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How to improve your technical MTB ride skills

How to improve your technical MTB ride skills

Improving your technical mountain bike ride skills will make you a faster racer. It probably will happen over time if you ride off-road but you can accelerate your skill acquisition with focused work. Most of the LW Coaching training plans have specific skills days and all of the Masters 40+ training plans have skills sessions weekly. I am a strong believer that being fast downhill is as important as being fast uphill. Many MTB racers only work their fitness and allow their skills to sit on a plateau.

Follow along as Coach Lynda and pro XC racer Erica Tingey  demo our LW Coaching template on how to put together your own focused skills training session.

Choose a target skill

Choose a single skill to develop per session. Keep your target focused. Avoid just going out and trying to ride everything difficult you come to on a trail. Choose a specific goal.

Erica’s target skill for this session is to improve short steep technical downhill skills. Her goal is to establish a skill-set needed to clean steep technical downhill sections found on UCI World Cup cross country race courses.

Warm Up

First warm up physically with 10-20 mins of easy pedaling. Then warm up technically. Repeat a section of trail that requires your attention and skill but does not pose an intense challenge. Repeat this section of trail 4-5 times getting smoother and faster each time. Reinforce good technical ride habits. Create simple cues that trigger a cascade of these good technical ride habits and build confidence.

Here is Erica’s technical warm up. Her cues are “weight in my feet” and “eyes forward”. Your cues will likely be different.

Between technical challenges all riding should be at a recovery pace. Walk up anything that will make you anaerobic or find an easier route. Stay fresh for the skills work.

Main Challenge

After warming up, move on to your main challenge. Have your skills coach demo the challenge. Being able to see and visualize how to ride a section prior to giving it a go is helpful. If you don’t have a demo volunteer to give you a smooth visual, roll your bike down the section while walking beside it. This helps you see how the bike will flow down the trail.

Erica’s target was the Zen drop which she had not ridden yet. Here is me (Lynda) demoing the section. Filming your skills coaches demo ride is a great plan so you can replay and pause it to catch key details you missed live.

Now it is Erica’s turn! She nails the top section then hesitates, laughs and unclips. She lacks commitment at the crux.

Keep on trying. Turn #2. Hesitates at the crux again and is annoyed this time!

No hesitation at the crux this time. She commits and follows through but is not quite right either! The full face helmet and pads do come in handy and are highly recommended. Pushing skill limits doesn’t always go as planned… Ouch. Getting closer.

Being filmed is extremely helpful to figure out what went wrong.

After a five minute time out and some video reviewing Erica gets back on the horse. Before re-starting she re-affirms her simple  skills cues “weight in my feet” and “eyes forward” to refocus. This time she rolls the whole section cleanly. High fives!!

Keep repeating your challenge getting smoother and more confident each time.

Erica nails it. Smooth fast and solid! Stoked! Skills improved!


Repeat your new skill. My rule is that if you can ride a section three times in a row smoothly then you have it nailed.  Erica nailed this one three times in a row. She owned it!


Be focused, warm-up, drill in cues to trigger good form, be patient with progression, improve, high five, Oh yeah 🙂

FYI for all you True Grit Epic racers this section is on the race course. Now you know how to ride it!

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