Over the last few blog posts I’ve been talking a lot about skills training and how it can help your performance on the trail. By improving your movement efficiency and safety, working on your trail skills improves your performance in ways that the more “fitness” oriented components of a program can’t.
This adds up to being able to ride the trail with more speed, endurance and confidence than if you ignored your trail skills all together.
As mountain bikers it shouldn’t be enough to simply ride fast, we should also seek style and grace on the trail.
And while this increase in performance is all fine and dandy, to be honest with you it is not why I work on my movement skills in the gym and trail skills when I ride.
I do it because it adds a much needed element to my training, what the Ancient Greeks called Arete.
Arete literally means “excellence of any kind” but to truly appreciate the meaning of it you have to understand that the Greeks had a different definition of “excellence” than we do.
To them style and grace were intricately weaved into performance. People needed to function – and function very well – but someone with Arete would make sure that things were done with an economy of movement/ effort a sense of flow and attention to detail that isn’t necessarily found in everyone that simply performs well.
Things aren’t just done as good as they need to be, they are done better than they have to be because someone with Arete sees what they are doing on a deeper level.
At the heart of it is a recognition that everything has an Art or a Way that needs to be appreciated and respected. And it is in the pursuit of the Art/ Way that leads to Arete instead of just performance.
This pursuit of the Art/ way of something and letting performance almost be a side effect is something that is also emphasized in one of my favorite books of all time – Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. Musashi, who was the greatest swordsman in the history of Japan, was also one of the greatest painters of his time as well. He sought style and grace in everything he did and emphasized the pursuit of something’s Art/ Way over anything else.
As mountain bikers it shouldn’t be enough to simply ride fast, we should also seek style and grace on the trail. Getting a faster time on Strava or placing higher in a race is great but so is going the same speed and having to pedal less because you were able to pick cleaner lines and made better use of your momentum.
Riding with less effort and more flow is a good thing to focus on from time to time. Sometimes improving the quality of your current level of performance is progress.
The funny thing is, this approach will also lay a more solid foundation for improving the other side of the performance equation, which is your speed and power. When you are going the same speed with less effort it is easier for you to put in the extra effort you need to go faster.
And that’s how this approach leads to improved performance almost by accident. You aren’t trying to go faster as much as going faster happens because you have the extra efficiency and skills to go faster.
This is why I feel that style, grace and Arete are an important part of mountain biking. Don’t forget that going faster is just part of being a mountain biker and the quality of your riding is something that needs to be focused on as well.
So as you hit the trails this weekend remember to work on riding with a little more Arete. It might be as simple as working on your body position or as complicated as railing off-camber corners at speed, whatever it is remember that even if no one is looking, style and grace still matter.
What do you think? Do you think that Arete is something that is still worth pursuing? Or is performance king no matter how you do it?
Leave a comment below if you have an opinion on this subject, I’d love to hear it. And if you liked this article please share it with a fellow rider who could benefit from it.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems