Last week I had a couple of riders ask me about how to “strengthen” an area that was hurting them. Like most people they thought that the painful area was too weak and needed to get stronger.
This is a common problem and one that affects a lot of mountain bikers. I’ve had this exact same conversation with countless riders which is why I wanted to share the advice I gave them with you.
Each of them had a different area bothering them for different reasons. One of them had a sore wrist from his job turning a wrench all day and the other had a sore low back from too much heavy lifting with less than optimal form.
But despite this they both were suffering from the same basic problem – they had a tension imbalance in those areas. Because of this I told them that trying to “strengthen” those areas was the last thing they wanted to do.
At the heart of the problem for them is that they have too much tension in those areas. Their tension knob is broken and stuck on high. Because of this those areas have inflammation and all sorts of other things that cause pain and restrict movement.
When this happens these areas aren’t painful because they are weak, they are painful because the body is trying to send a message – things are about to blow up here and you need to stop placing stress here before they do.
The answer lies in finding ways to lower the tension levels in those areas, not trying to add more to it.
But unfortunately this isn’t the approach typically used for painful areas that are thought to be “too weak”. Telling the guy with low back pain to do some more core training exercises isn’t addressing the real problem. Having the guy with wrist pain do some grip and wrist strengthening exercises isn’t either.
We often forget that strength is a two sided coin. You not only need to be able to produce tension but you need to be able to relax and get rid of that tension as well.
The less unwanted residual tension you carry around, the fewer aches and pains you have to deal with. And the more pain free you are the more consistently you can train and ride, which adds up to better performance over the long run.
When you end up with too much tension in an area, you need to go the opposite direction for a while. You can’t correct an imbalance with anything short of an imbalanced program in the other direction.
In other words, when this happens the real answer is to spend more time stretching, foam rolling, getting massaged and doing other mobility work. You have to cut back on the things that are adding tension to the system like training and riding for a bit to restore overall balance to the system.
This advice usually causes some sort of panic response. Riders tell me they don’t want to lose their “fitness” from taking time away from training and/ or riding. And that is when I have to remind them that if they continue down the path they are on they will be forced to take time off from an injury.
And if you’re inured it don’t matter how “fit” you are. You can either cut back now to let your body heal or you can wait until you have to take a complete break from everything when you are injured.
The take home message is this – make sure your training program actively addresses both sides of the tension coin and don’t wait to get hurt before taking care of tension imbalances in the system. While it isn’t as sexy as talking about deadlifts and how to rip corners on your mountain bike, this is the stuff that will keep you healthy and on the bike.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems
p.s. If you don’t have some sort of “tension management strategy” to help keep you healthy and performing, you best be sure to check out the MTB Mobility Follow-Along Programs. With 3 routines designed to address the most common problem areas we face as mountain bikers, it has already helped hundreds of riders improve their mobility and decrease aches and pains. For only $19 it is a great way to stay mobile and make sure you aren’t going to have to take time off from an avoidable overuse injury.