Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?

Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?

As you probably know, I love mountain biking but mountain biking can be bad for you. I am not talking about crashing (which is definitely bad for you) but simply riding mountain bikes. Mountain biking, like many sports can be PART of a very healthy lifestyle. I stress the word “part” because mountain biking should not be your only form of exercise.

The idea for this article came when I saw two very fit looking road cyclists get off their bike and then hobble to the door. They could barely walk! They were hunched over, stiff and very wobbly! Luckily, because we stand, absorb shock and are more dynamic than road cyclists (who often stay in the same hunched over position for hours) mountain biking isn’t as bad a road cycling but it still can lead to imbalances in our body. Few sports work all muscles, ligaments and tendons equally which is one of the reasons “cross training” is popular in most sports.

If you like to mountain bike as much as I do don’t forget to mix things up every week! The best thing I have discovered to help me stay fit, healthy and balanced is yoga. Yoga helps my posture, my breathing, my mobility and helps calm me. A structured weight training program with mobility exercises can also be a great compliment to mountain biking. Weight training and yoga are also great mental breaks from mountain biking (which do the concentration needed to ride single track is very mentally stressful).

I find the more yoga I do the better I ride (because I breathe better and have more effective strength and flexibility) and the more I enjoy and look forward to riding (my back doesn’t hurt, the day off from riding made me miss riding). The same goes for strength training. With warm weather here and great trails beckoning you to ride sometimes it is hard to take a break and do something else, but if you force yourself to be more balanced in how you exercise and recover you will have more fun in the long run.

In short, balance your riding with other athletic pursuits to be healthier, happier, faster and have more fun!

Yoga and weight training are my two favorite forms of exercise to balance with my riding, what others forms of exercise do you do to compliment your riding? What do you like about it and how does help you?

If you are as obsessed with mountain biking as I was for 15 years please read/re-read this article:

http://betterride.net/blog/2011/stop-riding-your-bike-so-much-mountain-road-bmx-dirt-jump/

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66 replies
  1. Thomas Field says:

    Sometimes you really say the stupidest things. Being a former martial artist, a former snowmobile racer, a former Marine, a former runner (former due to removal of cartilage/bone and ligaments in left knee) you tell me I should take up YOGA to help me concentrate?

    I ride a long road cycle ride every weekend and hit the trails on mtn bike any weekday night I can, throw a medicine ball up and down each morning with 30 pushups morning and evening and have a dumbbell workout a couple times a week.

    I crash my mtn bike once in a while because I press the speed button because that’s FUN and Challenging. I’m 50 years old and will do without YOGA my friend. Come to FL and ride the slippery roots, fast single track, a zillion trees, armadillo laden trails with wild boar running every which way! Concentration is a way of life on the bikes period. On the road cycle….1 foot minimum…3 foot maximum distance…point out EVERYTHING at 21 mph average in rolling roads of north central FL…and no puking you YOGA dancer.

    Is Mountain Biking Wrecking My Health? LMAO. No but YOGA would.

    Reply
  2. Nick says:

    I started doing Pilates about 8 months ago and have gained a ton of core strength and flexibility which has enhanced my mountain biking tremendously

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Nick,

      Cool, I have heard good things about Pilates but haven’t had the time to try it out for myself.

      Create a fun ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  3. Thomas Field says:

    I forgot to mention that I’m a former mountaineer from the northeast. And ADK 46R many times over and of all the articles I have read of yours over the past two years I have gotten so little advice that’s keeper material that I want to you to hear it from a real athlete.

    Please.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for the comments. Thanks also for your service to the United States, I appreciate it. Sorry to provide you with so little good advice. Feel free to let me know what kind of advice you are looking for.

      Create your best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  4. Kris says:

    Absolutely! I have been telling all my mtb buddies about the benefits of yoga for a while now. It’s amazing how much it’s helped my riding progress. I started yoga to help with my hockey (goaltending) a couple of years ago. I am 40 now and loving yoga for cross-training and all the other benefits that yoga has.

