It is the unknown around the corner that turns my wheels.Heinz Stücke
Mountain biking is the best exercise for your weight loss and fitness journey. I know, that’s a bold statement. With all the other fitness fads out there like intermittent fasting, Crossfit, P90X, running ridiculously long distances, or obstacle races, how can mountain biking be the best for weight loss?
Here are five solid reasons why…
1. It’s an incredible cardio workout
Mountain biking isn’t just a good time, it will also jack your heart rate up and get your lungs burning. Mountain biking requires your complete focus as you navigate the varying terrain to keep from wrecking. This acute focus keeps your mind off how hard you’re working and before you know it you’ll be covered in sweat and burning calories without even realizing it.
Mountain biking also requires that you m maintain your speed. Otherwise, you’ll fall over or be stopped by small bumps and rocks. Keeping your speed up requires you keep your heart rate high too. This means you tend to not slow down without realizing it like when you’re running or road biking.
Mountain biking is also a directional sport meaning you head out on a trail in one direction and either complete a loop in one direction or go until you hit a waypoint and then reverse directions.
This means that you tend to spend longer on average on your bike than you would in other cardio workouts like running. It’s easy to rack up 20, 30, 60 minute, or even longer workouts on your mountain bike without even thinking about it.
The average heart rate while mountain biking isn’t as high as while running, but it’s higher than road cycling.
(We’ll get into more in a minute why mountain biking is a better all-around workout than running or trail running.)
Bottom line, there aren’t many sports that will give you as great of a cardio workout as mountain biking, but that’s definitely not the only reason it’s a great way to lose weight.
2. It’s a great strength training workout
For many cardio sports, you find yourself needing a session on the weight machine afterward to get in a decent strength session. That’s not the case with mountain biking. Riding up and down steep trails will not only keep your heart rate up but will also force you to use a whole range of muscles. Mountain biking engages most all the muscles in your legs, your core, back, shoulders, arms, and even your hands as you grip your handlebar.
The more rugged the trail, the more you’ll engage all these muscle groups without even thinking much about it. There are times when I come home from a long ride when my abdominal and back muscles are tight and sore from being used so much.
This element of mountain biking makes it great for weight loss because you can spend more of your precious workout time in cardio mode without sacrificing strength training. It’s not enough strength training to bulk up, but enough to keep functional groups toned and strong.
The mix of cardio and strength set mountain biking apart from most all other workouts, but there are other reasons it’s the top of the pile when it comes to weight loss.
Running doesn’t give you the strength training portion the same way. Even if you’re running up mountain trails, you don’t get the same range of motion as on a mountain bike.
3. It’s accessible to (almost) anyone
So you may be thinking, “there are no good mountain bike trails near me. I don’t live in Moab.” Even those of you living in Florida can enjoy the benefits of mountain biking. Mountain biking is simply riding on unpaved surfaces. Sure, you may not have epic trails out your back door, like I do, but the dirt path at the park is the perfect place for many beginners to start out on their biking weight loss journey.
Some people may be a little intimidated by getting on a mountain bike if they feel they’re too out of shape. It’s totally okay to start out easy and work your way into harder trails as you progress in your fitness and skills.
You could even start on a stationary bike at the gym until you build up some stamina and leg strength, but don’t stay there because indoor bikes are so much less exciting than getting out on the trails.
Anyone can get started with mountain biking. Old, young, big, small, no matter where you live. It may not be as easy for some as it will for others, but don’t make up excuses.
Even in the dead of winter you can get on a fat bike and enjoy the same trails you do in the summer in an entirely different way. Or if you don’t like the cold, get on an indoor bike trainer and try out some of the many mountain bike training videos on youtube. Here are some I made myself of some of our most epic trails in Utah and Nevada.
If you don’t have a bike yet, you can find decent used mountain bikes online for reasonable prices. Look at sites like Craigslist, Pinkbike, or eBay and find a model that’s a few years old. You definitely don’t need the latest and greatest for weight loss purposes. Save that for after you’ve lost the weight if cost is an issue.
If cost isn’t a significant obstacle, buying a pricier new bike can actually be a great motivation for you to get out and ride more. If you drop $3,000 on a bike, your spouse won’t let that thing collect dust in the garage. He’ll be encouraging you to get out on the trail whenever you can. Better yet, get a bike for both of you and ride together!
4. It’s therapeutic
Not only can you find a way to mountain bike just about anywhere anytime and on any budget, but, getting out in nature will do more for your health than just helping you lose weight. Mountain biking can take you to some of the most spectacular vistas and locations imaginable.
Being out in nature has been shown to reduce stress, increase focus, creativity, and productivity, and also helps your body to regulate hormones which will help in your weight loss journey.
Some people are introverts and some are extroverts. Mountain biking doesn’t care which one you are. You can ride alone or in groups. Pick which is right for you and enjoy the benefits of whichever you choose. I personally love spending a few hours in solitude on my bike. It clears my head and helps me feel more connected with nature.
If you like to work out in a group, it’s not hard to find fellow mountain bikers out on the trail. Riding in a group can have huge benefits in a weight loss journey as others can help hold you accountable to your goals and schedule. You won’t want to let your group down by wussing out. A group can also help you if you’re new to biking by providing help on the trail if something goes wrong with your bike.
So a few other types of exercise workouts may still fit all of these criteria and be great for weight loss, but for me, this last one sets it apart for me.
5. It’s fun
From the time most kids learn to ride a bike, they start trying to ride off-road. We do it naturally because biking is fun and becomes more fun when you add a bit of variety to it.
Road biking can be a great workout, but mountain biking adds so much more variety to riding a bike that pavement can’t offer. My experience is that doing those 100-mile century rides on pavement is more mentally exhausting than riding 50 miles on dirt because of the constant twists, turns, bumps, drops, ups, downs, and natural scenery.
Mountain biking gets your adrenaline flowing quickly and consistently as you push your technical and speed limits.
Mile after mile of pavement can wear you out mentally before you’re able to reach your workout goals. I find that in mountain biking that isn’t so.
Cruising down a windy ribbon of forested singletrack or across a wide-open slickrock desert brings nothing but smiles. And the trail options are endless in many places so you can always pick a new adventure.
So there it is. Mountain biking is the best workout for weight loss. Soccer, basketball, tennis, swimming… They’re all great, but they don’t do the same thing for me as mountain biking. And other cardio sports like running, cycling, and cross country skiing have their limitations too.
Mountain biking has my vote. If you agree or disagree, feel free to share your case in the comments below.