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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:

MTB, Take Care of Your Biggest Limiter Today

MTB, Take Care of Your Biggest Limiter Today

All the skills coaching, drill doing, fitness coaching and workout smashing in the world will not allow us to reach our goals until we overcome this issue. Whether you are self-taught and relatively new to riding or a veteran with skills coaching experience and years on your mountain bike this might be holding you back.

The number one issue holding you back from reaching your potential is in your mind! I cringe when I hear my students say these limiting beliefs out loud: “I stink at climbing!”, “I suck at descending but I’m good at …”, “I’m just not a natural”, but often we are not even aware of these beliefs, they are in our subconscious. The interesting thing is that many times these limiting beliefs have no basis in reality.

When your subconscious says, “I am not good enough” that is a self-limiting belief.  Sometimes the beliefs actually start out positive, “I can do that well but I will never be as good as ….” but in the end, they set a limit to your achievement/performance.

They are often caused by failing at something (as you may or may not know I believe that, “failure is a natural and necessary part of the learning process” quote from Dan Millman).  For instance, a former limiting belief I had was that I could not do a trackstand.  One day a friend and I each tried to trackstand and I ended up falling over. For years after this when asked if I could trackstand I would reply, “no, I can not trackstand” and for years I couldn’t trackstand.

Was this limitation real? Of course not, looking back on that day I fell over trying to trackstand I realized I did a trackstand for five, possibly ten seconds before I feel over but I guess my goal was an hour or so, so in my mind, I failed. One day I decided I would try using baby steps (working my way from one-second trackstands to 20-30 second trackstands) and in less than an hour, I was doing ten-second trackstands consistently.

Mountain Bike at Your Best

Don’t let self-limiting beliefs keep you from riding at your best! I don’t, even at 51!

From discussing limiting beliefs with my students it seems like society is often to blame. A parent, a teacher, an older sibling, a teammate, anyone whose opinion you respected may have had set something that is holding you back. In my case, when I was seven or eight I came home crying because I didn’t make the baseball team and my mom, trying to comfort me said, “honey, you’re just not a natural athlete but you are so much smarter than those boys. You’re IQ is ….”. Not exactly what a seven-year-old wants to hear!

At the US Snowboarding Championships in 1992, I remember looking over at my competitor in the dual slalom quarterfinals and thinking, “holy cow, look at the size of his legs! He is a natural athlete, what am I doing here, I am not a natural like him.” Not exactly the best thing to be thinking right before a race! I actually ended up barely beating him but, I got eliminated in the next round. Can you imagine how much better I would have raced if I had thought, “wow, look at the overdeveloped legs on that guy, too bad he doesn’t have my skill, I am going to smoke him!” With a more positive belief, I just might have one the competition!

How to do you stop this often subconscious self-defeating cycle?  Step one is to identify the belief, “I am a good rider but will never be great” or the most misguided one I heard the other day, “I only weigh 140 so I don’t have the muscle mass to climb like the bigger guys”, what, most great climbers are short, thin riders!

Once you have identified the belief check to find the source of the belief and see if it is real. Where did the belief come from? Does it make sense? Is there proof that the belief is true? Once you have these questions answered you can create a strategy to rid yourself of the belief.  If the belief was caused by a past failure tell yourself, the past doesn’t equal the future and correctly practice doing the skill/section of trail that you felt you couldn’t do.

If it has no basis in reality (your friend said, “wow you suck at descending” 10 years ago) tell yourself, “that guy was a jerk! besides, that was ten years ago. Now I understand body position and vision better, my bike is way better and I have the skill to descend much better”.  Often you will find that once you identify a self-limiting belief you laugh, realizing that it is preposterous and you move past it.

A simple cure is to correct yourself when you have that limiting thought. When I student says, “I’m pretty good at climbing but I suck at descending” I always say, “You said your Darn good at climbing and getting better at descending with practice? I thought that’s what you said.” The truth is, if you are practicing, you are getting better!

Don’t let fiction, fantasy, someone else’s opinion or conjecture hold you back.  Attack these self-limiting beliefs and achieve your best in 2018!

Please share any stories about your limiting beliefs. How have you overcome them? Feel free to share this article with anyone you feel may benefit from it!

