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.
Most women have some pretty hefty challenges before we swing our legs over a seat. We are smaller in stature, not many have been very athletic growing up, and have spent most of our adult lives being mothers and caregivers. Women tend to have less muscle strength, especially in the upper body. We also have to deal with our monthly ‘friend’ which is no friend at all, it takes a huge physical toll. Those that have had babies tend to have weaker core muscles as well and possibly separated abdominal walls (Diastis Rectis). What we have over men; we tend to take les chances - hence less injuries, we have amazing balance, our lower body strength and endurance is far superior to the boys, and we can multitask better which equals faster learning.
I have spoke to many women whose husbands or boyfriends want them to ride and they give it a try. Generally, women giving it a try for the first time are out of shape and overweight, and from the majority of women I have talked to, have bad injuries the first or second time out and give up. I would also like to point out, unless your partner is the most patient person in the world, husbands, boyfriends or whoever, are not the person you want to be learning from.
So how, does a woman get into dirt biking for the first time without getting hurt? Start at the gym. Get yourself a program designed to make you stronger (not necessarily skinnier - you can be fit and chubby!). Take a month or six weeks to build some muscle, gain some balance and upper body strength.
In the meantime, what about a bike? That's up to you to try them out for size and yes, go for a smaller bike where you can touch flat footed. My first bike was a Kawasaki KLX 125. Yes, it was too small and in 3 months I bought a Honda CRF 150 that I rode for a season. I'm glad I started with those bikes. I could touch the ground no problem, I learned how to do some pretty cool manoeuvres with bikes that had poor suspension and not much power. Guess what, I didn't hurt myself once.
My teacher (husband) was and is the most patient person in the world most of the time and I'm grateful for that. He followed behind me on miles upon miles of double track for months. When I ‘graduated’ to single track, he spent countless hours behind me while I paddled around corners, eyed up logs for 5 minutes at a time and in some cases, help me pick up my bike when I dropped it in precarious situations.
I still work hard at the gym, staying in shape. I do it because it makes riding easier. I also ride with guys. Dirt biking is still a guys’ world, unfortunately, but being strong and in shape helps me keep up.
My point is, girls, get out and ride! Take it at your pace. When you are confident at one speed, turn the throttle a bit more. Maybe take some coaching if you can find it (if you are interested, I do coach women and if I'm in your area, I'm happy to get together). Tell your husband, boyfriend, whoever to let you be slow. Ride at your own pace, they will wait for you at the next intersection.
The benefits of this plan will be a fitter, more confident you. You will get to explore places you wouldn't normally get to explore. The coolest thing I find when tackling harder terrain or riding with a new bunch of dudes is, that after the ride, I can pat myself in the back knowing that I can do this, at my pace, and most of the guys are patient and are happy there are chicks who ride.
What are you waiting for!? Please drop me a line if you want to ride but don't want your husband, boyfriend, or whoever to be involved; I get it! Let's get you fit and on the bike, you won't regret it.
I work out almost everyday, the days I'm not working out, I'm riding. But what toll does that take on the body? Can the body take that much abuse constantly? A traditional workout schedule seems to be, warm up with cardio, leg day, the next day arm day etc. The thinking was to give the legs a day off when you were doing arm day. My workouts incorporate the entire body. So why is taking a day off or a week or two off from the gym and the bike beneficial?
When we workout to build muscle (let's forget the cardio part for now) we actually tear our muscles. If you have ever had a torn muscle you know it takes time to rebuild that muscle. Those microscopic tears, while ultimately beneficial in building new muscle, need time to rebuild. If you don't give yourself the proper nutrition, hydration, or time, you could end up with an injury. My general rule of thumb is one rest day for every 6 days of working out or riding. Every few months, I skip the gym for a week, sometimes even 2 weeks.
When do I know it's time for a long rest? When I'm bored, when my performance on the bike is questionable and when I just feel run down. Do I just sit around watching TV for a week? Not really. I tend to go for a walk, I may go to the gym for a slow 30 minute bike ride or a quiet swim. I may drop into a yoga studio for a session, I definitely get a massage, I re-evaluate my eating habits, try out new recipes and stretch everyday. When I return to the bike and the gym, I'm stronger, happier and feel amazing. My mind and body are reinvigorated, stronger and rested.
