Central fatigue is the big bad bad beast, in the short term its’ easy to over come; like taking 5 minutes between heavy squats, it dissipates and you can lift maximally again. But over repeated bouts of heavy squats or even just a long, long bike ride the central (CNS) fatigue that reduces the drive from brain to spinal cord to muscles is a big performance killer. So think back to back EWS races. It could be a big issue! Because it affects motivation as much as it affects fine motor skills like delicate cornering or perfectly timed manuals. Harder to measure, but reduced drive for explosive movements and far higher perceived exertion will do the trick.
Peripheral fatigue is what is happening in the muscle – this can be felt, legs getting heavy, sore after strength training etc… this is where architecture, energy pathways and the cardiovascular system collide and of course MTB in any discipline has the ability to create fatigue here! Measured with internal load – like same power output = higher heart-rate!
So with MTB we have both, in spades. Race an EWS or World Cup DH and both will hit you harder than you think. Now the affect physiological load or biomechanical load has on the source of fatigue would start to make our discussion complex as all hell. so let’s move on.
Environmental aspects like heat, altitude and rain cannot be forgotten about and neither can emotional load/fatigue like meeting sponsor demands or kissing babies!
So we have the descending loads – bike and body accelerating due to gravity, hitting holes and turns and rocks and roots. It means deforming, crumbling but you can’t because to execute technique you have to maintain posture. which requires muscle forces are generated both eccentrically and concentrically – these forces are created around all joints, in perfect unison of force, time and speed! Angular velocity is the name of the game and of course all of this is extremely fatiguing – both centrally and peripherally. If this is DH then you have to do it repeatable – up to 5,000m descending over 2 days at near max effort to learn a track well enough to win.
For EWS you have elements of the above but also the endless hours outside dealing with the environmental stress and the load of just pedaling that bike from A to B! Add in emotional, organisational and external stressors to this and it’s a big challenge for either discipline! Hence why we see some empty minds and bodies at the end of race days.
Long story short – racing MTB means fatigue off all types in varying degrees! Know your poison to make your cure!
The true antidote to fatigue is capacity; maybe better termed specific capacity. But even that is not a silver bullet as no matter how well prepared you are you will get fatigued! The “solution”, at least as I’ve chipped away at it is categorized below. Along with other systems like a movement, technique or needs analysis this goes to form the overall “training process/planning or paradigm” we use.
The bigger the tank the longer it takes to empty! The stronger you are means you produce more force, the more force you produce the less you need to produce in relation to your top limits to achieve the same task goal – hence better ACCURACY (key) and less fatigue both centrally and peripherally. That’s one example but it is a very simple concept that can be expanded across physical qualities and is essential the underpinning justification for psychical prep or strength and conditioning. For example, better ability to use your aerobic energy pathways, less fatigue incurred for climbing said hill at said pace!
Where rubber meets the road! Here’s where things can get messy and internet gurus, CrossFit loonies and “sport-specific” charlatans swimming in a sea of BOSU balls will try to sink your ship! Your sport or others very close to it (pump-track) are the only true sport specific prep you can do! As such doing your sport in training to EXCEED the demands that will be placed upon you in competition is critical to battling fatigue and arriving at race day and race runs ready to win. I won’t dig deeper because at this point in time I think we have some Point1 gems in the works here to make good inroads in prep compared to out competition! Although there is nothing new under the sun.
No brainer – both acute and chronic! this is a case of sharpen versus saw, general versus specific and of course understanding the individual time curves of both adaptation and recovery of individual athletes. Generic planning does not cut it here . If you wish to be on form for race week – to maximise practice and arrive at race day alive and ready to kill then you will need to have developed sufficient capacity of physical qualities and specificity of training BUT not be carrying excessive residual or chronic fatigue from doing so. You cannot display what you don’t have, but if you have something and it’s buried under injured or tiredness you won’t be able to whip it out in time,
A big fish to fry, therefore lets keep it specific to racing. The foundations of good nutrient start long before and far away from race day – so you amplify the good come racing and dampen the bad. Adequate carbohydrate during and after peripherally fatiguing exercise like an EWS practice day could be a game changer for some or bread and butter for others. Dealing with reduced drive from increased central fatigue with a tasty double espresso, eating local, colorful and seasonal all week long to cover macro needs and supplementing when necessary! Do the job right but don’t over-complicate
Last but maybe most important. The forgotten bastard child of bike racing!? All of a sudden this isin’t shredding with “mates”! Now you’ve got limited time to get a maximum amount of work done? Cram 7 runs into 4 hours? Queue outside under the blistering sun, limit recovery between full runs on a 4 minute DH track? Sounds great, not! sounds like you don’t have clue what you are doing.
Planning practice, recovery, strategy and tactics. Knowing how practice equates to building a race run or stage win = minimal energy expended for maximum effect and as such less fatigue incurred! Leaving all that capacity and specific prep you did in very perfect working order to go and EXECUTE come race day.
By in large the feedback on our (myself and Jordi Cortes’ video) on posture, performance and suspension was positive. People enjoyed both the concrete advice and the more abstract or philosophical discussion about the cyclical nature of problem solving your progression as a rider. There was of course some negative feedback, which is always welcome and often necessary. Much of the more negative replies came on the now infamous Pinkbike comments section. Instead of directly replying to those comments and getting embroiled in a slimy pig wrestle where both parties become lost deep in the black hole of internet forum fighting, I thought it better to use some of the feedback to fire up my own skull muscle and delve deeper into my own rationale & understanding behind a “prime posture” and share that with anyone willing to read.
