Why you don’t want to ride for “fitness”…

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.

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.

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’ 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 saying in athletics – 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.

If you have any questions or comments about this post please share them below. And if you liked this post please click one of the Share or Like buttons below to help spread the word!

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

The Ultimate MTB Workout Program

The Ultimate MTB Workout ProgramThis workout program is designed with one simple purpose – to be the best mountain bike training program on the planet. When you are ready to take your training program to the highest level possible then you can’t do better than this workout program. Based on my years of working with some of the best riders on the planet, this truly is the Ultimate MTB Workout Program.
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  1. Noah Roberts says:

    While what you’re saying is true, one of the largest struggles for the average person in getting and staying healthy is motivation. Having an active hobby or two, such as MTB or some other sport, can serve that end quite nicely. It creates goals where you can see tangible results. Getting healthy so you can sit and watch TV though eventually starts seeming pretty damn pointless. People who are not healthy are still well served in picking up a sport with the idea that it will help them get so.

    Reply • November 1 at 11:56 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The idea of working out just for the sake of working out isn’t the idea either. You have to find the balance between training to stay fit and strong and then finding fun ways to apply that fitness. The problem I’m trying to point out is that people who only ride aren’t “fit” and fall victim to the False Fit syndrome I’ve written about before.

      Playing a sport doesn’t make you healthy as sport in itself isn’t healthy. We can always fall back on the “better than nothing” argument but I try to inspire people to aspire to more than that which is why I point out the fallacy of mindsets we fall victim to we don’t even know, like riding to get fit instead of recognizing that you need to do more than just ride to really be fit and not just a lopsided human being with glaring problems that will come back to haunt you later.

      While it may not show up right now, is the worn out knee or low back you have to suffer through when you get older really worth not having a better perspective on what health and fitness are? So many people are setting themselves up for long term problems based on this mindset which is what I’m trying to help avoid.

      Reply • November 1 at 12:10 pm
  2. Tim says:

    I certainly do follow your thought process. But for me as a middle aged, busy manager, I truly only have time for riding. If you consider 60 hour work week, two kids, and all the stuff they do and need support, hitting the trails will be about the most I will see of exercise. So I try to make the most of it. Yes, in a perfect world I would work out for an hour or two 4 times a week and ride another 4 times a week and have zero time for family and anything other than working out. So I guess if it is all you have it has to be better than nothing…

    Reply • November 1 at 12:01 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      While I can certainly sympathize with you I think that you are not keeping the big picture in view. Is having a worn out knee or low back in 10 years that you have to suffer through for the rest of your life really worth not taking a better approach to getting and staying fit? Right now just riding may seem like a “better than nothing” solution but I can tell you from experience that it will catch up with you.

      And no one is saying you have to train 4 days a week for an hour or two and have no time for family or anything else, I have to call that out as a bit of an excuse. You’re setting up an expectation that isn’t realistic and so you can just not try.

      Finding 10 minutes a few days a week to do some mobility work and 2-3 days to fit in a 20-30 minute training session is a grand total of 2 hours per week that you can fit in around your schedule. And missing a ride to train every once in a while isn’t the end of the world either.

      The truth is that you can find time to fit in other elements of training and create a more well rounded approach. Getting something in is better than nothing but you need to take that mindset with the stuff that you aren’t doing, not as an excuse to just ride and call it your exercise program.

      Don’t want to come across as being harsh but a coach’s job isn’t to let you make excuses, it is to help you see them for what they are and find ways around them. I have several programs that can easily be fit into a busy schedule, be sure to check them out and let me know if you have any questions on which would work best for you. BTW, the DB Combos Program is still the king of “I don’t have time to train” programs…

      Reply • November 1 at 12:23 pm
  3. RennyG says:

    James – you are once again spot-on with your advice. I would not wish the first 6 months of this past year on anyone when I finally fell victim to a back injury related to riding/cross country skiing without sufficient strength training or stretching. If people would only realize that it takes a very small amount of time in your week to fit those things in and it need not detract from your weekly “epic” rides. I ride so much smarter now with shorter focussed and fun rides in my schedule. I have seen significant improvements in my riding thanks to this new approach. Thanks James – Keep leading us out of the Box!

    Reply • November 1 at 1:34 pm
  4. Natacha says:

    James – I am trying to incorporate some of your strength training & some stretching moves about 2 times a week and it has helped with the lower back/hip pain I would get after a long ride. Thanks for your blog and your videos.

    Reply • November 5 at 2:36 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for sharing, glad to hear you’ve found my stuff helpful.

      Reply • November 5 at 2:38 pm
  5. Wendy says:

    Hi James
    Firstly I love all your info and your workouts, thank you!
    I was just curious what you mean by “sitting down also takes the core and the hips out of the equation…”

    Reply • November 26 at 2:38 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      When you sit down the seatpost is helping support your weight so your core relaxes and you can not fully extend the hips which places more stress on the quads and knees. This is extremely far removed from what happens when you walk or run and develops a lot of dysfunctions and overuse injuries which is why you need to do something else to stay “fit” because just riding is improving some things but ruining others.

      Reply • November 26 at 10:20 am

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