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Ten Habits of the Highly Effective Athlete

This is not an exhaustive list, neither definitive nor exclusive, it’s simply a short list of habits I’ve seen in the best of the best over the last ten years. Hopefully you can take a little insight and inspiration from the list to make a better version of yourself this winter and in the years to come. Whether a racer or not you can certainly benefit from making habit of some of the below behaviours.

1. Solution Focused

Problems only exists because they have a solution, with-out a solution the best athletes discard problems and move onto the next task. They don’t worry about the overwhelming size or gravity of an issue, they just get to work planning a solution, step by step. A solution focused athlete often focuses day to day on the small processes that lead to resolution of the problem. Hence, “solution focused”.  For e.g, if they have a huge crash in practice at a race, they don’t dwell on “why me”, they get to work on solutions; managing the acute injury, changing a line to solve the crashes cause, reducing tyre pressure or deciding to set a different focus or braking point in that section all the while not forgetting about all the other areas of performance that go into a race run.

2. 24 hr Commitment

They know top performance and getting the best from themselves is a twenty four hour commitment, that doesn’t mean not enjoying their life, that doesn’t mean avoiding a night out or a meal with friends. But it does mean knowing that nine hours sleep most nights, especially during heavy training is essential. It means that eating well 90% matters, it means knowing a nap in an afternoon may need to be planned in or resting after training with their legs up for an hour. It’s individual but it’s 24/7! Everything in moderation, especially moderation.

3. Healthily selfish

You have to look after number one before you can truly look after anyone else. Being outright selfish all the time is a fast track to sporting failure (unless there is massive money involved for all, then it’s a fast track to sadness and depression), but a healthy level of kn owing when you need “you” time, when a training session needs to be planned into a day so it’s a genuine priority for two hours. Healthy selfishness is essential but only works with good planning and a good dose of selflessness!

4. Understand causality

They know when to lay blame at their own door or the door of others, but they don’t do superstitions or confuse correlation with causality. This is often where the pragmatic and experienced coach can help. But understanding that just because you crash often on Friday’s doesn’t mean it’s Friday’s fault, it doesn’t mean no riding on Friday’s. It means you have to look deeper and more intelligently. You crash often on Friday’s because of drinking heavy on Thirsty Thursday’s! The issue is alcohol and reduced sleep. Not Friday!

5. View themselves as unfinished

Consistently committed to working on themselves, when you see yourself as unfinished you focus on continued improvement. Marginal changes for long term progress.

6. Know the difference between stretching and breaking their limits

Working on a new trick, a PB on the back squat or a extra training hours. The best athletes, don’t just throw caution to wind and “send it”. That’s a common misconception, especially when talking about “extreme sports” athletes. They instead work away at stretching limits to just below breaking point, elastic expansion with an occasional limit getting smashed when the formula feels just right!

7. Live life knowing talent is a word only

Talent is what you work for first and foremost, you can’t change how long your legs are or how tall you are, but you can change many other things. Get to work, you have two arms and two legs….. just like everyone else!

8. They operate an on, off and dimmer switch

On is wide awake, totally immersed, focused and blinded by the total attention and intention devoted to the task at hand. Off is flat out dead on the couch, regardless of the stress, strains or worries of life, business or sport, when the switch is off the lights are off and no one is home.

The dimmer is the right blend of the above, it’s essential to function long-term as an athlete. The ON switch is so energy consuming when done right that it must be met regularly with the off. But life, sport and business demands just a little more than OFF, enter the dimmer. Learn to use all three as and when needed, no prisoners. 3 switches and one dose of healthy selfishness.

9. They have endless empathy for others

Empathy for the life and times of others is essential to building and maintaining relationships, it also allows an athlete to keep their own ego in check. A healthy ego and good relationship skills are essential to sporting and life performance, they are arguable essential for health and health is essential for performance.

10. They work for what they need not want

They may want a Porsche, but in time it may come. First work on building a powerful and healthy body that allows you to win races and get injured much less. Work on articulating good sentences in front of the media before trying to garner more attention or spot-light. Work for what you need to succeed first, not what proves you are successful. Substance before show, function makes form.

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Last Call on the Lenzerhorn

I could easily kick this one off with some cheesy metaphor about rainbows leading to pots of gold, the last chance salon for glory in 2018 but in all honesty it’s just another race; and as the seasons roll on and Downhill matures further the prestige associated with the rainbow title for a DHer seems to change a little; not necessarily diminish but shift. The nationalistic flavour associated with racing for your country is something that has always made worlds unique but as the quest for race wins continues regardless of event or track and the battle among the world class for victory stays just as intense we see racers keep their formula as close to “regular” as possible. You may race for France, Germany or Canada but you’ll be pitting, staying, eating and sleeping with your trade-team just as you would at a World Cup. It’s much easier to adapt a well know system to new constraints than it is adapt to a whole new system.

