Mountain Biking Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Mountain biking stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with mountain biking injuries for good.
Mountain biking is an exhilarating and intensive workout for any bike enthusiast. This form of sport riding works the entire body every time you take on the challenging terrain involved. This sport will require you to have tremendous endurance and core strength in addition to a heightened sense of balance. Mountain bikers are a self-reliant bunch with a great sense of adventure, taking on off-road trails that would frighten even the most avid of hiking enthusiasts.
If you’re looking to improve your mountain biking or just seeking to prevent mountain biking injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
To the uninitiated, the sport of mountain biking may seem rather one-dimensional. However, this is far from the truth; mountain biking covers a diverse array of terrains and has more to it than one might imagine. There are several divisions within the sport itself, including cross country, trail riding, all mountain, downhill, freeride, urban riding, dirt jumping and trials.
Mountain biking as an activity can be done practically anywhere, from back yards to back roads. Advanced riders will regularly use an area where the terrain has been augmented in order to practice specialized mountain biking skills like aerial stunts off of specially constructed ramps. Trail enthusiasts will take on such varied terrain as forests, mountains, fields and deserts to achieve their maximum ride.
Because mountain biking is often done far afield from civilization, enthusiasts of this sport exhibit an amazing level of self-reliance and courage. They take safety very seriously and are skilled in orienteering while travelling through wilderness as well as repairing their bikes on the fly.
The history behind mountain biking has its roots in the Cyclo-Cross sport in Europe. The competitions began in regions including the Netherlands and Belgium and consisted of laps being run around varying levels of terrain. The races would start out on roads, transit to worn paths, transit again to rougher paths and then to just about any paths with rougher terrain.
Participants were required to ride an overall distance in laps, ranging from 2.5 km to 3.5 km or longer, on areas that had to be at least 3m wide to encourage the racers to pass one another. Early competitions were typically held on trails where the bikes could be ridden at least 90% of the time, with very little need to stop and carry the bike over obstacles. As the popularity grew, more skill challenges were necessary; in keeping with the trend, the sport gradually shifted to more uneven terrain and required the riders to navigate it without leaving the bike.
It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that bike manufacturers began developing mountain bikes using more lightweight materials; during the next few decades, mountain biking moved from being a little known competition into mainstream popularity.
Any sport that involves riding a bike will work muscle groups all over the body every time the tires hit the road. It is more intense and focused when riding a mountain bike however, especially when taking on irregular terrain and varying altitudes.
All types of bike riding can increase your cardiovascular strength but mountain biking also promotes the growth of stronger muscles.
- One of the main muscle groups that is constantly worked in mountain biking are the quadriceps. This is the group of muscles located on the front of the thighs. Every time the pedal is pumped and the knee extended, the quadriceps are getting worked.
- The glutes are the muscles that make up the buttocks. As with the quadriceps, every time the pedal is pumped, the glutes also receive a good workout.
- Opposite of the quadriceps, on the back of the thighs, are the hamstrings. The hamstrings get an intense workout when you stand up and pump the pedals during terrain ascents.
- The calves on the backs of the lower legs get worked when you are seated on the bike and pedalling. The more intense workout occurs when standing up on the pedals; the steeper the grade, the more intense the workout.
- The core muscles that make up the lower abdominals, the upper abdominals, the obliques and the lower back are always being worked while the legs are in motion. Taking on steep grades pushes the workout to the next level.
- The tibialis anterior muscle is found on the front of the shin. This muscle group gets a workout every time your foot flexes and extends during motion with the pedals.
Most Common Mountain Biking Injuries
Abrasions: Scrapes, cuts and bruises are inherent risks that come with the kind of terrain that mountain biking is performed in. Simple first aid measures such as cleaning the cuts or wounds and binding them with a clean bandage after applying antibacterial spray will usually suffice to keep any infection at bay.
Sprains: A sprain occurs when there is a partial or full tear of the ligament that is stretched beyond its inherent limit. R.I.C.E.R. (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevation and Referral) will help reduce swelling and any internal bleeding.
Side Stitch: Characterized by pain in the sides, a side stitch is typically caused when a rider who is struggling to ride uphill fails to breathe properly. Taking a few deep breaths can help alleviate the pain.
