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EDITORIAL

Your Brain on Mountain Biking

Words Cam McRae
Date Mar 5, 2018

My early-onset fear of dementia made the click bait irresistible. It was probably something like “8 ways exercise crushes Alzheimer’s.” I wasn’t surprised to learn that moving our bodies can slow the graying of our gray matter, but there was one interesting point. Research suggests that making improvements in your activity of choice is essential; when you hit a plateau the benefit to your synapses and cortices also flatlines.

This got me thinking about riding bikes and how it might keep us sharp. But not just riding bikes, or just riding mountain bikes; riding trails that challenge us and make improvement essential.

When I was younger and even stupider my short attention span craved trails that were like video games; drops to flat, challenging skinnies, steeps that scared me. These were binary operations in that you attempted something or you didn’t, and you were successful or you weren’t. You can’t almost make a six footer to flat, or a skinny 8 feet off the deck, so the ride was evaluated with crude checks and crosses. Progress was hard won but easily measured. There were great rides or shitty ones but very few in between.

Pass or fail tests are less common now. There are still some moves I won’t try, when it feels like my brakes are mounted back to front. And there are awkward climbs that I only get half the time as well, but generally it’s feel and speed that leave the greatest impression. And it’s actually easier to determine the general trend than it used to be, as long as I’m riding challenging trails.

These days I experience a constant state of expansion and contraction. Returning from time off the bike, from injury or illness or weather, hits the reset button. Tech climbs I’d mastered can seem impossible. My timing is off, muscle memory gone and my lizard brain, sensing diminished capacity, slows me down further. But gradually, if all goes well, I remember how everything works and start to claw back. Returning to square one counts as improvement, if not progression, doesn’t it?

And improvement is the Holy Grail. What feels better than ramping up several rides in a row? Surprising yourself by nailing moves you had no idea you could make, or carrying speed where you normally flail. And best of all, beating your buddies to the bottom. On those days I begin dreaming about going pro mid ride, imagining a Red Bull sponsorship after winning Rampage (Aggy and the Claw hoisting me on their shoulders), signing autographs at Interbike – and then my rear wheel bounces off my helmet after I endo into a puddle.

A friend who works with Shimano recently explained the principle of Kaizen. The concept was actually brought to Japan by American business consultants after WWII and many think it factors into the success of companies like Toyota and Shimano. Kaizen literally means change for the better, but now the term, according to Wikipedia, “is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement.” Small changes, piled on top of one another, that over time yield large results. We all want that don’t we?

I’ve found a few things that consistently blow me out of the riding doldrums. The easiest is a little off bike training. Yoga always produces results for me, especially when augmented by pushups and core work. Taking a lesson always pays huge lasting dividends and, if all else fails, I go back to hardtail school. Stupid bike tricks, like wheelie practice, track stands and balancing on curbs can fine tune our balance on the trail – the way juggling a ball helps soccer/football players score goals .

Kelly Sherbinen from Endless Biking, a guiding and instructional firm here on the Shore, gave me another key to Kaizen on the bike: “Sometimes you need to slow down to go faster. Focus on good technique and being dynamic on the bike, creating muscle memory. Then increase your speed and feel the magic happen.”

Ah, the magic! The intoxicating elixir of improvement that keeps us coming back to the bike. And wouldn’t it be a bonus if the focus and commitment required to get a little bit better, ride after ride, could counteract all those bumps to the head? One more reason to keep those cranks turning as long as the heart pumps and the lungs fill.


Do you have any tips that keep the Kaizen flowing?

 

Comments

chrisw
0
ChrisW  - March 5, 2015, 10:32 p.m.

I find a bit of off the bike fitness helps on the bike. I also find, as long as I give it a bit of time, the after work bike ride is fantastic at getting the brain to stop obsessing on work and start thinking about more important things; like that next drop!

Reply

bavaria-20
+1 Cr4w
Bavaria 2.0  - March 4, 2015, 9:08 p.m.

Damn fine post, Cam. Damn fine.

Reply

michael
0
Michael  - March 4, 2015, 7:08 p.m.

Brain used to charge any track, skinny, huck, or drop to flat. Body
didn't give a damn and enjoyed a delicious dirt snack. Lately though, Body's boss and Brain is just along for the ride.
Which is ok, it keeps us out of trouble and doing happy laps all year
long!

There are still bad days of course. Sometimes Brain is stressed about
something at work, and suddenly the ride gets interesting. When Brain
shouts 'Body you suck' just pull over and talk about it. Body
appreciates good communication when things are getting hot, and will
more than likely loosen up for you 😉

Reply

morgan-taylor
0
Morgan Taylor  - March 4, 2015, 5:46 p.m.

