feature on a lot of pro bike set ups for this type of racing a couple months ago. Some of these races: Downeville Classic in California, Oregon Super-d Series, Some of the Mega-avalanche stuff in Europe…

And, like I said in camp, a bike-fitter won’t help you out with this, in fact, they’ll take you in the wrong direction. (ask M— how his bike fitter would do a fit on a downhill bike. Downhilling is a big part of the equation, right?)

Unfortunately, M—, like so many other shop owners or “industry experts”, is a bit behind the times…

Andy

In racing, riders use what works. A BetterRide bike is set up to be the best all-around handling bike possible. This type of racing is proof of that set up.

… and, please, don’t tell me that I can’t fit through trees with my wide bars. Take a camp, and we’ll show you how to do that, too.

Gene’s Article on on bar width and stem length: http://betterride.net/?p=486

Gene’s Article on dropper seat posts: http://betterride.net/?p=625

Gene’s Article on tires and tire pressure: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/another-thing-you-can-buy-and-instantly-have-more-bike-control/

I Hate Getting Emails Like These From Mountain Bike Riders!

I Hate Getting Emails (and Phone Calls) Like These From Mountain Bikers!

So many injuries!  Three students who signed up for camps and one who wants a camp next year all injured themselves last month! One woman broke her right wrist and her left shoulder and some ribs, another thought he had broken some ribs (luckily they are only bruised but still super painful), one broke is femur and the last got 17 stitches in his leg!

I hate getting emails like these (especially the photo, ouch!):

Hi Gene.
My wife may have not been too clear, considering her condition, when you both talked ….
She’s making good progress, but since her right wrist and left shoulder were broken (along with several ribs), limiting their use and making certain tasks very difficult at this time …..
Thank you,

Steve

2 and a half weeks ago I did this to my leg practicing bunny hops in my backyard.  I came unclipped and my egg beaters became shin mutilators.  Haven’t been on the bike since.  I lost some confidence.  Try to explain this injury to the boss.  Hopefully you can view the picture just so you can say dude if nothing else.

Dan's Leg after the bad bunny hop!

 

Wow, that looks really painful (and expensive)! As he said it also cost him a lot of confidence. Now, not every injury could be prevented with better skill but this one could of been! If you are yanking up on your cleats to do a “bunny hop” you are really putting yourself in danger. I have never seen this bad a cut from poor bunny hop technique, it is usually an endo leading to a head, arm, wrist or leg injury (such a fracture, not a deep canyon opening up!). Simply learning how to ride in balance, in a neutral position, how to do a coaster wheelie and rear wheel lift (again without relying on your clips (which leads to being off balance and/or injuries like this)) would of eliminated this injury and saved Dan from: 1. Spending a lot of money 2. Feeling lot of pain 3. Missing a week or six of riding 4. Loosing a lot of confidence.

Mountain biking does not have to involve injury! Before my injury in July I had not been injured mountain biking in six years! Please take it from me, a 45 year old guy who rides six days a week and races pro downhill learn the correct techniques, drill them until they become second nature and every mountain bike ride will be more fun, faster and safer!


Overcoming Mistakes While Mountain Biking

When it comes to riding mountain bikes, perfection is not an option. Whether you are a top professional racer or a green-newbie, you will make mistakes out there on the track or trail every time you ride. How you recover from these mistakes – primarily mentally – will be vital to your performance, and perhaps more importantly, to your level of enjoyment while finishing the remainder of the ride.

Our goal, after we make a mistake, should be – as quickly and efficiently as possible mentally deal with the mistake, and then forget about it, and get back into our flow, or “zone”, as its been called, with clear and correct mental focus and proper physical technique.

On a training ride, maybe this means getting off the bike, figuring out what went wrong, and going back and working on cleaning the obstacle. But, in a race, or on a hard ride with our buddies, or five hours into that two-hour ride (because you got lost, whatever) when its now dark, you’re cold and exhausted, and you still have forty-five minutes left to go… now getting off the bike and re-working the obstacle or deep contemplation over what went wrong isn’t an option. Making a mental note for later contemplation, sure, but at this point your goal needs to be putting all your energy into moving forward – efficiently and correctly – and NOT dwelling on the mistake, compounding it into further energy (or speed) zapping errors.

Even the top racers in the world make mistakes. Whether you are a downhill racer or not, the following applies to you:
There has never been a World Championship winning race run that has been perfect (the annual World Championship is one race – one final race run that counts for all the marbles). Every World Champion has stated that they made a few small mistakes in their winning run. So, in the most prestigious and probably financially rewarding three minutes (or so) of the particular athlete’s racing life, the most intense pressure-cooker in mountain biking this person screwed up! A few times! And then overcame those mistakes to beat the best in the world on that day, with that run.

On the other hand, I know a few racers out there, once they make a mistake its game over! They get flustered, frustrated, angry. They then over-ride the bike and the track, dwelling on the mistake, forcing them into further mistakes. Maybe they give up altogether! I’ve seen it happen! I also know racers (and so do you, if you’ve been around racing) that are consistently near the top of the field, week in and week out, always right up there in the overall points … these athletes are making those same little mistakes, but obviously doing a much better job at dealing with them.