Learn From Aaron Gwin's Amazing Run

Mountain Bike Riders, Learn From Aaron Gwin’s Amazing Run

All mountain bikers can learn a lot from Aaron Gwin’s winning run at Mont Sainte Anne this year. You don’t have to be into downhill mountain biking or even enjoy it to learn from this amazing run.

If you don’t know much about this incredible feat I will give you the backstory. (if you know the story or just want to cut to the chase skip down to below the video) In World Cup downhill racing to build drama, in the final run, the race order goes from slowest qualifier to the fastest qualifier (they have a qualifying “race” the day before the actual race and the 80 fastest racers “qualify” to race in the finals).  This year in Mount Saint Anne Aaron Gwin needed to qualify and race well to stay in the overall points chase. He did just that, but it gets better!

After the first 60 racers (those who qualified 80th to 21st) race there is a 20 minute break to make sure the camera crews, live feed and live timing are working for the final 20 fastest qualifiers. Well, those first 60 racers at great track conditions, beautiful, sunny weather! During the break, it started raining and the rain kept getting harder. By the time the 20th qualifier started the track was a muddy mess. The first 10 or so racers after the break really struggled to get down safely, much less quickly.

Everyone thought the real race was pretty much over, the top qualifiers were not going to even finish in the top 10! Then, 9th place qualifier Jack Moir put down a pretty fast run despite the rain and mud giving us a little hope but it still seemed like a long shot. 3rd place qualifier and current World Cup points leader had a miserable run!

Loic Bruni, second place qualifier had a great run but was still two seconds behind the leader Dean Lucas who had raced in dry conditions. Aaron Gwin was the last man on the hill and it wasn’t looking good for him but, he didn’t seem to care. He stormed out of the start gate and attacked that track like it was dry! He took inside lines, looked smooth and relaxed and had one of the all-time great runs in the history of downhill mountain bike racing!

Lesson 1.  Intention! Aaron decided to ride his best and give it is all! He was obviously focused the entire time and didn’t change his riding due to the weather, he rode the track as if it were dry!

Intention is everything! If you ride to not fall, like Greg Minnaar did your whole focus is on falling (“darn, remember the last time I fell, that hurt …”) and you are lacking confidence. (more on Greg’s big mistake and how you can learn from it here: http://betterride.net/blog/2017/greg-minnaars-big-mistake-last-world-cup-learn/ ) Turns out when you lack confidence your coordination drops considerably too! So always focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to! If all you can think about is not falling, that is a good time to get off your bike and walk that section! As you walk it try and figure what is scaring you and then “baby-step” your way up to doing it (find a similar but easier/safer feature or trail section become confident and work your way up)!

Always ride with a positive focus, “I want to get to the bottom of this trail as smoothly as possible”, “my goal is to keep my chin up and look ahead”, “I’m a billy goat!”, etc. I’m going to crush this steep, rocky climb!” Never ride with a negative focus, “I hope I make it”, “just don’t crash”. etc.

Lesson 2. Learn the ADVANCED mountain bike skills like looking ahead, good descending body position (staying in balance, hinged at the hips, weight on his pedals, in balance cornering technique and using his body as suspension). Wait! Those are all basic skills! Seriously, please watch the video and note when he does an advanced skill and comment below (“Gene, at 1:42 (or whatever time he does the “advanced skill”) into is run he does …., that is an advanced skill …). Other than a short “manual” over a ditch (which is still a basic skill) where are those advanced skills?

Aaron Gwin has mastered the basics! That is what all sports are about! Mastering the basics is the absolute key to reaching your potential as a mountain biker. I know Aaron can scrub jumps and probably do a few other advanced skills but he uses none of those in this race!

Now, I’m not saying you could beat Aaron Gwin if you mastered the basics, Aaron Gwin is also SUPER fit and has an incredible mental game too, both of which also contributed to this amazing run. However, imagine how well you could ride if you mastered the basics!

So, focus on DOING the basics, not simply knowing them! We all know to look ahead, but are you doing 100% of the time? Even on a trail as gnarly as that World Cup track?

Heres to creating your best year yet in 2018!

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