MTB Skills: How We Actually LearnUse the Off-season to Make Big Improvements in Your Riding Skill.

Many of us are heading into fall and soon the weather may be too cold, wet, or snowy to ride our favorite trails and that is why the off-season is the best time to improve your skills!

If you are thinking, wait, Gene, that makes no sense, how can I improve while the trails are closed, I understand your feelings. While riding for an hour or six on a trail is fun, improves our fitness and our mental health, it actually hurts our skills.

In season, on a gorgeous day, that sinuous singletrack is beckoning you to ride it! The longer you ride, the more you ingrain your habits, be they good or bad. This is why It is so hard to change a habit in season!

Even if you are diligent and do your drills for 20 minutes three times a week
you are probably spending ten times that amount of time riding. (And further ingraining any bad habits you may have)

Now is the best time to take a drill-based skill course as you have all winter to practice. If you can't ride trails and the only riding you do is practicing, you are spending no time reinforcing old habits.

Think about it, skills (habits) are like circuits, and the more you do something the same way the more insulated that circuit gets. The better insulated a circuit is the better it fires. If you have been doing something wrong for years, the insulation on that circuit is really thick and that circuit fires perfectly incorrectly every time - EXCEPT when you slow down and deliberately practice the skill correctly. For more on how we learn physical skills read this article:

Bicycle Bicycle helmet Tire Bicycles--Equipment and supplies Plant

It took me years to break my bad cornering habits because I spent way more time trying to ride fast on the trails than I did doing drills. Once I understood this, I completely changed the way I corner in one winter! For information on what I practiced see these video tutorials:

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Riding your bike on a trail isn't practice. Practice takes place away from the trail when you can focus on executing skills perfectly. While out for a ride, you get caught up in the moment (which is a big reason most of us ride) and forget what you are supposed to be practicing.

When learning and improving physical skills such as mountain biking there is a general rule among coaches, teachers, and physiologists that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a sport (or a game, an instrument, etc.). While your goal might not be to master mountain biking, the more time you spend doing deliberate practice the better you will get.

When I rider says, "I ride 20 hours a week. I am getting tons of deliberate practice!" I must smile as chances are not one minute of that 20 hours was deliberate practice. Deliberate practice means working on one specific skill (or movement) with a focus on quality, not quantity.

Many skills, such as cornering, involve a lot of different movements/components which means even practicing "cornering" is not deliberate practice. Deliberate practice would be practicing pushing your inside grip forward through a corner three times, on pavement. Then stopping, analyzing what you did right and wrong then refocusing and doing it three more times.

This is hard to do when beautiful singletrack is beckoning you to ride it. In season it is hard not to just go out and ride mile after mile with a big grin on our face. This is why you see the best basketball, football, ski teams, and pretty much every team doing drills more than 70% of their practice time.

Use the off-season to learn the correct core skills and then practice them with a focus on quality and your skills, confidence, and enjoyment will soar.
Snowing outside?! Hit that parking garage and spend 20 minutes doing the core skills drills I teach in my courses and videos, then spend 10 minutes imaging riding with perfect technique.

A few months of this quality practice (mixed with resistance training and cardio work) will do more than years of just winging it on the trail. You will see massive improvements in your skills, confidence, and fun!

Remember, amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. This means pros never stop practicing.

Take a few weeks/months off from the trails and practice. Make 2022 your best year yet!

Share your thoughts and experiences below!