Can Mountain Biking Help You Get Into Shape?

Mountain biking is an incredible way to fulfill your daily exercise needs, in addition to a great way to improve and maintain physical fitness. Best of all, the full-body workout that you get from MTB can improve your health, specifically your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. MTB is both cardiovascular and strength-training exercises combined into one activity, and the thrill of mountain biking ensures you will never get bored. But can MTB help you get into shape?

Mountain biking improves physical fitness on its own, but if you are a serious mountain biker, there are some exercises that can help improve your performance. Jumping lunges, pushups, squats, and jogging can all improve the muscle conditioning required for serious mountain biking. 

Are you curious about the health benefits of mountain biking? Maybe you want to know what exercises can help improve your performance when mountain biking? For either of these questions, this article is for you. In this guide on MTB exercises to get into shape, we will take a look at the physical fitness attributes of mountain biking. If you like MTB as a leisure activity or are becoming serious about the sport, this guide will answer all of your questions. 

What Does Mountain Biking Do To Your Body

When it comes to riding a bike, exercise can be thought of as just another byproduct of physical exertion. But if you do set out to get physically fitter, then mountain biking can be the most perfect type of exercise. 

With that in mind, mountain bikes are a great tool to boost your physical fitness. You can use a mountain bike if you are just starting out in a quest to get leaner and faster within a few short weeks, and let’s face it, riding a bike in the open outdoors can be way more satisfying than being stuck in a gym, and you can still listen to your favorite songs as you give your body a challenging workout. 

Mountain biking can even be appealing on days when you are feeling lazy overall. Just basic strides and strolls with your mountain bike can burn calories and awaken your muscles, specifically in a low-impact intensity. 

If you are looking to lose weight, a lean diet is important, but 45 minutes to one hour of MTB per day can fulfill all of your exercise requirements. 

Mountain biking is a great workout for the body. While there are many muscles that get a workout from mountain biking, the legs, thighs, and calves are worked out primarily from peddling.  Mountain biking is sometimes referred to as a whole-body workout.

mountain biking fitness
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Balancing strengthens the abdominal and core muscles. Finally, climbing and maneuvering strengthens the chest and upper arms. Mountain biking can burn lots of calories, up to 900 calories per hour in some more intensive riding situations. Mountain biking primarily uses the muscles in the calves, thighs, as, glutes, and hips. 

Mountain bike riders will be able to notice more defined muscle and higher muscle endurance. Not only will these muscles be able to function longer, but they will look great too. You are building both larger muscles but also muscles that can endure longer. Cross-country mountain biking is one of the types of biking that focuses more on endurance than short-term power.

At just an average pace, a mountain biker burns over 150 calories in less than 20 minutes. Riding a mountain bike just a few times a week will drastically help with weight loss.  Just one 20-minute ride a day and you will lose on average 1/2 a pound a week. In addition to burning calories, your metabolic rate will increase so in all likelihood you will lose even more weight than that.

Mountain biking increases the strength of the heart by improving the blood flow and reducing stress. Stress is known to be a leading cause of heart attacks in the United States. So perhaps it is time to pick out a great mountain bike and go for a peaceful ride.

Increased blood flow taking more oxygen to different parts of your body has other gains besides just a stronger heart.  The increased blood flow will also increase your brain’s functionality as well as increased alertness.

Having a hobby allows you to release stress and focus on something not as mentally taxing. Science has shown that less stress leads to better sleep and easier control of your emotions. In addition to a lifelong hobby, there are some great people to meet and even befriend while biking. Mountain biking is such a great sport and it works so many of your muscles that you can’t help but get into great shape while having fun. The key is to enjoy it and all of its great benefits.

