The Importance of Drilling and Training Journals – More lessons from BJJ for MTB

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:


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.


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-

Social Comments:

WordPress Comments:

  1. neil says:

    Nice points. Very interesting, “write it down”, that makes a lot os sense.
    What you write here makes me think of that book you recommended a while back, Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code. “The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown”
    I got a lot from that.
    I read a lot about this guy too, but didn’t read him as yet:
    “Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (MasterMinds) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi”
    – “flow” is great for biking too – right.

    I think anyone into biking on dirt who’s not reading the UK magazine “Dirt” is missing out – this recent issue has a good piece on flow by the great Steve Jones:


    Reply • January 14 at 8:48 am
  2. Mike says:

    Good advice James. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself. I have found journaling to be a powerful tool in other areas of my life, but I never thought about using it for my fitness and bike riding goals. Thanks for putting that bug in my ear. I’m going to start doing it.

    Reply • January 15 at 10:04 am
  3. kent says:

    James, you mention Deliberate Practice. In searching on methods of coaching a professional tennis player to reach new levels I located The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. If you aren’t familiar with him or his work I recommend it highly.

    Reply • January 23 at 2:52 pm
  4. kent says:

    Daniel Coyle goes into understanding in depth why “deep practice” as he calls it, differentiates the so called “talented” from the rest of us…its how a person practices…not just “talent” brought to the table.

    Reply • January 23 at 7:12 pm
  5. Janno says:

    James, from pure curiosity- how did you managed to combine the BJJ with your strength training and riding schedule? I’ve practiced Muay Thai now for 1,5 months as a cross-training and have found it a great whole-body strength training with quite high intensity. I’ve had 2 trainings per week + some additional strength training + 2-3 very slow cardio trainings for recovery, but after 1,5 months seeing clear signals of overtraining, although have tried to hold myself back. I’ve been going for sports for whole life (currently 34y male), and both the strenght trainings and high intensity exercises are well familiar to me, however, seems that currently I’m doing something too much. Did you cutted back your strength trainings or riding volume when added the BJJ to your weekly schedule?


    Reply • November 18 at 9:49 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I definitely cut back on riding at first, which was kind of planned since winter was coming and I was looking for something to do until it warmed up. After it did and I started riding again I quickly found out that I had to cut way back on my strength training and really focus on a few basic things and not try to train “hard” as much as train smart. I’m currently following a program similar to Dan John’s 40 day Workout plan where you do the same routine every time you train but you change between light, moderate and hard versions of the routine. This has been the best approach so far as I don’t get sore because I’m doing the same exercises all the time and I get stronger without it feeling hard.

      Check out the book Easy Strength by Dan John and Pavel Tsasouline for some more ideas on how to train when you’re trying to juggle other tough activities.

      Reply • November 18 at 12:18 pm
  6. […] notes – Again, this is a subject I wrote about for my mountain biking blog but keeping a training journal has been the single best thing I’ve done. Keeping one can be a bit […]

    Reply • November 27 at 12:05 pm
  7. Olivier says:

    As a long time amateur athlete (swimming) I always extensively detailed my workouts. I found that it did a few really powerful things:

    1. Showed me the patterns and habits of my training. Sleep was often a hard thing for me as an age group swimmer; tracking how many hours of sleep I was getting per night gave me the push necessary to hit the bed earlier. Why? Because I could clearly see the correlation on paper between the great workouts and how I had slept the night before.

    2. Gave me a goal setting platform. We think about our goals a lot, but plotting them each week (and sometimes daily) is a simple way to insure that you are always chasing progression and improvement in a regular fashion.

    Keeping a detailed training journal is something that I have continued doing into adulthood, and I recently put together an article on how to make the most of a workout journal here: http://www.yourworkoutbook.com/master-the-training-log/

    I would love to hear your thoughts on the post, James!

    Reply • May 12 at 2:57 am

Add a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *


Follow MTB Strength Training Systems:
James Wilson
Author and Professional
Mountain Bike Coach
James Wilson