One of the stand out replies on Pinkbike was from a guy who claimed that Jordi or myself recommended a tall posture on the bike but then contradicted ourselves by saying Bruni had the best posture and as we can all see Loic rides at his fastest in a relatively deep “hip hinge”! The discussion then takes off and Amaury Pierron and his “low and aerodynamic” position on the bike gets dragged in. The true details don’t matter so much, more so the overall idea that 1) Jordi or me recommended an upright position and 2) that because successful riders don’t have *the position* that all advice is null and void. The key for me is having some arguments to refute or at least use them expand on my own rationale for a Prime Posture.
The stand out issue is that my doodle of prime posture showed a rider standing very upright, maybe skewing people’s own representation of what I mean. Coupled with that was the discussion about how a deep flexion biased posture is something I see in less experienced or skilled riders. Those two parts of our discussion may have led people to conclude that we were recommending a tall, very upright posture at ALL times. Which of course is not the case. If the over-zealous commentators had paid attention to the key kinematic components on my doodle they would have realized that no matter how low or deep in their hip flexion Amaury or Loic get they still at all times display the common kinematic variables of a “prime posture”. From top to bottom they are; eyes up, neutral spine, stable & square pelvis hinged over strong legs stacked on mobile but “stiff” ankles! You can look at 500+ photos of either rider in question or any world class DHer for that matter and you will see all of the above on display. You cannot however prescribe specific joint angles that are the best across all people. As we all know the variables of limb length, strength, total mass, mass of each limb or joint segment, sensory-motor difference and a whole host of variables due to the inherent redundancy or degeneracy of the human motor-system mean that the details of the postural solutions to the balance problem that is riding an MTB down wild tracks at speed are individual. They just share common features, or Principles of Prime Posture if you will.
The more upright posture I was describing was a direct antithesis to the heavily flexed posture of the scared novice. It was not a description of the perfect posture we need in all situations. Continuing as the comments did with both Amaury and Loic as examples of low and aero postures we can dig into just what is actually on display and why. As outlined in the previous paragraph, no matter how low Amaury gets he always displays an eyes up, neutral spine and stable hinged hip posture, ditto for Loic. The more experienced eye will see the commonalities of posture not the differences caused by kinematic or anthropomorphic variables. Going further the true issue with the debate is that it’s comparing tomatoes with bananas. We all know that tomatoes have no place in a fruit salad! As spoken about in the #dialed episode posture on the bike is simply a solution to the problem of balance. Riding bikes is a dynamic balance challenge where maintaining our centre of mass over our base of support is critical. Doing so as we successfully negotiate challenging terrain and apply the right technique at the right time is skillful riding.
What we see Loic and Amaury do is solve their own unique balance challenge in the most appropriate way possible given the task demands. In this case that’s getting from A to B down a gnarly World Cup track as fast as possible. As we all know World Cup tracks are fast, often wide and now have less tight turns and changes in speed than before. Average speeds are high, between 35 – 40 km/h for most tracks, peak speeds of up to 75 km/h and there is a variety of gradients but mostly things are steep enough that a rider needs to have a more rearward bias in posture to distribute weight optimally to maintain the needed blend of vision, control, balance and efficiency. The word efficiency here is key, it’s our motor systems search for a cost effective way of solving movement problems that leads to this low or deep hinged posture for many WC racers. It’s the fastest, safest and most energy efficient way to solve the task at hand. Controlling your COM on your bike comes in two main forms; an ankle dominant strategy and hip dominant strategy. When speeds are low, good riders tend to choose an ankle dominant strategy, cruising along nice and tall, using small movements at the ankles and then knee and hip to deal with the very small displacements of COM caused or demanded by the trail. When speeds are high and especially when speed, gradient and the amplitude of displacement of COM is great, then good riders will use a far deeper more hip dominant strategy to control COM. Again, this is a universal concept that has key similarities between individuals but many small differences caused by the vastly different sizes, shapes and motor learning histories we all have.
As a visual example of the above principle, hit this LINK to watch Amaury displaying an ankle dominant strategy as the terrain, speed and urgency of the situation dictates that as the most cost effective solution. This is the general neutral position myself and Jordi were talking about. Then watch the following five seconds to see Amaury display his hallmark hip dominant strategy as he shreds some wild terrain at warp speed – HERE. And for arguments sake if you watch all of the clips in the following link from Mont Sainte Anne World Champs you will see a more mixed approach to the balance problem as that’s what the terrain and speed demands. It’s certainly a hip dominant strategy but it’s slightly taller – LINK showing that postures as a strategy to control COM displacement are on a continuum. At all times in the linked videos though, Amaury displays the key movement principles of Prime Posture – vision is stable, neutral spine, hinged hips etc….
From here onward I could probably fill 50 pages with endless waffle about the reasons behind how and why individuals choose certain points along the ankle to hip dominant continuum of postural control on a bike. We of course need to speak about the importance of keeping the head neutral and parallel to the ground we travel on as the signals from our vestibular system are key to successful control! The potential questions are nearly endless. Do our postural choices lead to an increase or decrease in the amplitude or strength of the automatic postural responses that are encoded in our spinal “circuits” and brain stem? Does our unique sum of joint angles and inter and intramuscular coordination and length tension relationships caused by our preferred strategies lead to a functional increase in short latency reflex responses or are they still not much to write home about? Are the shapes we make on the bike key to enhancing muscle synergies that drive effortless and rhythmic movement?
The questions of why a prime posture is truly prime are pretty far reaching, this little blog post is about refuting the notion that postural choices are absolutes, they exist on a continuum of usefulness or relevancy dictated by the demands of the terrain. Is there an aerodynamic element to Amaury or Loic’s choices? Maybe, wind resistance or drag is one of the key forces acting on riders along with friction, so whether innate or planned, maybe getting low when possible is a choice. I’d hazard a guess though that given the demands of race tracks the deeper hinged, low postures we see are as much about riders femur lengths, torso strength and arm span as anything else.
