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Is More Power Making You Mountain Bike Slower?!

One of the Huge, Little Things When Mountain Bike Riding!

While riding some steep technical climbs today I realized an interesting skill that I use quite often on my mountain bike yet have trouble with on my dirt bike (which has a lot of power!).  Although I am a professional mountain bike racer I am an intermediate (at best) motorcycle rider but both sports require a lot of skill when climbing steep and loose trails.

More power! Isn’t that what us men are always searching for?! The more power I have the faster I climb (and sprint!), right? Well, not so fast power boy. Often power can be our biggest weakness. Sometimes we power through sections on power alone, so we make the section but we weren’t particularly efficient and we got lucky, we could not consistently rely on power alone to make that section. Other times power is what slows us down or stops us. Loose and/or technical sections (especially climbs and switchbacks) require precision. The precision I am talking about isn’t line choice precision (which at .5-2 miles an hour is much more important than it is when going faster but not the topic of this post) but what in motorcycling is called throttle control, for mountain biking we will call it power control.

I was climbing a tight, steep, loose and way off camber switchback today. At about the 3/4 point around I almost came to a complete stop on nearly the top of the “berm” (banked part of the turn). Years ago I would of just put all of my power into at this point and would of had a 50/50 chance of making it. I might have flew through, might have spun the rear tire and stalled or slid out. Today, I realized I was slightly off balance (a little leaned down the hill) and because of the off camber and loose conditions I could not power through. So I stalled, shifted my weight up the hill a bit and then eased on the pedal pressure and crawled through the switchback, but I made it! This was situation where patience and a couple of key core skills (trackstanding, body position, switchback line choice and vision) really paid off.

This switchback was approximately number 10 of at least thirty switchbacks in about 25 straight minutes of granny gear climbing. It really got me thinking about power control (and how bad I am at it on my motorcycle!) and I started really paying attention to this seemingly little detail for the rest of the climb. I was blown away but how much modulation I used in my power out put for the rest of the climb! One of the big goals of climbing that we teach is to apply constant, steady power to the rear tire (not sudden surges that can break the tire free) but I never realized that on some climbs (like this one) it isn’t steady. It is carefully modulated power, accelerating or increasing power as much as I could with breaking loose, slowing or backing off the power when necessary then increasing power again.

This precision of power output  is easy to explain but it takes years of deliberate practice (not just random riding but really focusing on the skill) to master. It is mastered when you can subconsciously adjust you power output so that you can make all but the trickiest steep climbs and switchbacks. Which like so many skills means you will never master it! One day you clean all the switchbacks the next ride you miss one or two.

The fact that you can constantly improve with deliberate practice and drills but never completely master (where no matter how challenging the trail you never make a mistake) mountain biking is what keeps me riding! The challenge is always there no matter how good you get!

So go out and practice your power output and if you don’t have the core skills wired (remember, we do a lot of things wrong because they are intuitive, humans intuitively move away from danger, which on mountain bikes, skis and snowboards means we instinctively move or lean back away from the downhill. While instinctive it puts us in an out of balance, non-neutral, out of control position in all of those sports*) make the best invest you will eve make in your riding and lean the core skills (and dills to master those core skills) in one of our three day skills progression camps.

*Please checkout this article on intuition and instinct. http://betterride.net/blog/2011/why-our-instinicts/

Five BetterRiders Selected for U.S. Team for MTB Worlds!

Congratulations to the following BetterRide athletes who have made the US Team for the World MTB Championships!

In the pro downhill Jackie Harmony (who is BetterRide athlete and coach!) earned her automatic nomination by virtue of being ranked 11th in the UCI rankings! Mitch Ropelato was chosen for the team for his high placings at many of the World Cup races in his first year as a pro!

Jackie Harmony in second place with fellow US Team Memeber Jill Kitner in first and BetterRider Julie Olsen in 3rd. 2011 Tiple Dip

In the Jr. Cat 1 Downhill Trevor Trinkino was the fastest among a qualified pool of athletes at Colorado Crankworx to earn his automatic nomination. Christian Wright was selected to the team for his overall performances so fa this season.

In 4 cross, Lear Miller was selected as one of three men to represent the US.

Making the US Team is quite an honor, congratulations! Create a great World Championship and we will be cheering for you! For the whole story click on this link: http://www.usacycling.org/news/user/story.php?id=6910

Jen Hanks, BetterRide MTB Student of the Month

BetterRider of the Month! A new feature I am adding to introduce you to some our students that I am inspired by!

