Mountain Biking and Back Pain, The Final Piece of the Puzzle!

If you have been reading my blog for awhile you probably know that I have been suffering from back pain for the last 10 years or so. I had found some temporary cures and a lot of pieces of the mountain biking and back pain dilemma but had not found something that got rid of the pain for good. I have found the problem and the solution to my back pain! Since many of you have asked I will share the cure I discovered. Remember, I am simply a mountain bike skills coach so I left the details up to the experts.

It all started with this article aptly titled Why Your Approach to Fixing your Low Back Is making It Worse : BTW, I have no relationship with this website other than owing to them my sanity as this article and the ones below fixed my back pain!

Note: Before doing anything to do with your back make sure something isn’t really wrong such as a bulging disc, slipped disc, fractured disc, etc. See a doctor and make sure your body can handle these therapeutic exercises before you start.

I’m still doing a lot of the exercises/stretches I have blogged about in the past as I feel they are important to this process. By process, I do mean process, you will have to do your version of my back routine daily (some pieces twice a day if/when you notice your back pain starting to flare up). My original mountain biking and back pain post can be found here:  

The new exercises I have found MUST BE DONE BEFORE all of the exercises in my previous article. As a matter of fact, most of the stretches and yoga postures in my previous article can exacerbate your back pain if the new exercises aren’t performed first. It turns out mountain biking isn’t the pain culprit in my back pain, it is all the sitting I do, while writing articles like this and driving from camp to camp (or driving, flying then driving again!).

The main new “exercise”, lying on your back with your feet and legs up a wall. Sounds hard and complicated, huh?! Seriously, one of my students emailed back, “that’s it” and replied, “yes”. It seems to simple and easy to be true but this “exercise” is life changing!

mountain biking and back pain

This simple exercise will eliminate most back pain! Photo courtesy of Breaking Muscle dot com

For details on how to do this correctly (doing almost any exercise incorrectly can lead to more damage than good) and why it works so well please read this article: I do the above for two to fifteen minutes at time one to three times a day and always for at least two minutes before doing yoga or any back, hip or core stretches. When driving long distances I will often pull over and do this and yesterday I did between rounds of working on my bikes (as by back always starts to hurt when working on my bike).

The second one is lying on your back with your feet and lower legs hinged over something at knee level, like a couch. More details on it in the linked article above. Honestly, I don’t do the other three exercise in the article (but I probably should). The angle of the knee bend is really important so I don’t want to most a photo, I want you to read the linked article and do all of these exercises correctly!

I have also been working on my standing posture using the exercise in this article: I added in this posture exercise and now I can stand through a two hour concert with no back pain! This allowed me to stand for two hours, on a concrete floor at a concert without ever having the urge to stretch my legs or feel any back pain! I had not been able to do that since my early thirties!

The next piece of the puzzle is rolling out your gluteus medius with a lacrosse ball. I thought I had written a blog article on this but apparently I haven’t. Here is a video describing this process: when he mentions “it’s easy to find the muscle” he means when you touch it it will hurt a bit!

My routine, I start with 2-15 minutes of the legs up the wall exercise (easy and relaxing, great time to meditate)  then I do 5-10 minutes of gluteus medius rolling on a lacrosse ball (OH, the pain!, you may want to start with a tennis ball). Then I do the exercises in my previous article linked above. It takes an hour a day on average but I feel it is worth it!

I really hope this helps you! Please post your results here or email me, would love to hear if/how this is working for you.


Mountain bike cornering foot placement

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners:  Another question I get all the time is some version of, “how is my technique different in a bermed (banked) corner than in a flat corner?”

As I explain in my camps a bermed corner (banked) is still a corner. That means everything depends on traction, speed and your goal. If I feel I’m going slower than the max speed that berm will allow and I want to gain speed, I’m going to keep my feet level and pump that berm to gain speed.

