The Triangle of Trust

By LLB Coach Andy Somerville

In Lee’s training materials for the NICA high school MTB leagues, there’s a diagram called the Triangle of Teaching. The three vertices are: Skills, Fitness, Confidence. Each complements and reinforces the other. All three can be learned/acquired/bolstered through deliberate practice and hard work. High School league coaches learn to apply this teaching philosophy to their students.

I’m visualizing another IKF (Infograph of Kung Fu) these days, one that applies to riders of all ages and abilities:

The trio of elements in this trust tryst:


• The controller of everything
• Super complex and fast, therefore
• Hyper-agile at creating or ruining FLOW


• The brain’s first mate on the river of FLOW and the whirlpool of SUCK
• The gateway to trail and speed info to the brain, but
• Your hi-def spectrum of vision is too slow


• Dumb as a rock when disconnected from the brain, in other words
• FLOW’s best friend

When these characters are working in sync, it’s a seamless partnership. When firing in sequence, a state of Trust is established between your Brain, Eyes and Body. Let’s call it … Flow (capital F).

Andy enjoys some steep Flow on Slickrock Trail in Moab, UT.

Kung Fu masters might attain Flow every time they ride. For mere mortals, Flow can and will … ebb and flow (hmmm).

Low Flow/Ebb ‘tides’ can be triggered by:

1. Long layoffs due to weather, injury, job or family
2. Too much road riding or trainer time (see #1)
3. Riding at speed on new or unfamiliar terrain
4. Being stressed, fatigued or hungry
5. Certain phases of the moon
6. Any or all of the above

During an ebb tide, the Triangle of Trust breaks down. Confidence is low, vision gets frazzled and the body can’t do what needs to be done. And vice versa. And versa vice. But: By recognizing the roles and relationships of Brain-Eyes-Body, you might just succeed in shifting the tide back to Flow.

Rock Solid Body

Think of your Body as Flow’s big, dumb, reliable friend. Ingrain the knowledge of proper balance and body position, cornering, braking and pumping. Inject it fiber-by-fiber into the deepest muscle memory through learning, practice and repetition. Shore it up with core work, mobility and strength training. Body’s gotta be rested, hydrated and fed too.

Solid as a rock and dumb as one, too. In other words, perfect for those times when the high-brow Brain and Eyes get busy screwing things up. They won’t notice Mr. Reliable operating on autopilot and holding things together. Meanwhile, those ingrained skills can save your ride or your hide.

Lots going on here at the bottom of Moab’s Porcupine Rim Trail, but LLB Coach Judd Zimmerman can relax and rely on his practice.

Smarter, Not Better

How do the uber-smart Brain and Eyes screw things up? By hijacking the conversation between Body and Flow. Drunk on processing power and blustering with know-it-all, these wet blankets can ruin a Flow Festival 100 yards into a sweet trail.

Some of the ways your Brain and Eyes create Flowus Interruptus:

Trying to focus your vision on a never-ending succession of individual boulders, ruts, roots, small animals, etc.

Your Eyes have two vision modes we’ll call hi-def and lo-def. Hi-def vision is wired to your “thinking brain.” It’s great for finding that next sweet line, but it’s too slow to process details at full speed. Meanwhile, your low-def vision is wired to your “acting brain.” It’s designed to track movement and relay rapid-fire instructions to your body.

So: Use your hi-def vision to scan as far ahead as you can. Trust your low-def vision (and your Body) to handle the details.

LLB Coach Kevin Stiffler looks to Next while his body handles Now.

Allowing fear and tension to take your skills and confidence hostage

Your Brain has a self-preservation mode with a hair trigger and 2 settings:

Setting #1: Everything is Groovy

Setting #2: We’re All Gonna Die!

Pretty crude for the “world’s most powerful computer,” huh? One way to avoid pulling that fire alarm is to focus on internal ride goals like “Be Smooth” or “Ride Relaxed.” Both of those goals require riding at a speed you’re comfortable with, especially on new trails. It’s always a good idea to become smooth before adding speed. Another core value of Lee’s training philosophy is to perfect balance and technique before adding power and intensity.

It also helps to soften and widen your vision, and to keep your head level and steady despite the mayhem happening under your tires. Smooth vision tells your Brain that it’s safe.

Having an out of body experience

You know that feeling when you’re racing an Enduro or DH and thinking/wondering/worrying about how your riding looks to spectators/family/friends/teammates? Kind of like a GoPro camera drone hovering over your shoulder, playing in your mind?

Pros don’t care how they look (‘cause they look awesome). They don’t get distracted by external stimuli, even at Heckler’s Rock. You on the other hand, may feel as self-conscious riding as you do on the dance floor.

Ride like no one’s watching.

Ignore the steepness, consequences and the photographer. Lee scans ahead, balances on his feet and makes angles on Slickrock Trail in Moab, UT. The XTR S-Works Enduro 29 sure doesn’t hurt.

Building Trust for the Trail

Your Brain and Eyes generally break the trust triangle before your Body does. That said, they’ll have a much harder time spoiling things when your skills and Body are solid.

• Focus on building skills, mobility, fitness and practical strength.

• Keep your chin up and your eyes looking down the trail.

• Create a set of cues for your Brain to help eradicate tension and fear.

  • Lee’s famous: “Heavy Feet, Light Hands” cue works because it restores balance and melts upper body tension.

  • Another 2-for-1 Kung Fu tip gets your Eyes and your Brain back on track: Turn a negative and reactive thought such as “I don’t want to drop into that rut” into a positive, proactive “I’m going to hop over that thing then rail that turn.”

• Read Lee’s books and attend an LLB clinic.

After all, a triangle is the strongest geometric shape in the textbook. Braaap!

Andy Somerville is an LLB-certified coach who teaches in Southern California. Learn more about Andy and his clinics here:

Know more. Have more fun!

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