Of course, its not just racers that we’re talking abut here. We’ve all probably seen riders (maybe one of our buddies or even ourselves) make a mistake, drop an f-bomb, immediately make another mistake … a few more f-bombs (at a higher volume), and then two immediate mistakes later, they’re having a melt-down on the side of trail like a three-year-old in the grocery store.
… Improper technique AND straight up embarrassing!

On the other side of this, we’ve all had rides that started out crappy and ended up being awesome, with us finishing up the ride with some of the best riding we’ve ever done! What’s the difference and how do we not let mistakes affect us negatively further into the ride?

First, I’m very careful (sometimes hesitant) about dealing with the mental aspects of riding when it comes to other riders before I get to know them. Spotting bad technique and giving advice on how to correct it is usually fairly easy and nearly black and white. But because we all come from different places, with different motivations, different successes and failures, etc, the mental aspect and what motivates each individual rider can be a touchy subject. (I have seen riders get so angry, that they did literally will themselves over obstacles that were giving them problems. It worked in that case, but as I’ll explain, that’s probably not the best mental technique for most of us.)

In order to most effectively negotiate tricky terrain on your bike, you first need to be in balance. If you are in balance on your bike, you can now also be loose and nimble on the bike, allowing you to make the many tiny and instantaneous adjustments that are necessary in order to efficiently maintain control and maintain further balance. Also, when you are balanced and neutral on the bike, you are able to both react and be proactive to obstacles on the trail and/or movements of the bike. If you get off balance it becomes nearly impossible to remain loose and nimble on the bike. You become rigid and tense. This, of course, makes it nearly impossible to sense and create subtle movements and adjustments. We become ballistic in our movements, off balance, and it becomes even more difficult to regain balance, making us even more rigid and tense, putting us even more off balance … this is what is known as the “downward spiral of crappiness”, and we’ve all been there!
When we get angry, frustrated, or scared on the trail, we also become rigid and tense. The above is often what happens to us, but now its compounded by our improper mental state. So how do we deal with this? Everyone is different, but you have to find a way to keep an even keel!

There are tons of techniques, sports psychologies, you name it out there that may be able to help you with this problem. Two simple methods we use in BetterRide instruction are as follows:

One, is the “Circus Song” (that kinda goofy little ditty that accompanies clowns and monkeys and bearded ladies at the circus). This is often seen as somewhat humorous to our students (we have them ride down the trail while LOUDLY humming the “Circus Song”). We have students do this at a point in our camps when most students have experienced some frustration and mental fatigue. Doing this effectively takes your big brain – which is now causing you problems by complicating the situation with your emotions – out of the equation of riding. (How upset and frustrated can you be while humming the circus song and picturing monkeys and clowns riding bicycles under the big-top?!?!).

A second technique is to develop a “Mantra”. When I ride, when things start getting a little gnarly – especially in race situations – I have a three-word mantra that I run through my brain of “Look, Feet, Breathe … Look, Feet, Breathe …” (or something of that nature). While the circus song (or riding with ipods or whatever) actually takes your mind off of riding, a mantra gives your mind something positive and necessary to focus on, instead of running off in all kinds of undesirable directions (in this case, anger and frustration and the effects that come with these). The word “look” keys my vision (the most important part of riding a MTB and impossible to cover in the space of this article), the word “feet” reminds me to keep my weight on my feet and to stay low and neutral on the bike (this is the cornerstone of proper body position – which is integral to riding the bike correctly and effectively). And the word breathe … well, that’s obvious.

The mantra keeps me focused on the important elements of riding the bike, and it makes it impossible for my mind to wander or to take off in bad directions – its impossible to focus on the negatives if I’m focusing on the positives! I can make a mistake or two and leave them right where they occurred on the trail, instead of mentally dragging them along with me!

However, anger and frustration WILL creep into your riding. The only way out is to DO THINGS RIGHT – maintain proper form and technique, maintain mental clarity and focus. But, like lots of other things, we know what we SHOULD do but, often its difficult to do these things – especially under the stresses we encounter out on the trail. And sometimes this does require us to be (or become) mentally tough. How do we become mentally tough? Every rider is different, but read the article by Gene, titled “Are You Tough? (part 1 http://betterride.net/?p=476 and 2 http://betterride.net/?p=470)” for more techniques that will help you in these situations.

Another thing we can do to help us recover mentally from mistakes on the trail is “hope for the best, but plan for the worst”. What do I mean by this? Let’s think about those World Champions that I mentioned earlier in this article. Did they expect to have completely flawless race runs? Of course not. Therefore, when they did make a mistake, it wasn’t a huge surprise and it didn’t throw their game plan out the window. Likewise, recreational riders need to expect to make mistakes. Expect to feel frustrated and angry, but then what you do after this (or with this) is what really counts!

Finally, once you are familiar with some of these techniques, use mental imagery to help incorporate them into your riding. Imagine yourself riding along, having the best day of your life, then you make a mistake, then another… allow yourself to feel the negative emotions as if you were really out on the trail, then imagine yourself engaging in these mental techniques and regaining your focus and flow.

Just like all physical techniques, we need to practice this (these) until they become automatic. Like most of the physical techniques of riding the bike, these aren’t complicated, yet they can still be quite difficult to pull off out on the trail. Use that mental imagery to work these into your program. Fortunately, (Ha Ha) no matter who you are, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to use them out on the trail!