If you’ve ever been mountain biking, you know it’s fun. But an added bonus is that it’s good for you too. As a high-intensity activity, mountain biking boasts a number of health benefits, as well as emotional and social benefits.
But as with any form of exercise of physical activity, it is sometimes difficult to find the motivation to get back out there. This is especially true if the benefits are not clear or evident to the rider.
In this article we’ll explore the role of motivation in mountain biking. Specifically, we’ll look at how you can “keep score” and measure your progress in order to clearly identify the benefits of your riding and find the motivation and determination to keep pedaling.
Mountain biking provides riders with an opportunity to burn calories. According to LIVESTRONG.com, riding 15 miles per hour on a flat or slightly inclined surface – about the equivalent of moderate mountain biking – burns 526 calories per hour for a 145-lb. rider. Naturally, riding faster, gaining more elevation allows you to burn more calories in the same amount of time.
If health and fitness are key components of what motivates you to get out on the bike, be sure to track your calories to determine the health benefits you enjoy from each ride (see our article on GPS/computers, as well as our article on heart rate monitors for some devices that will help you determine what you’ve burned).
Erica Leigh with Livestrong.com recommends “Stay[ing] within your target heart rate so you can exercise for a longer period of time and burn more calories.”
Change in weight
One of the most basic indicators of improved health and fitness is a change in weight. While some exercise or workout to increase muscle and gain weight, for most, improved health and fitness equates to a lower number on the scale. While mountain biking can help you lose weight, it is important to note that as with any demanding, physical activity, mountain biking will often help you build muscle. So if you build muscle but lose fat, you may, as strength coach Mark Nutting says, show “a net loss of zero” on the scale.
But not to fear – there are plenty of other health benefits to mountain biking, as well as indicators of progress and improvement…read on!
Circumference measurements can serve as an excellent measure of progress and improved fitness and health as a result of regular mountain biking. As mentioned above, this is especially true when the scale shows little change. Measurements can help you determine where you’ve built muscle and weight.
As Nutting says, “It’s helpful, for example, if your weight hasn’t changed but you’ve dropped two pant sizes. It shows you’ve probably gained muscle and lost fat.” Areas Nutting recommends measuring include “waist (circle around where you normally wear a belt), hips (at the widest part), thigh (at the widest part) and chest (at the fullest part).”
Be consistent and regular in your measurements. For example, if you ride regularly, pull out the tape and take measurements before each ride. Consistency and frequency will allow you to gather an accurate measure of progress and improvement.
I’m sure you know that heart rate is an important indicator of health, but did you know that it is also one of the most beneficial metrics and performance measures for mountain biking? By monitoring your heart rate and properly utilizing the data provided by your heart rate monitor, you can improve your riding, maximize performance and measure notable improvements to maintain motivation to ride for your health. Read on and we’ll tell you how.
Starting at square one: how to use your heart rate monitor
First things first – before you can use heart rate data to measure improvements in your health and fitness, you must first know how to properly use this piece of equipment. Like any piece of gear, a heart rate monitor is only helpful if you know how to use it. The good news? Using a heart rate monitor when mountain biking is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. Here we’ll go through the basics of monitoring your heart rate, but for more in-depth information on monitoring your heart rate to improve performance.
What to do with your heart rate monitor
According to Eddie Fletcher of Fletcher Sports Science, the key to utilizing a heart rate monitor to improve your riding can be summed up in three steps:
- Find out what your resting heart rate is
- Determine your maximum heart rate
- “Work out” your zones
Following these steps will help give “those random numbers” some meaning.
Finding your resting heart rate
According to Harry Blackwood, the best way to determine your resting heart rate is to –
“take it ﬁrst thing in the morning every day for a week and work out the average.”
In order to get an accurate resting heart rate, it is important to do this when you’re healthy and well rested as illness, stress and other factors will affect the numbers. Put on your heart rate monitor and lie still for a couple of minutes, relaxing as much as possible. Keep an eye on the monitor and make note of the lowest number that appears. Repeat this process and in a few days, you should know your resting heart rate average and be able to “conﬁdently use this ﬁgure as the basis of your training.”
Determining your maximum heart rate
While the only way to get a “truly accurate max HR ﬁgure” is with a physiological test at a sports science center or related program, Blackwood says you can get a “reasonable estimate” by performing your own max HR test. It should be noted that such a test should only be performed by those who are physically fit and exercise regularly.
Here are the steps to a max HR test you can do yourself as outlined by Blackwood:
- Warm up thoroughly for at least 15 minutes
- On a long, steady hill, start off fairly briskly and increase your effort every minute.
- Do this seated for at least ﬁve minutes until you can’t go any faster while seated.
- At this point, get out of the saddle and sprint as hard as you can for 15 seconds.
- Then, immediately check your HR reading or, after the ride, download your data and look for the highest HR number, which is your max HR.
Finding your training zone
Once you have determined your resting and maximum heart rate, it’s time to figure out your zone. Keep those resting and max numbers handy for this process – you’ll need them.
As Blackwood says, it’s “just a case of getting in the right zone.” Zones are key when working to improve your riding using your heart rate data. The Association of British Cycling Coaches recommends a six-zone system:
Zone 1 (60-65% of maximum heart rate): For long, easy rides, to improve the combustion of fats.
Zone 2 (65-75% of MHR): The basic base training zone. Longish rides of medium stress.
Zone 3 (75-82% of MHR): For development of aerobic capacity and endurance with moderate volume at very controlled intensity.
Zone 4 (82-89% of MHR): For simulating pace when tapering for a race.
Zone 5 (89-94% of MHR): For raising anaerobic threshold. Good sessions for 10- and 25-mile time-trials.
Zone 6 (94-100% of MHR): For high-intensity interval training to increase maximum power and speed
Bring a friend (or several)
Sometimes the best motivation to get out and ride, as well as improve, is hitting the trail with other like-minded riders. Riding mates often provide motivation – both literal through verbal encouragement, as well as motivation by virtue of their presence. We often ride stronger, faster and more confidently when riding with others. This may be attributed to the competition and feeling of needing to “keep up” or set the pace, as well as the comfort and confidence that comes with knowing someone is on the trail with you in the event of an accident or injury. Less fear of injury or incident means more confidence on the bike, and generally faster times and better outcomes.
It’s also recommended that you are somewhat selective when choosing riding mates. Mountain biking with someone who is far less experienced and much slower than you will not motivate you to ride your best or push yourself. Conversely, riding with someone who is much faster and significantly more fit than you may be discouraging and also negatively impact your performance and speed on the bike.
That said, if you want to become a better mountain biker, try to make it a point to never be the best rider in the group. Now don’t get carried away – if you’re a novice mountain biker, don’t join a group ride full of pros. But if you have a desire to improve, riding with mountain bikers who are stronger and faster than you will help you push your riding and fitness in order to hang with the pack.
A little healthy competition
Are you the competitive type? Then perhaps an app like Strava is just the motivation you need. Strava offers maps, ride tracking and features that allow users to compete with one another and set goals. Social media components make it easy to check-in and share your ride with friends and followers via your favorite social media network. Accountability + benchmarking against other riders in your area, or in the much broader “Stravasphere” can help you not only track your progress with navigation & GPS, but also continually push to improve.
Motivation to ride abounds if you just know where to look for it. Track your progress, measure the health benefits you receive from regular mountain biking, compete against friends, research other ways you can improve your performance on the bike – find what works for you and use it to ensure you’re getting on the bike. Now go ride – your mind and body will thank you.
So keep in touch and get out on the trails.
About The Author
Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.