Low Back Pain: Typically felt by experienced bikers who are taking to the sport again after a long break as well as novice bikers who are just starting out. Stretching the back in addition to doing a few exercises for the lower back and abdominal muscles will help strengthen these muscles and prevent lower back pain.
Pain in Wrist and Hands: Pain in wrist and hands can be caused by a too-tight grip on the handlebar, jarring of the handlebar while navigating rough terrain or incorrect brake lever position. Adjusting the brake levers and loosening your grip will help prevent this. It is also a good idea to take your hands off the handlebar occasionally and shake them to help blood circulation.
Knee Injuries: While biking is generally low-impact and safe for the knees, knee injuries in mountain biking are not uncommon. Wearing light gear in addition to keeping the knees warm by wearing leggings or long pants and warming up before riding will help prevent knee injuries.
Broken Bones, Spinal Injuries & Concussion: Despite the fact that mountain bikers are usually fastidious about wearing proper protective riding gear, broken bones, spinal injuries and concussions are not unheard of. Falls from bikes against rocks and trees should be attended to immediately. In case of broken bones or spinal injury, the rider should be immobilized in accordance with standard first aid recommendations to prevent further damage to the bone or the spine. If there is a concussion and the injured person is unable to focus or seems to be even slightly incoherent, they should be taken for immediate treatment at a hospital.
Injury Prevention Strategies
While accidents and injuries are to be expected in mountain biking, there are a few effective injury preventive strategies that will help you cycle your way safely through the roughest terrain.
- Always Wear a Cycle Helmet: While it may not keep your head fully protected against all injuries, a cycle helmet offers substantial protection and will minimize any head injury you may suffer.
- Wear Adequate Protective Gear: Eye glasses made from polycarbonate material offers invaluable protection against dust, wind, sand, insects and stray branches. Elbow and knee pads help prevent traumatic injuries in the event of a fall. Cycling gloves significantly reduce superficial hand injuries in addition to providing insulation in cold weather.
- Protect your Wrists, Hands and Knees: Warming up before a long trail is integral to minimizing wrist, hand and knee injury. Additionally, ensure that your saddle is set correctly and that your suspension forks are well maintained and serviced before you head off. Wearing good biking gloves and long cycling trousers in winter will help keep the knees and wrists warm.
- Stay Hydrated: Stay well hydrated by drinking water every 20-30 minutes even if you do not feel thirsty. Dehydration leads to fatigue, nausea, and disorientation, all factors that can result in falls and spills.
- Warm up: It is also crucial to have a regular warm up routine that prepares the body for the physically challenging demands of the activity. Warming up will gradually increase blood flow to the muscles in preparation for more intense activity. Failure to incorporate a warm up routine can not only create severe post activity muscle soreness, it can also lead to more serious and painful injuries that require lengthy recovery periods or even surgery to repair.
- Strength & Conditioning: Strength training leads to reduced potential for injury as it increases the strength of the muscles as well as that of the supporting joints and tendons. Agility training is particularly helpful to a mountain biker as it works to improve the ability of the body to quickly adapt to a change in direction, motion and velocity.
- Stretching: Stiff joints and muscles will ultimately lead to injured joints and muscles so improving the flexibility of the body will also work to decrease the likelihood of injury. Stretching is a key ingredient to any warm up routine and plays an important role in improving flexibility as it increases the range of motion in joints and the elasticity of muscles.
- Maintain your Bike: The importance of maintaining your bike cannot be emphasized enough. A mountain bike needs to be in impeccable condition if it is to carry you safely along often treacherous trails. Make it a rule to always carry a spare tire and a few basic tools and above all, learn to carry out some of the basic repairs.
- Ride in a group: While mountain biking, it is important that you ride in a group, if possible, for reasons of general safety and so that assistance is readily and instantly available if you do get injured. Last but not least, remember to check the weather reports before you set off.
The Top 3 Mountain Biking Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for mountain biking; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions beside each stretch.
Rotating Wrist Stretch: Place one arm straight out in front and parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards and then use your other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.
Standing Reach-up Quad Stretch: Stand upright and take one small step forwards. Reach up with both hands, push your hips forwards, lean back and then lean away from your back leg.
Single Heel-drop Achilles Stretch: Stand on a raised object or step and place the ball of one foot on the edge of the step. Bend your knee slightly and let your heel drop towards the ground.
Get more Stretching Exercises here...
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.