Top 10 Lessons from 2012

This time each year I am reminded of the one of my favorite sayings…

There is a difference between 10 years experience and the same year’s experience repeated 10 years in a row.

I love this saying because it reminds of the importance to learn something new every year. Whether these lessons are learned the hard way through mistakes or by discovering a new way to look at something you already knew, if you aren’t learning something new each year you are probably doomed to repeat the same year’s experiences over and over.

With that in mind here are the 10 things I learned in 2012 that will help me have an even better 2013…

1) Be very careful with overtraining the nervous system. High tension stuff that really saps the nervous system can take a long time to fully recover from. I found myself training for the goal of doing 100 KB snatches with a 24 kg KB while I was also riding a lot, which was burning the candle at both ends. I ignored the physical signs that I was starting to overtrain and ended up burying myself, taking a long time to come back from. For me this really underscored the need to monitor your overall stress and recovery. This makes HRV monitoring a must for staying ahead of the overtraining curve and a “must use” tool for me and the riders I train.

2) Light bikes may be easier to pedal but a good 6 inch travel 34 pound Freeride bike is still the funnest all-around bike to ride. After getting a Yeti ASR-5 last year I started to appreciate how much easier it was to pedal around a sub-30 pound bike. However, after cracking the carbon rear end and almost gagging when I was told it would be almost $400 for a new one I decided to trail ride my Cove G-Spot. The G-Spot is a classic Freeride bike – a little over 30 pounds and rocking a single 34 tooth chainring up front it took a little more effort to get to the top but it was immensely more fun to rock on the downhills. I realized that in the end I’d rather get a little stronger for the climbs and ride a bike that was more capable of getting rowdy on the way down.

3) You can learn to corner like a champ, it just takes a lot of time, effort and Kettlebell Windmills. This year I spent a lot of time getting my KB Windmills dialed in and I could really feel the difference on the trail, making this the first year that I actually felt consistent with my cornering. That lateral hip hinge is crucial to counter-balancing the lean on your bike and it is so much more that simply “twisting the hips” or “point your belly button where you want to go”. Both of these are pieces of advice I have given over the years but I realized that this was incomplete advice and lateral displacement of your center of gravity taught by the Windmill and TGU Windmill is what you’re really after.

4) Having a coach to give you feedback on how to improve your exercise technique is invaluable. I spent 6 months working with Brett Jones – one of the best KB instructors in the world – and he helped me take my form from “good” to “great”, which also resulted in more strength, power and endurance. I had taken an RKC weekend course and had passed all the form requirements for the exercises but Brett was able to help me dial things in and made a huge difference. A lot of times the plateaus we experience with training has more to do with hitting the ceiling on our current movement efficiency and just “doing more” or “working harder” won’t fix subtle but essential details in how you perform the exercises and ultimately move on your bike.

5) Skype makes a great coaching tool to work with riders around the world. Tying in to number 4, this is how Brett Jones and I were able to work together and it is much better than the usual “I’ll send you a workout without any idea how you actually move” system in place with most distance coaching services. Seriously, if I can’t see how you move how can I send you a workout to help fix and enhance your movement? I’ve never understood how a coach can create a truly personalized program without also being able to help you understand the details you need to focus on with the exercises involved.

Not everyone’s push ups look the same and without being able to help a client understand something as essential as that then you aren’t truly personalizing the program. This is why I started to use Skype video coaching with my Distance Coaching Program clients and the results have been pretty amazing – one of the pro riders I train got offered a job on the spot in a gym because of how spot on his TGU form was.

6) Doing a TGU with The Beast will show just how tight your reps with lower weights are. Earlier this year I got a chance to try a Turkish Get Up with The Beast, which is a 106 lb/ 48 kg kettlebell. This was 13 pounds heavier than my previous heaviest TGU and it was the first time I had ever seen or lifted one. With no real warm up I was able to do a rep because I treat every weight I lift with the same respect and focus I would the heaviest weight I could lift, meaning that when the time came I was ready to apply that focus to The Beast.

This holds true for anything and is a lesson that I wish more people understood the power of – you don’t have to lift heavy all the time to be ready to lift heavy if you practice the focus and mindset you want to use when you do lift heavy. That is a bit of a Zen koan that you may need to read through a few times to understand but if you apply the meaning to your training you will be amazed at how strong and fit you can be without beating the shit out of your body.

7) Be thankful for the little things, like being able to walk and hug your kids. Around Thanksgiving I did a fundraiser in the name of my friend Adam Lavender, who earlier this year broke his neck while dirt jumping. His life changed radically in a split second and so did my perspective on what is really important in life. As a wise man once said – 1) Don’t sweat and small stuff and 2) It’s all small stuff.

8) Trail mutts and mountain biking – ’nuff said. Late last year I lost my long time trail mutt Mojo. I got Mojo a couple of years after I started riding mountain bikes and he was an amazing trail dog – he knew to get out of the way of bikes and he never ran off on his own. He was getting older and wasn’t able to rip the trail like he used to when I lost him but I still missed having a buddy to go hiking or digging trail with. After a few months I finally broke down and got another trail mutt, Aka (it means Shadow in Hawaiian).

Aka is a Lab/ German Short Hair/ Rottweiler mix and he is the best riding partner I have had in a long time. I rode more this year than I have in a few years and that is thanks to my riding buddy waking me up every morning at 6 am to go ride. He is always down to ride, always happy as a pig in poop when we get there and it just makes me smile to see him ripping along the trail beside me as we ride.