The goal is to ride the bike from A to B as fast as possible. The task is to do so in an energy efficient way while maintaining balance. For this to happen kinematics, kinetics and the redundancy of the motor sensory system needs to be controlled. That challenge is so complex that really the best approach is to focus on the key principles of prime posture. You will see the best of the best share these items no matter what the trail, track or speed demands are.
Unstable training is characterised by the “athlete” having to control either the position of a joint or many joints and/or centre of mass in such a way to maintain balance in the face of non specific perturbations while potential having to carry out some gross movement.
On the surface, especially from the perspective of the casual observer “unstable” training in relation to MTB performance makes sense. The MTB environment is crazy, has wild bumpy, rocky and muddy terrain and from the 3rd person perspective there is alot of swift and unpredictable movement happening. But the plot begins to thicken once you take the first hand experiences of accomplished riders. While wild moments happen that require sudden movement, MTB is often quite “calm” (from inside the helmet); especially when being done correctly. Hence its appeal, the reward our brain gets comes from the chemical environment created when challenge matches up to ability. A perfect state of competence.
What actually happens on your MTB, at least for riders who are more than “novice” is that visual perception guides much of our action. This is why looking out of a turn early, looking far ahead enough on the trail at all times and being strong and mobile enough to keep a stable head is CRITICAL to performance. The visual and vestibular systems interact with the rest of the body to allow us to make preparatory movements, posture changes and positional changes on track so we can fully exploit the bodies visco-elastic and muscular properties to smooth out the trail, deal with the impacts and perturbations and of course, most evidently, apply the right technique in the right dose at the right time (skill)! This leads us to a position where the perspective on “unstable” training changes. While unstable training mainly challenges the muscle, joint and tendon (maybe skin too) mechano and proprioceptors & subsequent reflexes to act fast enough or the brain/spine and muscles to carry out the best course of action from that information – MTB requires us to be read the terrain to allow the body to be 100% ready to interact not just react to the perturbations of the track.
Now “reactive” and reflexive skills are needed, but these are too fast and too specific (in my experience at least) for them to be trained on a Bosu ball. Where classic “unstable” training has it’s place is in rehabilitation from injury. The proprioceptive function at injury sites or even above and below injury sites can be severely hampered after said injury so in this case general overload of balance systems and reflexes is very warranted; repetition in the safer gym environment, I even go as far as adding in unilateral and TRX type work in almost all training plans to keep a minimal dose of balance and control challenging exercises in a program. But when it comes to training that actually has a long term non rehabilitative performance enhancing effect…..well it’s all about repeatedly producing as much force as possible in the shortest time while maintaining the shapes or “posture” needed to execute technique while controlling center of mass. The more force we can produce the less “activation” a given movement requires, in theory this means less noise, less fatigue and better fluidity to your movement. On top of that the structural changes that quality plyometrics, heavy compound lifts and other high force moves create likely lead to changes across the structures that work across all joints in the body that must be controlled in order to create those key postures or “shapes” as Stuart McMillan would say.
So while there is a time and place for unstable or instability training it’s not very often. Training to improve stabilisation reflexes or proprioceptive function is useful but alone it won’t get you very far. The mountain bike athlete can see what challenges await – the premise of unstable training is that you have no idea what is coming next and while to the casual on-looker our placed perched on top of our mountain bike looks like a balance challenge in reality it is a very stable place, especially for the capable rider.
The magnitude and accuracy of the activation of top down controlled muscle action that is needed for sport skill can only truly be trained while doing the sport. Improving our potential to perform in the gym is what the work done between those four walls is about. The more force we can produce and the better our visco-elastic and skeletal muscle is at dealing with the demands of maintaining posture while executing technique the more robust our movement is on the bike. Basically better biological tissue function leading to true biological degeneracy. From that comes the illusion of effortless control as seen by the by-stander. We all want to ride like this but unstable surface training will not help you get there it will only help you back from injury.
The Hawthorne Effect – when an individual changes how they normally do something because the know they are being observed. It may be a phenomenon of sorts and surely affects individuals to different degrees and in different ways. As a concept it may or may not be even real but for your MTB performance it’s a useful anecdote to abuse.
When racing a MTB in the gravity disciplines your only true opponent, the enemy so to speak, is the clock. It also happens then, by default, that the clock is an “observer”. Furthermore, due to it’s unwavering objectivity, it’s also the harshest of observers. It doesn’t lie, sugar-coat it’s feedback nor strive for long-term improvements by giving you a short-term boost through white lies. The clock counts seconds and that’s that! Observers come in many shapes and forms in MTB, from fans track side to your friends behind you on a ride and they all could potentially feed into the “reactive” change in behavior that hallmarks the “Hawthorne Effect”. Just how many times have you messed a corner or jump up when your friends get the camera out?
Narrowing focus onto the power of the clock and we, or at least I, see how it steamrolls and amplifies it’s impact. The clock in all it’s beautiful objectivity becomes much more to the racer than minutes and milliseconds. The clocks unwavering ability to tell the truth amplifies the impact of all the other observers the racer knows are there. The opinions of others, based off what the clock says, all of a sudden become much more tangible. Fellow racers, family, the “fans”, the keyboard warriors, the rivals, your own sense of self and that inner ego monster!? The opinions of those individuals suddenly carry weight, they come backed by evidence. So as an exercise in humility and true emotional control, racing is the pinnacle. Excuses can be made but if that narrative doesn’t add up at least in part to the clocks story then time wins. You suck!
Now you may not experience any semblance of the Hawthorne Effect when you are put on the clock, or you may actually benefit like many racers do. I coach more than one rider who are that cliché “clutch performer” – they race better than they ride! In their case the clock and the added observer power that comes with it increases their potential to execute! They rise under pressure.