I also notice I sleep better and my resting heart rate has decreased. I've also spent time re-evaluating my eating habits, maybe try some new recipes and even sit around doing nothing but watch TV for a few hours a day.
I am a bit obsessive about fitness and I track my resting heart rate most mornings prior to getting out of bed. I don't have a fancy Fit-bit, so I do it the old fashioned way. My average is 58 beats/minute. If I start to see an increase into the mid 60s, I know it's time to take a long rest. While you don't have to do this, I find it helpful as I'm a bit obsessive with my fitness routine and it keeps me from over training, burning out, and possibly preventing an injury as well. If you think of it, keep a log of your heart rate, it really is helpful.
Don't feel guilty when taking a rest day, we deserve it, we are after all only human.
Think about any sport or activity you like to play at. Think about the equipment you use for those activities. How many times have you heard another rider say “if only I could afford a better bike, I could ride faster.” Or, “if I could afford to upgrade my suspension, I could ride for a longer period of time.” Remember the old Nike ads, "it's gotta be the shoes." I tried the shoes, I still don't play basketball like Michael Jordan. The truth is, spending more money on your bike won’t necessarily make you a better rider. Sure, you might get more speed buying something lighter, or have less muscle fatigue when your suspension is “cushier”, but the reality is it isn’t enough to turn the average rider into Chris Birch.
So, what makes a good rider a great rider? Practice. Lots and lots of practice. Practice makes perfect, so they say. This is true for any sport or activity you may enjoy doing. You get better by repetition, which means practicing the same maneuvers over and over again. While you are practicing, you may notice that try as you might, there are just some “moves” you can’t get right. Or maybe you have all those moves down, but you just get too tired after being on your bike for an hour. You seem to have plateaued in your progression. Now what?
Sometimes, getting over the next hurdle requires trying something new. If you notice your stamina isn’t enough to go out on a prolonged ride, perhaps you need to do something to fix it. Maybe try as you might, you just can’t get that front tire up high enough to cross that log in the single track. While practice is the most important thing to do to get better at riding, the exercise you do outside of riding and your diet are also important. Perhaps instead of buying a lighter bike, hitting the free weights at the gym will help you maneuver that bike of yours like a pro. Or, if you have lived on the couch for most of the off-season, losing 10lbs might be all the help you need to go for a longer distance ride.
Whatever your riding challenge is, it can most likely be fixed via practice, exercise and healthy eating. There is no need to continually spend money to upgrade your bike. The person who spends the most money is not necessarily the best rider. Who is the best rider? Someone who has taken the time to work on their skills, while realizing the importance fitness has on their ability to ride. In short, a FitRider is the best rider.
I'll admit, I'm not that young. I've had my share of injuries playing roller derby, dislocated shoulders, torn muscle in my back, scar tissue in my glutes, but I seem to bounce back pretty fast. I've also had a few injuries from dirt biking: broken thumb, some weird knee pain that nags me most of the time, whiplash, but again, I seem to bounce back pretty quick.
I hate being injured, who wants that? It cuts into your seat time, you feel down in the dumps and if you are impatient like I am, well, waiting 6 weeks for a ligament injury to heal is agony. What can we all do to lessen our chances of injury - off seat training and stretching. It's inevitable that we will have an injury sooner or later, ripping through the woods at 20 miles per hour, those trees jumping out in front of you on the trail.
I'll write about the importance of stretching in another blog, but I spend a good 15 minutes after my workouts stretching everything. Stretching lengthens the muscle fibers, keeps them elastic, and flushes out the lactic acid that has accumulated during your workout. The times I am too lazy to stretch after a workout, well I tend to get stiff and sore and feel less mobile than an 80-year-old. Make stretching a priority.
As far as working out to help prevent injuries, strength training strengthens those muscles around your joints and helps protect the joints. Properly strengthening your core protects your back.
My question to you is: would you rather take the 30 minutes 3-5 days a week to get stronger to protect your joints and back and lessen injury recovery time, or spend the riding season on the couch watching dirt bike videos on You Tube while you recover and miss the season? Yes, it takes time to get into the habit, but it's well worth it! I haven't even mentioned how good you will look from working out and the benefits of losing weight.
Karl Tettmann, Co-Founder. Avid health and fitness coach who just loves to ride.