Title: Fit For Adventure
Written by: Lisa Thomas
Photos: Simon Thomas
So you’re heading off on your long awaited trip; it could be for a couple of days, or, if you’re lucky, for even longer.
You’ve been planning your trip for a while, you’ve prepped your bike, worked for hours on your bike making sure that its ‘trip ready’. You have your tools, spares, your riding kit, boots, helmets, gloves and probably camping kit.
You may have attended a few riding clinics, or if you are like me, watched videos of ‘elite riders’. You probably scoured the pages of every ADV magazine out there, and of course you ride as often as you can because you want to do everything possible to be the best rider you can be.
You’re now ready for your trip! Or are you?
After all of your research on kit and gear, your carefully considered product purchases, and additional reading, have you actually spent anytime working on one of the most overlooked but crucial elements of riding? The actual physical fitness of you, as the rider!
Some of you may answer with a positive and enthusiastic “Yes, of course!’ I go to the gym, lift weights, do classes, run. I’m very fit”.
But are you fit for riding?
As riders we need to have the fitness and the strength to make sure that we, and our machines are working together. During our 14 years on the road, Simon and I have maintained a well-rounded fitness program. I can tell you from experience that there are three main things you need to think about and work on, in order to get the most out of your riding experience and get your body ‘adventure ready’:
- Stretching to promote good flexibility and suppleness
- Aerobic conditioning
All of these must work alongside good nutrition. If you have no ideas of what foodstuffs to carry or how to them cook when travelling, have a peek at my cookbook, Dirty Dining: an Adventurers cookbook available online via Amazon.
Link: "Dirty Dining - An Adventurers Cookbook" on Amazon
Why will improved fitness help my riding?
Most people will, when wanting to get fit, head to a gym or take up running and these may indeed get you fit, but “fit for riding” is a different animal. We want to ensure that we are focusing on becoming fit to be better riders because, if you want to progress to the next level in your riding, you need to pay as much attention to your own physical core strength and fitness as you do your bike.
Sitting at a desk all day and then expecting to hop on your motorcycle and handle comfortably, either a heavy ADV bike or even a smaller dirt bike, is at best optimist and, at worst, potentially dangerous.
If your trip is to involve any gravel, dirt roads and sand, you will definitely need a higher than normal level of bike-specific conditioning in order to enjoy and continue to ride everyday.
The benefits of getting fit for riding:
1. SAFETY. Falling off –don’t cross your fingers and hope that this will never happen – it definitely will! However, training those muscles that give you added stability and strength will greatly improve your stability and reflexes and balance.
2. PREVENTION. Riding is physical (especially off-road) and you need to have the core strength to sit or stand for many hours without it causing you pain or discomfort. For this you need to have the correct strength and suppleness throughout your core. If you become too rigid and not able to absorb the movement due to your muscle instability and immobility, your back will pay the price.
3. NJURY PROTECTION. Strong, elastic muscles, tendons and ligaments are much less prone to injury.
4. IMPROVED ENDURANCE: Strong, fit riders don't tire as easily.
5. MENTAL FITNESS: the discipline of working out makes you tougher mentally.
6. BETTER POSTURE: If you are riding all day and your posture is bad, i.e. slouched, sitting to one side, placing too much pressure through your wrists or your core is not able to hold the ‘up on the pegs’ stance, this will make for an uncomfortable ride, increased fatigue and increased rider errors.
7. CONFIDENCE BOOSTING: knowing your body is strong and fit may reduce any riding-related anxieties you probably have!
What to exercise
To get the most benefit from your exercising you need to understand what muscles you need to target and in what way, whilst also being aware of your body’s imbalances. You need to ensure your exercise routine will strengthen weak muscles, and loosen any tight muscles. When the body is in perfect balance you will have less stress on the spine and will be more able to control the motorbike beneath you.
When creating a bike specific training program it’s critical to focus on increasing your flexibility as well as increasing your strength. One without the other is simply going to lead to injury. Weight/body-weight training on its own actually shortens muscle and tendon fibres, which is the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Bearing in mind that most non-critical motorcycle injuries are normally due to a muscle tendon or ligament being pulled or strained.
The most common potentially serious injuries for motorcyclists of any level are, ACL tears (this ligament provides stability for the knee), broken collarbones, shoulder injuries (dislocations) and ankle sprains.
Some of you may know that Simon had a potentially fatal accident when he broke his neck during this journey. I put his incredible ability to continue riding for three weeks with his injuries, and his quick recovery post surgery, down to his high level of fitness, stamina and physical strength.
Fit 4 ADV
Below are a few examples of the types of exercises that Simon and I do in order to keep us fit for adventure. For a more detailed circuit please visit our website 2ridetheworld.com and look for the ‘Fit4ADV’section!
Before each training session, we warm up with a 5-minute brisk walk or 3 minute jog and do a full body stretch routine.
After the full session, we gently stretch each major muscle group, holding each stretch for a count of 20 or more.
(NOTE: Before beginning this or any workout program, consult your physician. If you feel any pain during any of these movements described below, stop the exercise and consult your physician).
Aerobic conditioning: Short and intense in order to elevate your heart rate and push you physically.
1. Mountain Climber
a) Starting on the floor on your hands and knees, bring the left foot forward directly under the chest while straightening the right leg.
b) Keeping the hands on the ground and core tight, jump and change legs. The left leg should now be extended behind the body with the right knee forward.
c) Repeat movement for 1 minute.
Note: Make sure you brace your abdominal muscles throughout this whole exercise and breath normally.
2. