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Important MTB Skills That Are Often Overlooked

Important MTB Skills That Are Often Overlooked
Most mountain bikers are purely focused on improving the physical skills of riding, body position, vision, cornering, braking, wheelies, bunny hops, drops, etc. and they don’t put much time and effort into the equally or more important skills that can be worked on off their bike. Your focus, confidence, mental game, balance and physical condition (flexibility, core stability, upper body strength, leg strength) all play as big a part in your riding as your “riding skills”.
Here is a list of books I recommend to my students after their camp with me. Don’t be in a hurry to read them all! Take your time, reread each book/chapter and apply what you think will work for you in your life. We are not in search of knowledge, we are in search of change.
One of my favorite Zen sayings is, “when the pupil is ready the teacher will appear”. My take on this is that the teacher (and/or lesson) has always been there, you just either didn’t need their teaching yet or were not ready for it yet. I will give you an example from my coaching experience. My most famous students, Cody Kelly, Mitch Ropelato, McKay Vezina, Shawn Neer all have repeated my three-day core skills camp many times and they all say things in the second to fifth camp like, “wow! you have should have said that in the first camp!” and I reply that I did say it, you just didn’t need it yet.
Mountain Bike Skill

Shawn Neer, who just earned 10th place at the first EWS in Chile, showing great form. Centered, neutral and eyes looking way ahead! Thanks to mtbr.com for the photo.

Often, when being exposed to a new concept like braking (Mitch and Cody came from BMX where they didn’t even have a front brake so learning that the front brake does 70-100% of the slowing/stopping of them and their bike was a new concept to them) a student will be letting that new knowledge soak in (the big picture) and miss some details about that concept. The second time they hear the concept they already know it so they then are able to focus on the details more (such as braking body position, modulation, where to brake, etc.).
The same can be said for these books. Don’t just get the big picture, reread them and get the important details too.
Knowledge is worthless without action! So many people (who I have recommend these books to) have said to me, ‘Wow, that book was a great read, thanks!” I always reply, “Cool, glad you liked it, what concept/s from the book are you applying in your life?” Sadly, many of them can’t name a single thing from the book that they are applying in their riding or life.
These are life-changing books, not novels, USE them!
These are all great books not just meant for competitive athletes. Anyone can learn a lot from them and if you study them they will improve your riding.  They are in no particular order and my short review follows each listing.

I was going to divide them into “sport” and “life” but as Dan Millman often mentions, if your life is in a state of “dis-ease” so will be your athletic performance. So, in my humble opinion, all/any of these books will have a profound effect on your life and your mountain biking.

Pick ONE that sounds interesting to you, read it, study it, apply what you have learned in your riding/life, reread to find all the nuggets you missed (or were not ready for yet).

The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, and Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists

by James E. Leohr, Chris Evert, Dan Jansen,

Excellent book with worksheets to help you practice what it teaches.

The Mental Edge: Maximize Your Sports Potential with the Mind/Body Connection

by Ken Baum, Richard Trubo,

Excellent book with worksheets to help you practice what it teaches.

Body Mind Mastery: Creating Success in Sport and Life

by Dan Millman,

Really, really great book that goes a little deeper into why you compete in sports and helps you integrate sport and life (helps you see and create balance in your life so the sport does not take over your life).

Way of the Peaceful Warrior, 20th Anniversary Edition: A Book Those Changes Lives

by Dan Millman

Not really a mental training book but a book that gave me a much better outlook on life.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.

by Daniel Coyle

Fascinating book on how your body/brain/nervous system respond to practice and how to “grow” your talent.

For Your Back!

Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence

by Eric Goodman and Peter Park

The exercises in this book fixed 16 years of back pain and are the sole reason I can still ride for more than a half hour without major pain (actually, should have said “I can again …”, as from 2012 through 2016 I could not do that)! Well worth the $12.95!

For Your Balance!

Balance is Power

Jim Klopman and Janet Miller

Extra Credit Books

Flow and Flow in Sport/s 

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I have this on audio, really interesting research on the “flow” (or zone) state. Not as helpful as the above books but interesting.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else 

by Geoff Colvin

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

by Chip Heath

Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster

by Ernest Dras

A short, easy read that first explained most/all the concepts in Outliers, Talent Is Overrated, Mastery and The Talent Code but written by a coach in laymen’s terms. When reading the books mentioned above I kept saying to myself, “hey, that backs up what Ernest Dras said in his book!”

The Untethered Soul

by Michael A. Singer

This is the most amazing book I have ever read! It is like an advanced The Way of The Peaceful Warrior (in that it is changing my life, content is much different), it is truly changing my life (as The Way of The Peaceful Warrior did 20 years ago). I am very slowly and deliberately reading and practicing what this book teaches.