Benefits To Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is great for fitness, having numerous benefits, including improving your cardiovascular system. It is also perfect for those returning from injury being a non-load-bearing sport. Mountain biking makes for an ideal family activity, with child seats and trailers enabling you to bring your family with you at virtually any age. 

mountain biking fitness
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It’s great for couples too, and is something you can do together. Using a bike can help tone your quad, calf and glute (buttock) muscles as well as strengthen your tendons, without any load bearing. Far better fun than working out on a stationary bike in the gym. Fat burning takes place when your heart rate is at around 65 to 75 percent of your maximum (your maximum is 220 less your age for men and 225 less your age for women). 

You can measure your heart rate using a heart rate monitor (HRM) in order to train at the optimum level for fat burning. Your heart and lungs make up the cardiovascular system and the fitter you become, the more efficiently they work. This means better flow of blood through your body and an increase in oxygenation. Your fitness level depends on how well this process is done. 

By increasing your training on your bike over time, there is an associated improvement in the performance of your cardiovascular system and therefore fitness level. Another advantage of mountain biking is that it is a non-load bearing form of exercise. By that we mean that your whole body is not being supported during your training as it is when you run for example. 

The very action of sitting means that a degree of pressure is being taken off your joints, meaning there is a reduced chance of injury.Many people who are returning to training after an injury use the bike as a way of regaining fitness as they can gradually increase fitness levels without putting pressure on a potentially suspect joint or tendon. 

How Good Is Mountain Biking For Fitness?

MTB is good for fitness only if you follow some important details to ensure you are maximizing the fitness benefits the sport brings. Most races are normally hilly, discontinuous efforts on steep grades. Rather than a set number of hours in zone 2, the races tend to be chunks of near-threshold efforts followed by rest periods. 

Sometimes, a race effort is so discontinuous that it looks more like a series of bursts than it does an endurance ride. You can use this as reassurance that getting away from your base miles is not sacrificing the specifics of a race.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at ways you can build endurance to perform well in Enduro MTB. 

Tailor Your Exercises

You can tailor your workouts to match the dynamics of a specific endurance race. Taking individual components of your races and breaking them down into workouts can be a productive way to plan your early season sessions. Most mountain bike races have sections of above-threshold riding (often at the start), low cadence efforts (on the climbs), and punchy efforts (traversing on singletrack). 

You can use these efforts to design sessions that are achievable either on the trainer or can be completed during a shorter ride outside. Completing two to three appropriate and well-planned workouts each week will be attainable even for athletes with the minimum amount of time to train.

Keep an Eye on Your Weight

A big concern for those who perform endurance MTB is excessive weight gain that will be harder to budge come the summer when most Enduro races are held. This shouldn’t be a concern if you’re eating the right diet; use this part of the season to focus on how to improve your eating. 

Certainly better than riding mindless miles on the road, controlling your portion size is the simplest way to get started, and provides the easiest method to alter your calorie intake based on the day’s energy expenditure on the bike.

Use Nasal Breathing Only

Always remember to breathe through your nose when you are riding. For most people, as soon as they get on the bike and start breathing intensely, they begin to breathe through their mouths. Nasal breathing helps you to improve your endurance, efficiency and helps to keep you in a relaxed and calm state of mind while on the bike. 

Mouth breathing has a tendency to put people into a stressed-out, fight-or-flight mode of thinking, and this is because our respiratory systems were designed for nasal breathing primarily and only mouth breathing as a backup emergency method of taking in oxygen. Nasal breathing can not only improve your MTB endurance, but it can also improve your overall cardiovascular and respiratory health in general.  

Is Mountain Biking Good For Weight Loss?

Mountain biking is exactly the right sort of exercise when you’re concerned with weight loss. Firstly, it’s aerobic exercise (or cardiovascular-based exercise) rather than anaerobic exercise (short bursts of powerful repetitions such as free-weights, push-ups or shuttle runs).

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So why is cardio better for weight loss, you ask? Well, that comes down to why we get fat in the first place.

We store fat to provide energy for when we have none readily available in our system. This helps us carry on when we’ve exhausted our energy supplies from recently eaten food. Unfortunately, many people consume more energy than they need and so it gets stored for a later date in the form of body fat. When you’re inactive, this date never arrives and so the excess fat is never burned up. 

