It’s now only a short time to our trip to Afan in South Wales. Now, I’ve already said that the determining factor in how much we enjoy the trip isn’t likely to be our fitness. After all, we have all day and these places are not designed like some game of Japanese Endurance. I think the main issues are likely to be day long exposure to the elements as being out in bright sunshine and heat could be just as problematic as a day of cold rain and wind. And with Wales it could be either of these two extremes.
It is undeniable though that having a reasonable level of fitness certainly allows you to get more out of Mountain Biking and that the fitter you get, the more enjoyable it becomes. With that in mind, I’ve been spending the last six to eight weeks trying to improve on my fitness and I thought I’d share some thoughts with you.
First of all, if you want to get fit riding a Mountain Bike, you need to actually go out and ride. It’s one of those activites that puts demands on the body that are very difficult to replicate doing other things like running or swimming. So my best advice first off is the old cliché, “Just get out and ride”.
To that end, I’ve been trying hard to ride at least twice a week which to my mind is a bare minimum really. As a rule of thumb I reckon that should get you about 40 miles a week off road on the bike, although to start to get really fit I reckon a third session and another twenty miles makes all the difference. But that’s very hard to keep up when you’re trying to work full time etc.
To try and cheat a little bit, I’ve also taken to doing some light resistance exercises since I have a theory that what ultimately causes fatigue on the bike is not aerobic fitness but a lack of upper body strength. I find most problems when I get tired riding are just exhaustion from my back and shoulders and neck. I end up struggling to hold up my head, my steering responses get much slower and I lose the power in my legs, resulting in the classic sack of spuds feeling in the saddle.
All of these are a direct result of a lack of upper body strength and as cyclists (or bikers, MTBers or whatever) we are prone to neglecting this part of our fitness. So, I’ve been making a conscious decision to do something about it. For the past few weeks I have been doing press-ups and arm curls with relatively light weight (14lbs in each hand) every other day, plus working on what fitness gurus call the core muscles in my torso, with sit ups and crunches, lower back exercises and so on. The idea is to strengthen my shoulders and arms and to do it without it being too onerous – the aim is to do this sort of thing sustainably so I make sure it only takes twenty minutes or so.
Lastly, I recommend you do as much stretching as possible. Biking is notorious for creating tight hamstrings which more often than not manifest in lower back pain so the more slow streching you do the better. I find the best time is in the evening while watching the TV since it’s better than sitting on the sofa and doesn’t really get in your way time wise.
There you have it then, my four recommendations for Mountain Bike fitness:
- Ride your Bike
- Build upper body strength
- Stretch as much as possible
- Get into a routine that lets you exercise consistently
Now I’m not making any great claims for my fitness, but I have to say that over the last few weeks I have gradually started to notice an improvement. Last night I took out my Inbred across the Surrey Hills and managed 19 off road miles with it in one gear (middle front chainring, middle on the rear) which was very satisfying, quite apart from the enjoyment I got from actually attacking the trails. I guess I was attempting a kind of psuedo-singlespeed approach.
I wouldn’t have been able to manage it before now but I was able to haul the bike up quite tough climbs and set a competent average speed of 9 miles and hour. OK, this morning I know I’ve been doing some exercise but I was really pleased with my efforts last night.
Wales, I think I’m ready.