Peace is Every Step and You Are Here

by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Two great books that explain how to be happier, more peaceful and more grounded using Buddhist principles in our “Western Society”

I hope you get as much as I did our of them.

Have you read a book that helped with your mental game? A book that changed your life? Let us know below!

Feel free to share this article with anyone you know who could benefit from it.

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

Mountain Bike at your best

Overcoming Fear When Mountain Biking (and using it to your advantage)

Overcoming Fear When Mountain Biking

Mountain biking can be anything from a really fun experience to outright terrifying depending on your skills, experiences, and perspective. Of course, skill is the number one factor in overcoming fear, imagine my students who race World Cup downhills and EWS races like National Champions Luca Cometti, Mitch Ropelato and Jackie Harmony riding your local trails. I doubt they would be scared of that section that scares you on your local trail (as World Cup Tracks are gnarly!). They have worked hard on ingraining the correct riding techniques so they are riding in balance and in control consistently so while they may have less “nerve” than you, they have great skill. Here are some ways to overcome fear with the skill you currently possess and ways to use that fear.

1.  Go at your own pace and take “baby steps” when progressing. Taking a big leap over your comfort zone is not a good way to learn. Have you ever been goaded into doing something that you felt was way above your skill level? Even if you make it you often don’t feel like you have gotten better, you feel like you got lucky. Feeling, “Wow, that was scary!” does not improve your confidence! If you don’t make it,  the crash will often set you back, decreasing your confidence and raising your level of fear. So be gentle with yourself and progress at a pace that is comfortable to you.

2. Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. This sounds simple but pays off big. Our brains don’t understand “not” and “don’t” very well. If you are focusing on not falling your brain has to focus on the concept of falling and then quickly try to refocus on “not” doing what you are thinking about. It is much easier to focus on “getting to that tree” or “ride this section smooth and light” than telling yourself “don’t fall”.

3. Use your fear, it can be good! Listen to the fear, maybe it is trying to save you from a trip to the emergency room. Live to ride another day! If you are more focused on “not falling” than you are on getting to where you are going, get off your bike and walk that section. Who knows you might go right through it the next time when you are more warmed up and/or focused.

After/while walking that section figure out what about that section is scaring you then “baby step” your way up to doing it.

Example: If a four-foot drop on an exposed trail is scaring you find a one foot drop with no exposure, get really good a hitting that, work your way up to a four-foot drop with no exposure, then an exposed trail with a one foot drop working all the way to a four-foot drop on an exposed trail. This builds on a series of successes, increasing your confidence!

4. Breathe, relax, breathe and smile it is just a bike ride. Breathing and smiling releases tension which improves our balance, coordination and confidence. I mean deep, belly breathes from your diaphragm which are very calming. Smiling releases endorphins which relax you. The simple act of lifting the corners of your mouth, even if it is a grimace will release those endorphins and relax you!

5. As you improve, make sure you update your self-concept to match. Remember that the past doesn’t equal the future. You may have wrecked or not made a section last week/month but if your skills have improved since then the section may be easier for you now. (more on this in the next article on fear as this is very important!)

6. Wear knee pads and elbow pads when practicing a tough section are learning a new skill. I have found that having padding on really increases your confidence when learning or trying to push your limits. As a matter of fact, I never ride without knee pads anymore, knees are too valuable and easily damaged!

7. Debunk your fear/s. Is your fear realistic? Often fear is not based in reality and when we realize this the fear goes away.

8. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up or wreck do your best to figure out why it happened and correct that mistake or improve your technique so it will not happen again.

9. Use that fear to motivate you to improve! You know just riding your bike doesn’t improve your skill, practicing the correct, in balance, in control techniques with a focus on quality is the ONLY way to improve your skill. So spend more time practicing deliberately using drills and boost your skill level and confidence.

Stay tuned for part two which will cover why/how/when we feel fear and how this affects us and a few of these techniques in more detail.

Let me know about your fear. How is affecting your riding? Is it a good amount of fear? Or is your fear holding you back? Please comment below. Feel free to share this with anyone you feel could benefit from it. Thanks and create your best ride yet, Gene.

Fear and Mountain Biking Part 2, Decreasing Fear by Improving Skill and Confidence

Fear and Mountain Biking Part 2 (Read part 1 here: https://wp.me/p49ApH-1vq)

Fear is a powerful and often misunderstood emotion that has some effect on every mountain bike ride we do. The fear we ALL experience while mountain biking varies greatly in intensity from rider to rider and from trail to trail. Most riders think of pro downhill racers as fearless but in my 19 years of coaching them and 15 years of being one I have found that even the fastest pro downhill racers experience fear, on beginner trails!

So the idea of “No Fear” is comical at best, we all experience fear and it isn’t always a bad thing, fear can save us from injury and keep us from doing things we aren’t skilled enough to do. On the other hand, fear that is not in proportion to the risk we are taking can really mess us up! Too little fear and we do things over our head and get hurt! Too much fear and we question our ability and end up not riding or crashing on a section of trail we are capable of riding smoothly and in control.