Cue beer belly, love handles and all those other good things. Without activity, they’re never shifting.

When it comes to getting rid of this excess body fat, we need to first use up calories that are readily available. For most people, this doesn’t take place until you get your heart rate up to a reasonably high level. The general consensus amongst the sports science community (although this is always debated) is that this takes place after around twenty minutes or so of moderate cardio.

To start with, MTB is a sport which is really easy to do for over 20 minutes. You’ll struggle to find a trail that takes less. Second, it’s easily hard enough work to raise the heart rate to a good level. But, that’s not enough – that doesn’t separate us from the road bikers, the runners and the power walkers.

Instead, let’s put forward a case for why mountain biking is particularly awesome at shifting that weight.

How MTB Burns Fat

Doing something that can be extremely repetitive, boring and also painful for long durations takes an extraordinary amount of willpower. Unfortunately, most cardiovascular exercise fits this description perfectly. 

Boredom is one of the biggest reasons why people struggle with exercise. If the activity at hand is not invigorating and mentally stimulating, after one or two workouts, the person struggling to lose weight will simply lose interest in the activity.

Now think back to the times in your life when you’ve suddenly found yourself absolutely drenched in sweat, without even realizing it. Likely, you were doing something entertaining at the time. Be it a game of football with your friends, a game of volleyball on the beach or while taking a long walk to a new and interesting place in the hot sun. Doing something entertaining while working-out can make it seem that you’re not working out at all.

Using a mountain bike for weight loss is ideal in this regard. It can be much more interesting than road biking, especially if you live in or near  anywhere with some great scenery. Or, if you’re close to a decent forest trail, the variety is so much better. It can seem a lot more worthwhile slowly cycling up a steep incline when you have a beautiful natural vista waiting for you at the top.

If you are traversing down a 30% gradient, on a slippery slope, it’s very difficult to be bored. Quite the opposite, your mind is working so hard that you never notice the effort you’re putting in. Keeping in the right gear, choosing the right body position, keeping the wheels on-line, all keeps you more than occupied. Plus, if you are going off-the-beaten-track, there’s even plenty of route-selection to take into account.

If you’re planning a long off-road journey with your mountain bike, then you’ll likely need to learn how to orientate your map, work out the grid/magnetic angle, check the contour lines, and take a bearing with a compass. You may also need to take into account other factors such as; appropriate clothing, water, shelter and food. So there’s plenty to think about if you are planning such a journey.

The last big advantage of mountain biking is the sheer range of effort you’ll go through during your ride. During other forms of exercise it’s really easy to get complacent. You can be running along and settle into an easy pace, letting your heart rate tail off to the low 100s. It’s the same with road biking, it’s very easy to find yourself coasting.

When using mountain biking for weight loss though, there’s no such thing as coasting. Off-road trails go up and down faster than a see-saw, and require you to change your effort on a minute by minute basis. You’ll be pedaling one minute, only to get out of the saddle and power up a 30 degree slope the next. This huge variety keeps your heart rate up, and makes sure you never get complacent.

Losing Weight With Mountain Biking

overweight biker
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Mountain biking is a great way to lose weight and get in shape, but it’s hard to do when you’re overweight and out of shape. But you can overcome this paradox if you ease yourself into mountain biking. Start with easy cycling and gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts while controlling your calories to lose weight. 

Soon you’ll be lighter and in better shape. Begin cycling on your mountain bike at a speed and frequency that is comfortable for you. Aim for a moderately intense workout as you start out. This may mean sticking to well developed trails, carriage roads or even the streets where you can pedal at a comfortable pace that you do not find strenuous. Aim for at least 100 minutes of biking per week.

Gradually increase the length of your bike rides. According to research published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, increasing the duration of your workouts is more important than increasing the intensity if you’re looking to lose weight. Aim to get 150 minutes on your bike per week, but remember that more is better.

