One of the things that makes mountain biking so much fun is the technical skill aspect of it. The number of skills you need and the level you need them developed to can be daunting for new riders. Knowing the best way to improve these skills continues to be a challenge for riders at all levels.
First, why is it important to improve your technical skills? In my experience there are 3 reasons you want to spend time focusing on improving your skills.
1 – Increased safety. Let’s face it, mountain biking is dangerous enough. Besides those times you purposely try something on the trail where things can get hairy, there are those times the trail just throws a random rock or root you don’t see coming your way. Knowing how to stay relaxed and balanced in more situations can help you come away with a grin and story instead of having to pick yourself up off the ground.
2 – Increased speed. The better your skills and body position the better you will maintain momentum. This means less speed lost and faster times on the trail.
3 – Increased endurance. Another benefit to better maintaining momentum on the trail is that you don’t have to pedal as much to make up for lost speed. This means you have more energy later into the ride so you can push harder or go further than before.
Besides these 3 practical reasons you also have the cool factor. Having some skills and flow just feels and looks better – like the old track saying goes, if it looks right it flies right.
So, let’s say you agree with me that improving your skills is an important part of improving your performance and fun on the trail. What’s the best way to do it?
The first piece of advice I have for you is this…
Don’t assume that really good riders automatically knows how to teach/ communicate skills training advice. There are two problems here. The first is that there is a difference between being able to do something and being able to coach something.
Often times the best have trouble communicating what they do because it happens on an unconscious level. Unless someone has some training or experience in the art of coaching don’t just assume that they can.
The second problem is that some riders are just really good at applying some unique attribute or quality they possess. They may be doing something that doesn’t work for you but unless they have an idea of how to individualize their advice you may be getting the proverbial square-peg-in-a-round-hole treatment.
The second piece of advice I have for you is to use caution when trying to learn from free online videos. These are a great place to start but you have to be very careful about the source and the info you are getting. Do some research, find reputable sources from people who actually coach mountain biking skills.
The last piece of advice that I have for you is that the real key to unlocking your technical skills on the trail is your movement off the bike. You have to be able to move the right way in the first place or you can’t apply it to the specifics of mountain biking.
In my experience of coaching hundreds of riders I’ve noticed that there are some basic pre-requisite movements that need to be there before they can effectively execute a skill on the bike. No matter how much time and effort they put into improving a specific skill, until this pre-requisite was met they struggled to do it consistently.
But once it was met things clicked in a new way that took things up not just one but 2 or 3 notches.
Here is a quick checklist for the Big 3 Trail Skills so you can see how you stack up:
– Body Position (Seated Pedaling and Attack Position): Deadlift – Men: 1.5-2 X BW/ Women: 1-1.5 X BW
– Standing Pedaling: Goblet Squat – Men: 32 kg X 5 reps/ Women 24 kg X 5 reps
– Cornering: KB Windmill – Men: 24 kg X 5 reps/ Women 16 kg X 5 reps
If you struggle with these movement then there is something that will restrict you as well on the bike. Have these movement dialed in and strong and you’ll be able to apply these skills with more strength and power.
Remember that strength is just your ability to create and control tension within a movement pattern. These same basic movement patterns are behind everything you do on the bike, which is why making sure that you can move well and put some strength behind it will help you apply better movement to your skills on the bike.
This is also why it is important to train all year long. Training 3-4 times a week in the off-season to build your strength base and then 1-2 times a week during the season to maintain it will keep your skills sharp later in the season.
And even if you didn’t build a base you can still start training 1-2 times a week during the riding season to improve your movement and strength levels, which will have an immediate impact on your performance.
So, remember that working on your skills is a very important part of mountain biking. It will help you ride faster, have more fun and be safer in the process.
But in order to significantly improve your skills you need to be able to move well and have a little strength to put behind it. While there are a lot of great resources for helping you improve your skills, until you can hit those numbers I posted above you’ll struggle to apply the advice from those resources as efficiently or consistently as you could.
If you do struggle with one of more of the exercises I listed above, most of the time it starts with improving mobility and core strength for the movement. This week I’ll be sharing some of my favorite exercises that can help you improve the basic building blocks of the movements so you can start improving your skills through smart strength and mobility training.
Let me know if you have any questions about this post, just leave a comment below. And if you liked this post please feel free to share it with a fellow rider who could benefit from it.
Until next time…