What Muscles Does Mountain Biking Build?

Perhaps you are looking for a good way to exercise and are wondering what muscles mountain biking will build up, or maybe you have already been mountain biking for a while and are curious to know what the names of the muscles that you have been working on are.

Mountain biking builds muscles in not only in your legs, but also in the muscles up into your hips and core, and in your wrists up your arms and into your shoulders and back as well. There are nearly 700 muscles in the human body though, so just saying that mountain biking works out your legs muscles still does not cover which of these it works on.

However, there are certain things that can affect the muscles you are using when you are mountain biking, and knowing this can help you if you want to try to build up those particular muscles. There are also certain ways to care for your muscles and to help build them up when you are out mountain biking.

What Can Affect The Muscles You Build When You Are Mountain Biking?

A lot of what muscles you use can actually depend on your level of skill and the terrain that you are riding on. If you are biking down a flat trail that has no technical features on it at all, then you will mostly be working on the muscles in your legs and some in your core.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you live in a place that is hilly with a lot of steep inclines and are doing a number of different technical features, then you will be getting a full body workout from your fingers down into your toes and especially building up the muscles in your core. This is because you will be pushing, pulling, twisting, lifting your bike handles, and occasionally carrying your bike through any hike a bike sections.

It will also depend on how many twists and turns there are in the trail you are riding down as to which muscles you use. Turning the handlebars involves using muscles in your shoulders and arms in particular that may not get used at all if you are going straight the whole time, therefore the more turns there are and the sharper these turns are, the more these muscles will be built up.

Finally, another determining factor is how much pedaling you do when seated versus pedaling when you are in a standing position. You do this most often when you need more power for going uphill or for getting to a greater speed, and this uses some different muscles than when you are seated.

Mountainbiker in the Mountains

What Muscles Are Used When Mountain Biking?

In order to know which muscles are built up, you have to first know which muscles are used. It can also be an important factor to know what actions on your mountain bike use which muscles. This can let you know if the trails you are riding are working the muscles that you want to be building and can also help let you know what trails you might want to ride to target certain areas.

Your Leg And Hip Muscles

There are essentially two different phases that your leg goes through when you are pedaling, each phase using different muscles. The first phase is the down stroke where you push the pedal down, and the second phase is where you pull your leg back up afterward.

The main muscle that is built when mountain biking – and the one that you will most often feel at first besides your calves – is called your quadriceps. This muscle is located in the front part of your thigh and it gets the most amount of use of the thigh muscles, especially when you are going uphill and are really having to push down on the pedals.

However, there are a total of eight different muscles in the thigh that do get used by mountain biking. A couple of these muscles that go down into the knee joint on the outside part of your leg are called the biceps femoris short head and the biceps femoris long head. The deeper thigh muscle called the vastus intermedius that is right on the front part of your thigh bone itself is also used.

Right above this muscle, is another one that is used by mountain biking called your gluteus muscles. There are actually three different gluteus muscles in your hip, all of which are used by mountain biking: one on the inside of your hip called your gluteus medius, another one is on the outside off your hip that you sit on which is called your gluteus maximus, and the last one is the gluteus minimus that is the smallest and sits mostly in between the other two.

These gluteus muscles are what allow your hips and thighs to rotate, so any movement that involves moving your thigh bone will use these muscles. This is literally every time that you move you knee up with each stroke of the pedals you do, so these muscles really get a work out.

Your quadriceps and your gluteus muscles are the main ones that are built up by mountain biking and help you to extend your legs as you push your pedals to the ground. Fist your hip muscles will start you leg moving down, then your thigh muscles will come into play more as you really start to push down. Then as you reach the bottom part of the pedaling, your calves will be the muscles to finish pushing down.

As you shift from pushing down into pulling up on your foot, it is more the hamstring, soleus, and the gastrocnemius muscle groups which form the back part of the calf muscles on your legs that are used. These muscles carry the bulk of the weight as the pedal goes back up. As the bike pedal reaches the top part of its circle it is the hip muscles that take back control again and start the downward movement.

Your hamstrings are also going to get built up more by going uphill due to the angle that you are riding at, but these do not really get as much pressure exerted on them when you are on flat terrain or when you are going downhill.

The main function of the hamstring is to bend the knee joint, while the gastrocnemius goes down to have a little control over when you point your foot down and helps you to pull up on the bike pedal. Both of these are things that will happen with every rotation of the pedals, but it will be harder to do them and will build them up more if you are going uphill on a trail.

The main muscles that have control of the direction that your toes are pointing relative to where your ankle is are the dorsiflexors and the plantar flexors. The dorsiflexors are the muscles which you can actually feel tighten on the side of your calf when you point your toes up. It is imbedded into your other calf muscles and goes down toward your ankle. The plantar flexors are in what you use to point your toes down. These are imbedded deeply in the back of your knee pretty much underneath where the top of the dorsiflexors are at.