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Unique Event

There are maybe three category of “potential” World Champions come Sunday. First those carrying momentum, Atherton, Seagrave, Pierron (Amaury), Bruni, MacDonald, Hart or Brosnan. 2nd we have the unwilling or very meticulously prepared specialists, those with early season injuries or issues that meant a shift in goals, approach and timescales favoured an all or nothing season ending rainbow hunt. A once favoured French approach from the likes of Barel and Vouilloz; this is far less common in the modern age. Although with his mid-season thumb issue and favourable track-record at Lenzerhide, Aaron Gwin could be the dark-horse. Category three is the unlikely victor, the opportunist who capitalizes on their own ability framed best by a total lack of expectation, pressure and focus from teams, media and fanboys. Going back to the year 2000 and Myles Rockwell pounced at the perfect moment in Sierra Nevada, Spain to make the most of favourable wind conditions and grab himself some rainbows. Miranda Miller was perfectly positioned last year in Cairns to capitalise on the mistakes and failures of the other ladies come finals and took home a deserved set of rainbows.

The rainbow jersey is a coveted piece of attire for racers, a nightmare for some sponsors but as we all know once the clock is on the world class racers will give us a world class show regardless of jersey fear!

Organisational Oddities

With the DH World Cup driven in many departments by the needs and desires of Red Bull Media House we’ve seen some positive changes over the past 4 season, out went Tissot for timing and in came Belgian firm ChronoRace. This means 4 split times on course as well as near endless “micro-splits” that RB use on the live coverage for “key sections” and the virtual straight. Sadly for the past few years Worlds sees a return of Tissot for timing and a return to 2 splits on course, a less than ideal online live timing site and as we saw with Myriam Nicole’s issues at Cairns the potential for mistakes and issues in timing – not because of a lack of work ethic but merely I feel due to a crew of timing people doing a one of race and not having the momentum and system in place from 7 WC races.
The World Cup schedule is also pretty set, once summer comes and we have double header (XCO and DHI) races the schedule is very much solid. With World Champs things change and not for the better… for whatever reason Group B DH practice starts at 0730, 30 minutes earlier than a World Cup and with September sunrise in the alps at around 0650, well the first few minutes of practice are quite sombre. Little details like that can change things drastically for some racers, others not so much, it’s all about your support network. DH racing is always on Sunday’s at Worlds and not Saturday like a World Cup – that gives us a very short Saturday A.M. practice session that for some is nigh on worthless. Closer to the World Cup DH schedule of old, where we had 3 or even 4 days of practice!

For 2018 there is a raft of rule changes for world champs also; Riders must now qualify for finals; not seeding actual qualifying. With quotas closer to the World Cup of old; 80 men, 40 women, 60 junior men, 15 junior women etc… With 35 elite female starters that means they all qualify, there are 73 junior men, so 13 unlucky racers who won’t see Sunday. The top 20 men from the World Cup overall season ending rankings are protected. The top 10 women but no protection for juniors. So with less than stable autumn alpine weather forecast in Lenzerheide will this see a return to qualifying tactics of the 90’s for the non-protected? Well no, because even with qualifying and protected status from World Cup rankings, start order for finals and qualis is determined off of UCI DH ranking; not World Cup ranking. Like I said organisational oddities.
Here’s hoping for better timing and T.V. than Cairns!

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Form Sheet

No title to defend, only a title to win…that’s always the most effective way to view racing. No matter what we will see new World Champions in the junior categories. Bruni will go for triple elite titles but his “on-form” country mates Vergier and Pierron are hungry as possible. Amaury has a seemingly viciously potent mix of youth, experience and support. Most certainly the favourite of the favourites. But a form sheet can’t only be based off of most recent results. Each track has its own unique flavour; camber, gradient, duration, soil types, rock types, pit set-up, accomodations and altitude. The complex addition of factors mean some riders preferred ways of applying and executing technique at race pace sees them rise to the top on a given track. Lenzerheide is no different; high speed, unforgiving and loose. The three previous trips we have taken here for WC’s have been in July, each time hot, sunny and extremely dusty and loose come finals. A September visit may be very different. To date Minnaar and Atherton have two wins a piece here. Nicole won last years race, alongside Minnaar in the mens with Gwin flatting while on course to victory. Aaron has been fast here but pipped by a few metres in 2016 by Danny Hart, off the boil in 2015 and ohh so close last year. Minnaar has a proven track record here, but like Aaron comes in under the radar and most certainly neither are on the form of last July, both rebuilding after mid-season arm/hand injuries.

