Have you ever heard that little voice in the back of your head that told you that you should or shouldn’t go for something on your bike? You’re not sure exactly where it comes from but you get a gut feeling about your abilities, and often these hunches turn out to be true.
It is like the old saying goes – whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right.
Now, if you have experienced this little voice then you’ve probably also experienced a funny thing – that voice can change what it tells you. For example, when you first started riding that voice was probably screaming at you a lot that you were going to die from either your heart exploding or flying over the handlebars in the wrong place.
But over time the voice stopped screaming so much and actually started to say “you got this” more and more often. And getting that little voice to stay positive is a huge part of mountain biking.
The word often given to this feeling is Confidence. The more of it you have the funner the trail gets and the more challenges you can take on. The less of it you have and the scarier the trail becomes and more challenges you shy away from.
In fact, improving Confidence is a top priority for most riders. Most of the time when a rider says they want to ride faster and further, what they really want is to improve their Confidence in their ability to ride faster and further.
But what most riders don’t realize is that Confidence has two parts and sometimes the best way to improve your Confidence isn’t how you’d think.
Mental Confidence is what most of us think about when we hear the word Confidence. This is the conscious level of confidence where we deal with negative or positive self-talk and literally think about things.
It is that little voice that we actually hear in our heads. We consciously take stock in what we know and then we use that info to decide if we can do something or not.
However, there is another level of confidence that goes deeper.
Called Physical Confidence, it deals with Confidence on a subconscious level.
You see, the brain is always monitoring things and taking stock of the situation. It knows your mobility, strength, cardio, and power levels as well as your injury status and uses this info to inform the conscious level of Confidence.
This means that we don’t know it is there but it is always talking with and affecting your Mental Confidence. In this way it can have either a positive or negative affect on your Mental Confidence.
And just like we can use mental training techniques to improve our Mental Confidence, we can use strength and mobility training to improve our Physical Confidence. When we do this we’ll also improve our Mental Confidence.
As your physical strength, mobility and cardio improves your brain recognized this and increases its Physical Confidence. This increased Physical Confidence is felt in your Mental Confidence by the little voice changing what it says when you assess a situation.
This is the reason that so many riders who follow one of my training programs report a sudden and unexpected increase in their confidence on the trail. They’ll be cruising along and all of a sudden realize that they just rode through a section or cleaned a climb that they had never made before.
All of a sudden the trail just looks different.
They can see possible lines they never saw before and are able to ride with more speed and control through other lines they used to struggle with. And along with this came an increase in how much fun they were having on the trail.
They were having fun before but they can now see levels of fun opened up to them that they never knew existed.
When their strength and mobility levels were poor their Physical Confidence was also poor, which directly affected their Mental Confidence and how they literally saw the trail. Now that those physical limitations were removed and their Physical Confidence improved they were riding harder lines with more Mental Confidence.
Improving your Physical Confidence through smart training is literally increasing the base for your Mental Confidence. While there are a lot of great ways to improve your Mental Confidence directly, the truth is that you simply can’t trick your brain into thinking it can do something that it knows on a subconscious level that you can’t.
Now, before I go on I also want to point out that a lot of riders eventually just go numb to this whole process.
They ride the same trails the same way and will jump off their bike at any sort of challenge and not think twice. They are also the first ones to tell you that they are fine with how they ride but for some of us being comfortably numb isn’t good enough.
We’re very aware of the process and embrace it. For us having a strategy to keep our Physical and Mental Confidence is important because it allows for us to continue to experience growth as riders.
And in my experience of working with hundreds of riders one of the fastest ways to improve your Mental Confidence is to improve your Physical Confidence through targeted strength and mobility training.
While you may think that just riding more or doing more cardio training would be the answer – and it is an important part – you can’t significantly improve your Physical Confidence if the weak link is strength and mobility, which is often the case for mountain bikers.
For example, when I talk about standing up to pedal more most riders immediately think that this is too “hard” for them to do. They think back to their experiences when they were forced to stand and how quickly they gassed and think I’m nuts. They also think about how they spin out on loose climbs when they stand and figure it is impossible anyways.
However, their Mental Confidence – that they think it sounds too “hard” – is directly affected by their underlying Physical Confidence, which knows they simply don’t have the core and hip strength or the hip mobility to get into an optimal standing pedaling position.
Once they improve those weak links then all of a sudden standing up to pedal doesn’t sound or feel nearly as hard.
They now have the core and hip strength to support their weight and power their pedal stroke and the hip mobility to sit their weight back without having to sit down on steep climbs. And their brain recognizes this and communicates it to their Mental Confidence.
Their Physical Confidence improved and that directly increased their Mental Confidence in their ability to stand up and pedal at will. But if all they did was ride and work on cardio they would never have been able to improve their real weak links in standing pedaling and their Physical and Mental Confidence in it.
There are countless examples of how improving your ability to move and stay strong can change how you think about riding and see the trail. All of a sudden things that never made sense start clicking and you realize that you now have the Mental and Physical Confidence to do them.
So if you want to improve your overall confidence make sure that you addressing both the conscious and subconscious levels. The little voice in your head will sound much different when it knows you can physically handle what you are doing.
If you have any thoughts or questions about this concept and how you can use it to help your riding please post a comment below. And if you liked this post please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word.
Until next time…