Gym’ll fix it
I’ve got membership to an on-site corporate gym which I can use before work or during my lunch break. I want to take advantage of it — its there, its free and its something to do to get me out of the office — but I don’t want to aimlessly throw round weights or ponce about in gym kit. Can you recommend some constructive exercise I could do to enhance my mountain biking? I ride one or two days at the weekend and one evening ride a week at the moment but more in the summer. I want to do more weekends away and will probably have a go at a couple of the enduros.
Ian Smith, email

There’s lots you can do in a gym without becoming a gym rat. I’d suggest a mixture of cardiovascular (cv) equipment to help build your aerobic base, and some core stability work and weights to build strength. The best cv equipment in the gym for improving your fitness is the running treadmill — ignore the bikes. Get yourself some decent trainers properly fitted in a running shop before you start; even though treadmills create less impact on your knees badly fitting trainers can lead to injury. A 30 minute run will burn nearly as many calories as an hour’s easy bike ride. Its whole body exercise, can improve your leg strength because its weight bearing and will give your aerobic training a boost. Build up doing run/walk intervals until you are comfortable running for the whole 30min. If you want to lift some weights, use the free weights and get advice on your technique. Aim to do compound lifts that exercise several muscles such as squats and lunges for lower body strength. Use the swiss balls and mat area to do some core strengthening exercises, you don’t need to get too fancy, press-ups are still great upper body exercise. One or two run and stretching sessions a week and one weights session a week will enhance the riding you do at the weekend and will help build your fitness while you are doing less cycling in the winter.

Regarding back pain
Regarding a letter in the last issue. Some five years ago I was in permanent lower back pain, even walking was a struggle and I was popping major quantities of pain killers, (still doing long rides but in severe pain).
This was the scheme. Go to a good — (i.e. recommended by a friend or someone who has used one) Chiropractor or osteopath.
This took approx six months to put my spine and sacro iliac joint back into something approaching a correct position — not a particularly painful process but just long winded. Keep going back for adjustments — don’t stop once initially sorted. Then start the strengthening exercises — start on low weights and increase gradually. Rowing is brilliant for lower back strengthening and gives a good all over workout. Pay particular attention to core body strengthening, i.e. hip flexors, abs, obliques and the two small muscles either side of the spine in the lower back. A decent gym instructor will help you with a programme to develop these and they can be done at home.
Always do a full stretching program after every exercise session – I cannot stress how important this is!
Next is position on the bike. The two most important are: Lots of spacers between the headstock and handlebars — I don’t cut the fork tube at all, just put lots of spacers on to raise you up. Yes it looks stupid and gets loads of comments. Next ditch the horizontal saddle position and put the nose down so when you are sitting normally the saddle is at a right angle (or as near as) to your back. If you have lifted the handlebars, this is not as daft as it sounds. I’m not completely pain free, but I am tackling reasonably long rides without pain killers; last year I completed the south downs way in 12 hours and rode some Merida 100’s.
Jim House, email

Some good advice there, particularly the importance of patience and sticking to the exercises. Attacking a problem from several different angles is key to a long-term solution. It’s not just about being “fixed’ by a chiropractor or physio, you need to learn the right exercises and do them, sort your bike position and if possible find out and stop what was causing the problem initially. Everyone’s body and injury is individual but the process is the same. One thing though – a professional bike fit from someone who is an expert in both body mechanics as well as bikes will be more help than trial and error on your own. Increasing numbers of shops are offering bike fitting but make sure the person who you see has a good understanding of your injury and how the body works and aren’t just tapping measurements into a computer.

Winter blues
I’m still trying to get in a long ride weekly but I’m struggling with the wet and cold. After a ride I feel really tired and it takes me ages to warm up. I don’t know why but a winter ride seems to take more out of me than the same distance in the summer. What’s the secret to still enjoying the trails all year round?
L. Jones

“There’s no such thing as bad weather only the wrong clothing”: Ever heard that one? Well there is a lot of truth in it, but even with the best base layers, goretex, gloves, longs and shoes, winter finds its way in. Invest in the best kit you can, it will pay you back in terms of comfort and the amount of riding you can enjoy. Layering up is key and a good thermal, wicking base layer can make more difference to your overall feeling of warmth than the outer layer. Winter riding is harder work, conditions are more demanding because of mud and ride speed is slower. Don’t expect to ride as far as you do in the summer on the same trails. Eat as you ride, being cold doesn’t make you burn more calories as people believe unless you are actually shivering, but eating and digesting food has a thermogenic effect warming you up from the inside. Put a flask of coffee or soup in the car for when you get back, or get the kettle on. Make getting out of your kit a priority, especially if you need to drive to get home. Have a big warming meal. Ride for as long as is fun but don’t try and stay out there all day. Use the gym, a turbo or a road ride in the week to keep up fitness if you feel you are lacking in exercise. Keep reading MBR, watching your favourite ride videos and look forward to summer.