Many riders, of all levels, however experience variations of performance reduction due to being observed. Whether by the clock, friends or otherwise. The motivation that others garner from that objective observer counting in seconds & minutes slips and becomes a massive hindrance. As a result, some riders choke, perform worse, can no longer control emotions nor feelings. Everything and nothing can overwhelm them and the desire to protect your own image of themselves, their ego, takes over. The reaction to observation leads to negative outcomes.
A solution you ask? Routine! If you’ve worked with me as coach then “routines” would become a commonplace talking point. Often rearing it’s head as the “process”. Control the controllable and focus on the actions that lead to good outcomes not the outcome itself. But that whole performance paradigm – based on a process focus – can miss the simple power of specific routine. Specific routines for specific situations. The easiest to describe is a race day routine. As that’s often when the clock mediated Hawthorne Effect rears it’s ugly head. Race day will always be on a schedule. Your start-time being the cornerstone. Everything else works toward that moment. You know you are going to be “observed” in one way or another so deal with it! While the scrutiny on offer may change depending on the race or venue or many other variables your routine can stay the same and with that you can perform as close to optimal as possible.
Without a routine the only defense you have against the negative impacts of expectation and scrutiny are your own thoughts and mental skills, while you may be lucky to have a strong character or have developed even effective coping skills to deal with race day “nerves”, on their own as your sole strategy to craft a race day performance, they are energy consuming and potentially wasteful. The “routine” approach gives you a seamless and effective strategy that consumes minimal energy because it becomes process.
Routine – a DH race day example
Morning Practice – two runs; key sections to work on, line focused not “feeling” focused – or vice-versa! Post Practice – hydrate, relax, de-brief with friends, coach, mechanic, adjust race run plan based on practice knowledge Downtime – occupy yourself with something else, shit-talk, coffee, relaxation, massage etc… Meal time – set a specific time and type of meal – keep it enjoyable but effective Warm-Up – specific start time for Warm-Up – content set, specific to needs and track demands. Music – playlist for warm-up Your Mantra – repeat to yourself your pre-race mantra as needed starting with four minutes to start – e.g. “enjoy executing”!
The above may seem rigid, but it’s simply an idea, the key is to have a routine in place, it can be anything you want, have any focus, as long as it’s pre-planned and timed to allow you to control the key variables that you know matter to your performance come race run.
Without a plan, the pressure created by the observation of others can crack you. Worse again without a plan you may find yourself at the mercy of your emotions, lead by feelings that can severely impact performance…. doubt, fear, vulnerability, irritability etc… these feelings can take over. They then occupy the “working memory” in our brain and make what should be simple pre-race tasks feel monumental. Secondary to that, this hyper-emotional state means we feel our movements internally, so instead of riding like you can, you force it and try to make yourself ride like you want to. The end result is poor performance, constrained by knowing that no matter what; your performance is on the clock and all eyes are on that same clock.
Whether the Hawthorne Effect actually exists is largely irrelevant, it’s just helps us give a name to race day and riding situations we have all faced. Most importantly if something has a name then it becomes more tangible. If you can define it you can defeat it.
This won’t be the only “preview” you read this week; but it will have a different perspective than most. I’m no journalist and don’t want to be, I’m a coach; maybe a performance enhancement-ist? But what I certainly am and always have been is a BIG fan of racing. Bikes above all else. So being as unbiased as I can, which isn’t simple, here’s my take on the 2018 UCI DH World Cup season to come.
The title fight is only seven rounds long, which in plain speak is not enough. More should be done to make it a longer championship battle, but unlike the “title-fight” in MMA, boxing or some play-off riddled team sport, DH provides us with a lot of the answers from Round #1! There’s little waiting, we get the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania rolled into one – with live coverage – everyone races the track and the clock decides the outcome. Simple, and that’s a big part of the reason why we love it so.
The UCI are much lambasted at regular intervals by fans, keyboard warriors, media and media-warriors alike, the race track in Losinj and it’s tarmac finish adding fuel to the fire for 2018. While much if not all of the blame for a slow moving & somewhat stagnant World Cup calendar lays at the UCI’s door – if we are gonna blame & shame I feel we have to give credit when due also. Otherwise we are just engaged in dogma and displaying nothing more than terrible cognitive bias in attitudes towards the “big house”. Mercedes-Benz and parent Daimler need little introduction and they have chosen the UCI MTB World Cup to promote their new range of off-road vehicles. Will we see DH racers cruising alpine streets in loaner X-Classes like the ski-racers in their Audi’s? I doubt it, but it is a positive step and the first major external sponsor since Nissan.
Spicing a much too long off-season up with pre-season races is steadily becoming more and more par for the course, gone are the days of private tests sessions and one “whatever” works pre-World Cup race to help you remember those between the tape feelings. Now teams, with bigger ambitions and either bigger or further stretched budgets are hitting a host of pre-season events with a plan and focus. Crankworx Rotorua is high on the list for some, even though it’s half a planet away from most teams HQ’s. Windrock in Tennessee, USA is fast becoming the winter hot-spot, even though it’s most often freezing cold there all winter. But the quality of the tracks and services Neko Mullally and team provide are second to none. From testing camps onto races, this past off-season has painted a pretty decent picture of who has built form, carried World Cup 2017 momentum or found a seat on the puzzle bus. From the Pro GRT in Windrock to Portugese Cup in Lousa, British National Series in Cwmcarn, local French races in Peille, the aforementioned Crankworx Rotorua right up to the “why is it not a World Cup” iXS Cup in Maribor, pre-season has painted quite the pretty picture in terms of depth of and diversity of preparations, talent and tanacity.
Every season has the “this will be the most competitive ever” preamble attached to it, but 2018 has does have a seriously spicy flavour. One I’ve not come across in my years on the scene. Regardless of how utterly crap you, the internet warrior, thinks the Losinj track will be it will separate the best from the rest, no questions asked. But having a quick gander at the percentages, spreads and placings of the first races of the year, especially the British National, Windrock, iXS Maribor and Portuguese races and there’s a depth in numbers coming to do battle in Losinj that is providing some serious excitement and intrigue. Bar a few genuine up and comers or first year Elites in the men’s fields the top 10s or even 15’s in above pre-season races were genuine World Cup top 10’s. A stunning amount of ability and hard work getting fine-tuned in the one place at one time over a few weekends. A few notable absences though from these pre-season races, I’l be keeping my cards close to my chest here, but I’m predicting 2 fresh or fresher faces on the Mens Elite podium in Losinj and at least one noticeably absentee.
The women’s field lacks the depth the men’s field has for obvious reasons of participation numbers; but the heavy hitters have all been out and away from training laps & sparring only and got the gloves on in proper race environments this winter. Most journalists and fans seem to still trump placings over percentages when reviewing and I suppose that is simply because the gotta get the info across quick in social size bites. If you do however take the time for analysis and analyse in context (crucial) then what we have on our hands in Losinj is Chinese torture ready, razor sharp ladies that will be separated by razor thin margins. Off-course I’m a little biased here; but I’m very excited for it.
Teams, trucks, brands, suspensions & diameters
Michelin versus Pirelli, Bridgestone versus Dunlop. Brands, manufacturers and constructors in Motorsport is the perpetual story-line with one or two always having the upper hand, regardless of race-track. Often dominating results sheets for golden periods because of engineering triumph, financial clout or plain complex luck. DH has had similar dominating story lines, luckily for us the pilots input matters even more when their mass is four times that of the machine, so technical advantage is negated slightly. But we have had across the board for nearly two decades a series of two horse races. Sram versus Shimano, Rockshox versus Fox, Maxxis versus Michelin or Schwalbe….the core “contact” components ,the stuff that really matters on a push-bike. But 2018 has a storyboard that’s quite a bit different. Four or five worthy tyre manufacturers, producing quality prodcut in a variety of sizes and configuration. Rockshox, Fox, SR Suntour, Formula, BOS and DVO all seemingly producing suspension that works, yes some brands have an advantage but the diversity is startling and good to see.
Wheel diameter was the hot 2017 topic and the infancy of the sport and infantile minds of some competitors shown bright, botched and chopped wanna-be 29er bikes, riders and teams talking of 10 sec margins on basic test tracks…Lourdes came and went and left us with no answers because of divine intervention. Fort William was a perfect, classic, playground and the line was drawn. Bikes that work, work and wheel-size may not matter too much as a solo metric. With 12 months of maturation and engineering some riders and teams will have good 29ers dialled, the above pre-season races have pretty much told the story, Santa Cruz, Commencal, Intense & Devinci all have real-deal and fast 29″ wheeled bikes. Along with suspension, tyre and parts suppliers that make good product. Other brands have finalised “production” 29″ wheel bikes coming for Fort William. Regardless of how “good” they are, we will see a split. The ladies all on 27.5″ bikes, the men split 6/4 or 5/5 in the top 10 or so between 27.5″ & 29″ bikes.
Morphology and anthropomorphics matter when talking wheel-size, longer limb levers, especially lower body suit the larger diameter wheels better; but the complexity of the interaction between the rider and bike and sprung and un-sprung masses not to mention the system of complex elastic springs, levers, motors and struts that make up the human body is far to dense in degeneracy for a “simple” formula for guiding riders towards either wheel size to work.
It’s a golden age of diversity though and it’s a pleasure to be involved in it.
Juniors & Freshmen
Sophomore is an odd word, but it means second year and there are some second year elite male and female racers who should perform well in 2018. Most eyes though are on the junior class of 2017. Climbing into the big ranks in Elite men, Finn Iles and Matt Walker will excel; that’s nature & nurture. There are many more riders jumping ship too though, with Seagrave and Hartenstern being two of the higer ranked 2017 racers moving up, What success for a first year elite means is governed by the previous success and failures of others. Top 10’s are the benchmark, Bruni, Greenland, Vergier, Bryceland and Fearon all transitioned to elite with ease. With elite podiums and World Champ podiums for some in Freshman year. It’s a long shot but a Freshman World Cup Elite win has not happened in the “modern era”. 2018 has a good a chance as any,
The Junior ladies category is usually forgotten, but branded Red Bull racer Vali Hoell may change that. Judging by results to date she is fast. how that speed will translate to the rough and tumble and terribly early Group B World Cup starts we’ll wait and see.
Junior men is a ripper of a category; some dislike it. But I think it has many merits. 2018 has a list of racers longer than two arms. Both first and second year racers. Kade Edwards is the 2nd year man to beat. Daprela, Edmondson, Tyrell and Canyon Factory Racing’s Kye Ahern are all first year shredders with support and race-smarts.
Emotional management is the key to junior success. Broken bikes in Croatia may prove to be the catalyst for broken dreams…
Round #1 Race-Track
Haters gonna hate – having been to the venue and raced this track in 2016 I know what we are in for, it’s not easy, not really “fun”, not very long but he venue is nice. Is it good enough for a world Cup? Well that depends, on it’s own as a standalone race I feel it lacks too much to be considered a World class challenge. It will make for exciting racing and the world’s best will make it a spectacle. While the track is not easy from a simple technique execution/application POV it is not deep enough in choice to make it a challenge. Depending though on where RedBull TV place their cameras and how the short track is split up in terms of split times and TV time we could get a sensational showcase of our sport for the world. The street section is relatable for the public and I feel there is far to much being made of it as a negative. It needs some dirt wall-rides and rollers, but that’s that. What the venue, track and location provide is a showcase. If I was courting potential sponsors, especially out of industry sponsors, I’d bring them to Croatia; selling them the idea of our traveling circus as the vessel from which they showcase their brand to the world is easy done in Croatia, Mercedes Benz onsite, live to the world seaside in the Adriatic. It has it’s merits as much as it’s downfalls. I’m trying to see it like the “Monaco F1” of World cup DH; the issue being thought that F1 has 21 + races, DH does not.
