It has been said that the mountain biking is easy on the body, as long as you stay on the bike. Of course for many of us, the challenge of staying on the bike is one of the attractors to riding off road. The physical strains from mountain biking are different than riding on the road. Mountain biking requires more strength and control in the upper body and torso than road cycling. However, pure strength is less important than the ability to balance and control your strength.
A basic concept that the triangleâ€™s own off road endurance king, Matthew Lee, taught me years ago, has proven to be invaluable in the pursuit of keeping the body up and the rubber down. Conceptualize the bike wheels as two large gyroscopes turned on edge connected by a central tube. To ride uneven terrain successfully, follow two principles. One, find a way to keep the legs turning as you encounter obstacles, if the wheel gyroscopes keep spinning, they will hold themselves upright. As long as the legs power the gyroscopes upright, the job of the rest of the body is to balance the torso over the connecting tube (i.e. bike). It is not necessary to force the bike where you want it to go, but rather to stay over it as the bike picks itâ€™s line through the trail obstacles.
Keeping this concept in mind, strength training for mountain biking should include challenges to maintaining central stability while allowing the legs freedom to move without affecting the central stability. In order to keep the legs turning, all of the other major muscle groups can be utilized to create stability and balance. Of primary importance are both abdominal muscles and the long muscles that connect arms and shoulders (scapula) to the torso. Though these are muscles that are often strengthened by moving the arms, in the application of mountain biking, the muscles are primarily used with the hands held in place and moving the body relative to the hands.
An example of a strength exercise that incorporates the concepts discussed in this article can be found in this monthâ€™s Core Corner feature. In the shown exercise, placing balls under the knees challenges stability of the legs. To work the muscles noted above, simply reverse the exercise by shifting the balls into the hands and moving the feet.
Another way to strengthen your mountain biking is by strengthening our shared mountain biking community. Visit trianglemtb.com to become a member of TORC (Triangle Off Road Cyclists) or seek out trail building opportunities. There are few better ways to holistically strengthen for mountain biking than the workout of building and maintaining trails.