By Ambassador Kathryn Dove

There is a lot that goes into being able to ride a mountain bike well. For mountain bike racers the quest for increased speed is always at the top of the list. Watching top-level downhill riders race rough tech sections can give insight into what they are doing better than everyone else. Keeping a centered body position while letting the bike move around them is always something that is noticed and done better by the fastest riders on the course. Understanding which muscles are involved in keeping the upper body in the correct position is the first step to knowing how to make them stronger and do their job more efficiently. As a physical therapist and self-proclaimed PT nerd, I love this component of progressing one’s riding. For many years I have been inspired by Frederic Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy as it offers the best visual diagrams of muscles in action during specific strength training exercises and it inspired me to attempt to do the same sort of thing for someone riding a bike. I was lucky to get some help with the art from fellow Kona Ambassador Henry Cruickshank who graciously provided the outline for the rider in the picture.

My drawing points out some of the primary muscles involved in keeping the upper body in the correct position while riding (middle trapezius, infraspinatus, rhomboid major, teres minor, and teres major). Often when something goes “wrong” while riding we end up too far forward and if unable to counteract the forces from the ground on our bike we go over the bars and end up crashing. However, if we are able to stabilize well with the upper body we can prevent this from occurring which can be noticed in “close call” situations. The muscles in the drawing above play a large role in this stabilization because they hold the shoulder blade in place which provides the base of support for the shoulders and arms to be in the correct position for riding. The primary action of these muscles is the pull the shoulder blades together as well as to externally rotate the shoulder, so exercises that include these movements will help to make these muscles stronger and better able to stabilize to keep the upper body centered while riding over rough terrain. Here are a few examples of exercises that incorporate these movements and target the muscles shown above.

Resisted row: stand with the resistance at the level of your waist.  Squeeze your shoulder blades together in order to move your elbows back and hold for 2-3 sec then return to the starting position.  Repeat 10 times and perform 2-3 sets.

Sideways wall walks: with a resistance band loop around your wrists and with your elbows at your side try to walk sideways with your arms by rotating the shoulder to the outside while keeping your shoulder blades squeezed together.  Once you have walked 5-6 feet in one direction switch and walk back to the starting point.  Do 2-3 laps of this same distance.

Correct body position is one of many factors that will improve your riding ability. Progressing upper body strength can contribute to improved upper body position and the ability to stay centered while allowing the bike to move in response to changes in terrain. Understanding which muscles are involved is the first step to learning how to strengthen them for improved performance. Take some time off the bike to try out the exercises shown above or other similar exercises and perform them regularly (for example 1-2x/week for at least 3-4 weeks) and you might be surprised at the results in your riding!

Photo by Rui Sousa