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Episode 1: Show Overview, Part 1

[Transcript]

Hey. Welcome to the MTB Practice Lab. I’m your host, Griff Wigley, Mountain Bike Geezer, and this is a show about learning how to get better at practicing mountain biking skills. This first episode is an overview of what the podcast is about. The short version? 

The show is about mountain bike practicing-related skills and techniques. It’s not about mountain bike riding-related skills and techniques. You might be saying to yourself now, “Uh, sounds like the same thing, man” — so some examples:

You won’t find an episode about how to bunny hop or hold a track stand or jump tabletops or ride drops. You will find episodes about frequency -- how often to practice -- and duration -- how long a practice should be; episodes about the benefits of turning drills into games and exaggerating aspects of a technique; the difference between practicing to learn versus practicing to perform, what strategies to consider when you hit the inevitable plateaus, and lots more.

I’ve come to the realization that mountain bikers who want to improve their riding skills -- for sure most recreational riders but even many pros and instructors -- don’t really know the best strategies for practicing effectively. 

I’m a mountain biking skills coach and I have instructor certifications to teach beginner and intermediate-level mountain biking. But that training didn’t include anything about which practice strategies are most effective, or which ones are actually counterproductive.

Here’s an example. I’ll tee it up with a quiz. Ready? What’s the best way to improve muscle memory for a skill? Let me repeat that in case you were not paying close attention. What’s the best way to improve muscle memory for a skill? I’ll pause here for 10 seconds so you can make a mental stab at it.

[fingers drumming]

Time’s up. I know I know my finger drumming for Wipeout needs work so never mind. 

Got an answer? Good. Your hippocampus will now start moving your answer from short term memory to various other places in your cortex for longer-term memory storage, hopefully, long enough to remember it at the end of this ep when I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. Probably wrong.

So why am I doing this show?  It’s the next chapter for me in my mountain biking life. I’m a pretty good mountain biker and I want to keep improving. But I’ve got a lot of other interests and responsibilities so practicing more effectively is one way to make the most progress in the least amount of time. And I don’t yet know how to do that.

I’m also a coach and I want to get better at it. Everyone I coach -- all recreational mountain bikers -- likewise has a lot of other interests and responsibilities. And I don’t know how to help them practice more effectively. 

Here’s what’s unique about this show. 

First, there has been a surprising number of books and other content published recently that delve into the latest research on learning how to learn cognitive skills (like learning math or a new language) and motor skills (playing a sport or a musical instrument for example). 

And so in regular episodes of this podcast, I’ll be telling you what I’m learning from these resources in a way that I think will make sense to you as a fellow recreational mountain biker. 

Another way to put it: I’m not an expert on learning how to learn -- not yet anyway --  but I’m pretty good at curating, selecting what I think is most helpful and interesting from what the specialists in this field have to say and how I think it relates to learning how to learn mountain biking skills. So that‘s number one. 

Number two. My own mountain biking skills are pretty broad. I’m best at technical skills in part because of my years riding moto trials -- slow-speed obstacle competition on a motorcycle. But I’m getting better at riding faster and jumping -- skills I never worked at on my dirt bikes.   

As I mentioned, I’ve gotten my instructor certifications to teach beginner and intermediate-level mountain biking. And I’m also a part-time online coach for Ryan Leech at his Ryan Leech Connection website which provides online mountain bike skills courses and coaching for thousands of riders around the world.

But like most teachers, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.  So in these podcast episodes, I also chronicle my own struggles and progress in learning how to learn, how to practice, and how to develop habits, all related to mountain biking skills.

This includes my own efforts at how to better practice certain skills -- longer manuals and wheelies, higher bunny hops, bigger jumps, faster corners, and on and on.  So you’ll have a front-row seat as I try to improve and deploy my learning-how-to-learn skills at learning how to improve my riding skills. 

And I also take an occasional detour on how I’m trying to apply this learning-how-to-learn stuff to other areas of my life. Like dancing. And cooking. And brain surgery. Okay, probably not brain surgery. Maybe juggling. And how to tell a joke. 

Now listen carefully in case you missed it. I won’t be using the podcast to actually teach any of those riding skills that I’m working on. I. Won’t. Be. Teaching. Mountain. Biking. Riding. Skills. I’ll be telling you how I’m going about my practicing and what results I’m experiencing along the way, good, bad or ugly. If it’s lessons on riding-related techniques you’re looking for, you’ll need to go elsewhere. And of course, I’ll have a recommendation.

Lastly -- number 3 in case you’re counting -- I hope the show will help inspire you to start down your own path of learning how to learn and get better at practicing and that you’ll share some of your struggles and progress with me which I can then share with the show’s listeners. There’s a lot to be said for the benefits of learning from and inspiring each other. 

I’m a newbie at the art of podcasting. So the first thing I noticed while working on this episode zero is that when I listened to my voice, I not only sounded a bit anxious but my diction seemed kind of mushy at times. So I learned there are diction exercises I could do. Here’s an excerpt from one of my recent morning vocal exercise sessions:

[audio clip of vocal exercises]

That was me humming with a straw, reading from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and unfortunately for you, the listener, singing.

There’s so much to learn about podcasting that it’s been tempting to delay publishing my first episodes until I don’t suck as much. But there’s something startups call MVP -- minimum viable product -- which is getting your product ‘out there’ to find out whether or not it will appeal to customers or in this case, a listening audience. 

So I’ve made the decision that this first episode is good enough to get started. And I’m making a commitment to you that I’ll be deploying some of what I’m learning about practicing mountain biking towards getting better at the craft of podcasting.

I’m interested in your feedback on this episode, not so much on how I can hum or sing better but anything about the content of the show. On the show notes page, you’ll see how you can contact me, including how you can send me a recorded audio comment or question. I may include it and respond to it in an upcoming episode.

Okay, back to the question I asked you at the beginning of this ep. What’s the best way to improve muscle memory for a skill? Well, that was a trick question. Here’s the explanation from my 6-year-old granddaughter Ava:

[audio of Ava and Graham talking] 

That was my son Graham with her and she’s right. There is no such thing as muscle memory. Muscles just do what brains tell them to do.

I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes now, thinking, “Hey Griff, when people refer to ‘muscle memory’ they’re not really saying that skills-related memories are stored in muscle tissue. It’s just kind of a convenient way of talking about how the repetition of muscle movements strengthens our procedural memories that are stored by the cerebellum.” Well, yes and no.

Yes, the phrase ‘muscle memory’ is a convenient shorthand, even if it’s not literally true.

But no, repetition by itself is generally not a path to real and lasting improvement, even though it might seem like it during a practice session. Strengthening our procedural memories for better muscle movements is more about getting out of your comfort zone just enough to keep you focused for every rep. You have to ‘train ugly,’ as Trevor Ragan, founder of The Learner Lab, puts it. You'll hear more from me about why purposeful or deliberate practice is much better than mindless repetition in an upcoming episode.

So that’s it for episode number one. Thanks for checking out the show. I really hope you’ll consider becoming a regular listener.

Email: [email protected]

Voicemail via phone: dial ‪(507) 301-6243‬

Voicemail via your computer: My contact page 

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