Photos: from internet sources credited
We can agree that the best training for riding your bike is to ride your bike. And for big mountain riders, practicing for events that are often 80 to 100-miles in distance, and require more than 10-hours of saddle time, putting in many hours on the bike is a requirement. But for large swaths of the country, it’s no-go weather outside right now. How do you stay fit and strong without burning out on riding in the cold, or when the weather and the early winter evenings refuse to comply with your plans for a two-wheeled workout?
If you have access to a gym or to free weights, you can not only stay in shape, but build muscles that will have your back on the big mountain rides of the warmer months coming. Here are a few of my favorite cross-training activities, and how they apply to mountain bike riding:
Swimming is a whole-body workout. If you think you get the munchies after a few hours of hard trail riding, wait till you swim a half-mile or more. You will be craving carb’s. The water can help you build cardio endurance with underwater swimming, exercise your whole body with different strokes, or burn fat with low-intensity laps. Using just your legs, you can isolate those pedaling muscles. When back floating, you can mimic the exact movement of spinning. I like swimming the length of the pool in one breath, and the crawl stroke – the first for building cardio and mental strength, the second for burning calories and a whole-body workout.
However, for cross-training I focus on muscle groups that may not get worked out every ride. These include my upper body and arms, and core muscles. For all of the following exercises, I go for higher reps with less weight, since I am aiming for more endurance and muscle tone than for bulk. I usually do three sets of 20 reps of each exercise.
Many cyclists don’t dwell on upper body strength. However, those muscles that have probably embarrassed most of us the most over the years are important to technical riding and to big mountain riding, with its long hours and laissez faire trail conditions.
◊ Shrugs – using dumb bells or bar bells, stand up with your arms hanging straight down. Lift the weights by shrugging your shoulders. Try to lift with just the shoulder muscles, not your back. You can work your way up to more reps as you go, or to more weight. Works the trapezius muscles and is great for helping heave the bike over trail obstacles, or to snap the front end back on line during sketchy descents.
◊ Lat lifts – Your Latissimus Dorsi muscles or Lats, contribute to lofting that front wheel over an obstacle at speed, or to pumping your bike through the trail. You can work them out by using two dumb bells and raising your arms straight up from beside your thighs to shoulder height. My favorite though is to use a bar bell and, grasping it at handlebar width with arms extended, hold it just slightly lower than straight out from my chest. Then I pull back till the bar almost touches my chest near shoulder height.
◊ Forearm curls – Your forearms are the nearest muscle of any size controlling your handlebars. They also are inline to take the shock of many crashes. Working with a dumb bell, curl your arm at the wrist, contracting and extending. Do reps in both directions – working the top and bottom of your forearm. See illustration.
◊ Bicep curls - The old standard. True, if you’re built like most mountain bikers, you’ll never have guns big enough to grab attention in public. But the biceps are key to controlling and powering the front end during rough downhills and through rock gardens, or when you need to lift the bike in one hand, etc. When the going gets rough, it’s time to put the guns to use, and you’ll be glad that you have paid attention to your biceps. This exercise can be done free-standing or with a curl bench to really isolate the biceps.
Because of its central location, it is important to properly develop your core both for overall strength to allow you to work the rest of your body, and for balance and control aboard your bike. It’s hard to overwork the core muscles.
◊ Bicycle crunches – one of the best according to the American Council on Exercise’s study to determine the most effective ab exercises. A personal favorite.
1. Lie face up on the floor and lace your fingers behind your head.
2. Bring the knees in towards the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the ground without pulling on the neck.
3. Straighten the left leg out while simultaneously turning the upper body to the right, bringing the left elbow towards the right knee.
4. Switch sides, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee.
5. Continue alternating sides in a ‘pedaling’ motion for 12-16 reps.
◊ Captain’s Chair leg lifts – another great isolator of the ab muscles. As you gain strength and control, you can pump this exercise up with a medicine ball held between your feet or knees, or by slowing down your lift and extending the hold time. I try for a five-second hold at the top of the lift.
1. Stand on chair and grip handholds to stabilize your upper body.
2. Press your back against the pad and contract the abs to raise the legs and lift knees towards your chest.
3. Don’t arch the back or swing the legs up.
4. Slowly lower back down and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.
These are just a few of the many exercises that you can do at home or in the gym to improve your riding. Watch for a future article on mountain bike-specific calisthenics, or workouts without weights. Meanwhile, stay fit, get strong, and dream of dryer days when the trails flow and you have the endurance to ride all day and night!
© Big Mountain Riding