Your Arm Muscles

At the very top of your arm at your shoulders are your deltoid muscles. These are the ones that form a sort of cup that goes over your shoulder joints and they are the ones responsible for helping you hold your torso a certain distance from your handlebars. These also are the muscles that you use for rotating the top part of your upper arm when you turn the handlebars.

It is the muscles in your arms called your biceps that are used to flex your elbows. You also do this anytime you need to turn your handlebars in order to steer your mountain bike. Your forearm muscles are what grip the handlebars and anytime you need to push away from the handlebars or to pull them closer to you.

Down into your hands, the different muscles in your fingers and wrists get exercise as you grip the handlebars, and the muscles that are used for turning your wrists are also used. This effect goes up into your forearms and mountain biking uses these muscles especially for stabilization in the bumpy areas of a path.

Your Core Muscles

The muscles in your core can actually really get a workout from mountain biking, and not only if you are doing technical features. Anytime that you straighten your legs to power pedal you will be using the muscles in your core to keep your balance with. The same is also true on the rougher parts of the trail where you are getting bounced around a lot, since your core muscles will tend to stiffen some as you try to remain as steady as possible.

Your rectus abdominus, which is the muscle group that is most commonly referred to simply as your abs, are what you use to stabilize yourself with and as you get your torso down lower to the handlebars of your mountain bike. On either side of your abs are your transverse abdominis which are also used more when you are lower to the handlebars.

Finally, for when it comes to the muscles in your stomach, your obliques muscles are also used. These are also beside your abs but more to the sides of your stomach. It is this group of muscles that can give you small “abs” on the sides of the more common double row of abs down the middle of your stomach that your rectus abdominus forms.

On the other hand, if you are more erect on your mountain bike then your erector spinae will be used more. This is the muscle that runs the whole length of your back on both sides right beside your spine. Beneath this are the multifidus muscles which are deeper in your back but which also run the length of your spine.

In your back right along your shoulder blades are your latissimus dorsi muscles. These muscles go up into your shoulder joint and are what you primarily use when you pull the handlebars closer to you. Therefore, these are used more on the technical features on the cross country trails that require you to pull the handlebars for whatever reason.

Also on the other part of your shoulders is your trapexius muscle. This muscle follows your spine and goes up the sides of your neck to your skull to down beneath your shoulder blades with its widest point being where it branches out at the neck to the top part of your shoulders. This is one of the muscles that you will be able to feel is tighter when you use it along with your arms to stabilize yourself over bumpy areas.

Inside the upper part of your back, you also have four different muscles on each side that are collectively called your rotator cuff muscles. As their name implies, these muscles are the ones in that go into the top part of your shoulder joint and are the ones that you use anytime you need to move your shoulder around. They also work with your latissimus dorsi muscles if you need to pull yourself closer to the bars, or when you push the bars away from you.

Your Heart And Lungs Muscles

With all of the other muscles that go into mountain biking, it should be no surprise to hear that your heart and lung muscles get a workout too. Your heart needs to pump more blood to the muscles in your body after this blood has gotten more oxygen from your lungs. This strengthens the muscles in your heart and can even help your heart to regulate you blood pressure better.

What Things Can You Do To Help Build The Most Amount Of Muscles With Mountain Biking?

Firstly of all, in order to get the best benefits you should definitely go with harder trails. By this I mean harder in terms of sharp turns and plenty of steep hills and not only harder in terms of how long the trails are. These kinds of trails will get you moving around on your bike more which will not only exercise your muscles more but will also use a greater variety of them.

The first muscles that you are likely thinking about building with mountain biking when it comes to your legs are the muscles in the calf of your legs. While your calves will get stronger and have a tighter feel to them after you have been mountain biking for a while, it is actually the muscles in your thighs that are used more when you are mountain biking.

However, if you are trying to build up both your calves as well as your thighs, then you can easily choose to do so. The simplest way for you to do this is to take turns pedaling through your toes and then shifting your weight to pedal through your heels for a while. This will change out some of the muscles that you are using and will eventually give you a wider range of muscles in your legs that are built up by your mountain biking.

Along with this you should keep in mind that there are certain muscles that control where you point your toes. Therefore, you should try to point your toes up and down as you pedal as much as possible so that these muscles get more use instead of simply pedaling and trying to keep your feet flat.

In order to get the maximum amount of benefit for your muscles, you should also make sure that you seat is at the right spot. You should be able to push the pedal down all the way while still having an ever so slightly bent knee. Lastly, for the best results on your legs you should also be pulling up with the backstroke of each circle of the pedals regardless of whether you are clipped into them or not – though being clipped in will help with this.