While we have had a variety of podium finishers here Minnaar is the only male rider to have visited the podium each time the WC has stopped in Lenzerheide. Flashes of expected & unexpected brilliance from Thirion, Bruni, Greenland, Brosnan, Fearon and Lucas in editions past need to be noted also. All or nothing world champs runs are often special but bone dry midsummer conditions are not expected in 2018.

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The potential for first times this year is massive, first time overall winner Pierron could polish off his season with rainbows meaning he will be the first rider ever to win his first world cup, the overall world cup and world champs in one season. Former Junior World Champs Walker and Illes could wrangler a podium. Gwin could find his first ever rainbows and Seagrave could join the small club of mainly French riders who have elite and junior titles.

The ladies form-sheet gives a Seagrave // Atherton showdown. A monumental battle for the ages. But as we saw in Cairns anything can happen. Atherton has the pressure to defend after a last round WC win and overall title. Seagrave has nothing but a race to win in front of her. Nicole, Siegenthaler and Hannah are all capable of medals and more if the circumstances are right. French world champs domination, maybe a thing of old, but with Cabirou and Ravenal in attendance a gallic jammed top 5 is possible!

The track and venue

There’s some fresh woods at the bottom of the hill but otherwise we are getting the same old “STRAIGHTline” race track. As DH demadns go it’s pretty straightforward. About three minutes in duration for the fastest men, add 25 to 30 seconds to that for the elite females. The track is fast but never overly steep or hugely rough. The bump frequency is one of the bigger demands. Altitude is on the higher side with the start line at 1905m and paddock at 1492m. Otherwise the stats are pretty vanilla – 2.3 km in length with a 413m vertical drop. Changeable weather could however make it a much rougher, wilder and slicker affair rendering certain forest sections “key” but also meaning certain high speed open sections are much less “skaty”.

The venue is nice, a high alpine farming area tuned ski crazy tourist trap. It has stunning views and good accomodation, with the chalets and apartments quite close to the track meaning a good “family” vibe all week – the sunny summer races of years past have meant good times at the lake just across from the finish line with BBQ’s and swimming for sore bodies. Single digit September temps will change some of that though. So prepping for any eventuality is needed.

Maybe a fondu finally?

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Quebec Calling

Next week will be the 21st visit for a UCI World Cup or Champs to the hallowed hills of Mont Sainte Anne just outside Beaupré, Quebec. A yearly pilgrimage that somehow doesn’t seem to to bore even the most seasoned of veteran. Possibly due to the high speeds, the easily shreddable rideable terrain regardless of a weather and the maybe more than anything else the family holiday vibe that grows as the days pass, due in no small part to the MTB community renting every chalet, house and condo along the short MSA strip!

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The mountains of Quebec like those south of the border in North Eastern USA are big, but not the imposing “boom” straight up walls of rock that often great riders and racers in the European Alps. Instead MSA gives us big, shallow and long. Three potentially key ingredients that keep the race puzzle here fresh for so many, less braking more ploughing? This lack of steepness doesn’t lead to a lack of intensity though, from the first heavy pedal stroke out of the start house, down the now iconic rolling start-ramp things get fast, quickly and just keep building in momentum from there.

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2017 gave us yet another round with a mixed bag of weather.  The 4.00 p.m. rain party rolling in on queue again. Un-phased Aaron Gwin displayed all the calm, calculated characteristics that have led to him to wrapping up 5 overall titles to date. Riding under the rain, straighter and faster than anyone else. Bagging in the process the full quota of points on offer in the overall title battle that day.

Coming into qualifying Gwin trailed Minnaar by 253 points – 3 more than you can earn in one week’s racing. Leaving MSA the deficit between the two titans was so reduced that it left the final round in Val di Sole as an all or nothing battle. What we all learned in the process though, was that anything can and will happen and as long as you come prepared and willing, victory on race day is possible.

The 2017 ladies race in MSA was contested under fair and consistent conditions. Although on a more damp, blown out track that was considerably harder to push your limits on than then was ridden in qualifying. Qualis saw Myriam Nicole eek out a 1.491 sec margin on Tracey Hannah. When Race day rolled in though things changed. In now expected fashion Tahnée Seagrave flipped a 4+ second quali deficit into a race winning display of calculated on edge riding. 5.7 seconds faster than second place Nicole.

Clean Slate

Rumbling in to MSA this coming week for the 2018 race the only constant is change. Maybe that’s a large part of the reason everyone is so stoked to go racing? In no particular order, on the men’s side, we have the return of Moir and Minnaar from injury, the latter has been rehabbing in style, in the most specific way possible slapping bumps on Morzine’s infamous Le Pléney. The former has already practiced at Andorra World Cup and hopefully is ready for racing. With the return of some, the biggest notable absence for MSA is 2017 winner Gwin, at least that’s the info available to hand at the moment. Race day will tell more!

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Pierron (Amaury) has a healthy lead in the overall, but as 2017 thought us with 2 races left anything can happen. On fire at French Champs in Morzine, Pierron is the man to beat, even though his compatriot Vergier had one of the most stunning race runs in recent times on route to his maiden WC victory in Andorra. Luca Shaw will be as hungry as ever although a hungry not quite as grumbling as Loic Bruni’s, 2018 podium first timers Reece Wilson & Thomas Estaque will go good on the long, fast bumps of the Mont. 2017’s FTD title at MSA went to Finn Iles on a dry track, after his first elite podium in Vallnord he’ll be keen to climb a few steps higher at home. Other’s to watch closely are Harrison, MacDonald, Greenland, Pierron (Baptiste), Walker, Mulally and the Eagle Masters.

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The ladies race gives us one the most interesting title battles in years – even after a DSQ in Leogang, Tahnée is just 80 points behind a resurgent Rachel Atherton. After missing two races Myriam is back, a much needed world class rider in the field. Three ladies with the pace and killer instinct needed to win but with three totally different approaches to doing so, watching how the week unfolds as we build to race day will be most interesting. The eagle eyed analyst may have seen how the split times and sector demands of the shorter and longer tracks have played out for the women this year. With a pattern emerging. MSA’s length and high speed impacts may favour the brave, but the brave and conditioned even more.

The Track

At least one new section, dubbed “Tarzan” otherwise pretty unchanged from the past 2-3 years – no matter what, racing will be fast, straight, high speed whether in or out of the woods. We would say bikes take a hammering but those days are beyond us now.

 

Winning Ways

What “approach” does it take to win at MSA? Well I don’t think I’ve personally attended enough races at MSA to know the finer details just yet, but from the experience I have at the venue it’s directness and confidence on the less confidence inspiring sections that counts. Race strategy is built by race tactics…tactics for practice, for each run, for sections, for sectors and finally for the race run it self. Braking just at the right time, some call it late braking, is crucial; as carrying the huge speed generated as free momentum into the subsequent sections here is paramount. No point in not using those speeds built on the flat out piste to keep your wagon wheels ploughing over rocks and boulders as you transition from open to wooded sections.

Subtle but convincing changes of direction on the loose, fast piste sections, total conviction and commitment to line choice in the slab infested woods, wet or dry, braking just “late” enough, soft transitions from edge to edge of you tyres and no let up in the “fitness”  abilities needed to take the hits, deal with the impacts and hold and coax the bike from line to line, rock to boulder!

So maybe that’s the formula, total subtle committed conviction!?

All Images – PC: @Red Bull Content Pool

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Wild Times – Cream of the Crop

This is downhill. The real deal, for two weeks only the keyboard warriors will slink away from the clavier, curl up their powerful pinkies and maybe, just maybe sit back in awe of all things DH. Drooling over the “pit-bits” photos, living dangerously vicariously through the practice days RAW footage all building towards the Red Bull T.V. climax on the Saturday! Val di Sole and Vallnord, big, wild, natural and gnarly. “Proper” DH tracks some will say, rightly so as many others will agree but that’s not quite enough to truly grasp the challenge of winning on either of the next two venues race tracks!

 

PC - Red Bull Content Pool
PC – Red Bull Content Pool

 

Val di Sole’s “black snake” race track is just over 2km in length and drops 548m, doing so at a very constant gradient, apart from the start and finish run in the track snakes it’s way down the hill in an often fuss free direct manner, steep, wild and requiring full attention at all times. The punishment dished out by the big impacts is made worse by the constant steepness, a gradient that requires a fine balance of holding your upper body in a stable posture, supported by your legs but always finely adjusting weight distribution to hit your lines, maintain traction and pound the key pockets on track that allow you to change direction, brake and do the fatest job possible. Mixing those upper body demands that see the riders hit instantaneous double G figures with the need to brake quite often but VERY precisely means hand, arm and leg fatigue are rife in practice and racing. It is as specific as fatigue gets so a healthy body, quality conditioninging program in the past weeks and months and some smart & timely recovery strategies throughout practice are key. Basically the black snake requires relaxed, precious and powerful riding, directness pays massive in time gained but it comes at a heavy price. Payhed for in physical ability and mental acuity!