Nice one, Cam!

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - March 5, 2015, 12:05 p.m.

Thanks Morgan!

Reply

colin-miller
0
Colin Miller  - March 4, 2015, 8:58 a.m.

If anyone missed their calling to turn "Pro" it was you CM….

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - March 4, 2015, 9:13 a.m.

I wasn't talking about that kind of pro Colin!

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tristan-brandt
0
Tristan Brandt  - March 4, 2015, 7:17 a.m.

Olympic weightlifting, crossfit, and yoga have been second only to miracles in the improvment of my riding abilities. Join a crossfit gym in the winter and attack workouts like you would a trail. You'll work through the winter blues without becoming insane, and by riding season you might even be better than where you left off at the end of previous season.

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - March 4, 2015, 7:28 a.m.

The only way to train at doing complicated stuff under duress is to do a wide variety complicated stuff under duress. Crossfit is so good for this but it comes up short at the mobility end which is why it's so good to pair with yoga. Glad I'm not the only one who's figured this out.

Reply

tristan-brandt
0
Tristan Brandt  - March 4, 2015, 7:59 a.m.

Absolutely. You need to be strong AND not bend like a piece of jerky.

Reply

dj
+1 James Vasilyev
DJ  - March 5, 2015, 1:03 p.m.

play ice hockey. best cross training for anything.

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - March 6, 2015, 8:55 a.m.

Not just hockey, anything. Crossfit is handy because it abstracts that versatility into something you don't need a bunch of people or rink time to do, i.e. for an hour after work three times a week. But really, the point is getting out and doing new stuff often. I love riding but I need to have lots of options.

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - March 5, 2018, 6:52 a.m.

Wow. The word Crossfit came up twice. How icky in retrospect.

Reply

skippy76
0
Skippy76  - March 4, 2015, 11:04 a.m.

How about riding in the winter?
I ride all winter thanks to the re-introduction fat bikes.
It never gets stale because the conditions always change. I would never be able to exercise in a box full of other sweaty/smelly people. We are meant to be outside!

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - March 4, 2015, 11:10 a.m.

In a typical winter I ride less though this winter has been an exception! I like having a bit of time off the bike to do other things and help prevent getting burned out. Alternate ways of training gives you the opportunity to do something physical in small time blocks you wouldn't use for riding. Mixing it up is good for your mind and good for your fitness. Being fitter in a broader way makes riding more fun, period.

Reply

mammal
0
Mammal  - March 5, 2018, 11:59 a.m.

Everybody's got their favorite "perfect cross training method". 

I prefer skate skiing up at Cypress Nordic, combined with lots of stretching and core training at home. A winter of this has actually improved my cardio, instead of letting it shrivel away in the off-season.

Reply

JBV
0
James Vasilyev  - March 5, 2018, 8:03 a.m.

often i avoid the many tight, slow xc grinder trails we have around here to get higher up for the descent. but these trails are perfect right now to build back general skills and hone rusty technique. they are hard to ride quickly due to the tight small trees and slippery off camber roots, but all around excellent on your toes training. 

good article.

Reply

mammal
0
Mammal  - March 5, 2018, 12:01 p.m.

Those same trails are a great way to warm up for the "main stage" down trails that you're after. All the muscle memory and balance are honed in on the climb trails, and let you hit the downs in top form.

Reply

qduffy
0
qduffy  - March 5, 2018, 3:47 p.m.

I've been doing (badly and slowly) a specific enduro training regime through EnduroMTBtraining (http://enduromtbtraining.com/). It's a fun course and really helped my back last year after it just decided to stop working. 

Of course, you get out what you put in, and it's been challenging to be consistent and work the program through week by week given jobs and family, but a course like this feels more compelling than Crossfit because I can see how the moves and stretching are specifically relevant to riding. I'm more motivated to do this training because it explicitly supports the hobby I love.

Before that, I was doing Nino Schurter's work outs for a while. OMG. I don't have some of the dedicated equipment, but you can sub. http://enduro-mtb.com/en/hitting-the-gym-with-nino-schurter/

My bike skills feel a bit rusty this winter - haven't been riding as much - but I feel better, and I think once I'm back riding more, the bike feel will rebound rapidly. My thoughts are that I'll be able to ride longer, ergo learn more, and hopefully it'll mean progressing again this year.

Reply

lukenlow
0
lukenlow  - March 28, 2018, 5:40 a.m.

This helpful article helped me to sort out my mistakes, thank you! 192.168.l.l

Reply

katherinemort
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Katherine Mort  - April 3, 2018, 7:43 a.m.

Useful for most of us who never had the chance to experience this. personaltrainerlv.com

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