Mental training: more safety when biking

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By implementing mental stra­te­gies, biking is double the fun. After all, biking needs not only physical strength, but a strong mind too.

A biking mindset

Riding down a root-covered trail, finding the right track in the terrain, and being fully focussed on the moment – this is great fun and triggers an explosion of hormones (endorphins). But then there's the other side: those places on the descent that we’re not sure we can ride. «Should I?» «Or better not?» «What happens if I fall?» «How would I feel if I managed it?» are questions that we ask ourselves in such situations.

Fear begins in the mind. Courage too.

Almost every biker knows these thoughts. After all, besides a good biking technique, mental fitness is crucial in these situations. For this reason, our editor, Livia Bieri, attended a bike course  with mental training and shares with us the tips she found most helpful.

Mental strength with every pedal push

Right at the beginning of the course, Claudia Müller, IAP Mental Trainer, explained what mental training actually means: «Mental strength is the ability to reach your highest performance level, regardless of the situation.» In order to achieve this top level of performance and safety on a bike, mental training offers various strategies. After all, as we already know so well: fear begins in the mind. Courage too.

Mental training on real terrain

It’s very important that the strategies learned in the course are put to regular practice in various situations. The rule is: from easy to difficult. It's therefore helpful to learn mental strategies on simple terrains and then, in the next step, to apply them to the single trails. Julia Nieder­berger (Swiss Cycling Guide at Trudy Bike) says: «Successful mental training, like biking technique training, always takes place on real terrain, for that’s where it can be directly applied and consolidated».

Using the power of imagination

A frequently used exercise in mental training is visualisation. This is where you imagine as vividly and in as much detail as possible how you will successfully manage a situation, thereby raising your performance level and chances of success. Elite athletes make use of this strategy too, for at this level it’s often not their physical performance that decides over victory or defeat, but their mental state.

Mental training is like strength training – mental strategies can be trained like a muscle. Towards the end of the course, visualising became much easier and this gave me security
Livia Bieri, Occupational Health Management specialist at CSS Insurance

But visualisation is also a very effective tool for free-time bikers. Before difficult descents, the ability to remind yourself of that feeling of control, where to look and the correct position on the bike will boost your performance.

Perspectives when visualising

When visualising, there are two different perspectives.

  1. With internal visualisation, you see yourself as if you had a camera on your head.
  2. In external visualisation, on the other hand, you see yourself performing the task as if you were your own spectator.

Both types of visualisation are possible, you just have to choose the one that suits you better.

Tip: Visualisation is not only ideal for biking, it will also improve your performance at work. For example, if you are nervous before an important presentation, you can visualise over and over again how lively and successful the presentation will be. Give it a try!

Dealing with fear and stress

The key factor when biking is that at every dangerous point we make a conscious decision on whether to ride or get off. It is important to note that our assessment differs de­pen­ding on the situation, and that is a good thing. For example, when you are coming home from a long tour and are exhausted, a spot that you previously found easy can suddenly look dangerous.

After the assessment comes the decision on whether to ride or get off. The important thing is to make this decision consciously.
Claudia Müller-Amstutz, IAP Mental Trainer

Pay attention to how you breathe

If you decide to ride, Claudia Müller-Amstutz recommends that you pay attention to your breathing and exhale deeply before you start. This ensures optimal tension in your muscles. After this, it’s important to focus on the upcoming action.

And for those who decide to get off the saddle? This is a sensible decision too, especially in terms of the risk of injury. The important thing is to have fun when biking!

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