Importance of Strength and Conditioning for Women and Mountain Bikers

Donna is going to give us some insight into strength and conditioning training and how it can help benefit women physiologically and help them become more confident on the mountain bike. Donna Dall from Progressive Coaching Solutions has been racing mountain bikes for over 25 years. She is a multiple State and National Champion in Cross Country Olympic and Cross-Country Marathon racing.

So what is strength training, and why we need to do it?

When I first talk to women about strength training, they are a bit apprehensive and concerned about injury. If you go at it like a bull at a gate and start lifting heavy and frequently you are leading yourself down the path of injury or burnout. As a beginner, I recommend starting with workouts that use your own body weight. You can do this at home or at the gym to slowly introduce strength training into your routine.

Strength training helps prevent age-related muscle and bone loss. Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. A combination of age-related changes, inactivity, and inadequate nutrition conspire to gradually steal bone mass at the rate of 1% per year after age 40. Strength declines 30% between the ages of 50 and 70!

As bones grow more susceptible to fracture, they are more likely to break during a crash on the bike. Strength training can reduce the risk of getting injured and the likelihood of osteoporosis, which is especially important for women. Studies have shown that strength training not only helps slow bone loss but can also even build bone. The best way to achieve this is through activities that put stress on bones as this causes cells to form more bone. That stress comes from the impact on bones that can occur during strength training weight-bearing exercises. The result is stronger, denser bones.

So what does strength training actually do for your skills and performance in mountain biking?

“Female athletes are up to 8 times more likely to suffer knee injuries than male athletes. This is due to our female hormones that make up our connective tissue which is more lax at certain times of our cycle” (Source: Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk).

Strength training helps to maintain a healthy weight. Resistance training builds muscle, which increases your metabolism. A higher metabolism means you burn more calories all day, even at rest. As women age, our metabolism naturally slows down. This often leads to a steady weight gain over the years even if your diet hasn’t changed. Strength training helps fight this by revving up your metabolism, helping keep off the extra kilograms. Strength training helps shape and “tighten up” your body, giving you a more “fit” look. Some targeted exercises can also correct muscular imbalances and increase awareness of how you carry your body, helping to improve posture and some pain conditions.

I believe one of the best advantages of strength and conditioning is the mental health benefits that come along with it. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, triggering the release of endorphins and serotonin, the “feel good” hormones. When you feel good inside and out, you naturally project yourself more confidently in the world. In addition, recent research found that resistance training helped to significantly reduce symptoms of depression.

Other health aspects that are benefited by strength and conditioning training are:

  • Your resting blood pressure
  • Resting heart rate
  • Improved blood lipid profiles
  • Prevention and improvement of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis
  • Decrease physical discomfort
  • And reduce risk of some types of cancer!
So what can we be doing to start strengthening our bodies and getting some of these awesome benefits?

Working on your core is a great start! Planks make the abdominal muscles work twice as hard as crunches plus they work your shoulders, back, glutes etc which improves your posture and helps us stand straighter too! Transverse abdominal activation (TVA) is another bodyweight exercise that is great to start off with. The TVA are deep abdominal muscles that support the spinal column. Unlike the rectus abdominus (six-pack abs) you can’t see your TVA but it performs an essential role. To learn what TVA activation feels like you should draw your navel toward your lower spine.

You should not be activating your rectus abdominus and should continue to breathe normally. At Progressive Coaching Solutions we also have a broad online library of video’s and step-by-step explanations for people of all levels of fitness to get started on a program that shows you exactly how to work each muscle group. These workout video’s are for mountain bikers to start getting the benefits of strength and conditioning while still being able to do the exercises at home or while travelling.

Once you have mastered the core strength and bodyweight exercises the next step is to lower the reps and increase the weight!

When you start strength training your muscles learn how to work together more efficiently, which leads to an increase in power and force. In the beginning, your body will feel like you have just been run over by a bus, but this does go away as you continue your program. It is highly recommended that you start out with a period of light gym work to give your muscles time to adapt.

It takes roughly 8 weeks to get the benefits of strength training and should be done separately from your endurance workouts. To maintain, it’s best to continue with one or two sessions a week. You will notice that after the 8 weeks you will feel more confident on your mountain bike even if you haven’t been doing much riding at all. Confidence, skills and strength all come hand in hand. Give yourself some time and look for a strength and conditioning program that suits you and your lifestyle and start reaping all the benefits!

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