July
4

The pursuit of mastery in the gym and on the trail.

I had a great question in the forum of my Distance Coaching Site regarding the kettlebell swing and relating it to the trail. As I have said many times, figuring out that the “hip pop” the swing teaches us is the same movement you want to use to pop a lip or bunny hop up onto a ledge totally changed the way I looked at the trail. This person was curious about how to make the transfer from the gym to the trail but he brought up some points that actually transcend the basic question he was asking.

He mentioned in his e-mail that he been working on the swing and thought that he had it down pretty good. I know that he is reading this so I want to commend him for his quest to analyze how he does the movement on a deeper level than most people get into. I can not tell you how many people I see doing a “swing” that is little more than a squat with a front raise – it looks very mechanical and there is no hip pop or “flow” to the movement at all.

Mastery is a difficult and slow process and one must embrace the journey or they will never get there.

However, being pretty good at a movement won’t make it transfer to the trail. Mastering a movement will. Mastery is a difficult and slow process and one must embrace the journey or they will never get there.

I have been doing the swing for almost 6 years and it is just now starting to click for me on the trail. Of course, I probably could have sped the process up if I had someone explaining to me how it related to the trail (lucky for you I have helped make that connection for the mountain biking world) but the point is that it won’t happen for most people in 6 months or even a year.

There are many different sources that I have read that mention the number 10,000 when discussing mastery. Doing something 10,000 times will ingrain it to the point that you can start to say that you really understand the essence of what you are practicing. It doesn’t matter if it is an exercise, a trail skill or a skill at work – doing it 10,000 times is when you have it mastered.

Now, let’s do a little math to bring that number into perspective. If you did 100 swings a day it would take you 100 days to reach 10,000 reps. If you did 100 swings a week it would take you 100 weeks – almost 2 years. If you do 50 swings a week it will take you almost 4 years to achieve 10,000 reps.

And this is also assuming that you are really trying to internalize the movement and perfect it, not just going through the motions. Constant self-analysis and seeking the opinion of others who have achieved what you are looking for is vital to making sure that you will end up with a mastery of the actual skill you want and not just something that looks like it.

This actually brings me back to a great article I read by Dave Tate on what it takes to be successful in the gym. One of the points was that you have to be consistent with your training over the long term – you have YEARS of training ahead of you to achieve the results you really want. People say that they “get it” when I say this but how many riders do we know that gave up when they realized that a pill, a 6 week program or a 3 day camp wasn’t going to get them where they want to be?

To wrap up I want to quote one of my favorite training books of all time, The Book of Five Rings. In it Musashi tells us that “men are not perfect in any aspect of their lives, no matter the amount of time, effort and energy that they put into their search for perfection. The virtue of perfection is that it is always just beyond a man’s reach. This is good. If perfection were attainable it would have no value – there would be no reason to pursue it”.

This post will really speak to those of us that have made mountain biking a life long pursuit. Seeing it as a “way” that must be pursued and studied separates us from the casual cyclist who just wants to get some exercise and look cool on their $5000 rig with their $5 skills without understanding of “the spirit of the thing”. Strive to find the level of understanding that lies beyond the surface – how close are you to achieving the magical 10,000 reps you need to master the skills you most want to gain in the gym and ultimately on the trail?

-James Wilson-

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  1. Phil says:

    It’s all about the journey not the destination. Especially so if the destination is perfection. I’m amazed it seems like weekly at little progressions that keep coming. One of the best things that I’ve gotten from you was just what you are saying basically that none of this is going to come in a hurry. It’s built over time with lots of determined and purposeful practice.

    Reply • July 5 at 12:22 pm
  2. Vicky says:

    Hi James. Can you tell me whether the DB training or KB training would be better for me? I need to improve my climbing and endurance overall. I am a member of a club in Spain, they love their climbing here and I have always struggled to keep up. I would just love to catch up and overtake them!!! Thanks

    Reply • July 10 at 2:13 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Either program would help you significantly improve your climbing, it really boils down to how much strength training experience you have. If you don’t have much then the DB Combos Program is a better choice, if you have some experience and would like to try something a bit different then the MTB KB Conditioning Program would be better. Hope this helps…

      Reply • July 11 at 8:16 am
  3. Tam says:

    Awesome article bang on the button. As a result I visualise railing deep sweeping berms whilst I am doing exercises that mimick the trails berms focing on where I am looking and what muscle are really being worked in the hip and core, similarly I visulise ‘poping off the lip’ when doing leg and all body moves like squats clean and jerk. Thanks J.

    Reply • July 18 at 8:17 am

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James Wilson
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James Wilson