Dusting off your two-wheeler and going for a mountain bike ride is an excellent way to move your body, get your heart rate up, and explore your own backyard! It’s no secret that a physical activity like mountain biking can lead to health benefits. Let’s take a look at the benefits of mountain biking and whether or not it’s a good form of exercise. 

Benefits of Mountain Biking

Going on a mountain bike ride has many different benefits, affecting your physical and mental health. Mountain biking is a great form of cardio exercise and it can increase muscle strength, improve balance & coordination, contribute to weight loss & management, and positively impact stress and anxiety. Let’s look at the nitty gritty to see how mountain biking could benefit you. 

Cardio Exercise

Mountain biking provides a great source of cardio exercise because it is a sustained physical activity that gets your heart pumping and increases your breathing rate. When you hop on a mountain bike and begin riding, you use large muscle groups in your legs to power the bike up hills, over rough terrain, around corners, and to stabilize your body when biking downhill. As you ride, your heart and lungs have to work harder to supply your muscles with oxygen, which causes your heart rate & breathing to increase. Mountain biking is generally considered a moderate to high-intensity cardio exercise. When riding on flat or rolling terrain, you can expect moderate-intensity cardio exercise with a heart rate of around 50-70%. When rising up steep hills or over rough terrain, you can expect high-intensity cardio exercise getting your heart rate up to about 70-85% or higher. 

Increased Muscle Strength

Mountain biking can be used to increase muscle strength because it engages a variety of muscle groups in the legs, core, and upper body. Let’s look at the different muscles used. 

Leg Muscles

When you ride a mountain bike, you’re putting a lot of energy into moving your pedals! This works the muscles in your legs including your quads, hamstrings, and calves. The “highest” gear on your bike is the largest chain ring in the front and the smallest cog on your cassette (rear gears). In this position, the pedaling will be the hardest and you’ll be able to accelerate while traveling downhill. The higher the gear, the harder it is to pedal uphill. The lower the gear, the easier it is to pedal uphill. The resistance from pedaling, no matter the gear, can help build strength in your muscles. 

Core Muscles

When you’re balancing upright on a bike, you’re engaging your core muscles. These include your abs, obliques, and lower back muscles. They help support your spine and maintain proper posture when riding. 

Upper Body

Steering, braking, and maneuvering on a mountain bike engage your upper body muscles including your shoulders, chest, and arms. Your shoulders are important in mountain biking, especially when it comes to steering and controlling your bike. They’re constantly engaged when navigating tight turns and technical sections. 

Young man mountain biking

Improved Balance & Coordination

Remember learning to ride your first bike? That uneasy feeling like you’re going to topple over was partially due to a lack of balance and coordination. Riding a bike, and especially mountain biking, demand & improve balance and coordination. When riding technical terrain, you have to constantly adjust your body position and balance on the bike. You also have to coordinate between different muscle groups to pedal, steer, and maneuver the bike over obstacles. Your reaction time is important, as you must make split-second decisions to navigate around obstacles and hazards on the trail. Your proprioception can also be positively affected by mountain biking, helping improve your spacial awareness. 

Weight Loss & Management

Like any form of exercise, mountain biking can support your weight loss goals. While exercise does factor into weight loss and weight management, it’s important to note that studies have shown diet & nutrition are far more important contributors. That being said, mountain biking can still be used to help with weight loss. Mountain biking burns calories, can increase your metabolism, can help reduce stress (a factor that leads to weight gain), and encourages healthy habits like eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. By combining regular rides with other health habits & adequate diet & nutrition, you may see weight loss as a result. 

Stress & Anxiety Management

As intimidating and stressful riding over rough terrain might be, mountain biking is actually a great way to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Here is how mountain biking can help reduce stress. 

Released Endorphins

When mountain biking, your body will release endorphins which are natural mood-boosting chemicals that can help you reduce stress and promote relaxation. Endorphins have been shown to ease the symptoms of depression, can contribute to weight loss by regulating your appetite, and help with overall stress and anxiety. 

Intense Concentration

As mentioned before, mountain biking requires intense concentration. Some people have reported experiencing increased levels of mindfulness, taking them “out of their head” and into the moment. 

Connection to Nature

Mountain biking usually takes people into natural settings such as forests, mountains, and parks. Spending time in nature has been shown to generate many positive emotions such as joy, creativity, and a sense of calmness. 

Social Connections

Mountain biking can be a social activity, allowing you to connect with other riders and form supportive friendships. Social connections are incredibly important for our health. Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General of the United States wrote “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Studies have shown a link between social relations and happiness over time. 

Overall, mountain biking is a great form of cardio exercise and can also have many other positive effects on your health. If you’re interested in learning more about mountain biking and cycling, take a look at our other articles:

Spinal Cord Injury in Mountain Biking: What’s the Risk?

How You Can Prevent Injury While Cycling

Common Cycling Ankle Injuries: How They’re Caused & Prevented

Contact Idaho Sports Medicine Institute today if you’d like to check out our bike fitting services so you can ride with confidence!

*Please always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.