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In contrast, Vallnord’s WC DH Track dropping 643m from La Pal ski resort to the town of La Massana does so over a longer 2.5km! That extra length and the logistics of crossing a road with a bridge and bringing the finish line to the “town” means Andorra’s track has much more variety in terrain, soil and gradient than the VDS beast. Still a true “natural” challenge, Vallnord’s track has a flat, flowing top, some high speed tech and then eventually after some high speed hits, berms for the TV and rocky off-cambers it “breaks”! A very marked change in gradient that often sees the beginning of where the race is won or lost. Some riders seem to “reset” finding better flow, feel or less fatigue on the steeper bottom third of the track. Others crumble under the duress or just don’t handle the distinct change in rhythm too well. Bike set-up, accumulated fatigue, mind-set, pacing, tactics or strategy. Vallnord could be seen as just as much if not more of a “challenge” than Val Di sole… the reality being though, as I’ve waffled about before…it’s just different!

 

Changes?

Everything changes but everything stays the same? Well 2018 see’s the VDS race hitting the Valley of the sun in early July – prime thunderstorm season, and as I sit here in Val di Sole finishing off this waffle it is raining heavy outside, it’s still a toasty 24c but it ain’t gonna be the dust on dust race we’ve had for out previous 4 visits.  Trackwalk will tell the tale but there’s been talk of a few small changes to the bottom half of this classic track. With safety and spectacle in mind. Taping width and direction have been decisive here in the past with the 2017 race having one of the best mixes of speed, challenge and technicality in many many years, all made possible by simply taping in a wide track that allows the riders to use the hill to both generate and scrub speed as needed.

 

Andorra is a week away yet and I’m sure there are those in “the know”, rumours are a brand new bottom section of track being used, possibly negate the chat above about the big break in gradient. But for now sticking with the known knowns is all we can do! Fingers crossed for as much fresh track, fresh challenge and fresh dirt as possible. As natural as Vallnord is, it’s a well used hill, with many years of world cup racing and seasons of bike park useage under its belt the track is down to bedrock in places meaning “lines” don’t come with choice.

 

PC - Red bull Content Pool
PC – Red bull Content Pool

 

Anyways, from here on in it’s track-walk, practice, quali and finals. Same old, same old. Make sure to tune into Instagram to see the same adjectives used daily, wild, rough, gnarly, natural etc… Friday night you’ll see “time to turn it up” or “bring the heat”. We are halfway through the season almost, the top dogs are pretty set, the top 20 contenders even, but what’s not too clear is who’s gonna take control in the overall, the men’s race is so tight, the women’s too. Seagrave’s DSQ in Leogang sees here 174 pts back, the mens race doesn’t quite have that issue other than Gwin’s crash in Fort Bill.

 

Rad race tracks for rad riders. Here’s hoping for some wild weather and a  good shake up in who from the top 20 men make it into the top 10 or even the podium.

 

Make sure you tune into Red Bull TV, more support, more views = more races.

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Why would you sit to jump?

From our perspecitve a “coach” shouldn’t have the add on title of Sports, Strength, Technique or Defense…multi-discipline is the only discipline when performance come race-day cannot be broken down and is most often only ever measured once.

Here you’ll see Charlie Harrison smashing a seated box jump – often I’ll get asked for “sports specific” exercises and often I’ll reply that there is none. But in reality exercise selection in the gym should be about what the athlete needs so they can always have multiple correct solutions for a movement problem they are facing on track.

Chuck Trimed seated

The measure of how quickly your muscles produce force is termed rate of force development, an awkward thing to measure and controversial at best due to this difficulty in measurement.

For the MTBer, unlike many other sports with clear defined demands, we have the joy of wildly various demands given the track type, soil, gradient, length and frequency of features on trail. As a result you have to be above adequate at many different ways of producing force (strength). If you are a ski jumper then you always take off the ramp from the same position, give or take a few millimeters, an MTBer however will have to “pop”, “push”, “pull” or “punch” any given place on a trail, over a time frame dictated by how fast they and bike are moving over a given trail feature…..add in the changing dynamics of suspension at different speeds and ohhh boy do we have some options.

Back to the seated box jump – what we often see with MTBers is that strategies they use on the bike to jump, pop or send it are very different to those they use with feet on terrafirma. As a result, a coaches job is figuring out ways to create transferable physical qualities in the gym. It’s not about doing an exercise with correct technique, we are not here to “workout” we are here to train and it’s all about transfer. Choosing, modifying, cueing and adapting exercises to get that transfer.

