One of the things that can be tough to judge on the trail is how much speed we need to clear a particular jump. In order to get better at making last minute adjustments, I often have riders work on varying their speed while riding a jump they are comfortable with.
The first thing I teach riders is to feel the difference between being active and being passive or slightly passive off a jump. When I’m active or wanting a lot of air for the speed I’m traveling, I firm my quads up into the jump face. In doing this, I find I have a relatively tall stance and create a lot of compression which ends up providing more rebound and more air time. It also creates a situation where my bike is further away from my body than when being passive as my limbs are more extended in order to create compression.
If I approach the same jump at a greatly increased speed, I’ll need to change the way I create compression into my legs. When being more passive or taking a jump faster than I think I need to in order to clear it, I’ll actually absorb some of the jump into my legs and arms. This creates a situation where the bike is relatively close to the body in the air. This is a great way to blow off the extra energy of a jump when approaching at a speed greater than the minimum needed to clear it. I call this being passive.
Once you have this technique dialed in, you can move into blowing off energy in a lateral direction by counter directional steering in the air, or by creating a turn down scrub.
Having the ability to make last minute changes to your takeoff will go a long way toward creating confidence on the trail.