The end of riding season is an interesting time. I’m always bummed that the weather is going to start dictating when and where I can ride but it is a great time to take stock in the last several months of riding and decide on what I want to work on for next season. I think that you can and should improve as a rider every year and the off season is when that really happens.
When thinking back over the last year I realized something – for the first time ever I don’t recall having a “bad day” of riding. Sure, I had some great days when things were just flowing on another level and I had some days when things weren’t flowing as well but I never had one of those days that makes you question why you even went out for a ride. In the past I’d have days where I got out and felt like I was going to kill myself and just did not know why which was very frustrating and discouraging.
However, this year was different. Something clicked about my understanding of how to hold myself on the bike and how to execute some basic skills and when I started to feel “off” I could consciously change the bad movement that was throwing me off.
The two most important things I figured out how to apply to the trail were the deadlift and the swing. As I have mentioned several times the bottom position of the deadlift mimics the “attack position” you want on your bike. Having your hips back and chest low over the handle bars is basic position from which all other trail skills are executed. If you can not dominate this position then you will have trouble when things get fast and/ or technical.
The swing is the hip action you need to jump and bunny hop. Most riders lean back into jumping and bunny hopping instead of popping the hips forward which leads to some sketchy air time. If you can not get your hips into this and instead use your low back then you will never be able to consistently feel comfortable with catching air.
Every time I felt like I was all over the trail and could not corner well I went back to the movement skills I learned from the deadlift. By being conscious of how I was positioning myself and making sure I had my butt back and chest down I was able to get things back under control. Sure, I still had days were I struggled to be consistent with that position but at least I knew why I was feeling “off” instead of just chalking it up to a “bad day” that I had no control over.
Every time I was feeling a bit sketchy popping off of lips or having trouble bunny hopping over trail obstacles I went back to the movement lessons I learned from the swing. This was a huge one for me and the single biggest difference between this year and all my previous years of riding. Being able to get my air time back under control was a huge leap forward for me. Not knowing why I could jump with confidence one day and feel like I was going to crash every time I took off the next was very frustrating and resulted in a lot of wasted trail days.
My point is that if you want to greatly reduce your number of “bad days” next year you have to train with that purpose this off season. We only have so many days of riding left in each of us – it sounds depressing to put it that way but the day will come when you can no longer rip like you can today. I use that reality as motivation to make sure that I do everything I can to maximize every opportunity I get to ride. Understanding how strength training can help ingrain the movement skills you need on the trail and then being conscious of that in the gym and on the trail can reduce and even eliminate those dreaded “bad days” that haunt most riders.