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:

MTB Body Position

Mountain Bike Body Position, The Fundamental Movement Video Tutorial

Mountain Bike Body Position, The Fundamental Movement

Body position is your riding foundation, and it requires a fair amount of effort and a strong and stable “core” (your core is more than just abdominal muscles, it also includes your lower back muscles, oblique muscles, and hip flexors). Every physical part of riding starts from proper body position and it protects your body.

That brings us to the proper Hip Hinge, something I didn’t learn about until 1999 (5 years into my pro career and 10 years after purchasing my first mtb!). Whether standing and descending or sitting and climbing I have always had a habit of bending at the belly button and rounding my back. Probably the only time I didn’t round my back was when standing and climbing.

Bending at the belly button is a weak, not athletic position that causes us to ride poorly and leads to massive back pain. The Hinge is your power center, it helps you stay centered and neutral and it protects your back.

How to practice the hinge:

  • First practice off the bike, find your hip crease, push slightly back on the crease and lower your chest by hinging.
  • Shoulders back and down, belly button pulled toward your spine, back flat
  • Hold that position, feel it in your hamstrings (if you can’t hinge so your torso is parallel to the ground your hamstrings are really tight! Stretch and roll them out!), feel it in your lower back, it should feel comfortable but require effort.
  • Now, bend at your belly button and compare how that feels, probably weak and painful.
  • Notice that the further you hinge the further forward your chest and head go and the further back your hips go, this is crucial to staying centered! When you bend at the belly, not only does it strain your back and make you weak but it doesn’t automatically keep you centered either.
    mountain bike body position, video tutorial
  • Once you have practiced it and felt it off your bike, find a mellow hill, preferably off trail, on a paved section ideally (whenever you are on a trail you tend to lose focus on what you are practicing as you are now more concerned with staying on the trail!) and practice this both seated and climbing and standing and descending.
  • Focus on exaggerating all the pieces of this like I am in the video. Notice my elbows are even more forward than they need to be and my chest while climbing is much lower than it needs to be for the grade I’m climbing. Exaggeration is a great learning tool, you will usually end up halfway between your old way and the new way, so if you don’t exaggerate you will end halfway on the trail.
  • Once you feel like you have created a “circuit” for your body to follow, take this to a mellow trail and practice. Check out this post on how we learn physical skills:
  • Then take it to increasingly steep hills and notice it gets harder to do as you start becoming more concerned about the trail than what you are practicing.
  • You will find that without a lot of deliberate practice the second you relax and stop thinking about this you will bend from the belly! It takes work.

Go work on this crucial body position piece and have fun.

Please feel free to post any questions are comments and share this with anyone you think could benefit from it.


Mountain Bike Bump Jump, Video Tutorial

Mountain Bike Bump Jump, Video Tutorial

Today’s two-minute video tip (closer to three minutes actually) is on one of my favorite skills! The bump jump is an almost zero energy replacement for the bunny hop, as long as there is a bump available. I first learned this following World Champion Myles Rockwell in practice at the Mount Snow NORBA National in 1996. It has become a staple in my riding ever since.

First, watch the video and then read my more detailed tutorial below.


Another thing I learned from a great racer and teammate, Ryan Sutton was not to take the smooth line fast but to take the fast line smooth. This should be every mountain bikers motto as it pays off big! What this means is often the fastest line may be rougher but if you can do it smoothly it will be faster and more efficient. An example is going around the “root ball” of a tree. Often, a tree’s roots are spread out in a half circle six feet or more away from the tree. So if the trail goes right next to the tree you have to make a six foot detour to go around the roots. What if you floated over those roots in a straight line instead? That would be more efficient, faster and most of all more fun!

Roots aren’t the only thing that can be bump jumped, I’ve used on three-foot diameter logs on the old Purgatory Downhill track in Durango, over a series of roots and rocks in Angel Fire, NM, over tall roots in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia (the wetter the climate the more the roots are above ground) and I use it probably 5-10 times a day on the rough trails of Moab.

Here is a deeper breakdown of the bump jump.

  • Start with enough speed to clear the obstacle.
  • Approach the bump coasting, standing in a centered neutral position (weight pressing into the pedals, hinged at the hips, chest down in a “half pushup” position) while looking ahead (looking to your landing, not looking at your bump).
  • Gently load your front suspension by pushing down with your hands (straightening your arms a few inches)
  • Time it so you finish the “loading” just before impact with the bump (a root, rock, stump, anything 1-3 inches high that won’t move, the more square the better.

  • Let the impact bounce your wheel into the air and push your hands back up the amount you pushed down or more if you need more height

  • As hands are being pushed up, start to load your rear suspension by extending your legs a bit. This is a crucial step as you need to bounce the rear wheel over the bump also. Many riders when learning this instinctively do a “cheater bunny hop” as the front wheel is popping up. DON’T do that. If you yank the rear wheel up you are A. wasting energy but more importantly B. You are starting to fly when your rear wheel is a bike length from the first bump, you have greatly shortened the distance of your bump jump. Be patient and let that wheel hit the bump.
  • As the rear tire hits the bump, relax your legs and let the bump push your knees towards your chest. This will level out your flight. Also, keep your goal in mind, if it is distance, practice getting as little height as possible and practically skimming over the tops of the obstacles. If your goal is height pop a little harder by compressing a little deeper (this is a really subtle move though, compress too hard and you will just slow yourself down, getting the right compression takes a few attempts!)
  • Relax and fly! As you get better at bump jumping you can focus on getting “backside” when you are landing. Instead of plopping down hard out of the sky if you can set your rear tire down on the back edge of a root, log or rock you can use that like a landing ramp and get a little acceleration and a smoother landing. (Again, with practice, coming up short can end badly!) mountain bike Bump Jump 4

With a little practice, this will become one of your favorite skills. If you are more comfortable clipped in learn it that way but, once you are confident with the bump jump practice with flat pedals, they will give you a much better feel for the timing.

