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
Motivation. I've written about it before so why am I writing about it again? Because some days it seems like a monumental task to get to the gym. Any one of us has a list of excuses a mile long: it's cold out, I'm tired, I had a rough day at work, I want to sleep longer. I have said the same things out loud. It's the off season and when it's cold and dark out and the riding season is at least 6 weeks away, it seems like you have all the time in the world to get in shape. I'm having that kind of morning. Usually I'm up and at the gym by 8 am, it's now 8:30 am and I'm still in my PJs contemplating another cup of joe.
Right now, I have the luxury of going later in the day, but what about those of us who don't have the luxury of time? Go for a walk if there's not a raging snow storm out, even if there is, it could be a good adventure. Stretching is always a good option, you can even go to the mall and do some window shopping at least you will be moving. Clean the house, pushing a vacuum around will burn some calories and get the joints moving. But don't beat yourself up for being lazy, we are after all human, but make sure you continue at the gym, sometimes excuses are just easy.
The gym I currently frequent has a neat clientele. Big muscly guys, teenagers (because it's part of their school phys-ed requirement) and a few gringos. I was blessed to meet an 82 year old gringo from British Columbia that spends 3 months here in Baja every winter. She is there 3 sometimes 4 times a week. She isn't training for a marathon or kick boxing, she is there to keep out of a wheel chair. Etta told me she sees the old people, younger than she is, barely able to get out of their lawn chairs, needing help getting down the two steps out of their RVs. She doesn't want to be them. She works with her family doctor, a physiotherapist and when in BC she works with a personal trainer. Today as I sit drinking my third cup of coffee, trying to decide what to do, I think of Etta and she is my motivator. The next time I see her at the gym, I'm going to thank her. If I make it to 82, I hope to be just like her.
Yes, I do want to ride a dirt bike this summer. Now what?
Well, it's winter and unless you live where it doesn't snow, then your training starts in the gym. This step will set you up for success before the season even begins. Why wouldn't anyone want to start the season, stronger, faster, and possibly, a few pounds lighter?
Gyms can be intimidating, especially for women. All those machines, dumbbells, big muscular guys in ripped t-shirts grunting and staring at themselves in mirrors. Who wouldn't be intimidated? Visit many gyms and choose a gym you like. There will always be the muscular dudes, but I have found that no one has ever bothered me at the gym, and no one is paying attention to you, and anyway, who cares?
Have a staff person show you around and ask questions about how to use the machines properly. Personally, I don't like using the machines because I'm too short and they tend to strain my joints. I prefer free weights; they work the muscles more efficiently and engage more muscles other than the ones targeted on the machines. If you still feel intimidated but are interested in our programs, drop us a line. Most of our programs can be done at home, without the need for gym equipment. One of us may even be in your area to give you a hands-on personal training session to get you started and feel more comfortable. It's okay to feel uncomfortable, it's a new experience. Learning new skills is uncomfortable and challenging.
So, sign up for a FitRiders program. We can teach you some easy, fun workouts, with or without weights. The free weights aren't as intimidating as you think and are a lot of fun once you start using them.
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.
Karl Tettmann, Co-Founder. Avid health and fitness coach who just loves to ride.