Where is your focus?

You may have heard me say this before but it is funny how certain themes keep coming up over the week while coaching people. In fact, this one has been brewing for about a month. I’m starting to realize that a lot of people have mixed up “focus” and “paying attention to” on several key exercises.

Here is my definition of these two terms so you know what I am talking about. “Focus” is where most of your conscious thought is going. “Paying attention to” are the things that you are thinking about but only in your peripheral brain. On the trail you “focus” on a spot up ahead and you “pay attention to” the rest.

If you mix these two up you’ll end up with sub-par results. On the trail, if you focus on your front wheel or the big rock you don’t want to hit while only paying attention to what is coming up ahead of you, you’ll crash. Do it with an exercise and you’ll get the totally wrong movement than what we are looking for.

Take the single leg deadlift, for example. Since I introduced it in my DB Combos program, it has prompted more riders than any other exercise to e-mail me about how hard it is. I just got an e-mail from a guy who told me that he can deadlift 225 pounds with two legs but can hardly do a single leg version with bodyweight. This story is actually pretty typical.

Without getting onto all the movement pattern issues that causes this, the reason that most people find it extremely hard is because they are mixing up their “focus” and “pay attention to”.  They are focusing on getting down to the ground – the closer to the ground they get the weight the better. This is why they feel unbalanced and weak.

The focus must be at the core and hips. If you are not focusing most of your conscious energy on keeping your core tight and driving your hips back and down you will never feel strong with the movement. You want to pay attention to keeping your toes up lightly off the ground and keeping a “proud chest” (this is keeping your shoulders pulled back and down).

If you truly brace your core, keep it tight while driving your hips back and down with your toes off the ground and your chest “proud” you will execute a good looking single leg deadlift. It may not be very far down but that does not matter – no where in any of the above instructions did I mention how close to come to the ground. That thought should not even be in your mind – 6 inches range of motion like I just described is better than touching floor while rounding the lower back or coming up on your toes.

Every exercise has these “focus” and “paying attention to” points. Master your mind while training – have focused thoughts about how you are moving each time to execute a rep. Letting your brain think about what it wants or, worse yet, not thinking about anything at all, will lead to superficial results at best.

Mastering your mind while training will also make it easier to master it while riding. It takes a lot to keep your focus where you need it in the trail and to not look at your front wheel or the big rock. Practicing that skill while training in the gym can have a positive impact on trail focus as well.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Karmen says:

    Focus vs paying attention to. This concept popped into my mind the other day as I was riding the trail. Something about the situation must have stressed me a bit and into my mind popped what I had read in your post and I “focused” on the trail ahead and was “aware of /paid attention to” what was in the periphery. It also came to mind doing the marching bridge in my workout tonight. I realized I was trying to “pay attention” to the whole thing but yet it didn’t feel solid. Then in clicked “focus”. I focused on good glute recruitment and the whole exercise became solid ! saaaawwweeeeeeet!

    Reply • September 3 at 6:29 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Nice work on applying the lessons Karmen. That whole concept can apply to so many things. I’ll be exploring some more applications in the future so keep an eye out.

      Reply • September 7 at 11:15 am
  2. Kuba says:


    Every exercise has these “focus” and “paying attention to” points.
    What should I focus on while doing single leg squat?

    Reply • May 3 at 4:34 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Kuba – weight on your heels. You should have your weight back on your heels the whole way down and drive through it on the way up.

      Reply • May 3 at 11:26 am

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