    Reply
  5. Bill Thompson says:

    Truer words were never spoken! My wife has been stressing the benefits of yoga, as she reaps them daily, and now that I’m back at the gym on a semi-regular basis, I’m feeling the weight training upside you refer to, while reinforcing the core strength that riding has helped to build. balance – it’s more than just equilibrium…
    Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Tom says:

    My thought on this is that cycling, as with running, makes for ugly bodies. I have lots of marathon runners for friends and they are, for all intents and purposes, in bad shape. Sure, they can run a marathon fast, but they are skinny anorexia twigs that I could snap in half with my fingers. They can hardly lift a box of paper without complaining of back pain.

    Cycling isn’t as bad as that. At least mountain biking encourages different muscle groups and flexing tendons. But, good fast riders are still tiny scrawny little hobbits.

    To each their own but my suggestion would be, for an overall strong physic, to incorporate regular weight training with your running or cycling. Actually, for those who ride up north, it’s a great way to spend your winter off season…bulk up!!

    Ride hard, ride safe.

    Tom

    Reply
  7. Tom says:

    Oh, might I ad that I rocked Beach Body a few years back and made Beach Body of the month 2 months in a row. Tony Horton’s power Yoga combined with weight training got me in the best shape of my life. Hulking with muscles and ripped to the bone. Yoga and weight training are both fun, especially on rainy days.

    Ride hard, ride safe.

    Tom

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Nice Tom! Funny, at 6’3″ I tried to beak the 200 pound barrier but couldn’t! I got up to 199 and ate everything I could (milkshakes, protein shakes, big steaks, etc.) but couldn’t get that big!

      You ride hard and safe too!

      Gene

      Reply
  8. Paul Stephens says:

    I have always been a firm believer in cross training. I mountain bike, road ride, run, and have been a committed martial artist for 5 years. A little bit of everything keeps you strong in all areas. Not just say bike fit! Body weight exercises are the way forward to keep you balanced! Just hit 40 :( but as we all know it’s just a number, I feel just as fit now as 20years ago if not a better all round fitness unlike the. I was only running fit! Just my penny’s worth for what it’s worth!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Awesome Paul! I just hit 46 and still feel darn good on my bike. I coached a 78 yea old 3 time world masters champion this winter and he was killing it! No need to slow down, just stay in shape and keep having fun!

      Thanks,

      Gene

      Reply
  9. Julie says:

    Hmm. Real men are not afraid to try Yoga, LOL.

    Anyway, I have had a long Bikram Yoga practice and naysayers obviously have never done it. It helps with balance, breathing, core strength and focus – key items needed and often neglected by tough guy syndrome. Yoga is great for mountain biking and great for snowboarding. A 90 minute Bikram Yoga class can be more challenging sometimes than a technical downhill run. It definitely kicks my butt a heck of a lot more than mountain biking does and I definitely see an improvement out on the trail.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Thanks Julie, great comment! In a couple of sentences you pretty much summed up why I like Yoga.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  10. Tom says:

    @ Thomas Field – No need to be hostile. I do agree with you on South Florida trails. I’m down here in Fort Lauderdale and I ride all over the country and found that SF has some of the hardest trails.

    Ever ride Santos or Alafia? We are headed to Alafia this weekend. Alafia is listed at #7 of the 10 best trails in the world, according to Singletracks.

    Ride hard, ride safe.

    Tom

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Tom,

      That is a good trail. UPS (upper Porcupine singletrack), LPS (lower Porcupine singletack) and the Porcupine singletrack are awesome, the rocky, sandy road section in between is not so good. I am probably a bit jaded as it was my favorite trail in Moab for about 15 years and have at least 100 runs down it. I have seen been shown what I feel are better trails in Moab. That list is more a popularity contest than a true rating (which would be next to impossible to do as some trails I love many rides would hate, good trails are quite subjective).

      Have fun,

      Gene

      Reply
  11. Julie says:

    I just wanted to add that yoga seems to complement the riding of professional trials rider Ryan Leech just fine. He is a Yoga instructor in fact. I went to his class before my race at the Sea Otter in Monterey a couple years ago. It was a very popular class – very well-attended. If mountain biking tears the body up, Yoga puts it back together.
    Cheers!

