Manualing is one of those skills most rider's think you are either born with or you just can't do it. We've all seen the guy holding a manual forever - making the rest of us feel like chumps - but the truth is that you only need to be able to hold one for a second or two for it to be a very valuable skill on the trail. And, more importantly, this skill can be easily learned by anyone.
Manualing is simply your ability to powerfully drive from the hips in order to bring the front end of your bike up. It stems from keeping that all-important relationship between the bike's and your center of gravity. You want to drive the bike in front of you by extending your legs and hips while keeping the arms relatively relaxed.
You need to avoid pulling the front end up with arms (which results in bent elbows) or by simply leaning back forcefully with the lower back. Both of these techniques result in the bike center of gravity changing without your center of gravity compensating. You have to remain balanced in order to manual and the ability to drive from the hips and not the arms/ lower back is the key.
Once you know how to manual you will start to see the trail completely differently. You'll no longer have to ride over small trail obstacles, you'll be able to effortlessly loft the front end at will and avoid losing momentum. Getting up small ledges will also become much easier as you learn how to use your hips instead of your arms to pick your front end up. As a bonus, the basic movement behind the manual will eventually lead you to bunny hopping and/ or popping off a lip.
Here is a video demo I posted on my Personal Coaching Members site demonstrating the manual and bunny hop in action (please note the Forum I refer to in the video is on my membership site and if you have any questions on this video please post them in the comments section below this post):
Now that you know "what" to do, you have to make sure that you can do it in the first place through Metabolic Skills Training. Metabolic Skills Training is the term I gave to the art of using strength training exercises to improve your technical skills on the bike. By understanding how each exercise relates to the skills you need on the trail you can ensure that you are getting maximum transfer from the gym to the trail. In addition, the right exercises done correctly will help you more easily learn and apply technical skills on your bike.
When you move with more efficiency and power then you will find that everything you do on your bike comes more naturally, resulting in more of the elusive "flow" that so many riders hear about but rarely get to experience. As a mountain biker you can not just pound out mindless reps and hope that it will help you on the trail - you must understand the movement lessons behind the exercises. Most exercises in your training program should be chosen because they represent a way to work on a fundamental movement skill that supports a technical skill that you need on the trail.
The swing is as close as you can come to a hard trail ride without throwing your leg over a bike. It ingrains body position, teaches you how to absorb impacts with your hips and builds massive forearm strength and endurance. However, the most important lesson you learn from it is how to keep the arms relaxed and drive the hips forward. It is a forward-backward projection of energy which makes it a unique way to learn how to drive the bike forward, which means that when you can do 20 perfect reps with a 16 kg (women) or 24 kg (men) kettlebell you'll be able to more confidently loft your bike into the air.
Here is a video demo of me showing you how to do a Deadstop Swing, which is a great swing variation for learning this movement behind a manual:
Few things have changed my riding as much as picking up this elusive skill. Learn how to do a proper kettlebell swing and then apply those movement lessons to the bike and you'll be one of the rare riders who can also use this valuable skill to help you rider faster and with more confidence on the trail.
MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for World Cup Teams and 3 National Championships, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit www.bikejames.com to sign up for the free Trail Rider Fundamentals Video Mini-Course.