One of the biggest mistakes that people make when getting into mountain biking is to think that it is a great way to get into shape. This mindset is actually a big problem with the fitness world in general – playing a sport is not how to get into shape. Things work out much better when you have a base level of fitness going into trail riding and it becomes a way to apply and hone your fitness.
There are a couple of problems with trying to use mountain biking as a way to get into shape. First, riding a bike is great fun but it is not the healthiest thing to do from a structural point of view. Sitting in a hunched over position while taking your legs through a shortened, repetitive range of motion a few hundred or thousand times a ride causes all sorts of imbalances. Sitting down also takes your core and hips out of the equation and will cause movement dysfunctions that can lead to problems down the road.
Sure, you may lose some weight and gain some cardio fitness but you don’t create the type of broad based fitness you really need to be healthy from a larger point of view. Remember that you are a human being first and a mountain biker second – don’t ignore the need for basic human function before you try to develop specialized fitness.
Another pitfall to the mindset of using sports to get healthy is a lack of perspective on the training plans of the pros. As I mentioned before, sport is not really about health, especially at the highest levels. To get your body into shape to be excellent at a few things means that other types of fitness and movement patterns will suffer.
There is an old Greek saying – where good sport begins, good health ends. Pros know that there is a physical cost for what they do to hone their bodies into peak shape for the demands of their sport. However, your average rider who looks at riding as “healthy” doesn’t have the same perspective.
They think that the pros represent the pinnacle of “fitness” and try to emulate the lopsided, unbalanced programs they use. They don’t realize that the pros usually spent years developing their fitness base and go back to work on it often – all they see is the amount of time spent working on specialized fitness qualities and think that copying their approach is the key to achieving their fitness goals.
The truth is that most riders have no business following a program inspired by a pro rider – they need to focus on building their fitness and movement base through a strength and conditioning program and then just getting out on their bikes and riding hard. In fact, focusing too much on the narrow fitness qualities needed to excel at the pro level of mountain biking may lead to short term gains but will lead to long term stagnation and injuries.
My point is that if you love riding then ride for fun, not for “fitness”. Use a smart, balanced strength and conditioning program to address your basic fitness and then ride hard to hone that fitness into “mountain biking shape”. Riding is a great way to take your fitness to another level, just don’t come into it thinking that it is a great way to get into shape in the first place. Keep some perspective on what the pros do to excel at the highest levels and you’ll progress further, enjoy riding more and avoid overuse injuries by taking this approach.