Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

So unfit

Posted by Matt | December 13, 2008 | 8 comments so far

I had the day off Wednesday, partly to watch my son’s Nativity play and partly to take it easy in the afternoon. Except instead I decided it was high time I picked up the leaves from our front lawn. We have two large oaks out front, so there was a fair bit to tidy up.

You’d think raking leaves would be pretty straight–forward really. Like digging a border it’s not until you get ten minutes into the task that you realise what a gigantic task you’ve set yourself. As in wish–I’d–never–got–started gigantic.

I was puffing and blowing and stopping every few minutes for a breather and even in the cold temperatures we’ve been enjoying I was boiling hot. It wasn’t until a few hours afterward, when my muscles started to stiffen up that I realised just how unfit I’ve become. The next day was even worse!

On recent rides I’ve been at the back as my singlespeed brothers motor away up the hills. I’ve put this down to just the effects of getting back into riding after my collarbone break in the summer but it’s been a while now since I really felt ‘on song’ on a bike.

Wednesday’s struggle with the rake brought it home all too clearly that I need to do more than just get out for a ride twice a week. It’s clear that during my enforced three month layoff I’ve lost more than a bit of leg strength. Initially I thought I hadn’t fared too badly for my time off the bike but as the weeks have passed I’ve found it taking longer and longer to recover during the days between rides. In short, I’ve felt old.

This has culminated in another head cold over the past two weeks which again suggests I’m down to my last few fitness chips.

So, I have to make a change. I haven’t put on weight yet but I always reckon the time to act is before you’ve put on weight, not after. Anyway, my problem is not weight really, it’s a lack of physical robustness—that simple ability to keep on motoring and to bounce back quickly from any setbacks.

Here’s what I’m planning to do about it. Sundays and Wednesdays I’m aiming to get riding regularly which is what I should be doing anyway. Thursday will be a swim night for basic cardio–vascular training while Monday and Friday evenings will see me inside a gym.

Yes that’s right, a gym. You see, since my accident I haven’t done any regular upper body work at all. No press ups for example or anything similar. Which means that on rides my shoulders, forearms and uppper arms are getting quickly tired. A knock on effect is the lack of confidence that only a tired rider knows. He might be on the bike, but he’s never sure for how much longer.

Starting Monday, that’s going to be my routine (I’m starting before Christmas and the New Year so I can smile wryly at the New Year gym influx). I’ll use the bike to get me too and from the gym too, which is two or three miles each way and should ensure I’m warmed up by the time I get there. I don’t plan to waste any time on the CV machines, just a focussed routine of weights.

I know I have the build of a pipe cleaner man and don’t expect that to change but I do think mountain biking is crucially about upper body strength—much more so than people realise. It’s all very well needing some leg stamina to get up hills but you really need to manhandle a bike on singletrack to get the best out of it.

It’ll be interesting to see how things improve. By the way, to get a feel for my son’s Nativity I mentioned, try reading Al Leigh’s Nativity write up. He wasn’t there but I can tell he shared my pain.


About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years then a 2016 YT Industries Jeffsy 29er, he now rocks a Bird Aether 9 and a Pace RC-627.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 8 comments on ‘So unfit’

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  1. Dominic says:


    I have been traning at Leatherhead gym for about 13 years now, tend to be in there between 2 and 4 times a week.

    Let me know if you need any help with excersises. I would not discount the running machines as they are a veluable warm up tool if nothing else. I will be in there tonight from 5ish through to 6:30ish, any help???


  2. Colin says:

    Hi Matt, like you I suffer from a ‘lack of physical robustness’ and lose weight if I don’t go to the gym. Its not helped by sitting on my butt all day in my job.

    I haven’t been for the last 4 months and notice it. My shoulders and arms just start disappearing and ache after a hard ride.

    In a cruel twist of fate though and probably age-related, I can still manage to expand the waistline.

    My advice is to keep the gym simple-forget all the many millions of exercises. With our frames, you will shrink further if you end up doing too much. I’d recommend:

    Chins (one set at first)

    Dips (one set at first)

    Slight incline bench press (3 sets, 5-8 reps)

    Squats or lunges (3 sets/5-8)

    Shoulder press (3 sets/5-8)

    Once you can do 3 sets of 8 reps, up the weight.

    Don’t worry if you can only muster half a chin or dip to start. Set a target of being able to do 1 next time, then 2 next week and so on. I did this and got up to being able to do 15 proper wide grip chins and 20 dips in about 2 months. You feel like a nob at first when you can only crack out 2, but it doesn’t last for long if you stick to your targets.

    After a few weeks, stick to the above but add one more exercise for one body part for each work out. So you do full body each time you go, but specialise on say shoulders day1, legs day2, then back day3 and so on.

    You can play with the order, exercises etc to keep it varied.

    This has worked well for me in the past but life/work/cycling/family often conspires so i’ve been really bad lately.

    Good luck with it and remember – its a great excuse to stuff your face a bit too!

  3. Matt says:

    Wow, that’s what I call advice!

    Sounds pretty scientific to me but it all makes sense. I have used a gym in the past when I was much younger so I understand the basic principles.

    Basically need to work on arms, shoulders, back and chest. I thought I’d start by trying a very little of each and seeing which bit aches the most over the next couple of days!

    Dom, I’m off work today so will probably go earlier but thanks for the offer–may see you as I leave.

    Colin, chins and dips IMHO are the best exercises you can do.

  4. Jez says:

    I’d only bother going to the gym if you actually enjoy the gym otherwise it will be a waste of money and you will begrudge going.

    Alternatively get a rowing machine for an all round work out. I tended to use that more than the weights when I had a gym membership so I bought one for home instead and canceled the gym. Rowing machines are a bit of a love/hate thing though. Also the view is a bit more boring in the spare room!

  5. Matt says:

    Jez you’re such a stealth trainer!! Outwardly ‘just dabbling’ in the whole MTB thing, secretly using a rowing machine in your own home!!

    We’ll have to take one of your pedals off to even things up for us!

    Went to the gym as promised and bumped into Dom (see above)—good to meet you Dom BTW—and found I quite enjoyed the change of scene.

    Had to blank out the grunting apes on the free weights and tried not feel too intimidated at my weedy efforts but I’ve felt suitably fired up since to keep it going for a while. I know it will pay off—can’t keep trading on past glories etc.

    I expect to make rapid improvements but will keep clear of the CV machines—not because they’re no good but I have a bike for that and CV work inside is the pits.

  6. Andrew says:

    I was having loads of upper body problems with a rotator cuff type injury and exercise/stretching wasn’t fixing it.

    But I went to the Maldives for a couple of weeks this summer, which was great snorkling. I swam round the island reef for about 1.5 hours twice—using an extended breaststoke motion with my arms and no leg action. Slow progress but the snorkle helped as I watch the fish/sharks/etc.

    Sorted out my arm problems and really bulked up my arms/shoulders/back.

    Therefore I recommend a holiday to Biyadhoo!


  7. Muddymoles says:

    Ride report: Wednesday 14 Jan – Norbury and Headley MTB loop

    A Wednesday night ride with 12 riders, 16 miles and lots of draggy clay.

  8. Related: Ride report: Wednesday 14 Jan - Norbury and Headley MTB loop | Rides | Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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