by Robynne Stastny

Earlier this month I shared a couple of posts about what you can learn from some other sports, specifically Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and BMX Racing. If you read them then you might have noticed that one of the lessons from both of them was to focus more on improving your technical skills.

In fact, if you look at the training programs for athletes in most sports you’ll see a lot of attention and energy being directed towards improving their technique. But, thanks to the strong influence that road riding has on most training programs, this isn’t something that most mountain bikers have come to appreciate as much as they should.

Your technical skill level is one of your most important assets on the trail, especially as you gain more experience. Besides keeping you safe as your ride more challenging terrain and features, your technical skill is the key to improving your endurance as you ride more.

Since your VO2Max can’t increase forever, most of the performance gains after the first few years of riding come from improvements in efficiency and skill. Using less energy to move on your bike and maintaining more momentum on the trail are what really drive your endurance gains over the long run.

Considering the improved safety and performance that improving your skills promise, it makes sense to cut out some of the pedaling based cardio (which counts as skill training for a roadie) and focus instead on improving your skills.

And while there are a lot of different skills you can focus on, I’ve found the top 3 skills that help a rider improve their performance are…

1 – Basic Body Position a.k.a. The Attack Position: This is your ability to maintain a balanced, mobile body position when going downhill and navigating rock gardens or other technical features.

2 – Standing Pedaling: Turning standing pedaling into a strength instead of a weakness is one of the keys to unlocking your inner kid on the trail, making riding more fun, improve your speed and decrease low back pain.

3 – Cornering: Besides looking super cool, being able to corner properly will help you maintain more momentum on the trail and can improve your speed and endurance like no other skill can.

However, like I’ve pointed out many times before, the thing holding most riders back from improving these skills is a lack of foundational movement and strength. In other words, how they move off the bike is what is really holding them back from moving better on the bike.

This means that if you struggle with a skill on your bike then the first thing you need to do is get off the bike and check your movement skills. And if you struggle there then the best thing to do is focus on improving those movement skills first.

With that in mind, here are 3 exercises that I use to help evaluate how a rider moves and see if they need to focus on improving their movement skills before focusing on their technical skills:

1 – Bulgarian Goat Bag Swing: This exercise uses the same basic Hip Hinge movement pattern that you use for your Attack Position on the bike. If you struggle at all with this movement using a 16 kg – 20 kg KB then your Hip Hinge isn’t strong enough to hold up on the trail.

2 – Stagger Stance Squat: This exercise uses the same Single Leg Squatting movement pattern you use for your Standing Pedaling on the bike. The stagger stance also puts your legs in a similar position as what you use on the bike as well as encouraging the use of the front leg to drive the movement. If you struggle on one or both legs using a 16 kg – 20 kg KB then you your Single Leg Squat isn’t strong enough to hold up to intense Standing Pedaling on the trail.

3 – Stick Windmill: This exercise works on the Corckscrew movement pattern and teaches you how to lean your shoulders while pushing the hips out to stay balanced over your feet. If struggle with this movement – and the vast majority of riders do with at least one side – then you will struggle to corner with balance and consistency.

If you don’t want to limit your potential for growth then be sure to look beyond the bike for answers to how to improve on the bike. For most riders, this means incorporating exercises that help them improve their foundational movement so that their movement on the bike comes more naturally.

Don’t make the mistake that so many other riders do – take the time to improve your foundational movement skills and watch how much easier it is to improve your technical skills and overall performance on the trail.

Until next time…

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