How to Reduce “Off the Couch” Injury Risk

Didn’t work out all winter? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A doctor of PT shares his tips on how to reduce the risk of getting hurt when you hit the trails again this season.

Just imagine, it’s early spring, your local trail system is looking primed, and excitement is building for the upcoming mountain bike season. But wait, you haven’t kept up with your fitness over the winter. Not cool.

Let me just start by saying this: Jumping straight off the couch for a long weekend of shredding in Moab is really not a good idea. Seriously. Now, have I taken on some silly objectives with minimal training in my past? Hell yeah! Each time I recovered and here I am, still riding.

Did it all work out ok in the end? Well, not exactly.

Let’s take a big step back and remember what our ancestors, the cavemen, were up to in the off-season. Oh, right… what off-season? They were out there hunting their food, running from saber tooth beasts, and being physically active. Every. Damn. Day. No TPS reports, no watching football all Sunday long, no weekend warrior stuff. While I understand that life today is very different, the point I’m making is that it’s crucial to maintain a certain level of battle preparedness–a task that’s easier than you might think.

Still in your twenties? That’s great for you–really great. You probably haven’t exhausted your innate physical gifts just yet. You can ride hard, put yourself away wet, and still feel pretty good the next day. It’s time to wake up, though–lifetime physical health shouldn’t start when you are forced to take care of your achy body. The sooner you embrace the idea that you need to maintain your body, the better off you will be.

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Alas, here you are: Your trip to Moab is coming up and you’ve got a limited amount of time to prepare for battle. Where the heck do you start? With mobility.

Mobility is your ability to move your joints through a range of motion before running into some restriction–whether caused by muscle tension, other soft tissue like a ligament, or even the anatomical end range of that joint. Lack of full mobility limits your body’s ability to move efficiently and makes you more susceptible to injury. As always, our goal is for your joints to have full range of motion and instant access, whenever you may need it. Without that full range of motion, if you can more easily cheat your way to a position–possibly tweaking muscles and other tissues in the process–you will cheat.

Start practicing the following mobility exercises now to help you weather the couch-to-singletrack storm and reduce your risk of sustaining an injury.

Lower Body

Your posterior chain, which includes your hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and the soles of your feet, is a good place to start. This part of the body is critical for mountain bikers–you develop your power from these muscles both when pedaling and pumping the bike. You need ample mobility from these muscles as you enter your attack position while descending. These exercises are best performed after time on the bike.

Part of the posterior chain, your hips, demand even more care. So much so, in fact, that I previously wrote an entire post about hip mobility. Check that out for more in-depth information about your hips flexors, and use the technique below, both before and after rides, to work on mobility.

Upper Body

A great place to start with your upper body is the thoracic spine, or T-spine–another uber-important area for mobility that I’ve written a more in-depth post about. Your T-spine is the middle of your back, between your shoulder blades. This part of your back is the foundation of your shoulder position as the shoulder blades rests near this area. Lack of proper T-spine mobility can result in a forward shoulder position, which is a weak position for the shoulder and not so good for bombing down big descents.

The best way to start mobilizing the thoracic spine out of the all too common slouched position is with a quadruped rotation movement. The goal is to rotate up and look at the ceiling. Doing this for two minutes on each side before or after riding is a great start.

Follow that up with a mobilization for your T-spine, shoulders, and latissimus muscle—all in one. The goal here is to keep your elbows narrow and grip wide while moving your arm overhead. This may feel like a stretch near the shoulder itself, the T-spine, or even the side of your ribs where the lat muscle lives. Shoot for two minutes in this position before or after riding while pulsing the elbows in and out of a flexed position.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of every mobilization you may need, it will get you started on the right path. Proper mobility prep for a big trip is just as important as your overall fitness. These tips will also work wonders following hard efforts on the bike. You can’t afford to ride hard and not maintain your own body. Take 10 minutes after every ride to care for soft tissues properly. Your future self will thank you.

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