    Reply
  12. brant sanders says:

    i have been doing “hot yoga” bikram yoga for 18 months and my riding has improved VASTLY. I really enjoy your advice and I am a better rider bc of it.

    Reply
  13. Dr Jesus Bernal says:

    A good chiropractor is of MUCH HELP to keep you in good shape and lessen the injuries from mountain biking

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Dr. Jesus,

      Wow, I can’t believe I left chiropractors out! A have two great ones, one in Denver one in Frisco, CO. The one in Frisco saved a season for me! I thought I was out for a least three months with a neck injury and he had me riding in two days! Good call.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  14. Connie says:

    Absolutely agree. Yoga has helped my body and mind so much – mountain biking is only one aspect that has improved because of it. It’s amazing what breath work does for you too – I occasionally take pranayama classes (just breath work) and it’s amazing how much it helps with cardiovascular activity like biking.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Connie, you are so right about the breath work! Pranayana breathing does more for asthma than the medications I take. It is amazing how many people don’t breathe correctly (including me!).

      Reply
  15. Chris says:

    Gene,

    Always great to hear your thoughts & advice. This might have been already mentioned here, but to me, another reason to mix things up is because I find if you were to make a scale from 1-10, with 1 being muscular endurance and 10 being aerobic, MTB usually falls somewhere around the middle for me and the rides around my place.

    That’s why I do at least 2-3 trail runs a week. Years ago I did anaerobic interval training to raise my threshold, but man it’s hard to find time for that level of training these days. But the running/MTB mix has always worked well. Yoga is on my list, I try to stretch but it’s never enough, and I definitely notice faster times (especially on the running side) when I’m more flexible. Hope to see you at a camp soon.

    -Chris

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Thanks Chris! Funny, I can’t run to save my life and don’t enjoy it all, but I have heard from many a strong mtn bike racer that running is a great workout, especially when pressed for time. I hope to see you in that camp soon!

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  16. Dan says:

    So there is a guy named Thomas who loves himself so completely, he would be just fine on his own. Maybe he should just go do that. lol

    I don’t love yoga, but see the benefit of it and know others who rave over it. To each his own and thanks for the reminder to balance things out!

    Reply
  17. Drew says:

    Thank you also for your service, Thomas. But really?! Real athlete?! Was that actually a request for more quality advice or just a rant on your athletic prowess as you live it in your own mind & world. Everybody does it it differently man. With all due respect, get over yourself. This from your garden variety ‘regular’ athlete: 2X Ironman finisher, 5X 70.3 finisher, XTerra Tri & trail running competitor, frequent 14er climber, etc, etc, etc. Just living & enjoying life….

    Reply
  18. Aaron Raines says:

    Thomas, I think you’re proving Gene’s point.

    “In short, balance your riding with other athletic pursuits to be healthier, happier, faster and have more fun!”

    Your mountaineering, running, Marine(ing?), and snowmobiling are the “other athletic pursuits” that Gene is mentioning. Yoga works for GENE. It might not for you, and that’s probably fine.

    Reply
  19. Ryan says:

    Crossfit my friend, it’ll change your life. I do appreciate your article, it’s very true to stay well-rounded. I’m not a yoga practitioner, but my friend who is a chiropractor and AMIT practitioner (That’ll change your life too) prescribes it for his collegiate AND professional athletes to balance out their training. That is good enough for me to think it’s worth trying.

    Keep up the good work!

    Ryan

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Ryan I have a heard a lot of great things about Crossfit and a few bad things (a couple of our students have had minor injuries that they attributed to a lack of focus on proper technique in Crossfit classes). When I am settled back in Tempe this winter I intend to take some Crossfit classes and form my own opinion.

      Reply
  20. James Wilson says:

    Gene brings up a great point with this post. I am a strong believer in not riding for fitness but being fit and applying that to riding. Yoga can be a valuable part of the overall picture. I do a Hatha yoga class a few times a month and find it very helpful for keeping my mobility up, especially the more I ride.