9) Heart Rate and/ or Power Readings aren’t the goal of training, the ability to produce and sustain specific kinds of Tension are. You have to look at tension demands of trail riding when designing a cardio program, not just heart rate or power. Otherwise you may end up training in a way that simply manipulates tension in a way that gets the heart rate monitor or power meter to behave like you want it to. Power and heart rate are symptoms of muscular work/ tension, not direct causes of improvement.

Using a road bike to produce a pre-desired power or heart rate without regards to the tension behind it isn’t the best way to train for trail riding on a mountain bike. Tension is both position and resistance specific, meaning that heart rates and power readings produced without those things in mind won’t have as much transfer to the trail.

10) If you read only one book next year make sure it is So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. This is the best book I have ever read about what it really takes to lead the kind of life you want and it brings some serious challenges to the “follow your passion” advice so common today. The truth is that very few people became successful by following their organic passions and instead learned to be passionate about what they were doing. Seriously, even Mr. Follow-Your-Passion himself Steve Jobs wasn’t passionate about selling computers when he was younger, he was passionate about spiritual enlightenment and traveling to India and commune farms.

People like Jobs learned to be passionate about the work they did and how to use each opportunity to gain unique and valuable skills, which were then leveraged into the exciting jobs and lifestyles they are known for. If you are tired of the same old “follow your passion” advice then read this book – learning that “working right” trumps “finding the right work” will change your life.

So how about you? Did you have any big lessons you took away from 2012? Please post and share them below if so, I’d love to hear them.

Until next year…

-James Wilson-

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  1. Geoffrey says:

    I learned that extended time off the bike is not going to end it all. Missing three days in a row, let alone a week, used to make me anxious. Then I broke my pelvis, and got eight weeks off the bike completely. I am significantly stronger and faster now than prior to the accident. Taking extended physical and mental time off is a good thing.

    Oh, and we ride bikes because it’s fun.

    Reply • December 31 at 10:09 am
  2. Tony says:

    Coach…I am old and have been riding for 40 years. I took a 5 year break in mountain bike riding a few years ago and then came back with a vengeance. I began to ride the trails like a man possessed. I wanted nothing but to complete the ride non-stop, no breaks, no rest, and as hard and fast as I could. I figured if I had to rest I was an old wimp and needed more training. That riding mantra continued for several seasons. The rides became a blur…I was tearing the trail up. Then one fall day on the trail I just stopped. Why I stopped, who can say. But suddenly it was all there…I could see all around the trail, I could smell the leaf litter, I could hear the birds and see the deer and turkey. I had missed a lot on my previous rides. Lesson noted…lesson learned.

    Reply • December 31 at 10:18 am
  3. John K says:

    James – thanks so much for your generosity. I really appreciate how much you share with the MTB world.

    Everyone of your lessons are huge and deserve a lot of thought. I look forward to re-reading this post throughout 2013 and meditating on your perspectives.

    Your point #2 really resonates with me. I bought a 37lb SX Trail this summer and have ridden it everywhere, even x-c. I’m no longer interested in a superlight x-c bike that can’t take any abuse.

    Question for you: I read your HRV post and have a question. Does HRV monitor stress from aerobic/cardio training primarily, or does our resting heart rate respond to strength training as well? Hope that makes sense! The reason I ask is that most people I talk to seem to think HRV is for aerobic training mostly.

    Happy new year.

    Reply • December 31 at 11:19 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The cool thing about HRV is that it measures ALL stress. This includes training and lifestyle, so if you didn’t get enough sleep or had too much to drink it will tank your HRV. You see first hand how your choices affect your body in a unique way.

      Reply • December 31 at 11:57 am
  4. Tobin says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Mojo HD with 170mm fork, dh shock, dh wheel set, and a 1×10 gives a good workout on the way up and slays EVERYTHING.

    Reply • December 31 at 8:25 pm
  5. John says:

    The valuable lesson that I learned this year is to, not stop, but slow down and smell the roses. I was into going down the trail as fast as I could and hit it as hard as I could every time I hit the trails. Until a four wheeling accident messed my back up and broke 3 ribs etc. etc. and made me slow down because I could not take the pain, did I learn what I was missing. Although destroying it down a trail is an rush that you can’t miss, there are a couple of things that you do miss. One being that I didn’t ever notice how great some of the trail scenery is when it is not a blur. The other is how much I can concentrate on my teqniques that I was taking for granted. Then again maybe I am just getting old. I have been riding trails for 15 years now.

    Reply • January 1 at 10:04 am
  6. Bjarke says:

    Regarding the TGU. Another cool test is performing the TGU balancing a half-filled cup of water on your fist.

    Reply • January 3 at 3:40 am
  7. Ned says:

    Nice write up James. There’s two huge lessons I’ve learned. The first was after what could have been a very crushing emotional upset, but by following my heart (and ignoring the voices in my head) I will make the right decisions regardless of how painful. But by doing what is truly right it becomes just another experience on the path and an opportunity to learn and grow. The second is about being relaxed and “letting go” as it were. As I’ve studied and explored more about Systema (Russian martial arts) I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of how we carry tension on every level and how it effects us. Physical tension and psychological tension go hand in hand. And we’re all carrying around a lot of excess tension. Through breath work and various forms of massage (some looking and feeling more like assault or torture) we can learn to internally release tension even in the most stressful situations. I hope to make it down to GJ some time soon to share some of these with you. I could also use another round of tips to clean up my strength training workouts.

    Reply • January 9 at 8:08 am

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James Wilson