Increase the intensity of your rides as you look for an added challenge. Choose more challenging, less developed trails and include more hills in your workouts. This may slow down your cycling, but it will increase the intensity of your workout. While it’s important to maintain a longer duration for your workouts, increasing the intensity will also help burn more calories.

Monitor your heart rate by taking your pulse. 

Place your index and ring fingers over the blood vessels on your opposite wrist and count the number of beats you feel in 10 seconds. Multiply this number by six to get your pulse in beats per minute. Alternatively you can use a heart rate monitor. Your pulse should be in the target zone of 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. 

Your maximum heart rate can be estimated by subtracting your age from 220. For instance a 30-year-old has a maximum heart rate of 190 beats per minute and a target zone of 95 to 162 beats per minute.

Track the number of calories that you burn mountain biking. As a general guideline, know that a 190-pound person will burn about 649 calories in an hour of mountain biking, while a 133-pound individual will burn about 433 calories. But these should only be taken as rough estimates. Your actual calorie burn will vary based on the intensity of your workout. 

A heart rate monitor with a calorie counting feature can give you a customized estimate based on your exercise intensity and your weight.

Track your daily calorie intake and aim for a reduction of 500 to 1,000 through diet and exercise. For example, if you burn 300 calories mountain biking, you need to also reduce your intake by 200 calories to reduce your total daily calories by 500. A calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories every day will yield weight loss in a healthy range of one to two pounds per week.

How Many Calories Are Burned With Mountain Biking?

If you are really serious about burning a good amount of calories, mountain biking is the option. An off-road track with a mountain bike, and you are ready to go.

Road bikes are designed to take less time and energy on a plain road. However, mountain bikes are harder to pedal and have a very upright riding position that makes you burn more calories.

Although mountain biking is one of the most effective ways to burn calories, there are some factors that influence the amount of calorie burning.

Apart from the weight, tire size matters a lot regarding burning calories. Riding a bike with a 29er requires less effort than what it takes to ride a 26er cycle. Due to the small dimensions of 26 inches tires, you need to pedal more. Thus, more calories get burned. Have a look at mountain bike size.

Cycling cadence means the pedal revolutions per minute. Pedaling at a cadence of 80 rpm can let the rider produce some serious amount of power without losing any efficiency. So, the RPM counts; the harder you pedal, the more you can burn the excess fat.

There are different types of mountain biking; cross country, trail riding, all-mountain also called Enduro, downhill, and freeride. Choosing a different track will lead you to a different amount of calorie loss. Again, a harder and tougher track will make you shade more calories.

Based on what we have discussed so far, you can calculate how many calories you can burn riding for a certain period of time. Again, according to Harvard University, biking 12-14 miles per hour at a moderate speed can cause a 155 lbs. individual to burn around 300 calories in just 30 minutes. As you ride faster, you will burn more.

A 150 lbs. healthy man can burn up to 50 calories by riding 1 mile.

Therefore, 10 miles of biking can burn around 500 calories. Again, it depends on the other factors that mentioned in this section.

The more rugged the terrains are, the more effort you will need. It can go up to 800 calories per hour, depending on the terrain. On average flat roads will need less effort, and it shades around 13 calories per minute.

How MTB Relates to Other Fat Burning Activities

Mountain biking needs a lot of oxygen flowing to large muscle groups so it can make the heart work steadily, developing your heart’s fitness up to 7%. You want to either have a nice slow mountain bike ride for a generous amount of time, or you can have a fast and steady ride for a short time to burn the calories you need to burn. It is all up to you.

For burning 500 calories, you will need to pedal for more hours in slow biking. On the other hand, fast biking will take a lot less time to burn 500 calories because you will need to put more effort, and your arms, legs, and muscles of other body parts will move a lot more.

These are all popular forms of exercise that bring great physical benefits. 

If you are to compare the exercises side by side, walking is a more relaxed and comfortable way to burn calories.

Running is far more intensive than walking, and it’s considered the best form of cardio exercise. After swimming, running is the best exercise from all aspects, which also burns way more calories than walking in terms of exercising for the same period.

