Optimize Your Eyes | MEGAPHONE

Winning techniques from the Rich Oliver Mystery School

By Rich Oliver, Photography by Richard VanderMeulen

At my Mystery School riding clinics, I teach students the techniques that helped me win while competing in AMA Pro roadracing. One practice that often surprises my students is that of warming up and strengthening your eyes. Our eyes have to process a lot of information while we're riding, so gaining a larger "in-focus" visual picture is bound to improve our performance on the bike. I can't take credit for creating these exercises; an optometrist who worked with Major League batters and other athletes to improve their visual skills and processing speeds taught them to me early in my racing career.

To begin working on vision, we do eye stretches to improve our visual targeting speed. You can try these as well. Move your eyes all the way left and then back all the way right. Then go all the way up and then down. Then repeat the exercise, tracing diagonals from top left to bottom right and from top right to bottom left. Finish off with circles both left and right, running your eyes around to the extremes in all directions. With each of these stretches, you want to move your eyes as far as they will go without straining. These drills will help your eyes respond quickly to visual targets on the road ahead.

Since many of us spend most of the day focusing on objects that are relatively close (like this magazine), our eyes' ability to focus on distant objects often suffers. Focusing exercises include rapidly shifting our focus from close to far. Just cup your right hand over your right eye and hold your left thumb up at arm's length. Focus on your thumbnail, and then quickly shift your focus to an object well beyond your thumb. As soon as that object comes into focus, return your gaze to your thumbnail. Do this 20 to 40 times for each eye. Yes, it is tiring! But the more you do it, the stronger your eyes will become, and the speed with which you are able to shift your focus from your bike's instruments to the road ahead will be faster, giving you more time to react.

Next, try our peripheral vision exercise. While focusing on a distant object, bring your awareness to your entire field of vision without moving your eyes. By doing this for 30 seconds a day, the visual processing centers in your brain will get stronger and build you a larger "in-focus" picture. This improved field of vision has the nice side benefit of reducing the sensation of speed while riding, since you will perceive a wider picture instead of looking down a narrow tunnel of awareness.

We teach many more visual exercises at the school, but these are some of the simpler ones that are easy for riders to do at home. Try them for yourself, and see if they don't give you an edge out on the road.

By Rich Oliver
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