A few years ago I was sitting around after a ride BS’ing with my riding buddies about our ride. While we were talking about how we made it through a particular technical descent, one of the guys – who was known for crashing a lot – asked an interesting question…
“You mean you guys aren’t hanging on for dear life through that section? I always feel like I’m right on the verge of crashing trying to keep up with you guys. I just figured that was how you guys did it.”
The rest of us looked at each other and smiled – we’d had a few beers and it sounded like a funny question. We told him that no, we didn’t feel like we were about to crash and die at any second. We also told him that we actually tried to avoid that feeling most of the time and only went there rarely when we really needed to.
Our buddy was genuinely surprised to hear this, figuring that we had just learned to deal with that feeling rather than being at a place where we didn’t feel that way anymore. It was actually a good talk. He came away with a different perspective and toned things down some on the trail, resulting in fewer wrecks and injuries.
What he came to understand was that the key to getting better was in expanding his comfort zone, not in testing his limits. Eventually he was riding things at the same speeds as previously, but now he was in control and not riding above his head.
At first this may not make much sense. Don’t you need to push it to the limit to expand your limits? How can staying in your comfort zone help you get better?
Whether it is on the trail or in the gym, we are told stuff like “No pain, no gain” and “If you ain’t crashing you ain’t riding fast enough” along with countless other macho sayings. These things lead us to believe that the path to improvement is through constantly pushing and testing our limits.
But the truth is that you can expand your limits without constantly testing them on the trail or in training. As you expand your 80% effort level, your 100% will naturally raise as well. Eventually your old 100% will be your new 80%.
But the truth is that you can expand your limits without constantly testing them on the trail or in training.
When this happens your new 100% will be higher, which means you can push harder when the time comes. You want/need to push your limits from time to time, it just shouldn’t be the cornerstone of your training. Push your limits while racing or during the occasional crack at a new PR but focus on pushing your comfort zone in training.
Now, this isn’t the same as staying in your comfort zone or an excuse to take it easy all the time. In order to expand your comfort zone you have to go right to the edge of it…and a little beyond it. And this will mean that you will get out of your comfort zone.
But there is a good bit of room between your comfort zone and your limits and the goal is to spend more time in training on the comfort zone side of that area rather than the limits side. So at the end of the day you still need to push yourself into uncomfortable situations; you just need to know where to stop in order to see the best long-term results.
Always testing your limits is stressful mentally and physically. Luckily there is a better way: Learn to focus on expanding your comfort zone both in the gym and on the trail and you’ll see your limits increase without grinding yourself down in the process.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems