2019 thought some big lessons. Here are ten things I learned.
Experience is only valuable as a lesson learned if its thoroughly reflected upon. Things I learned is an attempt at concise and brutal reflection on the bigger lessons learned in 2019; hoping to apply these experience in 2020. Aiming for better processes, better actions, better outcomes and above all else even more love for what I do.
In no particular order. Except number one, that’s first on the list because it is telling so much when observing the behaviors of others.
1. The Little Things – there is nothing only the little things, how you do one thing is how you do everything and how you do the small things is ALWAYS HOW you do the big things. Call it attention to detail, call it neurosis, call it whatever you want; but if you care enough to fold your kit just so, match your goggles to your gloves, clean your spoon and your cup. Care enough to clear up after others just so the space you share is organised, care enough to bring your compression tights or pack extra goggles for race runs (tear-offs and roll-offs). The details matter, micro dictates macro and how you do the little things is how you do the big things. always.
2. Act Fast – act fast on experience, specifically. Too often in 2019 I waited to act. Waited to see the outcome of the next step, next choice or an athletes next move. When in reality I had a very good grasp on what the outcomes would be because I had seen those exact patterns before. Patterns often belie the inner workings of any system, especially a human system and while perfect prediction is next to impossible, an effective guess with just enough room to move is often a possibility. In 2020 I will act a lot faster on experience.
3. The Mind is the Key to Performance – Say no more. The mind matters and matters the most.
4. The Mechanistic Paradigm is Useless – as a methodological filter it has seeped into every facet of physical training and preparation and as a result performance. Riders, athletes and the public believe in the predictive powers of “science” so much that they think models of training based off of lactate threshold or V02 max trump all else. As a result the body is viewed as a machine. Where an input gives a known output. Always. This of course couldn’t be any further from the truth. As a human, the complexity of what goes on inside out bodies, how that interacts with the complexity of others in our environment and the environment itself is still so far beyond our powers of investigation never mind “models” of training that the only paradigm you need is the human paradigm. Predict at your peril, instead by ready to amplify or dampen the response to any decision or input. This comes from experience and not much else.
5. The Ecological Validity of Testing – knowing the limits of your investigatory powers is key. Test results from a stationary bike and a real bicycle may yield different results over the same time/distance/output. Always ask two questions is it specific and is it relevant? Then is it repeatable? From there figure out what your question to be answered is before getting your data. IF you do it the other way then you’ll probably just make the data suit your biases. There is much to be done in 2020 on the testing subject. Someone once said “if it gets measured it gets managed” but there ain’t no point in managing something that just does not matter.
6. Talk – it’s the best way to build relationships and achieve goals. Face to face if possible. The energy, honesty and intimacy of two humans sharing facial expressions, emotions and body language will always trump a text or an e-mail.
7. Authenticity – no matter what just always be you. The athletes who are always true to them selves are most often the most successful. Those who try to be what they think others need/want them to be often fail.
8. Hic et Nunc – Here and Now – be present, drop the phone, drop the attitude, drop the image. If you want to make the most of a situation or circumstance be focused, be present and be in the hear and now. 2019 thought me this in spades.
9. Process – every year, every month, every day, every minute. It rears it’s beautiful face! 2019 was no different. You’ll only truly enjoy the destination if you enjoyed every minute of the journey. More HERE
10. Athlete First – this is a guiding principle above all else. It forms a core of the Point1 philosophy. From physical prep to building a career to answering questions with the big picture and long-term success in mind being authentic for me really does mean ATHLETE FIRST! Just because two athletes compete in the same sport doesn’t mean they need the same training. Just because it looks good for me, the coach, doesn’t mean it’s the decision I am gonna make.
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.
Wheelsizes – Business, party or full on orgy? Does anyone care? I think the answer is YES. But you must care for the right reasons. Isolating the diameter of wheels as a sole variable that will make or break your performance will most certainly just melt your head and break your brain. 97.5 is here to stay, at least medium term. Yes, a Class A ball ache for a privateer carrying different diameter tyres etc… but it’s gonna work as proven in both DH and EWS races. My hunch is that the mass of a rider and kit on a bicycle so greatly outweighs that of the bike and wheels that the 27.5/29 mis—match is negatable. On average a rider will be five times heavier than their bike. All that mass shifting to apply technique…. well you see my point. Last year 27.5” bikes dominated races, as did 29” bikes in both men’s and women’s racing. Now 2019 is here, fresh faced and fighting fit and the first two races where won by a variety of wheel diameters in all categories; the common denominator was a rider/bike/suspension/technique quadrant that was dialed in. Synergistic bliss allowing for optimal technique application under time and fatigue duress on stage. There’s a lot more to all that and a lot more time invested in preparations than the diameters of tyres.
Ladies Racing – Big healing vibes to Mrs. Ravanel. Bon retablissement! Taking big leaps in thought from small data sets is dangerous, that said the gap between first and second for the ladies in 2017 in Rotorua was the same as the gap between first and seventeenth in 2019. Over three minutes. We know from more than a few seasons now that when Cecile is on it, she really is ON-IT! My experience tells me that a large chunk of this is to do with her very healthy focus on executing fast riding on demanding trails in training and far less hours devoted to “number crunching” chasing fickle physiological goals than her competition! Dare I say somewhat like her compatriot Morgan Charre;. a RAD rider! Cecile’s absence doesn’t detract from the other ladies racing though. All anyone can do on an individual sport is improve themselves. One trail, one rider, one clock. So, watching the battles unfold will be really exciting and with riders like Noga Korem, Bex Baroana, Katy Winton and ALN racking up experience the gaps will be closing across the board regardless of names missing from start-list!
Tasmania Race Duration – curious geek stat – Tasmania 2017 and 2019 were nearly identical duration in-terms of minutes raced. For both men and women, I’ll let you go search out the details yourself, but 2019 had 6 stages, 2017 had 7 but the BIG BUT was that 2017 was a slog of a race, wet and wild. Anyways, Isabeau won both editions, there are some little details in that day of racing for the ladies that stand out but really, it’s the men’s racing that has some changes. 2017 saw Adrien Dailly take the win; three seconds ahead of third place and twenty-four ahead of tenth. 2019 saw Mr. Maes on a racing roll and with it putting twenty-three seconds into third place and over forty into tenth. So quite the change from 2017………. But this is where critical analysis of performance and not just results needs to be slammed down on the table with a fat SLAP. As I repeat ad nauseum when chatting reflection with athletes – the clock does not lie; but it never tells the full story! Not taking one ounce away from Martin’s stunning performance, a dry race allows for a far higher chance of a “perfect” race. Perfect? What I mean is a race where a rider executes each stage to their liking, executed with precision based off a plan and a strategy that then gets adapted to the race, bike and rider conditions to optimise speed from A to B. Along the same lines of thought a perfect race or excellent performance can leave you with a big winning margin. Judging by the time gaps down to tenth and twentieth, Martin had a stunning day. Likewise, simply comparing two data sets, i.e. 2017 and 2019 races isn’t enough to draw conclusions. Context matters in analysis, for example Greg Callaghan was on track for victory in the 2017 race in Tasmania, even after a crash on an early stage broke a bone in his hand. He threw the victory away with a slide out on the final stage, without both of those crashes he would have had a twenty second winning margin. Ifs and buts!
Single Stage day – following on from above, Tasmania gave us a single practice, single timed stage Saturday; partially to fulfill EWS 80 scheduling but also to reduce the physical load on the racers and make the racing about bike riding and not training volume, this is something we will see more of at EWS racing. It is also something that Martin Maes got very right. Most likely because of a business as usual attitude. The damage done on this stage whether by Martin and Isabeau over others or by individuals poor performances inflicted on themselves was noticeable. A stunning Sunday performance could turn things a-round a little, but a ropey Saturday was suicide! What was learned – this is probably a practice and mindset “thing” that will need to be trained and thought about – reflecting on hard racing lessons learned!
The Future now – to talk briefly about training philosophy the “global” demands of a sport or event are broad, the universal or unifying themes of events; some sports like swimming or athletics have very straightforward distances or durations. Even soccer for all its stochastic wildness has two halves of forty-five minutes each. EWS has big days out on your bike, carrying some kit, shredding hard and aiming to recover fast (between stages & days), but things get muddled fast. One day or two-day races, prologues, one-or two-day practices, four to nine stages, sea-level, high altitude, mud bog or big alpine loam. I mean the aforementioned list could wrap around the world. After two races characterised by fairly flat stages that required a lot of rider input to make, maintain and craft speed – round three in Madeira is going to dish out nine stages of what could very easily be steep, wild, loose and loamy racing. What is guaranteed is that none of the nine stages will be like anything raced in Rotorua or Tasmania and maybe even none of the nine will resemble each other at all! I can’t wait.
Now we’re eating road! Back to back World Cups are what we all want, like other series at the pinnacle of performance in their disciplines and sports, the rolling weekly circus keeps the fans, media and spectators keen, with not enough down-time between events for the lingering taste of race day blood to dissipate!
Fort William needs no introduction, nor does Leogang. It’s wall to wall hardpack and balls to the wall speed. One track held in high esteem, “Fort William’s” Nevis Range monster snaking it’s way down Aonach Mòr, sixteen years after its debut as a world cup it’s still crunching wheels, hurting bodies and crushing dreams! Leogang’s “Speedster” track has gotten progressively faster, straighter and arguably easier in recent years! But as we’ve said before, easy doesn’t mean simple and racing it well seems to be something that eludes many riders, male and female, with time gaps between 40th and 1st always wider at the much “easier” Leogang compared to its Scottish counterpart.
As race week for round 2 in Fort Bill has just landed the excitement seems genuine, the riders, racers, fans, teams, staff and media are beyond keen to get racing….training no matter how real, how “specific” or meticulously planned becomes monotonous, stale like bread! So you’ll se a glut of social media ramblings about how excited everyone is to go racing. Even though the track is well, the same it’s length, physical challenge and speed seem to keep the riders attention captivated. No let up! The same seems to hold through for those who put in test time and British national race time too. Although the risk of coming in over-down and as a result being underwhelmed come race day is real. In the men’s field it has happened plenty in the past and will be the case again today. There’s a lot to be said for testing and training under the eye of the clock, but the dosing can tip over into the too much of a good thing category quite quickly especially with the much needed principle of variation being so tough to come by at the “Fort”! Those with that winning formula know the value of down-time, the off switch and variety of stimulus.
Leogang, as I waffled about in the 2017 edition of “Hurly-Burly”, is a venue that everyone loves. The track takes a bashing from those who skirt the top ranks, but the venue is simple, central, efficient and stacked with quality accommodation! So invariable riders and staff moods are high, food is good and with a few days down time between events most people hit Friday’s Day 1 practice with fully stocked motivation. 2017 saw some serious safety issues with riders having to judge entry speeds (at nearly 80 km/h) for the final jump but otherwise the track was the same old story, gone were the rock gardens, up went the speeds. Should this track be raced every year…..no is my answer! But it always seems to provide an spectacle in all categories come race day. So mouth shut and tools up!
Fort William’s bog, lets not call it a wood, but 2017’s bog is gone, gone forever. Now like the Leogang rock gardens of years past it’s man made rock sections. The replacement for the “bog” of 2017 is awkward as nature never intended, but from the rider feedback to date the section provides a good challenge and an interesting break in rhythm from the high speed, new in 2017, section just above there. Coming storming in, arms tingling as you anchor down heavily!
So with this new addition after last years bog protests the famous Fort Bill track is 100% hardpack and with a record dry spell hitting the highlands the loose over hardpack will become more and more treacherous as race week wears on. Meaning, potentially, that like so many of 2017’s sweltering races the word of the week will be patience. Pushing as hard as traction allows where it allows it and being supremely patient not to push to hard to often in sections that don’t warrant or reward it. For such a wild piece rocky hill, lightness of touch always seems to pay come race day.
Have got, need not!
“Skill” is the application of the right technique at the right moment in the appropriate dose to achieve a desired movement outcome. Well that’s my definition at least and neither fort Bill nor Leogang demand the full spectrum of MTBers technique toolbox. Again though that’s not to say that neither track provides a challenge, they just don’t provide the full spectrum of challenge like a circa 2007 Schladming did or arguably Mont Sainte Anne does to this day. What 2018’s rounds 2 and 3 do demand though is pristine mastery of high speed change of direction, pumping and crisp choice of lines over the granite boulders of Fort William.
