One of the things that I am taking away from my time with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the importance of drilling in training and, more importantly, journaling after you drill/ train. Technique is king in BJJ and your strength and cardio can only get you so far. This makes drilling a must if you want to stand a chance against someone who has their technique dialed.

Journaling isn’t about distances, heart rates or power levels – it is more about how you are riding rather than how much or how hard you are riding.

Everything happens so quickly on the mat that you can’t think about doing a Scissor Sweep or going for an Arm Bar, it has to be part of your muscle memory. This means that you need to do a lot of reps, but not just any reps will do. You have to engage in what is called Deliberate Practice – reps with a purpose.

Deliberate Practice isn’t necessarily “fun” in the traditional sense but it is essential to committing something to muscle memory. In study after study, the real difference between great performers in any field isn’t talent but the ability to engage in Deliberate Practice, often focusing on the basics. For example, the young guitar player who is in his room focusing on mastering the basic chords is often the one who ends up being great, not the one who spends his time learning a bunch of songs but mastering none of them.

In order to engage in true Deliberate Practice you have to have a clear objective that you are working on during training and you are trying to learn something from the training experience. Learning is the key and is the real focus of training, not hitting some number of reps or riding a certain amount of intervals. Reps mean little if there is not a purpose behind them.

This brings us to journaling, which is the practice of writing down what you did and your thoughts about it. This is something I read about in a book on how to improve your BJJ (you can listen to the podcast review and how it relates to MTB here) and something I had also read other coaches talk about doing for their training. Journaling goes beyond simply writing down what you did and goes into writing down the lessons you took from the experience.

While I had kept training logs over the years I had never gone so far as to keep a real training journal and I decided to start using one for my BJJ practice. Since starting to do it with my BJJ workouts I have also started to do it with my strength and conditioning workouts as well. I have found that this simple practice is something that can increase your rate of improvement like nothing else I have experienced.

It keeps you in the mindset of learning from your workouts and also helps improve memory retention of those lessons. Several studies have shown that you will retain information longer if you write it down and so when you combine the mindset of looking for lessons with the memory improvement of writing those lessons down you greatly speed up your learning process.

After experiencing this with my BJJ and strength training workouts it got me thinking why this isn’t something that is recommended for mountain bikers as well? I’ve written before about the importance of what I call Technique Rides – rides where you go out simply working on a specific technical skill – and it still remains one of the least utilized tools in a riders toolbox. However, while I still advise using Technique Rides as part of your overall approach to riding, I realized that you can turn any ride into one by keeping a training journal.

While you can add or subtract items as you like, here is what I would recommend tracking:

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Date: Straight forward, just put the date

Ride Location: Where the ride took place. This will usually be a trail but it could also be the street in front of your house working on cone drills. You can also make note of who you rode with as well.

Technique 1: I recommend always having at least 1 thing you are focusing on while riding. This can be as simple as your breathing or as complex as your ability to corner at speed. Just write down the basic technique you were working on and one or two notes about what you found you needed to work on doing better or something that reinforces something you found yourself doing well. It is important to not always look for the negative and sometimes you won’t learn something new as much as be reminded of something you should (and are) doing well.

Technique 2 & 3: I recommend no more than 3 techniques to focus on during a given ride. Realistically I think 2 is the best number as 3 is tough unless you are working on several subtle adjustments to already great technique.

Notes: Make any notes about the ride including how you felt during the ride and anything that you might want to remember to help you improve.

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As you can see, journaling isn’t about distances, heart rates or power levels – it is more about how you are riding rather than how much or how hard you are riding. While you need to track that stuff and can integrate it into your journal it is important to note that this is much different that recording your workouts and writing down how hard it was.

By journaling your rides you can gain a deeper insight into your strengths and weaknesses as a rider as well as lessons learned from the ride. If you get into the habit of taking 5 minutes to journal this stuff after a ride I guarantee you that you will see massive improvements in your riding, especially if you are an experienced rider who seems to be stuck at a certain level. Add this approach with one of my 30 Days to 100% Improvement outlines so you have some focus with your training and riding and you have a fool proof plan to becoming a significantly better rider.

-James Wilson-

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