    I think the problem is that yoga, like strength training, has been completely misapplied by a lot of people and that most yoga classes probably are not so good. Trying to turn yoga into an exercise class misses the point of it and if someone has only experienced that kind of yoga it can be easy to dismiss it.

    Like everything else it comes down to some personal responsibility and doing some research into what you are getting into. Power yoga at the local gym might be a joke but some good Hatha or Bikram yoga from someone who knows what they are doing is good stuff.

    Great post Gene, thanks for bringing this subject up, it is one the mountain biking community needs to start thinking about more.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Thanks James! I have learned a lot about my body and how to make it perform better from you.

      You nailed something I forgot to mention in my article, if you choose to try Yoga, find a good, reputable yoga studio with well trained yogis who will help you use proper form. Like all pursuits yoga is all about mastery of the basics.

      Reply
  21. Philip Madeley says:

    I love doing Yoga in balance to my Mountain Bike training.

    Have been doing a bunch of yoga balance exercises to help with my balance on the trail.

    Biking can put a lot of tension in the legs so a good long waterfall stretch really opens up the hamstrings, hips and calf muscles as well as releasing the back muscles.

    Thank you
    Philip

    Reply
  22. Dep says:

    Great advice. I am a firm believer in cross training and believe in doing what ever fits your style. I have always used weightlifting as one of my “cross training” exercises. I am former military, 14yr rugby player, many years of martial arts and now an addicted mountain biker (geared and single speed). I attribute my health and strength in all my sports to an exercise regimen that always included weight training. I am currently 44 yrs old, 6’ and weigh about 200lbs. I put a hurting on the youngsters I bike with and race against. I get asked plenty of times how I am able to climb and endure during the races. I always comment that there is a need for upper body strength to balance out the legs. Some have heeded my advice and have noticed a change in riding for the better. I am not an expert rider by any stretch of the imagination, but I can hold my own. I bike mainly in Western Pa where there are plenty of single track courses with great climbs and decent technical riding. Cross training is the way to go, I highly recommend including weightlifting into the routine. All the best to the mountain biking community, Ride hard!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Cool Dep! Love to hear stories of others in their 40s putting the hurt on younger riders. Keep up the good work!

      Reply
  23. Mike says:

    Hi Gene,

    Point well taken on the cross training. I am surprised no one has mentioned swimming. I have found that to be a nice counterpoint to riding. Has anyone else used swimming to cross train?

    Mike

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Mike, I do know some retired pro xc racers that used swimming for cross training. Hopefully some other riders will chime in on the subject.

      Reply
  24. Max says:

    I think Yoga is great, but I have found Foundation Training (http://foundationtraining.com/home/) to be a much more effective path to improving my riding and my body.
    It is bar none the best “upgrade” I have given myself. You can do it anywhere, and it is super easy to squeeze into a busy schedule. It follows a progression, which was always my problem with a lot of Yoga classes. Foundation Training is no joke, it transformed the wreck that used to be my body into something pretty functional.

    Reply
  25. Retha says:

    I am a runner and have learned that as soon as I stick to mountain biking ALONE my back problems kick in! I have to run about twice a week (I do 5km at a time). Last year I stopped running and my back became really weak! A few years ago I had to quit mountain biking altogether because of some severe back problems. I started doing pilates only for about a year. Now I can do the running and mountain biking every other day with no problems whatsoever, but I have to do some pilates exercises every night – I picked 4 exercises that I stick to. It keeps my core muscles strong enough and my back doesn’t get “out of line” again. I also find that I breath during intensive mountain biking the same way that I do during pilates exercises, which helps. My upper-back tends to spasm a lot due to mountain biking, and switching to running every 2nd day brings relief. I definately believe in cross training.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Retha,

      Sorry to hear about the back pain! I went through that for years and finally realized it was my body position that was causing it. Mountain biking with correct seated and standing body position should not cause back pain. Unfortunately proper body position isn’t instinctual and it requires a stable core and a lot of mobility that mtn biking alone (as you stated) doesn’t work on. Focus on “hinging forward from the hips, not bending forward from your belly button (which I used to do and many of my students are doing when they come to our camps) and keep your weight on the pedals when standing, many riders (again including me for the first 12 years of mountain biking) tend to rest their weight on their handlebars when standing and descending mellow descents, this really stress your upper back.