Another thing that you can do while you are on your bike is to deliberately practice tightening your abs and other stomach muscles when you can do so. Holding them tight for as long as you can while you are moving around on your bike is a great way to strengthen these muscles even more, especially if the only trails near you are too flat to really give these muscles anything to do.

Working on the muscles in your back in particular is a great way to strengthen your back and help encourage your body to maintain the proper posture that is good for it. To get the most out of these the easiest thing that you can do on your bike is to practice what is commonly referred to as power pedaling. This is where you are at a standing position hovering above your seat.

To make sure that your core muscles are as tight as possible while you are power pedaling, shift your upper body around. Do this so that you are essentially taking turns between trying to be as upright as possible and trying to lean far forward over the handlebars. Each of these two options will use different muscle groups on your core to hold you in that position.

These not only strengthen the muscles in your core but also your gluteus muscles around your hips as well. This is especially true if you deliberately tighten your buttocks while you are power pedaling in order to give these muscles the maximum amount of use possible.

Also, the bumpier a trail is the more difficult it will be for your shoulder muscles to hold you in place, especially if you are leaning down close to the handlebars, and the more muscle building it will be for them. So alternating between being erect and leaning forward is good for exercise for your arms too.

Shifting around in on your seat often is another simple yet effective way to work on more muscles when you are out on a bike ride. You core muscles in particular will have to tighten up in order for you to shift your weight around and a slight difference in your position will change up the way you are using your muscles a little.

What Are Some Good Stretches To Do Before Mountain Biking?

In order to get the most out of your muscles when you go out biking and to help prevent any muscles from getting pulled, you should always do some stretches and let your muscles warm up a bit before you get on your bike. The stretches you do should not be deep ones or be held for very long – you are just using them to warm up, not to get a full exercise with.

The first one of these that you should do is called leg swings. These will help warm up your hip muscles which can get noticeably tight after a long ride. To do these simply start by standing on one side of your bike and placing the hand of the arm that is closest to the bike firmly on the seat for stability.

Then you can swing your outside leg back and forth, going higher with each swing until with your last swing it is goes back as far as you can in either direction. These swings should not be done too fast, since you are trying to gently loosen up your muscles and not jerk on them. Do this about a dozen times with one leg, then turn around and do the same leg swings with the other leg.

Another good exercise that you should do is squats. Simply stand facing your bike, with both of your hands holding the top bar for support and with your feet firmly on the ground shoulder width apart. Then you can squat down to get your hips as low as you can and do a couple of light “bounces” in that position before you stand back up again.

Squatting hits a wide range of muscles from your calves all the way up into your lower back. You can really feel these in your muscles, so it is best to do this one in a very small dose so as not to overdue them and stick with only a handful of these at most.

Your shoulders could also use some loosening up as well, and a great one for this is to do some shoulder stretches. Reach up with your hands as high as they will go and then move your shoulders as high up as you can get them as though you were shrugging your shoulders. Then, keeping your arms pointed up, move your shoulders back down as low as you can get them. Keep doing this around ten times or so.

Lastly, another great option for a good exercise right before you go biking is called high knees. In many ways this is almost like riding an imaginary bike, which is why this one is so good at warming up those muscles. Start by standing in one place without being next to anything to help with your balance and lift one knee up as close to your chest as you can.

After holding it there for a moment, do the same with the other knee. Then speed it up a few notches and do one knee and then the other again with your arms held out for balance if needed. This can be done for around 30 seconds before you should stop.

What Is The Best Thing To Do To Care For Muscles When Mountain Biking?

Even though mountain biking is comparatively easy on your joints when placed up beside many other sports, there are still plenty of ways that you can get hurt. Injury to various muscles is one of the most common things that mountain bikers face. Stretching before hand is one way that you can help prevent your muscles from getting pulled or strained.

Another things that you can do is to make sure that you are staying hydrated. Not having enough water, when paired with extreme activity, is a great recipe for getting muscle cramps which can potentially lead to a crash depending on how bad they are and what part of a trial you are doing when it happens.

Finally, if you do end up with a pulled or otherwise injured muscle, rest and ice packs are a great way to help with the pain. When you do think you are ready to get back on your bike again, make sure that you are extra careful to warm the injured muscles up and take it slow and easy the first few trips before you start working back to your usual bike rides.

Mike Rausa

I'm a 42 year old married father of 3 that fell in love with mountain biking late in life. Mountain biking quickly became my go to fitness activity. I created this blog to help beginners to advanced riders with tips and strategies to improve your riding experience. More About Me... https://mountainbikinghq.com/mike-rausa

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