Biking stays in between walking and running. This form of exercise burns more calories than walking, but less than what a person can burn by running. If you have issues that make you unable to run, biking would be the most preferable way of burning excess fats from your body.

burning calories thru biking
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Calories will burn when you engage in some physical activities, even if it’s about walking around the garden a few times.

As you are interested to know the accurate number of calories that you can burn while doing exercise, we would recommend you to use a fitness tracker or app that tells you the exact calories that you burn doing a certain exercise.

For example, if you bike for one and a half hours, start the fitness tracker or app before you take the first pedal. And see the information regarding burned calories after you finish the ride.

It’s hard to tell how many calories a person burns during a day, as the individual has to do different things at different calibers. However, there are some estimated numbers depending on the activities.

Our body uses 15 calories per pound of our body weight while doing high-intensity activities on a regular basis. For people older than 55, their body uses 13 calories per pound of body weight at low activity levels. Depending on your age and activity level, it would be from 95-105 calories per hour that our body burns each day.

Calories Burned Mountain Biking Calculator

Calculating calories burned while mountain biking is not as hard as it may sound. Besides the terrain that you are going over, another factor that affects the number of calories that you are going to be burning is the speed that you are biking at. If you are going as fast as you can in a competitive mountain biking race, for example, you can burn well over 1,000 calories in an hour’s time.

However, if you are riding along with a moderate amount of effort over terrain that is not overly challenging, then you will likely be burning somewhere around 600 calories per hour. This is still better than road biking, even to and from work, which only burns between 450-500 calories in an hour because you are only going on a pretty flat and even road.

Another important factor that plays a large part in how many calories you are going to burn in a ride is your current weight. This is actually great news if you are trying to lose some extra pounds, since the more you weigh the more calories you are going to burn while you are mountain biking.

Part of this is because you will be forced to pedal harder on your mountain bike in order to move ahead on the trail. The other main reason why this affects your calories is because people who have slighter or more muscled bodies simply have muscles that work more efficiently.

The other important factor that plays a large role in the amount of calories you burn while mountain biking is how far you are going at a stretch. 

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The longer you can keep going, the more tired you will feel, and therefore the harder you will have to work in order to keep going forward. This is what makes long rides actually burn more calories than the same amount of time and the same distance would if you split it up into shorter rides.

When it comes to mountain biking, there are a number of different factors that go into trying to figure out how many calories you are burning. The first thing is your cadence – the rate at which the pedals on your bike make one complete revolution. While some degree of common sense might say that the faster your cadence is the faster you must be going, this is not always entirely accurate.

The reason why this is not accurate is because when you are going up a steep hill, for instance, your cadence will be slower and yet you will most assuredly be burning more energy. In the same way you will also be burning less energy when you are going downhill even if your cadence is faster. For this reason the elevation of the trail you are riding must also be taken into consideration.

Your weight and the weight of your bike must be added up to your calculation too, since these will both be pulling you back downhill and will make it require more effort to go uphill against them. Then too is the matter of your heart rate. If you are not very fit then you will be exerting yourself more and your heart will be beating faster than it will if you are physically fit.

In addition to this is the fact that both your heart and your lungs burn calories themselves when they have to work harder, though it is very hard to try to count these. 

Each of these things listed affect the amount of calories that you spend while you are mountain biking, and each must be taken into consideration if you are going to try to make your own calculations as to how many calories you are burning while you are on your ride

How Much Mountain Biking To Lose Weight

Mountain biking is a great option for those looking to burn calories, and it burns much more calories than walking does. While it does not often burn as many calories as running does, if you are competing in a mountain biking race it may do so and you would definitely cover more ground and therefore get to see more scenery than you would if you were using running as your way of burning calories instead.

What also can make mountain biking better than running is that you have to buy a mountain bike in order to do it. While this will cost more money than running would as a hobby, it is because of this reason that you will feel that you have to at least go biking occasionally because of the investment that you made in order to get your money’s worth out of it.