      Reply
  26. Christina says:

    Gosh, that first reply to the blog is harsh. People confuse me sometimes. If you don’t find any good advice on a site, why keep going there and then put someone down on it. Yikes.

    That said, I love Yoga. I mostly do Bikram, which is great for breathing, and especially prepares you well for riding in the heat! Lots of times before a downhill run I just remind myself to breathe and focus like in yoga class and it helps me stay loose and focused. I will have to try a Pranayama class, I didn’t know they existed! That sounds like something that could be very helpful.

    I also like to do the occasional run, maybe 1-2 times a week. It is a great quick cardio workout, especially on rainy days or days you are short on time. Interval runs are awesome too! 20 minutes of intervals will really boost your cardio when done regularly.

    I have found weight lifting to be extremely beneficial to my MTBing as well, especially as a women. Riding downhill requires some good upper body strength and stamina that doesn’t come from just riding your bike. And doing squats and deadlifts has really helped strengthen and loosen up my hips (which are kind of bad) and greatly improved my riding! I find myself riding faster because I am able to hold my center of gravity better over my bike.

    Thanks for your blog, I am going to share!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Christina,

      Thanks! Good points on the upper body strength required for riding downhill and loosing up you hips, hip mobility is a big limiter for many cyclists!

      Reply
  27. John Marshall says:

    Hi Gene,
    Good all round body strength including core and remembering to stretch properly is what I have picked up in the last year. So can’t agree more, yoga ticks those boxes as an example.

    Personally I have found that the better my core strength becomes the more power I have all-round for a number of other activities and sports including MTB. Staying supple enables my body to recover faster and reduces risk of injury.

    My fitness was terrible beginning of 2011. However in 1 year I am please to say that I quit smoking and managed to loss 3 stone (42ibs or 19 Kilos) from working out in the gym and controlling my diet (no crash diet just sensible eating). I’m no expert. I got advice from gym instructors / personal trainers and worked hard (for me). This included 3 interval training session (which incorporated weight training) plus 2 sessions of spin, 1 yoga style class (with cardio mixed in) and 1 circuit training class each week.

    I’m please to say I have not looked back and now enjoy my renewed, reengaged enthusiasm into mountain biking. My skills are lacking but coming on steady after so many years of not cycling. For me personally I have found the advice on this site very useful,

    So in short. Thank you Gene for your continued advice.

    Best regards,
    John

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi John,

      Great comments and glad to hear you turned your fitness around in such a short amount of time! Keep up the good work and have fun on your bike.

      Reply
  28. Cameron says:

    Thanks for the article. I’ll give yoga a try. I need some other exercise to balance the MTB riding. Without it, I developed some serious knee pain diagnosed as patellofemoral pain syndrome. Basically a knee cap tracking issue due to an imbalance in muscle strength/usage. Any particular brand of Yoga work better? Any that are good to do @ home?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Cameron, sorry to hear about you knee pain. Form is very important so go to a real yoga studio (yelp has good reviews in most cities) with well trained, caring yogis. I stated yoga doing what I call “Gym Yoga” (yoga at gym more know for weight training) which is usually not as hands on about technique and I ended up screwing up my back (short term, just a pulled muscle) because of my poor form. In a real yoga studio good instructors will make sure your form is correct and help you make it a safe practice. There are many types of Yoga, including Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, power and hot yoga are the most popular. My favorites are Hatha and Iyengar as they focus on proper basics but I have students who are fans of each of them for different reasons. Here is a good link to give you more info: http://yoga.about.com/od/typesofyoga/a/yogatypes.htm

      Reply
  29. JJ Young says:

    Reply too the 1st guy that is 50yrs old. Do not mok Yogo DMAs!
    Its great for your core! Core is balance. It showed me how to strech the right way. I also wakeboard great for the whole body strength. I weight train, trail run . Swim. 50yr old man do not mok it till you try it. You say you ride slippery roots. Well out here in CO I do also. Along with slippery Rockie Mnts.
    The YOGA you are moking is the very thing that will make you feel 40 , DMAs!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      JJ, haven’t wakeboarded in years, what fun and as you said great workout! Well put, core stability is super important in all sports!

