Mountain Biking

Acquaviva, John C. Ph.D., ACSM CEP; Roy, Brad A. Ph.D., FACSM, FACHE

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000156
DEPARTMENTS: Fitness Focus

John C. Acquaviva, Ph.D., ACSM CEP, is a professor in the School of Sports Sciences at Wingate University (NC). His research interests include behavior change, respiratory exchange ratio, and the eating habits of athletes.

Brad A. Roy, Ph.D., FACSM, FACHE, is an administrator/executive director at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. He is responsible for The Summit Medical Fitness Center, a 114,800 sq ft medical fitness center located in Kalispell, Montana, and a number of other hospital departments.

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Article Outline

A somewhat recent introduction to the world of fitness is mountain biking. The good news is that an actual mountain is not generally needed, so an “off road,” an old hiking trail, and even gravel roads can substitute as a mountain biking excursion. For more fit and experienced riders, however, only a true mountain will do. Either way, it allows an outdoor “getaway” and can be a great supplement to traditional workouts.

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BENEFITS OF MOUNTAIN BIKING

The varying terrain allows for a full body workout. For example, going uphill challenges the leg muscles, whereas riding downhill engages the muscles of the arm, shoulder, chest, back, and abdomen. The uphill and downhill training also makes for a natural interval workout. Ascending will get the heart rate up, sometimes substantially — and often for several minutes if the incline is long, whereas descending or returning to level ground allows the heart rate to recover.

Like all forms of biking, it induces a lower impact on the skeletal system than most activities — at least for the lower limbs. Also, because of ever-changing terrain and grade, mountain bike rides can improve coordination and proprioception and challenge decision-making skills.

Most important, it’s fun. The combination of good aerobic (and anaerobic) workout, being outside, and the euphoria of traveling at fast speeds makes mountain biking a favorite activity for many.

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GETTING STARTED

First, get fitted for a mountain bike made by a company that has a reputation of making a durable product. Don’t hesitate to buy a used bike to save some money. Next, get a helmet. And for now, don’t worry about getting the special pedals and clipless shoes that many riders have. Simply use toe clips. Because water bottles are more difficult to access during a ride, consider the hands-free drinking option that Camelbak and others provide.

Once you’ve acquired the appropriate gear, team up with other riders who can show you some trails and give basic pointers along the way.

Initially consider mountain biking once every week or two because commuting time and organizing a ride with others can be a laborious process. Also, start on easy trails to get used to your bike — including gear changing — and avoid extended rides that may lead to muscle soreness.

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MOUNTAIN BIKE TIPS

* Relax the upper body — Rigid and extended arms increase the chance of joint injury in the shoulder, elbow, and wrists. Allow your arms and hands to act as shock absorbers.

* Uphill — The focus should be on the right gear to allow a challenging, yet lighter, intensity. The goal is to make it up the hill, so pace yourself.

* Downhill — The main goal here is safety. One wrong turn or a fallen branch can lead to an injurious fall.

* Be patient — Mountain biking is a skill as much as a great form of exercise, and both take time to acquire.

* Stay safe — follow the safety tips presented below.

Mountain biking presents a great opportunity for enjoyment, but riders must ease into it. Preparation, appropriate equipment, and good decision making can make it one of the most enjoyable activities in your fitness routine.

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SAFETY TIPS

Start and progress slowly — Because two distinct dynamic qualities are required — fitness and skill — error on the side of caution. A combination of too much speed and some shifty terrain under the tires can make for a dangerous ride.

Stay focused — A genuine respect for this activity is needed. Even a minor lapse in attention can lead to an accident on the trail.

Partner up — For two main reasons. First, an unknown trail is more likely to cause an injury via a fall, so have the more experienced rider go first so he or she can give warning of upcoming obstacles and potentially dangerous turns. Second, getting lost is a real possibility. Fatigue and onsetting darkness can amplify this situation.

Know the weather and trail conditions — Nothing makes a trip seem more wasted than to run into a bad storm on the trail. Furthermore, slick trails simply increase the probability of a fall.

© 2015 American College of Sports Medicine.