With the seated box jump the task constraints and goal are clear. You go from seated to on top of the box in front as quick as possible. Your movement strategy choices are limited. As a result it’s all about concentric force production, no room for a dip, drive or counter movement – the box for landing on is there for two reasons, none of which are to do with willy measuring contests on the internet. 1) reduce the landing forces so we can do more reps focusing on rapid concentric force development. 2) without something to jump onto or over the athlete will have to muster motivation from more abstract places in their own brain……may work for some, may work less for others.

This is one tiny piece of a large psychical performance puzzle. But at all times it’s individual specific first!

The aim of exercise selection should never be to improve a given metric just “because that’s what everyone else measures” – the exercise should be choosen to have a positive effect on the atheltes ability to perform under pressure, pressure of environment, social scence, time, duress, fatigue and their own cognition.

With the seated box jump we hope that if done well, often enough and progressed the athlete will find a new tool in their on trail tool-box of movement solutions. It’s not about some generic title like “he’s more powerful” – instead it’s “wow look how fluid Rider A looks in that section”, followed by feedback from the rider saying how they feel less fatigue and at one with the bike. If they don’t have to dip before they pop off a small natural lip it’s maybe a hundredth of a second saved, if each precious pedal stroke is more forceful over the same angular velocity, if transitioning between absorbing gravity’s influence on them in a berm to exerting their own forces onto the berm happens 1/100th faster – the coach has done a good job. Best of luck measuring that.

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The best of 2016?

 

The best ride in 2016? Not an easy one to choose; cliché but there were many savage days out! But a filthy wet July day high above Morzine riding at full tilt up and down hills with a host of Point1 trained animals and some friends!

Starting on some of the steepest tarmac inclines in the valley; it was threshold pace from the word go. With XCE World Cup winner and everyone’s favourite Asian Caucasian Kenta Gallagher leading it out, waving willy and twisting throttle!

Eventually working our way to a high enough altitude we broke through the thick cloud to be greeted by the heaviest rain storm in months! Soaked to the bone; we proceeded. More willy waving was needed and we picked the trickiest, tech single track climb with slick rock to have a 1 up competition. Little did we know though that the Spartan Race that was happening in Morzine at the time was using the same trails. So with bodies falling all around us and traction dripping away with every mucky revolution, the ride was turning into something beyond epic for how little time we’d actually been out!

After some Spartan spectating and more face-plants (them not us) we traversed some dodgy cliff edge trails, 200m straight down to death on your left! Arriving at our little plateau (where the Instagram was taken), regrouped and high-5’ed…dried off the grips, strapped on a pair of goggles and dropped in to 19 of the best switchbacks in the alps, bermed to perfection by nature and time; the dirt was perfect!

A quick traverse after all the whooping and shouting, another Zone 4 attack to get back up toward Pleney and we rode some bike park senders back home! Less than 2 hrs riding but with a crew of weapons as wild as they were. World Cup winner and racers, EWS winner it didn’t really matter as it was just skids and wheelies and massive craic.

Cheers to push-bikes!

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Things I learned in 2016 – #TIL16

 

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Prospective Control of Action

This is a re-post from the Point1 Facebook page; because frankly Facebook is a horrible medium for longer, dribbling narrative! Enjoy.

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So, to carry on from Friday’s yip-yap on Posture and Technique…

One of the relationships (some were trade-offs) listed was

Pre-Reaction~Reaction

The first term above being a misnomer – deliberate at the time. The correct term in fact would be, I think,

Prospective. Prospective control.

And as is becoming very clear in my own development as a coach, the relationship of qualities, traits and sub-systems within the athlete (rider) is of utmost importance, this must be respected & understood.

Relational thinking TRUMPS categorical thinking….always. When we speak about performance improvement at least.

[tweetthis]Relational thinking TRUMPS categorical thinking….always[/tweetthis]

“Prospective control refers to the means by which actors (read: rider in our case) adapt behaviour in advance to the constraints and behavioral opportunities afforded in/by the environment” ~ Fajen, Riley, Turvey; 2009

Prospective control is thus ESSENTIAL for the emergence of skilled actions. Without it all you would do is react to what the trail/race-track is giving you. But as we all know, reaction is after the fact, it is, no matter how “fast” too late. Too late for you the rider to successfully navigate each distinct section of trail in such a way as too link up distinct sections into fast, flowing, effective riding.

So when you see your favourite, rider, athlete or celebrity carry out some reactive “eye-hand” co-ordination drill in the gym, remember that reaction is too slow; and regardless most of the “reactions” we make, when riding an MTB well, are somatic reflexes, not reactions…and once that gym “drill” is learned then it would be the prospective control of posture, position that would allow for faster “reaction” to emerge. So again, full circle, relational thinking; reaction to a stimulus is much faster with better prospective control!