There are a ton of macho guys reading this right now saying, “Not me, I am fearless!”, please, anyone saying that needs to ride a world cup downhill track or the new Redbull Rampage site! Do some people experience less fear than others?  Of course, that is why I and thousands of other mountain bikers have ended up in the emergency room! We either didn’t experience the appropriate amount of fear or charged in despite the fear. Fear that keeps you from riding Cam Zink’s line at the Redbull Rampage is good! Fear that keeps you from riding a section of trail you honestly have the skill to ride in control is bad.

The worst fear though is that minor fear, where you keep riding but are too concerned with your own safety to ride at your best! As a matter of fact, when our confidence drops so does our athletic performance! Coordination is directly tied to confidence when you lose confidence you also lose your coordination. So, until you are confident walk the sections of trail that scare you (and design a plan to increase your skill so you can ride that section confidently one day).

I am well known for my intense curriculum featuring deliberate practice using drills in a safe, controlled environment (often a paved parking lot) and then applying those skills on trail. I have noticed a pattern that happens in all of our camps regardless of our students’ age/experience/perceived skill level, even at our downhill camps at Bootleg Canyon with pros like Cody Kelly and Luca Cometti, students do our cornering drills really well on pavement then not so well on dirt (at first, which is why drills are so important)!

At Bootleg Canyon we use Girl Scout for our on trail cornering practice, the easiest trail on the mountain. Watching our students practicing deliberately on pavement (photo below) I am always impressed by how quickly they catch on to correct cornering technique. Then we head over to Girl Scout and they aren’t doing what they were just doing in the parking lot, they look totally different. Why do they go from executing the skills well on pavement to not so well on dirt? Fear! No, pro downhill racers aren’t scared of Girl Scout Trail, but they are more concerned about their safety than they were in the parking lot. Even on a beginner trail, there is not as much traction as the parking lot, there are rocks to avoid, bushes and cacti on the side of the trail, penalties for mistakes. This concern for your safety (fear) distracts you and hinders your performance.

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick (who has been mountain biking since the early 1990’s) practicing his cornering skills! Look at that outside elbow, up and out where it should be.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Not a “scary” trail but he isn’t as sharp as in the parking lot. He needs to look a little further ahead and lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

 

Fear is stored in your “Lizard Brian” or “Reptilian Brian”, part of your brain stem where instincts and action occur WITHOUT thought. Have you ever noticed that sometimes, despite knowing that you are supposed to do something (like look ahead) you don’t do it on trail? Have you ever driven home and upon getting home said to yourself, “how the heck did I get home?” That is because knowledge and your “thinking brain” don’t help you do, doing comes from the same Lizard brain where fear is stored, and doing is similar to being on autopilot, your body just does what the autopilot makes it do.

This creates a problem as your conscious, thinking brain wants one thing (to float over that rock) while your Lizard brain wants something else, usually to protect you (get off your bike and walk over the rock). As you probably already know, when it comes to riding your mountain bike the lizard brain always wins! (On a side note this often why you might know exactly how to do something yet still can’t do it.)

How do we get our Lizard Brain/autopilot and conscious thinking brain to work together? Drills! The whole goal of drills is to ingrain a habit or movement pattern. By ingrain, I mean make that habit so dominant that no matter how tough that trail is your body does the correct technique without any thought (hence the autopilot analogy). There is an old saying that is so true, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong!” (which means pros never stop practicing!)

Once we understand the correct technique and do drills to ingrain that technique we need to upgrade our self-image as a mountain biker. Let’s say there is tough rock section that has troubled you for years, you have never made it (and probably think something like, “darn, here comes that rock that always messes me up” as you approach it (like the wall in my video above, how to video tutorial coming soon!). Then you take a BetterRide camp and learn the correct combination of skills to get over that rock and wham, you do it! This is when you need to stop, get off your bike, look at that rock and update your self-image. “Wow, that rock used to mess me up every ride, now it is easy, I simply look to victory, manual, shift my weight and off I go (what I did in the video)! That rock is so easy now, watch, I’ll do it again.” Then do it again and really cement the idea that that rock is now easy and you have the skill to do it consistently.

Skill has a huge impact on fear. Cam Zink probably has a lot less fear of the most challenging trail you have ever ridden. Not because he is crazy (he is quite calculating actually) but because his skill at riding steep, challenging line is near/at the top of the sport. More skill (combined with belief in that skill) equals less fear in any given situation.

If you are honestly really skilled but you feel your fear level is not in proportion to your skill work on updating your self-image. If you aren’t really skilled work on improving your skills, then updating your self-image as your skills improve. Remember, fear is there for a reason and it often helps keep us safe but if it is holding you back work on getting your fear into proportion with your skill.

Fear is also where men and women differ greatly! In my next article on Fear and Mountain Biking I will explain what I have learned about how men and women respond to fear and how this difference affects your ride and often your relationship.

Thanks for tuning in! If you know anyone who could benefit from this article please feel free to share it with them. What are you afraid of while mountain biking? What affects your fear? Is your fear based in reality or made up? Please share your experiences with fear below.

 

The Unhealthy Side of Mountain Biking

As you probably know, I love mountain biking but mountain biking isn’t all good, it can be bad for you. I am not talking about crashing (which is definitely bad for you) but simply riding mountain bikes. Mountain biking, like many sports, can be PART of a very healthy lifestyle. I stress the word “part” because mountain biking should not be your only form of exercise and you need to take care of its ill effects.

This is multiplied if you spend the bulk of your now riding time sitting down! Sitting with poor posture can really exacerbate and even cause major back trouble.

The idea for this article came when I saw two very fit looking road cyclists get off their bike and then hobble to the door. They could barely walk! They were hunched over, stiff and very wobbly! Luckily, because mountain bikers stand, absorb shock and are more dynamic than road cyclists (who often stay in the same hunched over position for hours) mountain biking isn’t as bad a road cycling but it still can lead to imbalances in our body. Few sports work all muscles, ligaments, and tendons equally which is one of the reasons “cross-training” is popular in most sports.

If you like to mountain bike as much as I do don’t forget to mix things up every week! The best thing I have discovered to help me stay fit, healthy and balanced is yoga. A structured weight training program with mobility exercises and self-massage/myofascial release (foam and lacrosse ball rolling) is also a great compliment to my mountain biking. Weight training and yoga are also great mental breaks from mountain biking (which due to the concentration needed to ride single track is very mentally stressful).

Why strength training for mountain biking?

  • Mountain biking requires a stable core and a strong lower back, yet riding really doesn’t build a stable core and a strong lower back. It takes work to build a stable core and a strong lower back and achieving both will give you more power on your bike, as well as more control and greatly decrease your chance of injury!
  • Mountain biking is asymmetrical exercise when standing and coasting all riders have a foot that they prefer to put forward and a preferred trailing foot. This works each leg’s muscles quite differently and twists your hips. A good exercise like Bulgarian Split Squats which works each leg separately can help rebalance and realign you!
  • Consult a qualified trainer to help with finding the correct exercises and executing them correctly, incorrect form while lifting weights can cause more harm than good.

Why self-massage/myofascial release (foam and lacrosse ball rolling) for mountain bikers?

  • Mountain biking can really tighten us up! Short tight hamstrings, tight IT bands, tight hips, tight chest, neck, and back are all symptoms of mountain biking, no matter how fit you are. Foam and lacrosse ball rolling are great forms of self-massage and can really loosen you up! I would have had to of stopped riding years ago if I had not discovered the benefits of rolling.
  • Once you buy the roller and the lacrosse ball it is free! It just takes time and some uncomfortable work but it pays off my opening you up for peak performance (or, often in my case, simply allows me to ride!).
  • Not familiar with self-massage/myofascial release foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball, do a quick google search, there are probably 100 books on the subject as well as hundreds of youtube videos and free articles on the how and why of it. Or talk with your trainer, physical therapist or yoga instructor.

Why yoga for mountain bikers?

  • Yoga helps your posture, your breathing, your mobility, your focus and helps calm you.
  • Yoga really helps with your body awareness, proprioception, and balance which many of my students struggle with as did I as pro snowboarder and in my early days as a professional mountain biker.
  • As a mountain biker, who also lifts weights I get plenty of “yang” my favorite form of yoga is called “yin” yoga and it really opens up your body my holding poses for one to five minutes at a time.
  • Yoga done poorly can really mess you up, especially if you like to “push” things. Take classes from qualified instructors and make sure you aren’t “cheating”. The goal isn’t to force yourself into a position, the goal is to gently open up your body.

I find the more yoga I do the better I ride (because I breathe better, have better focus and have greater effective strength and flexibility) and the more I enjoy and look forward to riding (my back doesn’t hurt, the day off from riding made me miss riding). The same goes for strength training and self-massage. With warm weather on the way and great trails beckoning you to ride, it is hard to take a break and do something else, but if you force yourself to be more balanced in how you exercise and recover you will have more fun on the trail in the long run.

In short, balance your riding with other athletic pursuits to be healthier, happier, faster and have more fun!

Yoga, self-massage/myofascial release, and weight training are my favorite forms of exercise to balance with my riding, what others forms of exercise do you do to compliment your riding? What do you like about it and how does help you? Please comment below.

As always, feel free to share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it.

If you are as obsessed with mountain biking as I am please read/re-read this article: