So, you’ve decided you’re in Fort Collins, right next to the mountains, why not get a mountain bike and take advantage of all the amazing weather and single-track trails right in your backyard? You run to your local bike shop, spend more money than you thought you ever would on a bike and cycling gear, and hit the dirt. You get your new mountain bike out of the car and go for your first of many sweet rides. The air smells great as your new knobby tires roll over the dirt.
After a couple of hours of riding, you finally look at your new computer that came with your bike and you realize you have completely lost track of time, and you better head home. You get back to your car, get off your bike, and that’s when you notice that your neck hurts, your wrists hurt, your back is killing you, and what is going on with your knees!?!
Here are some specific exercises for mountain bikers to help your ride be easier and more enjoyable. Also, you will be able to avoid some of the common ailments that mountain bikers seem to get while riding.
Core Exercises for Mountain Bikers
Mountain bikers move around on their bikes a lot. They shift their weight forward to climb up over large boulders or steep hills. They shift their weight back to descend those same obstacles. And, they shift their weight side to side to ride under tree branches, or just to keep their balance while riding slowly over narrow bridges or to track stand. Moving around like this works a lot of core muscles, which consist of those muscles in your lower back, abs, and obliques.
Your Lower Back
A common complaint among all cyclists, especially new cyclists, is wrist pain. This is because there’s simply too much weight or pressure on your wrists. This is where strengthening your back comes in. Doing back-strengthening exercises will help to take some weight off of your wrists while riding. Imagine sitting on your bike and letting go of your handlebars while still leaning forward. It’s your back that’s going to allow you to do that, as well as other related muscles.
One great back exercise that requires no equipment at all is Supermans! Simply lie face down on the floor, arms stretched forward and legs back, and slowly lift your arms and legs upward while keeping them straight. Hold this for 10 seconds, then come down. Repeat a few times. A good variation of this is what’s called Swimmers. It’s the same position, just alternate limbs – raise your left arm and right leg. Then switch. As you strengthen your back, you will notice you can be a little lighter on your handlebar while riding.
A strong back is also generally beneficial for overall stability while mountain biking, and for popping wheelies!
A strong abdominal area will help in many areas of mountain biking. General stability for one, but also to do wheelies. Wheelies aren’t just a fun thing to do, they are also necessary. Think about it. What’s in the mountains? If you guessed rocks, trees, and logs, you win a Clif Bar 🙂 It’s inevitable that you come across all of these obstacles while riding in the mountains. And to get over them, you’re more than likely going to have to pop a wheelie.
To pop a wheelie, you’re going to use your abs and back muscles. Exercises that will help you do a wheelie are bent-over rows, and abdominal exercises, such as bicycle crunches. Even though bent-over rows don’t necessarily work your core muscles (they primarily work your latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles), they are excellent for helping with wheelies. To do them, while standing, bend at your hips with legs slightly bent, and with a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell properly weighted so you can do 10-12 repetitions. Then pull the barbell upwards towards your lower abs or pull the dumbbells upwards to the sides.
To do bicycle crunches, lie on your back on your yoga mat. Loosely place your hands behind your head. Bring your legs up, bent 90 degrees. As you straighten your right leg forward, bring your right shoulder to your left knee (make sure you don’t pull your head forward with your hands). Bring your right shoulder back down and return your right leg to that bent angle. Do the same with your left leg and shoulder. Repeat for 15-20 repetitions.
Also part of a strong core are your obliques which run along the side of your abdominal wall. A great exercise to work your obliques are side planks. Approach your yoga mat from the long side. Sit onto your left hip in the middle of your yoga mat and place your left forearm at one end. Extend your body towards the other end of the yoga and stack your feet so your body is nice and straight. Now push your hips towards the ceiling. Try to get your body straight. You can either hold this position for as long as you can or pulse it; that is, from a straight position, push your hips further towards the ceiling, then back down just a little (not all the way down to the floor) then back up and repeat. Repeat for your right side.
Leg Exercises for Mountain Bikers
Lunges are one of the best exercises for mountain bikers. Why? Cyclists often stand up on their bikes while climbing hills or getting over large boulders. They also often have to get off their bikes to walk up or down hills or rocks. What’s more, a little push with your leg can help with wheelies. Doing lunges will help you climb that hill faster, get over that large boulder easier, and help you pop that wheelie easier.
Take a step forward with your left leg (about 2 feet forward), lower your right knee to the ground then back up, and bring your left leg back. Repeat the movement with your right leg. Do 8-12 repetitions for each leg. Add weight as you strengthen and improve.
What was up with that weird knee pain you felt? That might have been your knee cap not tracking correctly as your leg muscles flex. This sometimes happens to new mountain bikers. This is a condition called chondromalacia patellae. To fix or avoid this, you need to strengthen your inner quad to counterbalance your outer quad that is causing your knee cap to not track correctly.
A great exercise for this is to grab your yoga mat, lie on your left side with your left arm bent and under your head, and keep your body straight. Bring your right leg over the left leg, bent and foot resting on the floor. Pulse your left leg up and down gently, a few inches, for as many repetitions as you can. Flip over and repeat for your right leg.
If you have clipless peddles, congratulations. This means you are a more efficient rider. Not only are you using your quadriceps to push down on one peddle, but you can use your calf muscles to pull up on the other side. This uses less energy overall and makes you a more efficient rider. To strengthen your calf muscles, you can do calf raises, either on the curb, on a step at your house, or on just about anything that’s about a few inches tall, and stable! But since your calves support your body weight all the time, it’s best to do higher repetitions. Shoot for 15-20 repetitions on each leg.
Cycling uses a lot of different muscles. This is especially true for mountain biking. Mountain biking is often hard, but very rewarding. Specific exercises for mountain bikers will help make the ride more enjoyable by preventing discomfort and pain and getting you up that hill and over that rock. If you already regularly workout, you’re probably already doing some, if not most, of the above exercises. For mountain bikers, we recommend you incorporate all of the above exercises into your regular routine.
If you’re interested in improving your mountain biking skills, there are a number of mountain bike skill clinics in the area. There’s the Rowdy Gowdy Women’s Camp just East of Laramie, Wyoming. Rowdy Gowdy also offers a co-ed clinic. There are mountain bike skills clinics offered by the Boulder Mountain Bike Alliance.
Consult your favorite personal fitness trainer with questions or demonstrations for any of the above exercises. An overall balanced exercise routine that includes weights is essential to both physical wellness and mental health. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise immediately and contact me or your physician.