What Muscles Does Mountain Biking Work?

Mountain biking appealed to me because riding a bike is way easier on my knees and ankles. I wanted to make sure that mountain biking was a good fit to add into my weekly fitness routine. So I investigated what specific muscles mountain biking actually worked. I also took a hard look at how many calories you can burn mountain biking.

What muscles does mountain biking work? The main muscles that are targeted when mountain biking are your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and your calves. You will also work muscles in your foot including your dorsiflexors and your plantar flexors.

Why Mountain Biking Is A Great Option For Building Muscle

Riding Hills Vs Staying Flat And The Impact It Will Have On Muscle Growth

If you are ready to start using mountain biking to build muscle the first thing you’ll need to consider is the terrain you’ll be riding. You can build way more muscle by climbing hills. You can also build strength on the flats by increasing your power and keeping the bike in a lower gear. You will be cruising at a faster speed so be sure to ride safely.

All forms of riding a bike are great for endurance training and will help you lose weight. Climbing hills and riding for power is the best way to build that endurance and also build muscle at the same time.

Mountain Biking Builds Muscle Without the Joint Impact

Jogging, running or playing sports where there is jumping and dynamic movements can take a toll on your body. They are all great activities to build your cardio endurance and they can also help you build lean muscle. Unfortunately when you leave the ground in an activity like basketball or running it can start to take a toll on your body.

As we age your joints will wear down and all of those impacts could lead to injury or chronic issues like arthritis and plantar fasciitis. If you are trying to build muscles without the pain and suffering from high impact activities then mountain biking could be a great option for you.

This is all assuming you aren’t engaging in extreme downhill trails where there is the definite possibility of falling off your bike. If you stick to easy to moderate trails and ride within your comfortable zone you should be able to build muscle and get a great workout mountain biking.

Being Clipped In Or Not Clipped In And How That Effects Your Muscles While Mountain Biking

Keep in mind that if you are using flat pedal or you are using a clipless pedal you will get a slightly different muscular workout on your mountain bike. The benefit of a clipless pedal system is that you’ll build power and muscle on your recovery stroke while you pedal.

As you force the pedal down on one side of your mountain bike you can simultaneously raise your opposite foot up working your quadriceps muscles. Essentially you’ll be better able to balance out the muscle build in your legs with clipless pedals.

You’ll still get a great workout with flat pedals but the pedal stroke will be a little less seamless. Not that it isn’t recommended to use cage or strap pedals while downhill mountain biking or riding on difficult terrain

Will Mountain Biking Work My Upper Body Muscles?

You will build your shoulders, biceps and triceps while mountain biking. Swaying back and forth as you climb will engage your bicep muscles. You are also in a constant state of balance while riding which essentially works your shoulders and triceps. You won’t get the same muscular workout in your upper body that you do in your legs from mountain biking but you will get a solid steady burn.

Other Things To Consider When You Use Mountain Biking To Build Muscle

Is Mountain Biking Bad For Your Back?

If you have a bad back mountain biking might not be the best exercise option for you. Hardtail bikes don’t have a rear suspension and you’ll feel it in your back when you go over those bumpy parts of the trail. If you have a bad back and want to give mountain biking a try then you should consider a full suspension mountain bike. It offers more comfort and will be better for your back.

How Many Calories Do You Burn Mountain Biking?

The general range is that you’ll burn between 350-850 calories per hour from mountain biking. The 3 factors to consider when you are calculating how many calories your burn mountain biking are:

  • The 3 Big Factors Effecting Your Caloric Burn While Mountain Biking
    • Weight – The heavier you are the more calories you’ll burn, while the lighter you are you’ll have to workout longer to burn the same amount of calories. The weight of your bike also plays a factor in the exact same way. Heavier the bike, the more calories you’ll burn.
    • Terrain – Hilly terrain is going to be harder to navigate and make it a much tougher workout. On the downhills you are just coasting so you won’t burn many calories during those time. The more technical and hilly the terrain the more calories you’ll end up burning.
    • Rate – Your effort plays a big roll in your caloric burn. The power and output you put into to each pedal the more calories you’ll burn. You can casually ride and take in the breeze but don’t expect to burn a ton of calories.

Is Mountain Biking A Good Core Workout?

Mountain biking does work your core as you are forced to balance your bike through difficult terrain. In fact, the more difficult the terrain the more core muscles you will work. Imagine riding down switch backs on a steep decline. You’ll have to rotate your body constantly to navigate the turns. It’s like doing a sit-ups on a bike!

Beginner Tips If You Are New To Mountain Biking

If you are new to the sport and are looking to add it to your fitness activities consider a few things before you begin.

  • Ride with a buddy. Some trails are tricky and you don’t want to get injured or stuck on a trail without a friend to help you out.
  • Start on the easy trails. Alltrails.com lists many trails and labels them easy, moderate and hard. Start on those easy trails before trying to jump onto more difficult terrain.
  • Get after it. Don’t just cruise. If you are really trying to build muscle through mountain biking put some effort in and you’ll get some results.

Warm-Up Routine Before You Get On Your Mountain Bike

Before you hop on your bike you want to make sure you’re properly warmed up. Here is a simple routine you could follow to make sure your back is limber, you won’t pull a hammy and you’ll feel ready to ride when you hop on your bike.

  • Pre-Mountain Biking Workout Warm-Up Routine
    • 25 Jumping Jacks – Assuming you know these 🙂
    • T.Y.W. Drill – Make a T with your arms and move from your shoulders forward and backwards to stretch out your shoulder joints and back. Repeat while forming and Y and then a W with your arms.
    • Inchworm Drill – Standup straight and then put your hands on the ground in front of you. Walk your hands out about 6 inches at a time until you are in plank position. Then walk your feet back to your hands. Stand up and then repeat.
    • Reverse Lunges – Stand up straight and then step back with 1 foot and get into a lunge position. Return to the starting position and then repeat with other leg.

Related Questions

Is mountain biking a good workout? Absolutely, mountain biking is an excellent workout. The top benefits is that you are outside enjoying the fresh air. Most trails are in beautiful locations with views as well. You also get a great muscular and cardiovascular workout without the high impact of running.

What physical qualities are required for mountain biking? You will need balance and coordination on a mountain bike. You’ll need core strength and stability to navigate the terrain. You’ll also need basic level of endurance to power through the ride.

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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