Benchmarking changes or improvements in the ladies field off of the performances of their male counterparts allows us to dig into both inter and intra individual changes quite nicely. Always keeping the “context” of any result up front and centre. Fort Bill’s physicality sees bigger percentage gap between the ladies and men’s winners. So a winter of smartly heavy strength work for the ladies could see that gap drop just a little. Defining worthwhile meaningful change is a real challenge. Comparing two fast dry races like 2015 and 2017 in Leogang, we saw that the ladies winners, Atherton & Seagrave respectively were both exactly 30 seconds behind the male winner Gwin. Following a similar line of investigation, 2014 was an odd season for the male field and as mentioned above longer tracks = bigger sex gaps. Expression of Strength being the defining characteristic of performance?
The list of potential useful statistics coming into these two races is long. Therefore huge Potential for paralysis by analysis. Pretty stable track layouts when comparing too previous years means “key sectors” can be dissected. Past performances of individuals lined up with present performance potential in the light of current constraints is the essence of using analysis and stats to your advantage. Always remembering that while the clock doesn’t lie “performance” and outcome are not the same thing.
If you are after some straightforward stats though, we’ve visited Leogang 8 times before, Fort William 16. In the men’s field Aaron Gwin hold 50% of Leogang’s victories. 4/8. The Fort has been around much longer allowing Minnaar to rack up 7 victories over a VERY impressive time-span. A period spanning a serios changing wheel-sizes, bike design, reliability and competition structure.
The easy money is put on these two riders at those two venues. For me the potential of massive upset provides a lot of excitement. The ladies races are far less clear cut, other than Mosely and Ragot, Atherton is the most prolific winner at the Fort but by no means dominant, ending a stunning victory streak under her own volition in 2017 at the Fort she’ll look to redeem herself this year. Confident and healthy Seagrave and Nicole will make for a battle royale. Leogang is even less clear cut than the Fort for the ladies. Seagrave rolling in as reigning champ will mean little unless that momentum is kickstarted on Anoch Mòr!
Because the tracks change little, last years results will certainly sway the bookies odds, but other than the victors of 2017 & maybe podiums, the results sheet can leave you less than optimally informed. “Form” that lovely mix of fitness – fatigue + motivation is a transient quality. Comes, goes etc… Key things like physical preparation and team environment not to mention bicycle performance all play their roll. The mental puzzle solving that underpins all DH performance is the one we need to look at coming into round 2. I’m hazarding a guess at 2-3 newish faces on the Fort William podium but an experienced packed Leogang steps for the men and well for the ladies “recent form” points to a 3 way battle between Myriam, Tahnée & Rachel.
A side-note to it all is watching how practice and racing goes at the first of this double-header for those who have camped out at the Fort for a week before versus those who fly in Monday. A little jet-lag versus a little over-exposure!
The stand-alone season opener in Croatia means many companies and teams probably have some “new tech” to showcase or hide in Fort William, do we really truly care? Emm no, but rumours are a certain 27.5 stalwart team have a 29er ready but won’t ride it. Santa Cruz have a new bike, some guys kits will match their hubs and pedals, the main point is that if you’ve not tested it don’t race it. Throwing back to 2017 and there were a scandalous amount of racers bending 29” wheels in Fort William and struggling to hoard tyres for Leogang to come. The self-inflicted wheel size head-fuck of 2017 is all but behind us I think, so I for one am stoked to see results with asterisk added on come Sunday!
The excitement to go racing again is HUGE! I can’t wait, can’t wait to help athlete’s do their best all week long. Faced with classic tracks and venues, motivation and attention will be keys to performance. Practice builds race-runs, it’s not just their to convince yourself you know what you are doing or to burn brake pads. So managing motivation and expectation will be the name of the game.
Classic track, classic venues are in every great sport; F1, MotoGP, MX, Alpine skiing, Soccer, Sailing and Road cycling. We however don’t have the luxury of black tarmac or a fresh covering of snow. Unique in demands, DH needs some unique solutions to allow us all to keep the motivation peaking. Races like Leogang and Fort William on bi-annual rotation in the future….? Yes please!
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
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!
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!
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;
Feedback Relevancy – Timing
Continuous education and CPD of both parties
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!
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!