This should feel easy and like you are letting it happen. There is no pulling, yanking or much effort at all. It is all about the timing.

I hope you learned a lot from this tutorial, let me know about your bump jumps in the comments. If you know anyone who would benefit from this tutorial feel free to share it. Tune in next week for my next two-minute tip on the most important part of body position. It will get you riding stronger with more comfort!

MTB, Take Care of Your Biggest Limiter Today

MTB, Take Care of Your Biggest Limiter Today

All the skills coaching, drill doing, fitness coaching and workout smashing in the world will not allow us to reach our goals until we overcome this issue. Whether you are self-taught and relatively new to riding or a veteran with skills coaching experience and years on your mountain bike this might be holding you back.

The number one issue holding you back from reaching your potential is in your mind! I cringe when I hear my students say these limiting beliefs out loud: “I stink at climbing!”, “I suck at descending but I’m good at …”, “I’m just not a natural”, but often we are not even aware of these beliefs, they are in our subconscious. The interesting thing is that many times these limiting beliefs have no basis in reality.

When your subconscious says, “I am not good enough” that is a self-limiting belief.  Sometimes the beliefs actually start out positive, “I can do that well but I will never be as good as ….” but in the end, they set a limit to your achievement/performance.

They are often caused by failing at something (as you may or may not know I believe that, “failure is a natural and necessary part of the learning process” quote from Dan Millman).  For instance, a former limiting belief I had was that I could not do a trackstand.  One day a friend and I each tried to trackstand and I ended up falling over. For years after this when asked if I could trackstand I would reply, “no, I can not trackstand” and for years I couldn’t trackstand.

Was this limitation real? Of course not, looking back on that day I fell over trying to trackstand I realized I did a trackstand for five, possibly ten seconds before I feel over but I guess my goal was an hour or so, so in my mind, I failed. One day I decided I would try using baby steps (working my way from one-second trackstands to 20-30 second trackstands) and in less than an hour, I was doing ten-second trackstands consistently.

Mountain Bike at Your Best

Don’t let self-limiting beliefs keep you from riding at your best! I don’t, even at 51!

From discussing limiting beliefs with my students it seems like society is often to blame. A parent, a teacher, an older sibling, a teammate, anyone whose opinion you respected may have had set something that is holding you back. In my case, when I was seven or eight I came home crying because I didn’t make the baseball team and my mom, trying to comfort me said, “honey, you’re just not a natural athlete but you are so much smarter than those boys. You’re IQ is ….”. Not exactly what a seven-year-old wants to hear!

At the US Snowboarding Championships in 1992, I remember looking over at my competitor in the dual slalom quarterfinals and thinking, “holy cow, look at the size of his legs! He is a natural athlete, what am I doing here, I am not a natural like him.” Not exactly the best thing to be thinking right before a race! I actually ended up barely beating him but, I got eliminated in the next round. Can you imagine how much better I would have raced if I had thought, “wow, look at the overdeveloped legs on that guy, too bad he doesn’t have my skill, I am going to smoke him!” With a more positive belief, I just might have one the competition!

How to do you stop this often subconscious self-defeating cycle?  Step one is to identify the belief, “I am a good rider but will never be great” or the most misguided one I heard the other day, “I only weigh 140 so I don’t have the muscle mass to climb like the bigger guys”, what, most great climbers are short, thin riders!

Once you have identified the belief check to find the source of the belief and see if it is real. Where did the belief come from? Does it make sense? Is there proof that the belief is true? Once you have these questions answered you can create a strategy to rid yourself of the belief.  If the belief was caused by a past failure tell yourself, the past doesn’t equal the future and correctly practice doing the skill/section of trail that you felt you couldn’t do.

If it has no basis in reality (your friend said, “wow you suck at descending” 10 years ago) tell yourself, “that guy was a jerk! besides, that was ten years ago. Now I understand body position and vision better, my bike is way better and I have the skill to descend much better”.  Often you will find that once you identify a self-limiting belief you laugh, realizing that it is preposterous and you move past it.

A simple cure is to correct yourself when you have that limiting thought. When I student says, “I’m pretty good at climbing but I suck at descending” I always say, “You said your Darn good at climbing and getting better at descending with practice? I thought that’s what you said.” The truth is, if you are practicing, you are getting better!

Don’t let fiction, fantasy, someone else’s opinion or conjecture hold you back.  Attack these self-limiting beliefs and achieve your best in 2018!

Please share any stories about your limiting beliefs. How have you overcome them? Feel free to share this article with anyone you feel may benefit from it!