      Reply
  30. Patrick says:

    51yrs old now. In the best shape of my life. I mountain bike and hit the gym, it’s a great combo for me!

    Reply
  31. dave says:

    I love mt biking. Never did Yoga, but I’m at the gym to do resistance and cardio. That, and look at the cute girls. I think the article was good in reminding people to cross train. Even the jerk-off might have a point that doing the medicine ball exercise is a good thing to compliment mt. biking.

    Reply
  32. Scott says:

    Thanks for the article. I have found that I have to do SOMETHING to improve my fitness just to be able to enjoy my mtb. I have gone back to riding regularly this year and learned that being drastically out of shape causes me to be frustrated and angry at myself with my lack of skills. At the end of each ride I just curse myself that I can’t do a better job. My legs aren’t good enough to make the climbs and my cardio isn’t good enough to carry me through the whole ride. I’ve been looking for something to add and I may just give Yoga a shot for the strength. I need cardio too, but I hate running, as it bores the stink out of me. Im always inspired one way or another by these posts.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      You’re welcome Scott, hopefully you saw some of answers about finding a Good yoga studio, not just gym yoga.

      Reply
  33. Nick says:

    Good advice, once again. I like to mix up trail riding with kayaking. And surfing if the waves are good…

    Reply
  34. OldLadyBiker says:

    TO THOMAS FIELD: These articles and comments are supposed to be for sharing knowledge and ideas and inspiring one another to be better athletes, not for crapping all over the ideas you don’t like. Your haughty arrogance really spoiled my enjoyment of these other positive, constructive comments. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but your comments are rude, conceited, and biased. If you are, as you claim to be, a “real athlete,” then why do you close your mind to exploring another athletic outlet such as yoga? Have you ever tried yoga? If so and you dislike it, constructive worthwhile comments might include politely describing why you dislike it. If you’ve never tried it, your inexperienced, ignorant opinion is worthless. Lastly, if you get nothing from these free mountain bike articles, then why have you continued reading them?

    Reply
  35. Greg says:

    Gene, I’ve been wanting to try yoga for sometime now. I ride trails almost every morning for a minimum of 60 minutes. I also do a push-up/crunch that amounts to 300 push-ups and 600 crunches every other day. I practice a technique I learned as “tactical breathing”. It’s basically inhaling through the nose for two seconds, hold that breath for two seconds, and exhaling through the mouth for two seconds. It does slow your heart rate down post ride and evens out you breathing. It’s just when I’m pumping out hills I’m concentrating on other things and don’t always remember to “tactical breathe”. I think yoga would help in this area along with it’s other benefits. Mountain biking is the only sport I’ve done that I truly love and anything that makes me better at it, I intend to try. I’m going to find a local yoga instructor tomorrow. I am also going to try and attend your camp in Chattanooga, TN in August if I can. Keep up the good work and keep the good advice coming!! @TOM – The first refuge of a weak mind is the criticism of others…..

    Reply
  36. john boy says:

    Every repetitive exercise causes imbalances, cycling, running, golfing, tennis.

    Biking causes weak hamstrings because they are rarely engaged and the quads do all the work. Sports experts have methods to compare the strength of the quad to the hamstring and if it is out of balance it causes knee problems.

    It also causes weak lower backs.

    Mountain biking is better than road biking due to the amount you move around on the bike.

    But if you don’t strengthen your hamstrings and lower back, you will have problems.

    Yoga generally strengthens your lower back and core and aids flexibility. I don’t believe it hits the hamstrings much.

    Reply
  37. Mike says:

    Mountain biking, lifting and running are all work. Can be fun but are work. Yoga on the other hand is exercise. No different than brushing your teeth. You should do yoga everyday to take care of your muscles and ligaments.

    Reply

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