Greg Williamson performs at the UCI DH World Tour in Leogang on June 12, 2016

So in the immediate term what does this mean for you if the whole notion of prospective control is new too you?

– Posture = Prizes; the whole reason the “attack-position” bares so many hallmarks and similarities (attractors if you know Dynamical Systems) among good riders is. That that position/posture allows for joint angles, muscle length~tension relationships, peripheral nervous system function, afferent control & force production to operate within an optimal bandwidth to deliver the required technique on trail in the fastest way possible. Prospective control of posture given the trail affordances means “skill” emerges to perfectly match speed. This in essence is “trail efficiency”!

[tweetthis]Posture = Prizes[/tweetthis]

So what can we do to improve our potential to always display usable posture regardless of the trail demands? A shortlist only below….

1. Cultivate & Maintain adequate control, mobility, proprioception, strength and stability through all joints and movement patterns.

2. Develop adequate and ever evolving strength of your “hip hinge”; both eccentric and concentric muscle action, with a stable spine achieved through excellent function of all torso musculature from hip to shoulder (and likely more)!

3. Identify “rate-limiters” to postural maintenance and re-setting. These could be anything from foundational physiological qualities like aerobic metabolism to very specific characteristic qualities like your interaction with a particular size bike, with a certain tyre pressure on certain gradient of terrain!

4. Given the minute detail of the last point above it becomes clear that developing, year on year, season on season, a large physical/physiological buffer of foundational qualities that support good posture on trail will reduce the likely hood of poor mechanics or characteristic rate limiters cropping up under duress/fatigue or emotionally demanding situations.

5. True sport form and improvement in Prime Postures can only be viewed, refined, quantified and understood if enough training takes place in the environments you race in...so that means shredding your bike like fuck in the mountains, up the mountains, down the mountains etc… sounds like fun!

To wrap up a quite abstract post; prospective posture allows for prospective position on trail and that allows for fast, smooth, efficient technique application on trail; which will look to the observer like skill. This is basically all we want as a rider – as skillful navigation of long sections of trail reward us with a sensory and neuro-endocrine response that trumps many experiences in life.

Do this often enough and you get that “flow” feeling…and that leads to intrinsic motivation to shred, removing the space for strange extrinsic motivators like health, weight-loss or victory and in there you find endless drive to improve and a near total lack of anxiety.

So as I said above – relationships of qualities; not categories of qualities please!

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Disclosure #1

I get the feeling, often enough that you could say daily, that most people think that there are secrets to sports performance, secrets to health and fitness improvements. “Hidden” tips, tricks and my pet-peeve, “hacks” that provide shortcuts to success. A Those in the know, know situation, those out of that loop are on the back foot, destined to failure because they ain’t hacking their way to success.

With the above “spiel” in mind this series of very short blog posts aims to provide full-disclosure, no bull. Just straight up advice on what works and why in improving different areas of your sports performance and life.

In the fitness industry the pendulum swings from extreme to extreme; but time and again the truth and reality of sports performance improvement is stuck in the fuzzy grey middle. That’s not to say there are no “right” answers, but given how complex humans are the right answers evolve as you do!

I’ll be open to suggestions for topics to cover via social media…so get messaging and mailing.

First up in the series?

Sleep; sleep and a “subtraction” not “addition” approach to using it to improving your health and performance.

fredsleep

While sleep is seldom the questions it is often the answer. No matter what the performance related question I get these days a huge percentage of people who come my way for advice on the shiny pretty trinkets of training (like the best “H.I.I.T Protocol, supplement, diet restriction, fancy strength training method etc…) are lacking in quality & consistent sleep; the late night “treat” of box sets til 4am, the weekend lie in, the disturbed night of wall climbing after 16 snapchat laps and a Facebook frolic while the heads already on the pillow! Sound familiar?

If you want to learn from the consistent World Class performers in any sport and maybe apply some of their approaches to your own health, well-being and performance then sleep is #1. The linchpin of gainzzz. The consistent performers get quality, consistent sleep. That’s full disclosure on my behalf, because from the experience and data I have from Point1 athletes it’s a very obvious trend. Consistent & Quality Sleep = Consistent #Gainzzz

[tweetthis]Consistent & Quality Sleep = Consistent #Gainzzz[/tweetthis]

The Why?

The ever evolving science and understanding about how sleep is regulated and how it affects life and well-being during waking hours is fascinating. With some recent papers published in the area of energy balance and sleep providing some much needed glue to hold many sleep/performance ideas together better than ever.

