15 Tips to Dump The Slump*
*Originally published 2015-12-15
What sucks more than riding like a putz? Obstacles you once owned become impossible, corners feel square and your 6″ travel bike feels fully rigid. Sometimes this happens for some logical reason; a hangover, recovery from injury, a series of crashes or a fork that’s lubricated with gravel and shards of glass. The inexplicable slump is more of a slap in the face. You’ve been charging and improving and feeling great, and it all comes crashing down in an avalanche of clumsiness and shame.
I slump regularly and hard, but I’ve gotten much better and busting out by identifying some efficient cures. Below you’ll find a couple of my tips, four from Wade Simmons, two each from Kelli Sherbinin and Darren Butler of Endless Biking, and five from James Wilson of MTB Strength Training Systems. Some cures are aimed at getting you calling shots mid-ride while others are off trail solutions, that can also prevent slumps.
And here’s a bonus. Some of these tips might just get you to the next level even if you aren’t riding sub par.
Here are my two. To be clear, while I’m good st slumping, I’m not a coach or a pro. These are just things that work for me.
Cam McRae’s Tips
- Nose On Stem. Often body position is the culprit for me. I get tentative and ride with arms straight and stiff like baguettes. Exaggerating an elbows out, head forward position serves up the aggressive position and attitude required to tackle challenging trails. In fact studies suggest that an aggressive stance has an influence on testosterone and cortisol levels, hormones critical to performance and confidence.
- Stomp the Pedals. This may sound obvious, but before Shaums March spelled this out for me (in the middle of a slump) I was riding with a constant rearward tug on the bars, botching my balance and virtually everything about my riding. Focussing on evenly weighting pedals, when coasting with feet at 3 and 9 o’clock, shifts my focus to pumping and moving the bike with the terrain. And things start to flow.
It’s nice to know that pro riders like Wade sometimes find themselves riding like mere mortals. Banner photo – Brian Vernor
- Get Angry. Whenever I’m riding gingerly and/or scaring myself, I start talking to myself and calling myself names like: you fu*%in’ wuss, etc… I then take it further and ride really out of control. I like to spike little rolls and big rocks to bottom out forks etc…. After a bit of rodeo riding, I reel it back in, and after I’m usually riding better and faster.
- Crash. That might sound funny and maybe a little painful but I find a crash is a good reset for me and I always find them a little comical – well, the ones you walk away from. You got to realize crashing is part of mountain biking and really if you’re not crashing you are pretty much in a slump all the time anyhow.
- Ride New Trails. I really dislike out and backs and riding the same loops again and again. I get the fact that some people love it and revel in the challenge of trying the same obstacle over and over. If I’m a bit bummed on my local trails or my riding, I like to travel and explore areas I don’t know. Luckily living in the Pacific Northwest allows much variety in a short distance.
- Buy Your Way Out. Most of us have jobs and we love mountain biking, so don’t be afraid to treat yourself to something: new tires, better brakes, fork overhaul etc. If you upgrade something on your bike and you love this sport, I will guarantee it will be worth it in the end. Why save a little money on a cheaper parts when 6 months down the road you find yourself even more addicted to biking and you’ll buy that part anyhow? It is true in mountain biking that you get what you pay for; usually when you do fork over the big bucks for the premium gear, the warranty is that much better!
As the strength and conditioning coach for World Cup Teams and 4 National Championships ranging from DH to XC, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James Wilson has helped thousands of riders improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit his web site for more info.
- Crosstraining. While it seems counter-intuitive, the brain and body can get burned out on the same basic movements and types of fitness. By getting away from a bike (this means that road riding and cyclocross don’t count as true crosstraining) you force your body to use new movements and new types of fitness. This expands your athletic base and often allows you to take your riding to another level as well. I recommend Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Indoor Rock Climbing/ Bouldering as two great sports that have a lot of carryover to the trail.
- Yoga. Mountain biking requires a lot more mobility than other cycling sports. However, almost every rider I have ever met is too tight in 1 or more key areas. By taking a yoga class or simply spending some time foam rolling and stretching on a consistent basis you can greatly improve your ability to move efficiently on the bike, which will help you ride faster and waste less energy on the trail.
- Flats. Flat pedals take advantage of what I call Forced Efficiency Training. While you may be faster in clipless pedals, using them all of the time can result in some bad habits that are wasting energy on the trail. Flats force you to use the most efficient pedal stroke and give you immediate feedback on when you aren’t doing it properly. By spending 80% of your training time with flats you ensure that you are reinforcing great technique, which will help you no matter which pedal system you use.
- Get Strong. The trail is a rough place requiring more core, grip and upper body strength than any other cycling sport. When you get stronger you can produce tension more efficiently, which means you can handle the high tension side of riding better. This means you won’t be as taxed after a hard descent or technical climb, which adds up to more fuel in the tank at the end of the ride.
- Improve your mindset. Not to get all mystical on you, but your brain controls your reality. When you understand how to control your mindset to help you perform better in the moment and how to best learn from your experiences you add rocket fuel to your progress. While it is geared towards rock climbers, I recommend the book The Rock Warriors Way as a good starting place to learn more about how to do this.
Co-owner and Professional Mountain Bike Instructor & Guide with Endless Biking. Kelli also trains Instructors and Guides, serves as a Director of the Professional Mountain Bike Instructor and Guides Training Association and teaches at Capilano University. Photo – Dave Silver
- Open Your Eyes. Take a looks at what’s ahead. As often as you can, every 10-20 secs, try to take in as much information as you can about the trail ahead, instead of looking down at your front wheel.
- Do Over. Repetition is great! Choose a short trail that you can ride over and over again. Take a moment to look for lines, be the best you can be on that trail and watch your skills improve dramatically!!
Darren Butler – Co-owner & Professional Mountain Bike Instructor and Guide with Endless Biking. Darren is a Course Conductor who trains MTB Instructors and Guides. He also serves as the Assistant Technical Director of the Professional Mountain Bike Instructor and Guides Training Association. Photo – Coast Mountain Photography
- Get Wet. Get out and ride a bit in the rain. The roots will always look scary unless you can try riding them (with success) when they are soaked and look slippery. Once you gain some confidence riding in the wet (please choose trails carefully!) you will even more confidence coming spring and summer when things dry out.
- The Ride You Need. If things haven’t been going your way, don’t just hook up with your regular crew of shredders who only take on gnarly lines. Take a few rides for yourself and lap some lower- consequence trails to build some confidence.
How do you reclaim your flow when it goes to hell?