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What have I learned after two months of practicing "What did I learn today?"
It's been a game-changer for better wheelie practice and so far, better wheelies
Two months ago, I published a post titled, Frustrated with an MTB practice session? Reframe it by asking, "What did I learn today?" featuring Ryan Hurst at GMB Fitness:
As I started implementing the new practice, I assumed that my answers to the question after a week would become repetitive. I was confident that I knew the basic elements of holding a wheelie and that it was primarily a matter of diligent and smart practice strategies that would lead to improvement.
I thought that my answers to the question, What did I learn today?, would typically be on the order of “Well, I learned that I wasn’t consistent on keeping my chin up/head back for many of my attempts” or “I learned that if my second pedal stroke was stronger, the frequency of falling to one side or the other decreased.”
While those types of answers were helpful, I was surprised that during or after nearly every session, new ideas or questions about the elements of a wheelie occurred to me. I would make quick notes of these thoughts on my phone and later refine them a bit when I got home. And many times that additional reflection would spark another idea or question.
It occurred to me as I wrote the paragraph above that I first touched on this problem-solving a year ago in a post titled, Why trying to make MTB practice fun might be the wrong approach. It was based on a similarly named post by Noa Kageyama. Excerpt:
What if, instead of practicing to “make it sound better” or accumulate enough repetitions to maintain a certain level, your larger objective is to leave the practice room having learned something you didn’t know before? Where your efforts are centered around conducting experiments to (1) clarify what you want, (2) figure out what’s holding you back, (3) brainstorm solutions that get you closer, and (4) test yourself to see if your solutions are sticking. What puzzles would you care to solve today?
(I followed that post up with my real-world problem at the time: my MTB boulder plateau.)
What I learned from using “What have I learned today?”
While some of my many wheelie-related ideas have proven NOT to be helpful, the net effect has been significant:
The depth of my understanding of the elements of a wheelie has increased considerably. (While not as sophisticated or detailed, it reminded me of a visualization-related passage in the book Sports Psyching: Playing Your Best Game All of the Time, where the author describes the extreme nuances of a five-iron swing that a professional golfer might make.) Footnote:
My confidence in my problem-solving ability is increasing.
My eagerness to practice has been consistently strong because of my curiosity to follow up on my What did I learn today? answers. This is why GMB Fitness head coach and co-founder Ryan Hurst asserts that using What did I learn today? is a “huge, huge game-changer.” At times it feels like excitement, which coincidentally was one of the topics (“excitement is a better motivator than discipline”) in the July 13th 3-2-1 newsletter by James Clear. Footnote:
If you reviewed my reflection practice notes from the past month, you wouldn’t see any long-form journaling. Every entry is a short bullet point, just enough to make sense to me. By keeping my reflections brief and quick, I’m much more likely to do them regularly.
The one time that I didn’t take time to reflect, I was in a hurry to sneak in a short practice session with no intention other than “Let’s see if I can experience the same progress I made two days ago.” (That’s a mental recipe for disappointment. Can you guess why?) I went home frustrated and didn’t ask myself, What did I learn today? And the result was that I was reluctant to practice over the next few days.
Have I made progress with my wheelies? Yes.
My most recent wheelie practice video (one minute) shows three things:
A slower-speed, easier-gear wheelie. When I start a wheelie practice session, I’m typically focused either on problem-solving, experimentation, proficiency, or gamification to improve my consistency of one element. I’m not focused on distance or pedal strokes. I typically do sets of ten attempts for 10-15 minutes.
A slow fakie. When I take a break, I’ll either review a video from one of my practice sets or I’ll practice some other skill for 10 minutes. I focused on relaxing my wrists and hips for this fakie set.
A higher-speed, harder-gear wheelie. Lately, I have done a distance challenge at the end of my practice sessions. Three weeks ago, I had a 30- and 40-yarder out of about two dozen attempts. Two weeks ago, I had a 50-yarder out of two dozen attempts, and then last week, three 50-yarders in 10 attempts. Alas, yesterday, only one 50-yarder out of 10 attempts. What did I learn? That my fundamentals tend to fall apart when I’m trying to perform for the camera, which is a whole nother topic, i.e., practicing to perform vs. practicing to learn.
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How to Break Down the Parts of Play of a 5-iron Swing
Hands properly aligned so that back of left hand and front of right face desired direction of ball. Vees formed at thumbs point over shoulders; grasp is strongest between thumb and first two fingers of each hand, but not too tight. Stick is held so that club face is at right angle to intended shot direction and so that it meets the ball dead center.
Feet are proper distance apart, knees slightly bent, weight slightly to the inside of each foot. Ball is proper distance away and aligned a few inches back from the inside of front foot. A line drawn from toe to toe should point in the direction you wish to hit ball. Arms straight. Head down; eyes on the ball, looking to the rear half of it.
Legs and hips begin to rotate: shoulders turn until hips approach a forty-five-degree angle (or as close as possible to it). Weight shifts mainly to inside of rear foot, as front knee flexes and turns inward; left foot is raised slightly with weight on toes. Shoulders approach a ninety-degree angle to what they were at address. Meanwhile, arms and hands pull club back so club head describes a low arc away from ball gradually coming up. Left arm stays straight and right elbow bends, taking care to keep it tucked close to your side. Wrists are cocked after taking the club upwards, but not back behind you. Head stays immobile as possible, eyes on the ball and neck serving as axis of swing.
Legs and hips start rotation back the other way. Simultaneously, body comes around and arms start downswing, with wrists starting to uncock about halfway down. It is important to rotate hips rather than let them sway laterally. Weight moves from inside of back foot to the squared stance you had at address, the weight roughly equal on each foot. As club head comes through the ball, you are almost exactly at the middle position you were at address. Both arms are straight, the head is down, eyes on the ball.
The club head’s momentum carries it through the ball. Weight shifts to the inside of front (left) foot, with that leg remaining locked while the back (right) knee flexes forward and inward. Arms and hands remain straight as they follow the arc upward. Hips and shoulders turn toward direction of the ball, and only then does head begin to turn forward. Follow-through should be full, with club head describing as much of a vertical arc as possible from backswing through impact and follow-through. It is as if you swing a weight hooked to a wire, building up centrifugal force. Club ends up cocked loosely over left shoulder.
"Excitement is a better motivator than discipline. The people who appear to have an exceptional work ethic or remarkable discipline are often those with a genuine curiosity or interest in that area. The person who smiles is more likely to keep working than the person gritting their teeth."