The Unhealthy Side of Mountain Biking

As you probably know, I love mountain biking but mountain biking isn’t all good, it 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 and you need to take care of its ill effects.

This is multiplied if you spend the bulk of your now riding time sitting down! Sitting with poor posture can really exacerbate and even cause major back trouble.

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 mountain bikers 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. A structured weight training program with mobility exercises and self-massage/myofascial release (foam and lacrosse ball rolling) is also a great compliment to my mountain biking. Weight training and yoga are also great mental breaks from mountain biking (which due to the concentration needed to ride single track is very mentally stressful).

Why strength training for mountain biking?

  • Mountain biking requires a stable core and a strong lower back, yet riding really doesn’t build a stable core and a strong lower back. It takes work to build a stable core and a strong lower back and achieving both will give you more power on your bike, as well as more control and greatly decrease your chance of injury!
  • Mountain biking is asymmetrical exercise when standing and coasting all riders have a foot that they prefer to put forward and a preferred trailing foot. This works each leg’s muscles quite differently and twists your hips. A good exercise like Bulgarian Split Squats which works each leg separately can help rebalance and realign you!
  • Consult a qualified trainer to help with finding the correct exercises and executing them correctly, incorrect form while lifting weights can cause more harm than good.

Why self-massage/myofascial release (foam and lacrosse ball rolling) for mountain bikers?

  • Mountain biking can really tighten us up! Short tight hamstrings, tight IT bands, tight hips, tight chest, neck, and back are all symptoms of mountain biking, no matter how fit you are. Foam and lacrosse ball rolling are great forms of self-massage and can really loosen you up! I would have had to of stopped riding years ago if I had not discovered the benefits of rolling.
  • Once you buy the roller and the lacrosse ball it is free! It just takes time and some uncomfortable work but it pays off my opening you up for peak performance (or, often in my case, simply allows me to ride!).
  • Not familiar with self-massage/myofascial release foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball, do a quick google search, there are probably 100 books on the subject as well as hundreds of youtube videos and free articles on the how and why of it. Or talk with your trainer, physical therapist or yoga instructor.

Why yoga for mountain bikers?

  • Yoga helps your posture, your breathing, your mobility, your focus and helps calm you.
  • Yoga really helps with your body awareness, proprioception, and balance which many of my students struggle with as did I as pro snowboarder and in my early days as a professional mountain biker.
  • As a mountain biker, who also lifts weights I get plenty of “yang” my favorite form of yoga is called “yin” yoga and it really opens up your body my holding poses for one to five minutes at a time.
  • Yoga done poorly can really mess you up, especially if you like to “push” things. Take classes from qualified instructors and make sure you aren’t “cheating”. The goal isn’t to force yourself into a position, the goal is to gently open up your body.

I find the more yoga I do the better I ride (because I breathe better, have better focus and have greater 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 and self-massage. With warm weather on the way and great trails beckoning you to ride, 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 on the trail in the long run.

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

Yoga, self-massage/myofascial release, and weight training are my 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? Please comment below.

As always, feel free to share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it.

If you are as obsessed with mountain biking as I am please read/re-read this article:

Mountain Bike Climbing Video Tips (Back Pain Saver and Power Producer)

When I purchased my first two mountain bikes the guys at the shop told me to tilt my seat slightly toward the rear so I “would slide back to the more comfortable part of the saddle and take weight off my hands”. Turns out, they were right, if you only ride retaliative flat terrain! If you have long, steep climbs that setup can lead to back pain and greatly restrict your power output, by tilting your hips backward making it nearly impossible to hinge forward. This causes you to use lower back instead of your strong gluteus maximus and hips to power your climb.

Modern mountain bike design has greatly evolved over the last few years, finally getting longer reach measurements so we can be stable and use a nice short stem and the headangles have gotten slacker making descending much less scary! Two things I have been preaching for years here (see this article on the most confidence inspiring mountain bike: http://betterride.net/blog/2016/confidence-inspiring-mountain-bike-fun/  ). Most companies are still missing the final ingredient which is a steeper seat tube angle so we aren’t sitting over the rear wheel! My bike has 74 degree seat tube angle, while forward thinking companies like the Canfield Brothers Toir has 77 degree seat tube angle, putting your more over the bottom bracket than the rear tire. This makes climbing much easier! (by keeping your weight more centered so low don’t have to hinge way forward when climbing to keep the front wheel from lifting and so it doesn’t feel like you are pedaling forward like on a recumbent!)

Have you tried tilting your seat slightly forward and down? Slid your seat forward on the rails?  I would love to hear about your experiences or any questions you have! Please feel free to share this article with anyone you think would benefit from it.

Never Bonk and Eat all the Bacon You Want

I was wrong! For the last 25 years I thought I needed a large volume of carbohydrates in my diet to do any form of endurance exercise. Even my 80 year old grandfather laughed about how when he played football for The University of Virginia in the 1920’s “they didn’t know about carbohydrate loading and ate steak the night before a game”. Turns out my grandfather had the right plan (as long as there was a lot of fat on that steak and no potato with it).

I know it sounds crazy but you can eat as much fat as you want (because you can’t eat a lot of fat, it fills you up!) and teach your body to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates! As long as you restrict your carb intake (usually less than 50 grams of carbs, a 12oz Coke has 42 grams!) you will also lose weight on this diet (or, if you already have a lean build, maintain you weight). The best thing, you can’t bonk! Even a lean professional endurance athlete has 100,000+ kcals of fat (energy to burn) vs. 2,000 kcals of carbohydrates*. *http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-bodyrsquos-fuel-sources This way of eating is know as Low Carb High Fat (LCHF), The Keto Diet or in South Africa “Banting”.