Depending on the steepness and traction I might even lean with my bike! But, those berms are rare, especially at your favorite local trail or in a downhill race, usually a berm in a downhill race is there to “save” you. You are hauling tail into the corner and just hoping to eek out enough traction that you make the corner without sliding your tires (sliding scrubs your speed). In a berm like this (where you simply want to make it) you are going to use proper, outside foot down and weighted, “flat” cornering technique. More on that here: , here: , here: and here:

Many riders want to think that ALL berms are magically different than a flat corner but in reality, some berms are massively different than a flat corner (steeply banked, perfectly placed and either tacky or hard-packed, grippy surface) and some are the same as a flat corner (barely banked or really loose).

Many berms are simply “push piles” of dirt that won’t hold your tires and some good looking berms are no where near the optimal line for that corner. I remember a race in the late 90′s at Big Bear where they built these massive, beautiful berms but they taped the inside of the corner about 8-10 feet inside of the berm. Most of the amateur racers were target fixated on those berms and enjoying them while all the pros were cutting way inside of the berms shaving 30-50 feet off the distance around those berms saving time. Those berms were fun but useless if you wanted to do your best in the race.

Recently I have found some outright dangerous berms.  Last summer we were riding some fast trails with a few newly built berms in Oakridge, Oregon . Unfortunately, many of the berms ended about 60-75% of the way through the corner, right as you really needed the added traction of the berm it either disappeared or flatted out too much to hold you. If you aren’t looking through the corner (looking well past the exit at the start of the corner) you might get caught by surprise as the bank decreased in size and steepness while you were relying on it for traction. In short, 60-75% of the way through the corner your traction got cut in half and if you were relying on the berm for traction (leaning into the turn a bit) when you hit the end of the berm you will slide out. If the berm was solid for the length of the corner you would already be standing the bike up straight when the berm stopped.

On a really steep berm with great traction (some of the ones on A-line at Whistler for example) I might even initiate my turn by dropping my shoulder and “throwing myself” into the berm. If I overestimate the traction in the berm this can put me on the ground, if there is enough traction I will rocket through and gain speed.

A great example of this is Greg Minnaar in one of my Bootleg Camps. We use the little BMX/pump track there to work on pumping and pumping corners. When Greg was flying into the first berm at top speed he ALWAYS dropped is outside foot and did what I would call a “perfect” in balance in control corner.

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp! With his outside leg straight and down with most of his weight on it!

When we were demonstrating pumping corners and Greg hit the same berm going quite a bit slower he kept his feet level so both knees would be bent so he could pump with both legs and gain speed. We (Greg and I) never taught the dip your shoulder technique because berms that allow you to do that are extremely rare and there are zero berms at Bootleg with enough traction to use this technique

LASTLY and more importantly, most riders (including many sub world cup level pro racers) fail to look through the berm which is Much, Much more important than all of what I just wrote! So there is a hierarchy of skills and most of us need to focus on the more important parts of corner (looking through #1, finishing cutting speed before the corner is #2). This is the problem with all the “tips” out there, they fill your head with “knowledge” but don’t get you doing that “knowledge” on trail because you haven’t trained your body to execute that skill tip.

First, learn, practice and master proper cornering technique. Then use that technique in every corner, especially the first time you hit that corner. If, after riding that corner and/or stopping to scope it out, you decide that the berm will add more traction than necessary at the speed you are going you can try out “bermed cornering techniques” that briefly put you out of balance but when executed correctly will increase your exit speed.

Braking on your mountain bike

Never Flat Again On Your Mountain Bike!

That’s right, I have found the way to never flat again on your mountain bike while still running low enough pressure for the best control, traction and shock absorption! I didn’t invent this nor am I going to make a nickel off this but I have to share it!

My last flat on my downhill bike was a week ago on my last practice run on Saturday for the Chili Challenge race at Angel Fire Resort! I don’t plan on ever flatting again! After front flatting on the fastest part of the race track I was mad, tired (from the long walk down) and frustrated. Then a friend said the magic words, “they have a couple sets of Procore by Schwalbe at the bike shop”. (disclaimer, I have no affiliation with Schwalbe tires, and they know nothing of this post) Procore is basically a mini-tube and tire that you inflate to 85 psi inside of your tubeless tire that keeps the tire from bottoming on your rim, eliminating pinch flats.

I have been waiting for this for two years and was so excited that they had that I paid full retail to get a set in my tires! One my first practice run on Sunday I was glad I did! I saw the rock coming,  square edged and almost as big as a cinder block, I knew I was going to hear a loud ping and then the sound of air rushing out of my tire! Except, it didn’t happen, there was no ping (despite hitting the rock so hard it stole 70% of my speed and nearly endoed) and the tire stayed inflated! I was stoked! This system is amazing, quite possibly the best mtb invention since the dropper post!

IF you like running low pressure and hate flatting check out Procore!

They do add 200 grams a wheelset but they have tires that are 200 grams lighter than regular tires made for this system. Including one of my favorite confidence inspiring tires, the Magic Mary.

Mountain Bike Your Best

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 3

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 3

Your body has NO idea how to ride a mountain bike correctly! Your brain might know some skills but your body doesn’t preform them. A great example of this is looking ahead, we all know to do this but 99% of mountain bikers fail to do this most/all of the time. You honestly aren’t riding as well as you are physically and mentally capable of because your body doesn’t understand how to consistently ride in balance and in control. I’m not trying to be mean or provocative, I have simply been fortunate enough to coach some of the best riders/racers in the world and none of them had a solid skills foundation. How would they with out first studying the correct skills and then doing a lot of deliberate practice using drills? That is how ALL great athletes get proficient, Michael Jordan was cut from his team his freshman and sophomore year because he wasn’t very good at basketball! The funny thing is we don’t know the name of any of those 10-11 players who were better than Michael Jordan. Why, because they didn’t do as much deliberate practice as Michael did.

The world's best, most respected skills coach agrees!

The world’s best, most respected skills coach agrees!

Why does your body have no idea how to ride correctly? You and your body aren’t dumb, I’m not putting you down, it is just comes down to practice, you haven’t done any deliberate practice! You might have thousands of hours of riding time but that does nothing to help your skills. As a matter of fact the more you ride without deliberate practice the more your survival habits/instincts get ingrained, making you technically worse! Much like Michael Jordan’s teammates who played basketball more than he did but practiced less.

Teaching yourself relies on instincts, and your (and all humans’) instincts are great at protecting you from lions, tigers and bears but not so good at cornering your bike on a loose surface. Example, what is your first instinct when you feel that you have entered a corner too fast? Hit the brakes, right? What is one of the worst things you can do in a corner? Hit your brakes!  For more on your instincts and learning read this:

You Aren't Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

Wow, pro xc racer looking straight down at the entrance to an easy banked corner at the National Championships!

If you have noticed I said your” body” has know idea how to mountain bike, not your brain/mind. The reason for this is knowing something in your smart, logical thinking brain does nothing to help you ride better. A completely different part of your brain controls your procedural memory (often called muscle memory) which is what you rely on when you do a physical skill like ride a mountain bike. More on this here:

Coach Gene Demonstrating how to practice one part of cornering body position.

Demonstrating how to practice one part of cornering body position deliberately.

So, the main thing keeping you from riding your best is your body has no idea how to ride. This is why Olympic BMX silver medalist Mike Day and World Champions like Ross Schnell and Sue Haywood seek us out to improve their riding. They have more hours riding than almost anyone but they haven’t spent time practicing. They were fast because of fitness, not skill (although Mike Day was quite skilled at BMX but after three years of disappointing results as a downhill mountain bike racer he knew he needed better mountain bike skills). The only way to get proficient at anything is through learning the correct skills then doing deliberate practice using drills. We would love to help you ride much, much better and help you reach your potential. Look into one of skills progression camps, it will be the best investment you ever make in your riding!