By Martin Sigrist
Watching a golf teaching video recently the coach mentioned a day he had spent at a weapons range in the company of a retired Navy SEAL sniper. His friend had told him about “perishable skills” and how their importance was something that had been drummed into him through his training, and that it was still something he was constantly aware of many years later as a result.
The word “perishable” here means the same as for food. Some skills are not “like riding a bike,” where once you learn them you don’t need to keep relearning them to make sure they stay fresh. Skills that are perishable will get worse over time if they are not kept up. You may not even notice the fact, but your results will tell the tale. It’s not the same as “use it or lose it.” It is more a question of “do it right first time every time or you will lose it.”
For some, such as the sniper and others like pilots and divers, losing it may be a matter of life and death. So they will have checks and balances to ensure that perishable skills don’t cause them to perish. However for most, the stakes are much lower, so there is a risk we can get sloppy and not notice.
The context for the golf coach was the importance of making sure you are always doing the little things correctly. In golf, this means the basics like how you are lined up in relation to the target, how you are standing etc.
The same applies to us cyclists. While it’s true that once you learn to ride a bike it’s something you can do for life, that does not mean that you are necessarily doing it in an ideal way.
An obvious example is posture, how to sit correctly on a bike. “Correctly” is variable. It’s a compromise between comfort, power and aerodynamics, so the ideal posture will depend on circumstances. But often it’s far from ideal and some riders end up with a score of 0/3 on these goals. A bike fit is essential in getting things right, but not enough. You can look great while being filmed during your fitting session and nothing like great when actually riding on the road. Often all that is needed is a nudge with some simple cues like “chin down,” “relax shoulders” or “bend at the hip” — whatever works for you. A simple self reminder to check once every 15 minutes is often all that is needed, and the result will be a quicker more comfortable ride so well worth the effort.
Other examples of perishable skills are bike handling, pedaling and breathing. These might seem so easy that they are not worth thinking about, so many cyclists don’t. However, if your desire is to be as good as possible or you just want to make things as easy as they can be, then each of these skills is worth spending a small amount of time on.
These warrant a bit more space so I’ll cover them at a later date. I’ll also cover one other skill I consider essential to keeping perishable skills fresh, the skill I personally think is the most important of all as it brings all the others together but one I have rarely heard discussed as in a cycling performance context — the skill of mindfulness.
In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestion of other perishable skills that cyclists need to be aware of or any examples from other walks of life, please share them below.
Now among the world’s fittest sexagenarians Martin Sigrist started riding on doctor’s orders in 2005 and had to push his bike up his first hill. Next year he soloed the Tour de France. He has since experienced every form of road cycling from criterium to ultra endurance. His ongoing mission is to use the latest in science and technology to fight a, so far successful, battle against Father Time.
William Wightman says
Speaking of mindfulness. This may seem obvious but as you age one skill to watch is simple efficient walking gait. For reasons of pain, posture, or lack of focus we stop picking up our feet, we shuffle. I watch my cats and my children walk and it is a thing of beauty, so smooth, so deliberate. So walking must become more thoughtful as we age, something we practice so the skill does not fade. Also the simple act of balance will fade with muscle atrophy and we must do daily stretching and balancing work. It can include simple things like when you put on pants, pause and hold before putting in each leg, lift the leg up and down until you have full confidence with one leg balance. If you are unsteady, hold onto something to be always in control and prevent falls. Safely done, you must use it or you will lose it (…you rest, you rust).
Martin Sigrist says
This is both very true and very helpful.
It is remarkably easy to fall into bad habits without realising it and if by the time you do it may be too late.
Quite apart from the aspects of safety it is sometimes just nice to focus on the little things and appreciate what is so often taken for granted.
Just the act of walking is a remarkable skill. My wife introduced me to mindfullness and one thing she does is just walk very slowly following a labyrinth on the ground. It serves both as a relaxation exercise and a health exercise as doing things slowly but exactly helps the brain and body remain in synch.,