The July 2011 BetterRider of the Month is Jen Hanks. Jen took a camp from us last October in Fruita and her life has changed a lot in the last 9 months.  A few months after the camp Jen faced a huge challenge and overcame it in stride. Her courage, passion and dedication to the sport inspire me. She keeps smiling, riding and making her life better! Here is her story, I hope she inspires you as much as she inspires me.

Jen showing great body position, May 5, 2011

Jen Hanks bio:

I grew up in the Midwest and started mountain biking while attending the University of Iowa. Mountain biking originally served as a substitute to my childhood sport of Hunters/Jumpers (Equestrian). In 1999, I moved to Salt Lake City for graduate school and the beautiful Wasatch mountains. Upon completing my Masters in Occupational Therapy, I upgraded to pro in 2006. Originally my focus was on cross-country distance races, however after having the opportunity to compete in the TransAlp Challenge stage race in 2007, my passion changed to ultra-endurance events.

 

Some cycling highlights include:

2007 XC Utah State Champion Pro

7th Co-ed duo (with my husband) 2007 TransAlp Challenge

3rd overall solo women: 2009 Breck Epic

2nd overall OpenWomen: 2010 Lumberjack 100

 

In January 2011, I found a small lump in my breast. I thought I was too young, too healthy, and too fit to have breast cancer, however my pathology report revealed Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Since my diagnosis I have undergone multiple surgeries to remove the cancer from my breast as well as chemotherapy. At this point, I have no evidence of disease!

July 19, 2011: 4.5 weeks after her last chemotherapy treatment.

I am very proud of my cycling achievements, my career, and most recently my blog about my story as an athlete with cancer. (www.athletefightscancer.blogspot.com). I hope that I can educate women to do self-breast exams to aide in early detection and inspire women to stay fit and healthy during treatment. I also hope to show that a return to high-level athletic performance is possible after breast cancer treatment. Look for my return in 2012!

I (Gene) will be checking her blog for updates and look forward to hearing of her continued successes both on and off the bike!

Top 4 Exercises for Better Body Position w/video

Great exercises from James Wilson!

Top 4 Exercises for Better Body Position

One of the most important movement skills for any mountain biker to posses is the basic “hip hinge”. This is your ability to bend at the hips and not at the lower back and it is directly related to your ability to get into good body position on the bike. Without this movement skill you will always struggle to find balance and flow on the trail.

However, it can very tough to learn this movement skill on the bike if you don’t already posses it off the bike. This is where smart strength training comes into play – by using strength training as a basic means of “skills training” you can re-train and strengthen your movement skills which will make it much easier to apply on the bike.

The following 4 exercises are a great way to teach yourself a good hip hinge movement pattern, strengthen it and then make it powerful. Remember that the goal is not to get through all 4 exercises the first time you try this routine – stop when you find the exercise that offers you a challenge and spend time getting it down before moving on to the next step. If you don’t prioritize movement quality then you’ll never be able to learn how to do it better.

- Ball Popper X 6 reps: This strange looking exercise is the first step to learning how to bend at the hips instead of at the lower back and ankles. You should feel as if you can really apply a lot of pressure to the stability ball between your butt and the wall before moving to the next step.

- Touch the Wall Deadlifts X 8 reps: Now that you now how to drive your hips backwards instead of just sinking down you can start to pattern the actual movement. By standing in front of a wall and bending over until you touch it you force yourself to learn the hip hinge since the wall won’t get any closer without the right movement strategy.

- Deadlifts X 5 reps: Once you have control of the hip hinge with your bodyweight, it is time to add some load and “cement” it. Everything that you have learned in the first two steps should be applied here – don’t change how you move now that you are using load. Remember to load the hips at the bottom before standing up, drive your heels into the ground to start the movement and then squeeze your thighs together at the top to ensure proper technique.

- Swings X 10-20 reps: The swing is simply a dynamic deadlift so if you don’t have strong command of the previous three exercises then you will really struggle with this one. However, few exercises are as valuable for teaching you how to absorb impacts with your legs while maintaining strong body position and how to power movement with your hips and not your legs and arms.

No matter where you are on this exercise continuum, practicing the appropriate level of exercise for you will go a long way to helping you gain better command of this all important movement pattern. Without it you will struggle to apply all other techniques to your bike and quickly hit the ceiling on how fast you can go while maintaining balance and control. Add these exercises into your training routine and you’ll see a marked increase in your balance and flow on the trail.

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MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for the Yeti World Cup Team and 3 National Championships, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. As a regular contributor to several popular magazines and websites, James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit www.bikejames.com to sign up for the free Trail Rider Fundamentals Video Mini-Course