Zen Mountain Biking – Improve your riding 100% in 30 days

One of the best things I have done for my riding over the last year is get into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. For starters, it is really fun to be a novice at something again – the proverbial and literal white belt. Having no expectations about how you should perform and seeing yourself progress by leaps and bounds reminds me of my early years of mountain biking and the fun I had just seeing what new things I could do each time I rode.

Another thing I like about it is that it is giving me a different perspective on training for mountain biking. Seeing how another sport prepares and progresses its athletes has given me some new insights into how to apply their approach to riding.

One of the things I really like about the BJJ approach to training is the emphasis on self-awareness and focused practice. It is expected that you will spend hours upon hours drilling and learning new techniques while also analyzing your game and trying to plug up holes. You can’t learn this from simply live rolling with other people, which is far more fun than just drilling the same thing over and over.

And this mindset is explained over and over to new people. Focused practice is the key to long term success and this is something I think that every mountain biker could benefit from as well.

One of the books that I read on this subject was called Zen Jiu Jitsu – How to Improve Your Game 100% in 30 Days. In it the author laid out a gameplan for how to focus on and improve an aspect of your BJJ game through this technique of self-analysis and focused practice. I really liked a lot of the points he made and the overall plan he laid out and so I wanted to do a podcast review of the book to share some more of them with you.

I’ve also included the noted from this podcast below. If you have any questions or comments be sure to leave them below this post and if you liked this podcast please share it with a fellow rider who could benefit from the info.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Notes from this episode:

  • Zen Jiu Jitsu is a book about how to improve your Jiu Jitsu game in just 30 days. The principles talked about apply nicely to mountain biking as well.
  • At the heart of the program is the ability to identify an area of weakness and then design a plan to address it. This can be tough for a lot of riders because it involves thinking about their riding in a different way.
  • In order to identify an area of weakness you first have to acknowledge that 1) mountain biking isn’t a “talent” and different aspects of riding can be improved and that 2) you suck in some of those areas.
  • Some of the different areas of mountain biking include skills like pedaling (seated & standing), body position and cornering and/ or fitness like attack position endurance or standing pedaling power. The more specific you can make it the better but don’t get too specific – we want to focus on principles more than specific methods.
  • Once you’ve identified an area of weakness you need a plan to address it specifically. This too can be tough because it requires that you look at your workouts as something that can create very specific responses in the body and that you focus on a specific area rather than trying to train everything at once.
  • Again, you need to think more along the lines of movement principles than recreating specific movements from the bike in the gym. Standing on a wobble board doesn’t make something more “mountain bike specific”, the basic movement patterns being trained does.
  • This also doesn’t mean that you exclude any other types of riding or training, just that you make a conscious effort to focus on your chosen area as much as possible.
  • Once you have chosen an area to focus on and have the drills and exercises you need to do so then commit to working on this area at least 5 days a week for the next 30 days. This can be broken up into mobility work, strength work, skills drills and focus rides but everyday you train you should have some element of you area of focus present.
  • After 30 days take a 1-2 week break and then repeat the process. There is always something you can get better at and as you progress those things will get smaller and more specific and will require more concerted effort to move the needle.
  • Some other things I took from the book:
    • Be mindful of what you do. While turning the brain off and just “riding” is fun it doesn’t help you improve.
    • It takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master something. This reinforces the point about being mindful of what you do and that you need to have patience with the process.
    • Study at other “schools”. In the book the author talked about the benefit of going to another school every once in a while to train. He said it was good to experience different rolling styles and energy levels of the school and students. I think this is extremely valuable for mountain bikers as well – try a different type of riding every once in while, try to go out with another local riding group or take a skills class from a new coach.
    • Keep the White Belt Mindset. Be humble and always assume that you can learn more and get better.
    • Be aware of the Anti-You. This is the thing that intimidates and frustrates you. It could be a specific section of trail or a type of riding skill you don’t posses (yet) but the Anti-You is the mirror you need to break to take your riding to the next level. A lot of riders spend a lot of time and effort avoiding their Anti-You instead of seeking it out and facing it which is why so many riders stop progressing at a certain point.
    • Remember the sage advice of Tyler Durden: This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson


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WordPress Comments:

  1. Guthrie says:

    James, I really liked this podcast. You mentioned in a DH race sometimes people have a hard time having endurance in the attack position. When I do long enduro races or multistages, it seems like I do fairly well on the first two stages less than about 10 minutes. After about 10 minutes or the 3rd stage, I run out of gas in the attack position. I am doing the DB workout, but what can I do specifically to build up that endurance in the attache position for longer periods during the winter?

    Reply • December 24 at 8:45 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’ll have to put together a post for next week on some strategies you can focus on (I have one planned this week for Cornering already to run on Friday).

      Reply • December 25 at 1:56 pm
  2. Tam says:

    Hi James, thanks for the insights to the book and the fundamental concept of 30 days focused on one skill element you wish to progress on, its helpful to be reminded that dedicated focus is a key to success…well as soon as I can get a hire bike down the pump track, find a kettle bell i’m busting up the berms here in Kathmandu. Thanks it was a nice alternative to listening to music on my workout.

    Reply • December 24 at 11:59 pm
  3. Henk-Jan says:

    You should create a program like “chirunning” (chicycling, zenduro?) Chirunning also works with focus points. (shoulders, arms, cadence, etc) Almost everything they do overthere applies to cycling as well, only different posture etc. With chirunning you focus on 1 thing for a couple of minutes, and then shift to another focus point, als barefoot running is something…….

    Reply • July 3 at 1:11 pm
  4. John says:

    James, love this post. It reinforces my personal observation that MTBers generally fall into two types:

    1) Those who ride for internal reasons – these riders treat MTB as a meditation, and are focused on the process of becoming a better rider, and
    2) Those who ride for external reasons – these riders crave stimulation from new gear, new trails, status, etc…

    I’m proud to be the first type of rider, as I assume are most of your blog readers. I’m just as happy working on drills and skills on my home trail as I am working on same drills and skills at Whistler. And my gear isn’t top notch.

    My favourite quote from your podcast: the process IS the point.

    Thanks again.

    Reply • July 3 at 1:44 pm

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