What would make sense and appease us all is a season opening double-header. Losinj for the seaside fan-fare to kick things off then on to Maribor four hours away for a back to back round 2. Maribor did have a joint World Cup bid in with Graz, Austria (for XCO) for 2018. What happened there I don’t know. But seaside to pre-alpine diversity is what MTB allows, unlike or winter alpine cousins and should be capitalized on. The larger issue still glaringly obvious here thoughis this; the UCI make & enforce rules, they shouldn’t also have a sole hand in promotions and planning of the series, there they need the vision and expertise of external agents, just as Moto GP, MX GP, F1 and others have. Someday maybe?
The track in Losinj will provide good racing; the organisers have done their best & then some; the terrain, gradient and altitude availbe is at the VERY lower limit of what should be allowed, but like Brazil, Canberra and PMB before it the racers there to win will win. Instead of pushing against the venue & the organisers we should embrace it for what it provides in-terms of exposure and push instead to have it paired with a polar-opposite challenge on back to back weeks in future.
New School Rules
Again the UCI took serious flack from the internet navigators when it was announced that only the top 60 men would now qualify for finals. A reduction in the ladies numbers for 2017 made little difference in fairness, but the men’s change has the potential to cause issues. Tyres, wheels, weather etc… making top 60 a true cliff edge. What the keyboard warriors don’t know is it is the Trade teams and Red Bull Media House not the UCI that pushed for this and other changes. It makes sense in my opinion, especially come race day too further professionalize the sport. It’s not a rule set in stone either which is worth noting. The “protected” rider change has also been pushed by a handful of teams and individuals. There is still the potential for 20 protected individual males, the top 10 from the overall in 2017 are on TV and guaranteed for finals come race day all season long and then up to 10 more riders protected if they are top 10 overall in the 2018 standings and through some bizarre turn like the weather in Lourdes the current protected top 10 from ’17 are not in the top 10 of the current standings! In reality though we are likely to see between 12 to 16 protected Elite male races in 2018.
The new rules mean that practice matters even more, planned, concerted efforts in timed training and qualifying “game plans” are all going to become more “norm” in 2018 for those who feel the pressure at the edge of the bubble.
Racing kicks off in 5 days; Day 1 murmurs and whinging about the track will subside come Quali day and the sea-side after parties will be as wild as ever. It’s been waaaaay too long since Cairns.
One word that means everything and nothing to so many, whether in the “fitness” industry or not. From rider to racer and everyone else involved “conditioning” is a word that most often in most peoples unsaid, unwritten definition overlaps with the word “fitness”.
Fitness for the lay man, conditioning for the “professional”? Who cares, as it likely does not matter once solitary gram. What we mean is the ability for your body (brain included, they cannot be separated) to deliver & use adequate amounts of energy so you can successfully complete what your sport demands at any given instance. The energetics of movement maybe? Attempts to break that down into measures of ones ability to transport and use oxygen, burn substrates, use enzymes, contract, relax and control muscle, make decisions or pin point percentage substrate usage are all worthwhile uses of scientific investigation…helping further the body of knowledge coaches use and abuse in helping athlete’s prepare.
The “problem” as it stands now though is two fold and caused in no small part by many peoples perception of the above scientific investigations being the zenith of human investigation into sports performance…simply, the view held by many that scientific investigation has all the answers. As a result, depending on your sports culture, the training process can be largely dominated by percentage based systems, classifications of physiological metrics. On the surface this seems to make sense for our “conditioning” but it has in no small part contributed to blinkered views of what conditioning is and how to achieve it. To the detrement of thousands of athletes once they face the heat of true competition.
Instead of subscribing to a system created by others for the masses, the best approach, to date, in my attempts to help others achieve “fitness” and to condition athletes is to be a scavenger. While not as glamorous as a hunter metaphor, there are few scavenger species close to extinction. Basing near all decisions on a singular training model like % of FTP, % of 1 repetition max, velocity, % of V02max etc… is utter madness! What’s even worse is your foolhardy gym warrior approach of doing what’s “hot” right now – that being as I type, still, somehow, Tabata timing – 20″ of work 10″ of rest for 8 reps!
If we back pedal to the start – What is conditioning? The ability to deliver, use and exceed the energy requirements of meeting your sports demands for every last second of competition, from pre-practice to race run. For the Enduro racer this is everything from track-walks, practice, race stages, post stage recovery, pre-stage prep and doing it the week after or day after if demanded by the calendar. By definition it is “fitness” – suitability for a task.
So a narrow definition of “condition” will very like get you beaten, or killed! Why? Because performance cannot be categorized by physiology alone. A solution to this problem is to become a blood-thirsty scavenger.
Take what you need from any models avaialbe, use, modify, abuse & discard. Remember that all models are wrong but many are useful. The next time your on the bike, in the gym or planning your or some other persons training you may think of this post…..with that in mind below are some conditioning buckets we try to use when planning training so as no matter how big the fire you encounter at a race you will have enough in reserve to dampen the flames, a buffer if you will, not a physiological one, but a performance buffer.
The above are just some examples – methods and means can be best guided by the application of a varied but effective and evolving ecosystems of training. The ecosystem you create by how you organise and categorize your training sessions and their desired & undesired outcomes is what allows you to build a plan that has some semblance of order that allows you to help deliver a prepared and conditioned athlete for competition. In an ideal world the above table would actually be some sort of beautiful chart where the possible relationship and connection between each approach to conditioning is explored……but I just don’t have the time or skills for that.
