Activities that Help with Mountain Biking
Every year I tell myself I will continue to ride through winter to maintain my bike fitness. Every year I find an excuse not to. This year I took up running which has given me a big boost out of winter. See How to Run for Bike Fitness for more information on this. Mountain Biking does seem to need its own type of fitness. The best way to achieve this fitness is absolutely by riding more often and pushing yourself. In reality there are times when it is difficult to get out and ride. For this reason I thought I would put together a list of Activities that Help with Mountain Biking. These are the things I personally find, make me better on my bike.
Being that time of year when everybody is in a similar position and wanting to get back out riding more, I thought it would be good to write down the things I find help me. Let’s get over that downtime and off season with a boost into the season ahead.
As mentioned in the opening section because it is a big one, there are so many aspects that translate. Any type of running is good but I like trail runs. It’s rare in mountain biking that you will be riding smooth, flat ground. For this reason I like to run on the slippery slopes. Constant pace is not as important as constant effort and this helps with flow.
Running definitely helps with aerobic fitness and this is important. In addition is the breathing control learned from running. In other words, I personally find allowing your breathing to dictate your pace rather than trying to match breathing to pace, allows you to keep pushing for longer. This is a great skill to learn if you haven’t already. Breathing should be deep and slow and never to the point of hyperventilating. When you breath shallow and hard it feels as if you’re able to give more effort but this is not true. On the whole your breathing should follow a sustainable rhythm. In essence, slow down and build stamina and fitness and speed will follow.
There are different types of run which help with different things. Normally I run around 3 miles, currently I can do this without having a level of pain that impacts on my riding. Sometimes I like to push it and do 10+ miles, I definitely need time to recover but I feel these runs are the ones I benefit most from.
Recently I took up spinning. This is the indoor activity I can make myself do when the weather is bad, I can’t be bothered cleaning mud off things, there is nothing on Red Bull TV. Although I love relaxing on an evening and not doing a lot, I have watched everything worth watching because of lockdown. I was getting bored on evenings and as a result, decided to fill my time with spinning classes whenever possible.
Being completely honest, I thought with years of mountain biking under my belt I could walk in and smash it. This was absolutely not the case. Mountain biking does not help with spinning but spinning does help with mountain biking. Being conditioned to pedal full suspension means I have a weird cadence. Without realising I compensate for pedal bob in my strokes. Being up and out the saddle, in different positions works muscles in different ways. In either case it does help my riding. To summarise the benefits, it helps me power through climbs and sprints without as much pain.
Try spinning with an open mind. It is not easy. Mountain biking does not help you be good at this. Give it a few classes at maximum effort and you will feel the benefits. My local Gym does pay as you go classes, meaning I can walk to somewhere that I don’t need to sign up for a year.
Never underestimate the power of a good walk. I find a walk can help loosen off muscles, keep you more mobile and help recovery. You don’t have to go for miles on end but a quick half hour gentle walk with the dog usually helps.
It is also nice to get fresh air, exercise and not over exert yourself from time to time. Even better as you’re moving more slowly you tend to pick out new trails created by the trail fairies and can take the time to track walk some trails and pick new lines. As you are a mountain biker I probably don’t need to tell you to be mindful of other riders trying to beat Strava times and get out of their way. Also, you can take your GoPro and use it to get some great photos of things you don’t normally stop to appreciate because you are moving too fast.
Yoga has many benefits. Probably too many to cover in a paragraph or two. In this context it will help with core strength and balance. In addition it helps to undo some of the damage and pain caused from riding your bike. By stretching out and following the sun salutation you can definitely ease out muscle pain in areas that mountain biking seems to aggravate. In particular, your spine.
Constantly leaning forwards in that pedalling position and twisting intensely, definitely takes it’s toll. Rather than reaching straight for the painkillers, take 10 minutes to go through the sun salutation. I always find the pain and stiffness goes away a lot faster than painkillers can take effect. Moving forwards I know I need to find time to fit a round of this into the start or end of my day as spending long hours sitting at a desk is also bad. This routine will help to make you more flexible, build core strength and in addition, relieve pain. The list of ailments I have cured with yoga is always growing. I have fixed headaches, pain anywhere down my back, in my shoulders, hips, legs and all from this one simple routine. Learning this will save a fortune on Ibuprofen and Paracetamol !
Although I don’t do any road cycling personally, I do understand that it translates over to mountain biking well. I have tried it in the past, I don’t like the feeling that someone is likely to injure or kill me when not paying attention driving. In my head it is much better to do it on my own terms going head first into a tree.
Like spinning, cycling is a different body position and slightly different variation of the same motion. It is probably cheaper to buy a bike trainer and cheap road bike/racer to cycle indoors rather than a spare wheel, tyre and cassette for your mountain bike. In addition my boost axle doesn’t fit in a trainer and I don’t want to clamp my carbon frame into one. Riding on a trainer in front of the TV during winter is a good way to boost fitness and get the miles in.
Mountain Biking helps with Mountain Biking !
Last but not least, the ultimate way to get better at mountain biking. More rides, more often, more distance. Not every ride has to be long, hard and fast. A short, half hour gentle ride is still a ride and it all helps. An obvious one in the list of activities that help with mountain biking.
Be more strategic with your rides and try to get something out of them. Small goals can be great motivation whether it be beating your PB on a Strava section or a whole ride, or even challenging a friend’s PB. You can just challenge yourself to riding past a landmark on a big hill without getting off and pushing. If you manage your goal, that’s awesome, now beat it. If you didn’t get out and try again. This type of motivation can really help you set aside time for rides and get more enjoyment. Even just getting through X miles without putting a foot down or stopping for a rest is an achievement.
As I said in the opening paragraph, Mountain Biking does seem to require its own type of fitness. Other activities can benefit greatly and feed into your level of “bike fit” but getting out on your bike is how you put it all together.
A Summary of Activities that Help with Mountain Biking
If you want to be good at mountain biking, there is no substitute for getting out and riding trails. In the UK, weather isn’t always on your side so sometimes it’s good to have an indoor replacement or a way of getting the exercise without having to clean everything. Furthermore it is nice to mix it up from time to time and do something different. If that activity can help with your riding, all the more reason to do it.
Personally, I feel the off season is where all the work I did last season is undone and struggle to find motivation to ride knowing I will be rubbish again. In addition anything I can do to ease the pain of those first few rides is more than worth the effort. Building back up to full strength and better in a shorter time means I can enjoy my rides more.
As time goes on I may add to this list.
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