How many of you have witnessed it? A group of cyclists or runners taking over the trail, roadway, or sidewalk. The majestic herd in their natural habitat. Perhaps you have even been a part of such a herd. Once a week, I attend a local mountain bike group ride and was recently pondering the potential benefits in terms of learning and performance, beyond the social aspects. Some answers came after witnessing an interesting sequence of events a few weeks ago. Here's how it unfolded:
A faction of approximately 15 riders took off quickly from the meeting point, speeding over jumps, negotiating turns, and crossing streams. After reaching the top of a long climb and taking a collective breather, one of the riders exclaimed "(name) will never want to ride with us again" implying that it's too difficult. That rider, appearing somewhat offended, retorted "what are you talking about? I ride 30 miles a week! I'm fine." That same rider started the next segment near the front of the pack, at a fast pace.
The group can motivate us to work harder and test our limits more than if we were on our own. The reasons for this are a complex array of personality and social psychology factors. Wanting to look competent in front of your peers can be an extrinsic motivator. Not wanting to drop too far back from the pack is a survival instinct the far predates the invention of the wheel, let alone the mountain bike.
Then, the rider who was previously forced to defend his honor fell... twice, within just a few minutes. The train of riders behind him had to wait as he untangled his bike from a fellow rider (the first time) and from some shrubbery (the second time). To the fallen rider's credit, he kept an awesome positive attitude, apologized to the group, dusted himself off, and kept moving down the trail.
There is a potential danger in pushing past our limits when with a group. It can lead to repeated mistakes as we choose not to let up at risk of performing below the group's standards. We start trying too hard, we miscalculate, and that normally simple obstacle becomes a hazard. When we make a mistake we fear that everyone is judging and mocking us, which becomes a distraction. We get "in our head" and may not have, or want to take, the time to reset like we would if riding alone.
At the next break, a member of our group politely told the rider who fell that his seat may be too high, which could impair balance. Immediately, he adjusted his seat. From then on, I heard instruction being given and I observed adjustments being made, such as position on the bike and foot placement when negotiating challenging obstacles. The dynamic of those two riders became that of a mentor and mentee.
The impromptu coaching from a group member was unexpected. It also risked offending, but the instruction was given in a humble and supportive way and received with grace and curiosity. Even with just some basic instruction and minor adjustments, the rider's improvement was noticeable. This sequence of error, observation, and instruction coupled with the riders' willing spirits led me to think about the group ride as more than just a motivator but also as a powerful learning tool. Incidentally, I also benefitted from the instruction and have to assume I was not the only one, beyond the intended recipient. So, when music and YouTube videos just aren't enough to up your performance, I suggest joining a local group ride. You never know what you might learn. Until then, keep collaborating and enjoy the ride!
Do you listen to music while exercising? Does music make you feel stronger, faster, and/or more focused? You’re not alone, as research suggests that music can improve performance in endurance, sprint, and resistance exercise. This is due to a combination of psychological and physiological effects such as more positive affect, lower subjective fatigue, and increased cardiac output and oxygen consumption.
Given this evidence, I decided to listen to music during a recent ride. On that “musical ride”, I felt more comfortable on the bike, faster on the course, and more willing to take on difficult obstacles. Time also seemed to pass quickly, and the climbs were less of a slog. While I felt different on this ride, the objective data indicated my performance (e.g., average pace, maximum speed, elevation gained) was about the same as my previous, sans music, rides. Of course, this was only one session and there are several factors that were not controlled for such as course conditions, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and even exact tire pressure. Still, the subjective feeling of awesomeness contrasted with my actual mediocre performance is worth exploring.
The feeling awesome part of my ride can likely be attributed to music’s ability to elevate mood and motivate, making those uphill sections less dreadful and increasing my will to tackle a challenging section. The music may have also served as a positive distraction from my tired legs. I was, at times, in a flow state, fully immersed with a focus on the activity and a reduced self-consciousness about effective execution.
There are several explanations for why the music did not result in improved performance despite the elevated feelings. While music helped me focus and be less conscious of fatigue, my skills remained at a novice level. Difficult obstacles are were difficult and time-consuming, even if I was more willing to take them on with the help of artists such as Linkin Park. The tunes may have also diverted too much attention from the task, such as not allowing for mental rehearsal as I entered a technical trail section.
Interestingly, music preference can mediate exercise performance benefits. For the ride in question, I went with a curated “mountain biking” Spotify playlist where I enjoyed some of the songs but many were skips. This may have limited the sustained benefits of music on this ride. Incidentally, reaching for the skip button on my earbuds may have created an additional distraction, reducing speed and taking me out of my flow state.
While the research points to psychological and physiological benefits of listening to music while exercising, do not expect that to translate immediately into objective performance gains. To that end, there is no substitute for proper instruction (see previous musing “Can YouTube Teach Me How to Ride?”) and deliberate practice to develop your competency. Music can be a great companion as you log those hours, and a motivator as you test your skills on increasingly challenging technical sections. So keep grooving and enjoy the ride!
We're going to take next week off; Happy Independence Day! We'll follow up with the final post in the series on the value of Groups in training, the following week!
Have you used YouTube to learn a new skill? According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, over 50% of U.S. YouTube users, which is approximately 35% of all U.S. adults, indicated “the site is very important when it comes to figuring out how to do things they haven’t done before.” I can just hear my Instructional Designer friends saying “yes, but videos on their own may not be enough.”
After purchasing a shiny new mountain bike and waiting for it to be shipped, I started consuming YouTube videos centered on the fundamentals of mountain bike riding. There are numerous videos on the topic, and many are quite good, with clear explanations and demonstrations in real-time and slow motion. When my bike arrived, I felt confident and ready to tear up the trails with my newly acquired YouTube-based knowledge.
Not so fast! In fact, my first ride was quite slow and objectively pretty bad. The video-based instruction not transferring to real-world performance of a complex psychomotor skill is not surprising. An obvious issue is that I did not perform the task immediately after video demonstration. For instance, I could have watched a video on a specific skill, such as cornering, at the top of the hill then attempt to execute while careening down. Still, time from demonstration to practice does not seem like the complete answer. I thought about M. David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction, described below, and why videos are just part of a more comprehensive learning strategy.
Task / Problem Centered: Learning must be in the context of a real-world problem. One limitation is that I did not have baseline data, so my approach to viewing online content was broad rather than focusing on a specific task or problem, such as cornering or braking techniques.
Activation: New knowledge must be built on prior learning. YouTube video creators are appealing to a general audience without the luxury of a learner analysis. That leaves it to the viewer to reflect on their prior knowledge and see where the new learning fits. It would have been beneficial to think about what I know, such as riding a road bike, and how that may apply to what I saw in the videos.
Demonstration: Videos can effectively provide learners with practical demonstrations of specific skills and proper techniques. The mountain bike training videos typically included a verbal explanation followed by an on-bike practical demonstration, often with narration. The challenge was not having my own experience as a point of reference, such as how demonstrated techniques “feel” on a bike.
Application: Use the new knowledge in a meaningful way, through practical application. While riding, I identified knowledge and skill gaps based on indicators such as apprehension and mistakes then made mental notes that I wrote down after the ride.
Integration: Continue to apply the new knowledge and build on it. This principle highlights the main flaw in my original thinking. It is unreasonable to expect to go from watching videos to proficiency. Similarly, practice alone is not enough. I consider Merrill’s First Principles a cyclical process of continually defining and refining the problem to be solved, building on prior knowledge, viewing demonstrations with an emphasis on targeted areas for improvement, and deliberate practice toward mastery.
The next time you want to learn a new skill and are about to type some words into that YouTube search bar, take a moment to think about how the videos fit into a more comprehensive approach. With so much web content readily available, including engaging videos, it is easy to forget that demonstration is just part of the whole. In a world that expects immediate results, as I mistakenly did, it is also easy to forget that complex skills require extensive practice, so keep learning and enjoy the ride!
In the next post we'll take a look at music and peformance!
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!