The above holistic approach to designing the conditioning focused elements of a plan allow for a more complete understanding of training load also. Providing a handy port of departure away from classic, linear, input//output metrics like Training Stress Score, TRIMP, distance, time etc… training load and stress can only be understood when the emotional and subsequent autonomic state that it occurred during is understood and as an extension of that the “outcome state” each session creates too. As a recent study found, perceived success or failure of a session, the emotional impact a session has and the location & result all effected rating of exertion – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29502448
The simplest measure of preparedness, conditioning and fitness will NEVER be found in a lab or quantified with numbers, being conditioned for your event/sport means meeting or exceeding demands at all moments and that requires the confidence to know you can do it for it to actually happen. So even if you have the physiological systems conditioned to deliver, use and express the use of energy as movement you are not conditioned unless that can be expressed under the global demands of competition, whether that’s a large crowd, a fresh opponent, a different air temperature or a changing surface. Conditioning = Fitness and Fitness = ability to complete a task. No caveats, no excuses.
P.S. – I’ve probably done a poor job at articulating my views on what conditioning is and how to achieve it…..but a blog is pretty much nothing more than a place one attempts to organise thoughts…..and that is all I did
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.
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.
This is a re-post from the Point1 Facebook page; because frankly Facebook is a horrible medium for longer, dribbling narrative! Enjoy.
So, to carry on from Friday’s yip-yap on Posture and Technique…
One of the relationships (some were trade-offs) listed was
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.
“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!
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”!
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!
Very few mountain-bikers will reach “excellence”; defining excellence alone is neigh on impossible. More importantly very few riders desire world class performance, they desire feelings of self actualisation, belonging and achievement. Competency is the word. Competency of technique application… i.e skills!
Following on from the Skill Acquisition 2.0 blog; this one is short and sweet. The Car-park…the place one may go to “drill” skills, doing skills drills. As that is what many a coach, internet guru or other expert claims to be the key part of the learning process. You see similar attempts in team sports; cones, bags, lights and lightning foot-work.
The issue lies in that as we’ve chatted about before, car-parks are not where we ride, no-one has the same kind of fun and experiences of awesomeness in a car-park as you get in the forest, mountains and trails! So while I could waffle on, again, about how the car-park drill serves little purpose as it is not the task environment and as soon as we remove the characteristic constraints of the environment we are then engaging in part practice and basically pissing into the wind, I’m gonna curve ball it as our USA friends would say.
Complex vs. Complicated
A core idea behind the rationale of less car-park more bike-park! Mountain-biking of any kind is complex, not complicated. Complicated is getting an internal combustion engine to work flawlessly for years on end. It takes, planning, design, mathematics, exact step-wise construction etc… Shredding your bike down a mountain side takes skill developed over practice in the environment. Those skills never develop in the same way for two people on the same time course, with the same challenges emerging and being dealt with. Contrast that with the Volkswagen production line…every single diesel engine follows the same exact timeline of construction.
So full circle, how does the distinction between complex and complicated relate to your car-park!? Getting better at applying technique in MTB is best done in the task environment…why? Because not only can you get better at the core skill in question but the complexity of the environment will always lead to expaptations…meaning that while outcome 1 was get better at off cambers, you will invariable through natural process of self organisation get better at or discover other solutions to numerous other movement problems on the hill!
To clarify with an example. Imagine a Long left side off-camber with a right hand corner on exit, numerous tree roots, variable soil type and a long bumpy entry before the off-camber versus a car-park drill with a long plank of wood or MDF propped up against a curb or wall. looking to “mimic” a left side off-camber.
Both may lead the learner to discover the necessary lateral weight shift, posture, speed control and braking to successful enter, roll on and exit the off camber. But only one environment will lead the learner to discover or organise better posture in rough terrain, adequate perceptive skills for organising posture during one skill to prep for the next required technique…only one scenario will allow the learner to discover the effect tire pressure or direction of travel has on bike and body when encountering roots and rocks etc…
The car-park scenario assumes complicated movement solutions to a problem. The mountain allows complex solutions to movement problems to emerge, solidify and exapt other positive learning experiences.
The King of the Pits is impressive but seldom King of the Hill!
I’ll expand on this more soon as we’ve not even covered the possible and plausible idea of “negative transfer” that may occur in exaggerated part practice. Nor have we covered the issue of the “car-park” removing so many affordances that should dictate technique that you may be just simply wasting time.
And for those who wish to read more about the above ideas in a general context – click here.
For the past 18 months or so I’ve wound my way around a slippy path of discovery. All to do with motor learning and how we acquire, learn, solidify and modify “skill”. Traditional theories (linear) versus non-linear theories!
Now skill is essentially the application of technique in the task environment; the constraints created by that environment lead to affordances or “relation between us and object in environment that allows actions to help achieve our task goal – e.g. pull versus push door handle” that allows us the rider to make decisions on the best course of action to successfully complete our task (getting bike and rider to another point on the hill)! That last sentence has all the hallmarks of the thoughts of someone who has read and attempted to apply to their sport, the theories of ecological psychology and dynamic systems to the perception-action model! All separate but now converging ways of theorising and modeling learning and doing.
Before I continue there is one thing you need to keep in mind; theories, even if widely accepted are not perfect nor correct and as for models, some may be very useful, but NONE are perfect.
Traditional theories (schema, top down) hold the central command centre of the brain on a pedestal as chief decision maker; we get info in from our senses, make a decision then act. The Ecological approach peppered with some dynamic systems modeling downplays the importance of our brains and instead takes the organism (rider) and the environments interaction as key. Rider perceives (searches for) info on trail and the action needed to complete the task is created not just by the brain but by the whole system.
So if you have got this far reading, what I’m going to waffle on about next is my very simplistic take on how some of these models and theories converge & can possibly be applied to getting better at riding your bike and how they may or may not work together to explain why you find improvement hard or not! This will be a lot briefer than it could be, mainly because I’m very very under-educated in motor-learning….for now!
