An important key to becoming a better rider is getting outside of our comfort and zone and pushing our limits. Everyone has a different approach to their riding. Some just want to go as hard as they can, and feel the worries of the week slip away in an adrenaline rush as they roost and bounce their way around easy tracks barely out of control. Others want to just cruise around and take in the scenery. Others want to enjoy their rides, but also challenge themselves to learn new techniques and see how far they can push their abilities.
How hard should we push ourselves to get better? A handy general tip comes from a book with one of those trendy very long book titles - "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance" by Steven Kotler.
It says the magic amount to push yourself is no more than 7% of your normal 100% ability. So if you want to hop a bigger log, do a bigger jump, or do a particular track faster, only aim for a small improvement on your current ability.
This makes sense to me on so many levels. If you aim too high, then you start to hit problems. Your chances of injury go up exponentially the harder you push yourself, and as the risk of injury climbs, instead of focusing on the job, your brain is yelling at you: "we're going to die!". While your brain is yelling at you, it means you will probably forget your basic techniques too. So pushing too hard can actually reinforce bad habits.
There are plenty of reasons not to push ourselves too hard:
- Increased risk of injury
- Brain overload
- Reinforcing bad habits
All of us will know that feeling of being in the zone, a state of consciousness where actual skills match the percieved performance requirements, with increased focus and attention allowing for higher levels of performance. In effect, everything comes together and flows.
This is a great time you push yourself and become a better rider. However, it can take time to warm up and get into the zone, and some rides you simply may not get there at all and ride like a gumby all day – which is not a great time to push yourself.
Remember when you are pushing yourself, it's always good to revisit your earlier skills and see if you have slipped into bad habits again. If you are tackling large or difficult obstacles, remember to spot for each other too when attempting something difficult for the first time.
Here is a very brief summary of Steven Kottler's book.
Aim for a 7% improvement on your current performance levels, then follow these steps to get into the 'state of flow' or 'in the zone':
The Struggle: Overload your brain and get beyond the point of comfort
The Release: Take your mind off the problem as you near your breaking point
The Flow: This is where you do what you didn't think or know you could do
The Recovery: Replenish lost energy, and re-baseline at your new higher level.
To see our video on this topic, click here.
"The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance" by Steven Kotler.