To list just a few of the key things sleep is responsible for:

  • Tissue remodeling and muscle growth
  • Regulation of Energy Balance
  • Hormonal Health and Efficiency
  • Metabolic Efficiency and Neuroendocrine Regeneration
  • Appetite Regulation
  • Memory Formation
  • Immune Function and Innate Immunity regulation
  • Skill/Motor Learning & Consolidation

Many of the above are regulated by a tight relationship between what and when you eat and sleep! It’s clearly a well regulated tightly coupled system that can be quickly derailed by the choices on offer to us in modern life, but now knowing that it’s basically the one two way system between our guts and brains that regulate appetite, metabolism and sleep means we can do things like; eating regular meals, going to bed “full”, avoiding stimulants like Caffeine, nicotine and cocaine (joke) in the 4-6hrs pre bed will all have profound effects on the quality of your sleep!

The point of these blogs is to not get to sciency, all the neurobiology and neurochemistry of sleep science is waaaay beyond me but the magic that happens when we get to REM or Stage 4 sleep seems to be pretty easy grasp! The brain acts like it’s awake but the body is all but paralyzed! True regeneration.  The longer you sleep and better the quality the longer you’ll spend in REM sleep and the more of the above awesomeness will happen! Simples.

The How?

Pretty basic stuff that’s easy to implement but will require a no-bull, get shit done attitude

  • Quality Sleep Environment
  • Decent Bed
  • No electronics 45min pre-sleep
  • No caffeine in the 4hrs pre-bed
  • Set Sleep time
  • Set Wake up Time
  • Going to bed well fed
  • Breathing Drills and Relaxation if you’re a midfield of fidgeting in the bed!

Wrapped Up

The thousand pin pricks of modern responsibilities can wear the most resilient athlete down, sign hear, be hear, do this, remember that!? Sleep is the ultimate and primary off-set of these pin pricks! You can be as cool as you please but neglecting sleep will break you not make you. Fragility is no man’s friend and the sleep deprived athlete is always a fragile athlete!

It’s not about what fluff and glitter you can add to your training – it’s about removing limitations to performance like your poor sleep quality and consistency!

[tweetthis]Addition by subtraction[/tweetthis]

 

Further Scientific Reading

Sleep and energy balance: interactive homeostatic systems
Theodore B. VanItallie

Metabolic signals in sleep regulation: recent insights

Charu Shukla et al.

Sleep of professional athletes: Underexploited
potential to improve health and performance

Henri Tuomilehto et al.

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This is a Service

Just because it felt like it was better put on virtual paper than left sitting in the doldrums of my brain. Coaching is a service;  training plan is a product. Point1 and any good coach endeavours to provide an evolving service that consistently meets or at least strives to meet the needs of the complex system that is each athlete. The individual differences or “intrinsic dynamics” if you will, of each athlete mean that the service must meet the emerging changes that define each athlete!

This is where the “partnership” status comes to the fore and why the “partnership” is something I bang on about so frequently when a new athlete comes on-board to Point1.

Coaching success for both parties is built upon a seamless or at least energy efficient Co-adaptation. Without this co-evolution or adaptation the whole notion of coaching being a service falls flat on it’s face. Instead of the duo “Kaisaning” along to new heights you hit constant bottlenecks in improvement and productivity. These become most apparent when the athlete views the coach’s role as product builder or/and the coach views the athletes role as compliant implementation machine!

MTB Training Plans
Product

This is all just a round-about way of saying that communication, adaptable systems, timely but relevant feedback and emotional IQ are what build a successful partnership.

The idea of co-adaptation leads us to acceptability – where the coach and athlete adapt to each other’s needs and capabilities and new found, un-searched changes and successes occur! I still remember vividly reading an interview with one of the world’s most accomplished MTB racers, stating that he had never had a coach, does not see the logic behind it and “anyways” any time he has spoken to a coach he as come to the conclusion that his own scientific knowledge and understanding of training principles is far better! I couldn’t believe it at first; but then I realised that his conclusions are based in his reality – the reality that one he’s maybe jut been unlucky  in the coaches his met and two that his view of “coaching” was that of product supplier not service provider!

KEN_6926
Service

Simple! If you have a coach, are a coach yourself or anything in between remember that it’s a partnership that is allowed to evolve that equals success.

The backbone of co-adaptation of coaching evolution comes from 5 main areas;

  1. Communication
  2. Feedback Relevancy – Timing
  3. Respect; mutual
  4. Continuous education and CPD of both parties
  5. Big picture planning driven by agile changes

Coaching success is rewarding; winning for the athlete is rewarding. But a successful partnership must be measured not in victories but on the consistent quality of service provided!