Get the most out of your new fitness obsession
Brendan Rolfe, DipA, PTS, NWS
Is there no place you’d rather be than zipping down a forested mountainside by the seat of your pants? Curious about mountain biking but never tried it? These tips, tricks, and exercises will have you ready to ride!
Are you a skier or snowboarder missing the rush of wind whistling past your ears now that the snow’s all gone? It’s all yours: the white-knuckle rush downhill, the fresh mountain air, and the challenge of staying upright to the bottom. Mountain biking offers a whole range of possibilities, adrenalin-rush included.
Mountain biking, as an umbrella term, can be divided into several main broad categories, including downhill, cross-country, and enduro.
Downhill mountain biking is comparable, in structure, to skiing: you take a chairlift to the top (often), pick a trail or “run” to go down to the bottom, rinse, and repeat.
Cross-country mountain biking may have the occasional hill, here and there, and may have obstacles to traverse, but for the most part, it navigates relatively flat terrain.
Finally, enduro biking is typified by uphill sections followed by downhill sections.
There are competitive opportunities for each of these categories, should your intentions lie within achievement in the athletic realm.
Mountain biking is an activity that can be enjoyed by everyone. Like most sports, there is an elite level of mountain bike athlete who barrels down a tree-laden slope at lightning speed. The will to make oneself into a human projectile/pinball, however, is completely optional. That said, there are a few exercises that will help you get more enjoyment out of your ride. Muscular and cardiovascular endurance are important, and balance and core stability will help keep you safe.
When humans experience something stressful or scary, our natural reaction is to tense up. This means that if a trail gets squirrelly, our tendency is to flex all of our muscles and apply a kung fu death grip to the handlebars. In reality, the opposite is best for optimal performance. A relaxed body better absorbs bumps and directional changes and will make you faster and more stable.
Look ahead! Direct your gaze to the path that you want to take rather than on the obstacles that you want to avoid. Along with giving our brain the ability to prepare for the movements that will be necessary for a clean run, you’ll also put your body into a preparatory position, rather than a reactionary mode.
Picture this: you’re ripping down a 60-degree incline and smoothly weaving between trees when you start to hear a rattling sound. The rattle turns into a squeak, which gets louder and louder. Now, what are you thinking about? The embankment-to-drop combo up ahead or whether or not your bike is going to fall to pieces before you even get there?
Do your nerves, focus, and enjoyment a favour: perform regular maintenance on your bike (or take it in to the pros for regular tune-ups) and do a pre-ride inventory each and every time.
Rookie mountain bikers tend to have two braking modes, off and locked. Additionally, newbies tend to start braking early, when they see an obstacle approaching. Late braking is best for performance because greater speed will often help you over and around obstacles while feeling their impact less. Get used to practising various levels of pressure for braking so you know what touch is required in certain situations.
Ride with people who are better than you. Nobody wants to feel inadequate, but riding with bikers who have more experience will achieve two things: 1) you glean tips, tricks, and experience that makes them (and you) a better rider; and 2) they will push you to try more difficult runs and to try things that you otherwise might not. Comfort is the bane of progress, and being pushed out of your comfort zone will force you to become a better rider, ultimately increasing your enjoyment of the sport!
Here are some exercises to help prepare your body for the demands of mountain biking. You’ll notice a focus on single-limb activation, core, and stability, to mimic your positioning on the bike. To create specificity to the biking sport, all of the exercises are multifaceted compound movements. Complete 3 sets and 12 repetitions of each exercise.