Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rock Climbing your way to Being a Better Mountain Biker and an Accomplished Athlete

Rock Climbing Barn Bluff
Lead climbing, and getting an
awesome workout.
Climber: Greg (me).
There are 3 main reasons to cross train:
  1. It keeps you from getting burnt out by doing just one sport.
  2. The right sport can help work different muscle groups in your body to make you a well-rounded athlete.
  3. Or a different sport can work the same muscle groups used frequently while on the mountain bike and help to keep them in top shape.
As I wrote just a few days ago, rock climbing is an excellent way to take a mental break from mountain biking and avoid burnout. Today, we'll also see that rock climbing is an excellent way to become a balanced athlete as well.

Unbalanced
Let's be honest: mountain biking is anything but a whole-body workout.  There are several muscle groups that get seriously underplayed during long cross-country rides.  They include: forearms, mid-upper back, upper body in general, core, hamstrings, and calves.

To really be a well-rounded athlete that can perform well in a variety of situations not on the back of a bike, as well as in adverse conditions found in mountain biking such as long, steep hike-a-bikes in horrible mud  in La Ruta de los Conquistadores,  you've got to participate in sports other than just mountain biking.

Rock Face

Work Those Other Muscle Groups
Rock climbing, for instance, is an incredible full-body workout. Many of the muscle groups that remain largely overlooked by mountain biking are heavily utilized when ascending a rock face. Most notably, your forearms will get seriously worked over, especially on overhanging rock.  Your back and shoulders will really feel worked, and  your calves can get a pretty decent burn as well.  The quad muscles are, or at least should be, utilized significantly during rock climbing, but as a mountain biker you'll probably never reach the sort of pain threshold that you would on a bike.

Get In Shape for Downhilling
Rock Climbing Rope
Lead Climbing.
Photo: Syndah Swails.
Climber: Greg (me).
During my first couple of serious days of downhill mountain biking, I noticed that my forearms and calves were taking a royal beating, but that my quads felt like they could keep it up for days.  As I mentioned above, forearms and calves are two of the muscle groups that get a decent work out from rock climbing. It's logical to conclude that downhill mountain biking and rock climbing are complementary sports.  If you own a downhill rig but don't get access to a lift very often, rock climbing would be a great way to keep those muscle groups in shape for when you do get a chance to get away to the resort and ride some lifts. 

The appeals of rock climbing to the avid mountain biker are myriad.  Not only is it a great mental break from pushing the cranks, but it works muscles that aren't used much on a cross country bike but are used a lot on a downhill bike.  Maybe, just maybe, rock climbing can serve as the great physical connector between these two distinct sects of mountain biking.

Your Turn: How do you go about becoming a well-balanced athlete?

5 comments:

Bubbs November 10, 2010 at 11:01 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bubbs November 10, 2010 at 11:03 PM  

Overall physical well-being is a huge aspect of life in my eyes.

I'm a big fan of weight-training
Whether you're lifting for mass, definition/tone, or exercise - It's a great way to achieve a higher level of fitness.

Keep in mind, you need to find a workout schedule and diet that works hand-in-hand. Consistency is key and you need to learn the appropriate pacing. There are a plethora of factors that go into lifting and weight-training.

I combine a lifting regiment with a cardio schedule - Stationary cycling and sprinting usually. Be careful on this note.. If you're building for mass and increased strength capabilities, extended cardio (+50min at a time) can and will burn muscle mass that you've gained recently. For maximum muscle gain, keep cardio workouts short, but frequent to burn fat and excess. This is where muscle building conflicts with XC Mountain Biking. Another thing to consider on this point... Think about endurance running, and cross country runners. Ever wonder why good distance runners are usually extremely skinny and lengthy? This is a practical, real-life proof for what I have stated.

Cheerio!
-AJ

Greg November 11, 2010 at 9:05 AM  

Hey Bubbs, thanks for the great info! Yeah, I think there's definitely two frames of mind: building muscle mass and strength and building fitness.

I think that for the mountain biker, it is definitely important to put some emphasis into upper body strength training, but a whole lot really isn't required. Now that I think about it, that's one of the beauties of using rock climbing as cross training: rock climbing emphasizes strength-to-weight ratio. The best climbers aren't huge hulking guys: they're strong and ripped, yes, but they're pretty wirey and flexible.

Good thoughts man, good thoughts!
-Greg

Daniel November 11, 2010 at 9:28 AM  

The benefits of balancing out your workout regiment is good all the way around. Anything that works other muscle groups and improves core muscles in general will help balance and performance while on the bike. Im not much of a climber myself, yet. However I like the idea of rock climbing not only because it’s a great all-around exercise but can be done outdoors and increasingly indoors as more and more gyms install the facilities to do so. Also, as any single guy will point out to you; have you noticed the number of fit women into rock climbing vs. MTB? Hello?

Greg November 16, 2010 at 8:22 AM  

Been meaning to reply to this Dan: totally agree with you about working the core muscles, AND because of all the fine ladies that are into climbing. My wife and I met while guiding wilderness trips at a summer camp, and two of our main activities were climbing and mountain biking. Many of our first dates centered around rock climbing. I've found that it is a very social sport, and one where you have to rely on your partners significantly, unlike mountain biking.

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Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com. He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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