Everyone who knows me can’t believe how much I eat! My nickname in college was tapeworm! When I raced cross country I ate over 6,000 calories a day (10,000 on big days), I ate more pasta than you have ever seen, then finished it with a half gallon of ice cream! Yet I weighed 167 pounds (at 6’3″) I now weigh 190 and people still think of me as being slim (must have been really skinny in my xc racing days!)! I had to eat a bar every 30-45 minutes on a ride! My breakfasts were legendary, 3 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon, a quarter of a cantaloupe with a big handful of almonds, 6-8 oz of yogurt with a cup or two of granola (and I would be starving by noon).

On the above diet, after eating that big breakfast, if I did a three hour ride from 9:00 until noon I would eat at least two Kate’s Real Food Bars (360 calories each) and one Clif Builders Bar (270 calories) and finish the ride at Milt’s with a burger, fries and LARGE milkshake.

I was the friend that annoyed friends on long rides! “Let’s keep going, my metabolism is kicking!” I would say after the shortest of breaks. Then I was the one begging friends for food, “I didn’t think this ride was going to take so long, anyone have a bar or some trail mix?”

Now I eat a breakfast consisting of three eggs (cooked in butter and bacon fat!), 4 pieces of bacon and half an avocado. Then I ride from 9am until noon and I just drink water on the ride (have now learned to drink an electrolyte drink)! When finished I have a smoothie and hamburger with a flax seed bun (made without wheat), avocado, tomato and I’m stuffed!

I tried the Atkins’s diet 18 years ago and leaned out until I had a six-pack for the first time in my life but I couldn’t ride more than 30 minutes without running out of energy! The missing ingredient was fat!

Now, this LCHF diet isn’t easy to do at first, there are hidden carbs in almost all prepackaged foods. You have to cook/make most of what you eat. Also, the first week of switching to this diet many people get the keto flu (you feel nauseous and lack energy for a few days to a week), to fight this you need to increase your intake of salt, magnesium and potassium.

It’s also not all bacon, all the time! You still need a lot of fiber, so eat your veggies!

I’m no expert on diet though so I am just speaking from my experience, the experience of a few friends, asking every doctor I meet and from what I have read. If you would like more information I have included quite a few links below (or simply search LCHF Diet and you will be astounded at the amount of information)! Research has proven this diet to be safe, sugar (carbs) are what cause people to become fat and other issues, not dietary fat! When the world went “low fat” obesity and diabetes skyrocketed!

Have you tired to eat this way? Are you currently eating this way? I would love to hear about your experiences or any questions you have! Please feel free to share this article with anyone you think would benefit from it.

Addition information:

This great video from Peter Attia explains Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) for athletes really well: https://vimeo.com/51891286

www.dietdoctor.com has great films, Ceral Killer, That Sugar Film, Film: My Big Fat Diet, about Canadian First Nations Obesity, and written content. They will ask you to join but you can do it for free.

https://www.ketovangelist.com/, full of great articles and 135 podcasts and

MTB Safer, Stronger Every Ride Starting Now

MTB Safer, Stronger Every Ride (second article in a series on how mountain bike safer, first article here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-1nc )

This year I hit the ground really hard three times and surprised myself by walking away from all three crashes (at 51)! I am also putting way more power to the pedals! At the end of last summer I thought my riding days were coming to an end, the back pain that had been bugging for the last 15-17 years was getting worse and had tendinitis so bad I couldn’t ride for almost a month. Then in January I was simply getting out of my wetsuit and my back went out! I was pretty depressed.

I knew something had to be done and I had no idea the fix I found would make me feel 15 years younger, give me more energy bringing back my zest for life, the power to climb faster in much harder gears and protect me when I take the occasional slam! The photo above is from 51st birthday ride where I flatted at about 35 miles an hour and my wrapped around my seat stays tossing me on to a rock slab! All riders on that ride were amazed I was okay minus a skinned elbow. It was a long walk out but I was so happy to be walking and not being airlifted out!

What has made this transformation in my spirits, energy level and durability? Strengthening and stabilizing my “core” (what an over used and misunderstood word!). Your core is more than your “abs” and low back! Your core is like a girdle of muscles in your mid section, some of the most important actual stabilize your spine giving you a strong foundation for almost all body movements. I wrote about my final bike pain fix (that took me from a constant pain level of 3-4 and riding pain that quickly would go from 3-9 to a zero with the occasional 1-3 while riding) here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-1jw

The quickest and longest lasting physical improvement you can make for your riding is strengthening and stabilizing your core. In a week you will notice it in two weeks you will be blown away. By simply doing the exercises in the book “Foundation”, and other adding core exercises (I’m not a personal trainer and a highly recommend you have one teach you the correct exercises as doing them incorrectly can lead to injury) you will quickly see an improvement in your riding, less back pain, better posture and more energy! I add core exercises taught in yoga (plank and side plank), some taught by James Wilson (The all fours opposite arm & leg extension, and Kegel exercise (lying on back, knees bend with heels near buttocks and lifting mid section), leg lifts (performed vertically on “dip/leg lift apparatus”, or hanging), inverted crunches, and a bunch of Swiss ball ab exercises to the “Foundation” exercises.

I really hope you take action and strengthen that core! You will be highly rewarded on the trail!

Let us know about your core routine and how it has helped you. Feel free to share this article with anyone you think would benefit!