Episode 153 - forgetting marginal gains

Episode 153: Forget Marginal Gains was a good listen.

One thing i noticed the team didn’t mention during the discussion of cognitive load: not only are the pros needing to do less things for themselves, but when they are actually on the bike, their total baseline cognitive load is probably lower because skills are so well drilled into them that tasks are automatic.

like for example, @ryan, have you ever had an athlete who can turn their MTB just fine but then struggles with steep switchbacks? Part of hte issue is probably that certain of the skills (where to put weight, how to lean the bike, where to put the pedal, etc.) are not automatic enough that when you add the elements of pointing straight down the fall line and the puckering exposure to one side, anything that the person has to actively think about just doesn’t happen. It’s the same motion, the same skills, so what’s the issue? Probably cognitive load.

So pro example, i read somewhere that Nino Schurter uses a 3-position lockout and adjusts it sometimes multiple times per minute during races. Does that mean that I shoudl do the same thing? I think definitely not, because for me that would be overload whereas for him it’s not, because he has to think less about everything else that he does.

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That’s a great point! You can extend that line of thinking to road as well. Staying out of the wind is second nature to the best riders who have the most experience, whereas some of us have to constantly be thinking about it. That wastes attention and energy that they would need for when “the move” happens.

Dealing with cognitive load, though, does seem to me to be a fundamental demand of the sport. Besides actually racing, how can we train our reflexive cognitive abilities?

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That’s a fair question. I think at least for MTB, the answer is that on some level, you never stop drilling the fundamentals, although emphasis and type of training changes over time.

For example, when first starting out I did lessons and frequently went step by step. I don’t do that anymore, but at least two days a week I am still hitting the trails and focus on a specific skill or action, trying to make it as smooth as possible over the course of the session.

yes, yes, yes! I love that you came up with this from the podcast episode. It’s one of the points that I drill into athletes when I do MTB skills sessions. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not one of those MTB riders that you will see in the dirt jumps or on Slopestyle lines. I’m much more comfortable with tires being between 0-8" off the ground, which is why my specialty lies in the fundamentals and I focus very heavily on those.

Balance, leaning, rotary forces, and pressure/weight distribution are some key areas that I focus on, and to your point, when we go from pointing straight down the fall line to something like a switchback, what is the biggest change for the rider? Speed!

When we go fast, we mask many of those fundamental movements because speed naturally enhances the ability of the bike to stay upright. As we slow things down, you see all sorts of compensatory movements come into the fold - hips shifting, wobbles, shakes, etc. So bringing this back to the pros, they have put the time in to develop these fundamental movements and it’s literally a no-brainer for them to move on the bike because of how well developed those pathways have become. So to your point, their cognitive load is so low that it’s just movement and there is little to no time needed to think about what limbs and muscles have to move in order to coordinate the body.

Your point about Nino is perfect. He is an example of one of the most finely-tuned athletes in the world, so for him, adjusting his lockout multiple times per minute gives him just the right “feel” that he wants for his bike based on the terrain, and that may be a small amount of cognitive load since he has everything else so dialed in. I’m sure @trevor or @chris would have some great examples about @SteveHerman’s comment on positioning on the road too. You start looking at the field with a wider field of view and you can see motion in the pack that indicates certain things, allowing you to make better decisions as to where to sit to remain out of the wind.

I’ve seen some cool technologies out there to train those cognitive abilities, and while there is technology that we can rely on, I think it’s similar to @BikerBocker’s point of training the fundamentals consistently. We’re pretty static in general on the bike, but I always try to think about how we can continue moving differently and challenging ourselves. Jumping, reflexive movements, speed/agility/quickness movements - all of those can help us not only make the decisions quickly, but help maintain the function of the neuromuscular system so we can transfer it to the bike.


that’s a really good point about the ways in which speed makes things easier. I always think of speed as making riding more challenging because you need quicker decisions, looking up-trail is more important and if things go pear-shaped, they do so much faster :slight_smile:

But you’re absolutely right about how it can hide deficits in fundamentals. I will start opening my trail rides with some slow-speed practice from now on!

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This comment makes me think of some great videos that CX pro Cody Kaiser (of “Cody rode it” internet fame) on mounting/dismounting. He literally starts from a walking pace to practice. I have always found that to be so much more challenging than doing it with at least some forward momentum. But you’re right, the little bit of extra speed does make poor technique less obvious as you don’t totally stall out.


Great episode…because, in my opinion, it contains as much as wisdom as knowledge :+1::heart::heavy_check_mark:.

Thank you.

" All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

sorry, i really meant it, hope for a discussion…just an example of functional gear…by carrying my erg in my trunk, i have it available during my shifts as an emergency physician…or can use it right after a trail run next to my car…if it stayed at home…it would be non-functional gear…so it is functional gear :slight_smile: hope for some examples you can offer !

what app did you use to get your workout off the PM5?

I used to use ErgData and it was fine for constant-effort pieces but couldn’t handle intervals, probably because the PM4s at the gym were approximately 700 firmware updates behind . . .

I also use ergdata…it’s simple and stable…but even with the pm5 I use the cable - at fast intervals the cable sometimes breaks the connection (although I’m not a strong sprinter). A new firmware is always recommended -functional gear :wink: . I updated the pm5 in my gym myself…because the staff in the gym is not able to do it. I used a usb stick. I need the BT connection for the rowedbiker app. And then a miracle happens :wink:

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