Originally Written December 19, 2019
It’s day two of our ride. The boys are all tired and stiff today. I stretched immediately after our ride and they just laughed at me…who’s laughing now? Me, I’m ready to go after a pot of coffee. Today’s goal for the ride is to ride into Nogales for a lunch at a taco truck. Oh yeah, that was a goal worth keeping up with the boys I was willing to take on.
Our leader took us through a canyon, up a mountain fire access road that had been mostly eroded down by some heavy rains the day before to a breathtaking lookout spot. The trip down turned into an epic learning experience for me.
The narrow roads in that area were covered in granite rock slabs and granite dust - no sense using the back brake whatsoever. I am a confident front brake user but quickly found out that using front and back brakes was not a good idea. While I manage to stay on my bike while skidding down a steep slab of granite around a switch back, I had to stop and take a minute to catch my breath. Hoping that was the worst of the steep descents was over I threw my leg over my torn seat and headed into steeper territory. The switchbacks and steep descents went on for over 30 minutes until we were finally down into a valley and about 30 minutes to tacos.
I was excited about tacos and didn't realize, while there were no steep descents into Nogales, we still had a few miles to ride on some super gnarly narrow jeep trails. I lived and made it into town for amazing tacos. We (meaning me) decided to head back home via some breathtaking easier riding roads. I'm glad we did as it was getting cold, we were all tired, our bellies full of Mexican goodness and we were running out of gas and daylight. We rode 6 hours that day. I'm proud to say I had the skills to ride all the terrain, including terrain I was not confident riding. As the day wore on I got used to riding and it made me a better rider.
I wonder what challenges tomorrow's ride will bring!?
Most of the time I go overboard when I get it in my head to do something or get into something new. It is a problem because sometimes I can't tell myself enough is enough. Sound familiar? This week, I screwed up. Super hard dirt biking for 4 or 5 days in a row, plus some mountain biking thrown in, a TRX work out and surprise, now I'm off my dirt bike for a few days resting my worn out arms while my partner is off enjoying some single track with a local.
When is it time to take a break? I think that is up to each individual. Some people train hard for 3 weeks then take a week off, some train every other day, some train 4 days on 3 off. Whichever method you choose, it is important to build in a plan for rest days. I must change my thinking. I know I need to strengthen my upper body for the terrain I'm currently riding, however dirt biking for 4 hours then doing an upper body workout afterwards is dumb - that's just screaming for problems or an injury. My new plan: I'm going to dirt bike for 3 days in a row, one day off and spend that day stretching and a light upper body workout and see how that goes. My nutrition is good, and my sleeping habits are excellent, so I know I just have an overuse injury.
I realize not everyone has the freedom I currently treasure, but we can all think about our current workout routine. Sometimes taking a week off may improve your strength when you get back at it. Maybe just lightening the load for a week or riding a few hours less a day will give you enough rest. Certainly, taking stock of one’s eating and sleep routine and making adjustments will help as well. Remember what you do on rest days are just as important on what you do on workout/riding days
If you find yourself in a plateau, or sore from overtraining, maybe it’s time to try a new approach to your workout. Give it some thought and tell yourself it's OK to take a break. Everyone needs to slow down and smell the roses sometimes.
Flexibility. This is a very important subject. When you think of flexibility do you think of the Olympic gymnasts doing crazy things? If you think of inflexibility, do you picture the super muscly guys who can't bend over to tie their shoes? I listen to a lot of fitness and dirt bike podcasts and read a lot but I don't come across articles about flexibility very often and I'm not sure why.
What is the definition of flexibility? Range of motion as well as the “ability to adapt successfully to challenges to motor control, strength, balance, coordination, endurance, and mental and emotional focus”.* In other words, all the things you need to successfully ride your dirt bike.
Why should flexibility be part of our training? Think about your daily routine, do you sit all day, do you stand all day, do you do repetitive motions all day? I used to sit at a desk all day, that repetitive sitting caused my hip flexor muscles to shorten and become tight and stiff to the point I was having constant knee and groin muscle pain and injuries. Now my gym workouts, dirt bike days and rest days almost always start and end with stretching all the things. Why almost always, well I'm human and sometimes I forget. When muscles are tight, they pull on opposing muscles, weakening them and not allowing for the full use of the muscle. Stretching will allow the full use of the muscles. Think about doing squats, can you flex all the way to ground? Do you regularly stretch your quads, calves, hip flexor and glutes? Adding stretching to all of these muscle groups will allow for a fuller range of motion in a squat. We don't have to do the splits but being able to do a full squat is part of being flexible and an important part of dirt bike riding.
How important is flexibility for dirt bike riders? Think about going around a corner, sitting forward on the seat, leg outstretched, and you catch a stump. If you have loose flexible muscles in your leg, it may just swing back and you continue on your way. If you have tight hip flexors, hamstrings or quads and your leg is snapped back, those inflexible tight muscles are susceptible to injury and your day of riding may be over. I'm 5’2”, while I have had my suspension lowered and tuned for my weight and height, I still need flexibility to get my leg over the seat or be able to touch the ground. I also need to be flexible enough to lift my bike off the ground as I have short arms. Think back to the ability to squat I mentioned earlier. Being able to hold that squat while standing on the pegs of my bike, with my knees bent, while traversing some gnarly terrain, allows me to ride as aggressively as I need to so I can get through those rough spots.
I could write for days about this subject but I'm going to keep it short because I want you to get flexible and discover the benefits of being flexible not just to ride a dirt bike but to build strength, protect joints and make your everyday tasks easier. Don't forget, the FitRiders program focuses on stretching and flexibility, especially when it comes to the muscle groups used most by us riders.
* Foundations of Personal Training, 2nd edition, 2016, p. 126
In the winter of 2015, I booked myself the trip of a lifetime: I was going to go to Mongolia on an epic dirt bike adventure ride! This isn’t something that most people get to do often, and I was stoked! Then I realized, I need to get into shape. 14 days of epic off-road riding, averaging 200 km/day, it was more riding than I had ever experienced before.
I had booked my trip for July 2016. With just over 6 months to get into shape, I hired, Karl, a personal trainer. When I met with Karl, I told him of the type of terrain I would be riding, the number of hours I would be spending on the bike. Not only did I want to get in shape to handle the ride, but I needed a strategy where after a long day of riding, or after sleeping in uncomfortable Ger camps, I would also need some sort of recovery mechanism. With that, Karl helped me come up with a strategy to get fit for the ride, and how to keep the muscle aches and pains at bay while on the ride.
For 6 months, I worked from the comfort of my own home to get in shape. No gym membership, just some basic free weights at home, body weight exercises and a yoga mat for basic stretching. My wife Maria would often join me in the fitness routine, as she found it helped not just with her riding, but all the other sports she loves to play. That was all it took to get into the kind of shape I needed to be in to ride Mongolia.
When I returned home from Mongolia, I wondered if there were many other middle aged guys like me that would love to do the same type of bucket list trip, but what was holding them back from going was the thought that they couldn’t handle the terrain at their current fitness level. In fact, there were many middle-aged guys on the same trip that directly benefited from me showing them some stretches that we all did at the end of the day in front of the campfire. If this program helped me, then maybe this program could help others who also want to do these same bucket list adventures.
And so, FitRiders was born. We have members all over the world, of varying ages, men and women, who know that the key to having better riding adventures is to get into shape. So, what are you waiting for? What’s holding you back from getting in shape for the ultimate adventure ride. Get Fit to Ride! Join the Movement! Join our Community!
I wonder how many people think about grip strength. I don't very often. How many of us are out riding and our throttle hand cramps up or numb? How about our clutch hand? Not all of us can afford a Clake clutch.
If you regularly lift weights or like me, use a TRX then I bet your grip strength is pretty good. Good grip strength allows a rider to grip the handle bats just loosely enough to be comfortable for hours yet have the reaction time and speed to get a good grip when we want more control. Further, a loose grip will help with the dreaded arm pump. I know I seem to blather on and on about the importance of being fit to ride rather than riding to be fit, but it's true. You don't prevent arm pump or good grip strength riding for 4 hours on a Saturday a few times a month.
I am guilty of not stretching enough but I stretch my arms and hands constantly as I suffer from tendinitis. We need to learn how to stretch our hands and forearm muscles. Tight forearm muscles and hand muscles will cause pain and loss of strength. Tight muscles can even cause injury. Think about when dirt biking the pressure put on our wrists. Strong muscles will help take the strain off those joints, reducing any chance of wear and tear as time goes on.
Next time you are at the gym, give some thought to grip strength and forearm strength, flexibility and mobility. If you don't go to the gym, check out the FitRider programs available (no gym required). You won't regret it.
Karl Tettmann, Co-Founder. Avid health and fitness coach who just loves to ride.