As long as you are not trying to do any technical features or jumps on your mountain bike, and you are sticking to the cross country trails, mountain biking is actually a pretty safe sport to be involved in. Certainly there are the occasional accidents like there are with almost any sport or hobby, but for the amount of calories that are burned mountain biking is actually comparatively gentle on the joints compared to other things that burn the same amount of calories.

If you are new to mountain biking, or even if you do know how to but have only done so for short rides, it is very important that you start off slow. Do not start off day one and expect that you will do a 4 hour bike ride! Instead, test yourself out on a short trail first to see where your endurance level is at and just how far you can comfortably go before you get too worn out.

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Disadvantages To Using Mountain Biking To Stay Fit

As is true with every form of physical activity, there are dangers to mountain biking. Cycling injuries are an unfortunate part of most rider’s experience with the pursuit. Crashes are an unfortunate side effect of this activity. Some people are more prone than others, but most cyclists will find themselves coming off the bike at some point. And no one likes to be forced off the trails because of injury. 

The least serious form of trauma, but often most annoying, is road rash. This is a scrape of the skin caused by hitting, and often skidding along, the surface you are riding on. Obviously, a road rash from street riding is going to be more damaging than from a soft dirt trail. As much as it might sting, it’s important to carefully clean road rash as soon as possible. 

After a thorough cleansing, a simple light dressing with an antibacterial ointment is typically sufficient.

One of the most common injuries associated with MTB  is lower back pain. Hours spent hunched over the handlebars will do that. This is exacerbated by jobs that require long periods spent staring at a computer screen. One structure often affected is the piriformis muscle, which helps the thigh to rotate outward. Inflammation of the piriformis may be experienced as hip pain, or pain traveling down the leg due to a pinching of the sciatic nerve. 

If this problem develops, your bike may not be properly set up for you. Look at your position on the bike. If your bike has a long stem or top tube and low handlebars, this may be placing you in an overly aggressive position.

The main physical disadvantages to MTB are:

  • Core strength is important to mountain biking, as it is to every activity one can imagine. Without sufficient core strength, your lower back will tend to collapse while riding, causing undue strain. Improving core strength will also make you a more powerful rider, since you will be pushing from a stronger foundation.
  • Knee pain can develop with any bicycling-type motion. The fit of the bike to your body, once again, is often the cause. If this is the case, it may be worth hauling your bike to a bike shop to consult with some professionals. Pain felt in the front of the knee may occur with low saddle placement, which puts excessive pressure on the knee cap. Conversely, pain experienced at the back of the knee may be from a saddle which is too high.
  • Foot pain is common in cyclists. A burning sensation in the ball of the foot is a common complaint. This may be accompanied by numbness or a cramping pain in the toes. Compression of a nerve, as it travels through the ball of the foot, causes chemical changes in the nerve, resulting in pain. Simply wearing a better fitting shoe can make a difference for some. A prescription arch support, aka foot orthotics, one specifically intended for cycling, can make all the difference.
  • Another common foot issue, experienced by both cyclists and non-cyclists alike, is the ubiquitous heel pain. The majority of the time, it’s the result of plantar fasciitis, a strained, overworked arch ligament. Most cases can be resolved with stretches, prescription foot supports, and home therapies. 

Of course, fractures can also occur, with the collarbone (the clavicle) being the most common. But if any injury is persistent, you should see a professional who can help identify and treat the cause. But even better than treating the injury is prevention. For one, always ride within your limits. But there may be times there is nothing you can do about it. If you ride a mountain bike, at some point, you are probably going to fall. It’s simply a matter of time. 

Yet some riders are able to walk away from fairly significant falls, while others are repeatedly injured. If you ride, you should know the specific tactics recommended which reduce the risk of injury when you fall from your bike. Obviously, proper protective gear is vitally important, with a good helmet being one of the most important. This is one area in which spending some money is worthwhile. Knee and shin pads, even shoulder pads, are available.