Are you using fitness to overcome bad technique?

If you’re old enough (or a fan of old school hip-hop) then you probably remember the old Eric B & Rakim song Don’t Sweat the Technique. Personally, I love those old jams and have a Boogie Down Productions station on my Pandora shuffle when I train. Of course, I also have some Knife Party, Swollen Members and Rage Against the Machine in the mix as well so it makes for some interesting playlists.

Anyways, my point is that as much as I love that old song I have to disagree and say that technique is one of the most important things to sweat. Unfortunately for us, though, in the mountain biking world technique is rarely as prized as it should be.

Technique is basically your ability to perform a movement or skill with maximum efficiency and energy transfer. No matter what you’re talking about on your bike – pedaling, cornering, attack position on descents – the better your technique the less energy you’ll waste and the more powerful you can be.

One of the really interesting things I’ve found while learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the contrasting attitude toward technique. In the BJJ world technique is king and simply using your strength and fitness to power through something is discouraged and frowned upon. I’m always being encouraged to relax and use my technique to set up my ability to use my strength and fitness, not the other way around.

Now, compare this with the rider who has poor pedaling technique (as evidenced by their inability to keep their feet on the pedals when trying flats), bad body position when standing up in the attack position and horrible cornering skills. Are they encouraged to fix their technique first?

No, they are told that the answer to riding faster is to improve their cardio and power levels so they can compensate more for their bad technique. Well, maybe not in so many words but that is the underlying message. Who cares if you have crappy cornering technique and you blow all of your speed when you can simply pedal harder on the other end to make up for it?

Personally, I completely agree with the BJJ approach. You want to train hard to be strong and fit, you just don’t want to use that strength and fitness to make up for bad technique. Sweat the technique and use it to allow more efficient use of your strength and fitness. Plus, better technique simply looks cooler.

In training this often means focusing more on fewer things. In my opinion, in the gym there are 3 things you should sweat the technique on until you have them perfected…

…and on the trail here are the 5 skills you need to have your technique dialed in on.

  • Body Position
  • Seated Pedaling
  • Standing Pedaling
  • Cornering
  • Manualing

BTW, you can get access to a collection of skills training videos going over those 5 skills at

While you certainly want to work on improving your strength and cardio just also be aware that technique is very important. It is something that you want to spend focused time and energy on. Without it you’ll just end up working way harder than you need to and not looking nearly as cool doing it.

-James Wilson-

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  1. David says:

    Laying fitness over dysfunction… something we do not want to do.. I have learned this lesson from you James, and this knowledge has served me well !

    Reply • June 21 at 12:26 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad you’ve benefited from this lesson, it took me a while and some stupid injuries to learn it myself.

      Reply • June 22 at 10:47 am
  2. Jay says:

    Good stuff James. 20years of mtb. My technique for mtb and fitness is key to master. Like u said it prevent a lot of injuries.

    Reply • June 23 at 2:11 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad you liked the post and got some good stuff from it.

      Reply • July 4 at 10:52 am
  3. Gary says:

    I must be too old. I don’t recognize that song or groups. Regardless, the point is understood.
    Thx, Gary

    Reply • May 8 at 7:41 am

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James Wilson
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Mountain Bike Coach
James Wilson