“Skills” training on your bike must have clear intention. Designed in such a way as to increase your map of potential pathways to your destination. These “maps” though are not rigid set actions controlled by the brain and CNS, they are more so experiences banked so deep they become intrinsic, made up of knowledge of affordances (stuff we know the value or utility of in relation to our own physical abilities) that link together to make actions purposeful and successful.
The Intention – action model applied in relation to how we learn motor skills is useful. By in large our intentions are often similar; aiming to get to a certain point on a trail as fast and efficiency as possible. Linking up these points to the finish line or trail end. These intentions lead to the search for movement solutions to our problem of getting form A to B!
By increasing your experience of technique application you create more usable and adaptable road maps to successful completion of a task. In essence a wider or more complete map of possible movement solutions to these problems. These solutions become “stable” when they are transferred to our hard disk of learned skills. But unlike in top down theory of motor learning and control, this hard disk storage does not mean we have to apply rigid solutions to each technique application problem, but instead we have stable solutions that then allows the body/organism freedom to make very fine necessary changes to posture, control and technique application without consulting some sort of master plan maker in the brain! “Preflex” control is how it is termed in Dynamical Systems thinking.
For us the MTB rider it makes perfect sense! Very conscious deliberate technique application takes time, often feels cumbersome and even if it leads to successful outcomes often does not leave the learner satisfied! This comes back to coaching also, repetitive reinforcement of internal cues, telling a rider to get that foot down or elbow up etc… leads to often quick but very short lived or limited retention of proficient. Instead letting the rider learn that their technique in switchbacks is developing well by how much exit speed they carry is far more successful, sure it may take some direct internal cues at first, but true mastery will only come if the organism/rider can be left enough time to self organise and eliminate shitty solutions to the motor problem on their own.
Basically give yourself some building blocks of what the solution may be but then go wild with attempting the different solutions until brain and body gel with the environment. After all all task are environment specific.
Repetitive non characteristic technique training (car-park and cones) serves purpose only for beginners. Removing yourself from the task environment (mountains and dirt and rocks and the like) means little opportunity to pave new roads or improve the surface and width of existing ones. You want to immerse yourself in the environment of your sport so you can build a bigger more robust network of potential choices of action (solutions) for you to use to achieve the task goal at progressively increasing speeds.
Your body and brain as a dynamic system will decide based on current physiological state and past experiences of similar tasks in that environment whether you have the required capacities to safely achieve the movement intention. If you’ve not developed prior successful completion of such a task then aiming to complete it at speed is not going to happen.
Thus progressive overload of technique application in the task environment is the most efficient way to improve “skill”. At first “overload” will be expensive, physically and metabolically, but economic learning will lead to a large reduction in cost once we’ve banked up some technique application experience!
Start small and slow but aim to do so in your characteristic sporting environment. In our case that’s the woods, hills, mountains, forest and wilderness of MTB. If a solution to a movement problem (lets say hopping onto a slippy bank to rail a left hander with more exit speed) requires a very basic technique like lateral balance & a bunny hop then these can be developed short term outside of the environment but need to be swiftly applied to the task environment if you are going to solidify that movement solution and bank it deep as a permanent solution!
No coach or friend would need to tell you how good your bunny hop is if the bank you hop onto is high enough; as the end result dictates that you have indeed mastered bunny-hops because otherwise you would not have made it up onto that bank!
Another example; Freezing up on steep muddy terrain and sliding to a stop on your bum just means that your brain and body have decided that you do not poses the required physical and movement skills to reach your “destinations” so playing/riding in the mud; progressively adding in more and more contextual challenges is the only option to improvement. Or at least riding in loose slippy terrain. For weather it’s sand or mud many of the solutions and self organization that occurs to be proficient in these environments are highly transferable!
Likewise a longitudinal analysis of whether you have any physiological or bio-mechanical limitations that reduce your ability to maintain the postures and limb positions needed to apply technique is needed for many. Off and on the bike training can serve the purpose of improvement in this area!
So to sum up for now on what will hopefully be an evolving blog topic
Whole Practice always – Part Practice Seldom
Discipline Characteristics matter when elite performance is desired.
Gross technique mastery first but swiftly applied to various task environments.
Unfamiliar links between sensory perceptions and motor skill lead to acquisition of new skill – as-long as system perceives task and environmental constraints as achievable given current physiological state!
Core Movement patterns, Core Techniques and adequate basic motor skill (balance etc..) are fundamental to improvement on the bike & can be trained both on and off the bike to a finite point when looking for improvement.
New techniques can be introduced outside of the task environment but cannot ever be mastered anywhere but the task environment.
Although visually and perceptually similar, core techniques like cornering must be applied in all environments under all constraints encountered for it to become a universal “skill”. Berms vs flat turns, mud versus gravel etc..
Knowledge of your performance is not as effective as knowledge of your results. Think “ohh coach said my elbow was in a good position for cornering” vs. “I slayed that turn and carried huge exit speed out – 4km/h faster than before”
Think about “overloading” your skill training with more varite of terrain and possible task solutions over more repetition. Slamming the same turn 100 times will never be as useful as slamming 100 different turns.
If you are bad at riding in a particular environment, ride in it more.
If you can’t bunny hop because of poor ankle mobility, fix the mobility off the bike, but don’t wait to apply technique when new found ankle mobility occurs….it goes hand in hand. As you will not see linear, step-wise improvements in either quality.
Improving your riding is a constant renovation; not a 1 time re-build.
The gym can be used to improve technique application but only if movement patterns, muscle action and intentions carry over to your on the bike movement.
Provide yourself with variety in your task environment to achieve meaningful improvements in performance. But avoid part practice when doing so.
Variation in technique application via varied environment constraints = robustness and less fragility in skilled movement.
Getting better is fun because it requires riding often, in varied terrain in various conditions under a variety of physical, ecological, meteorological and psychological conditions!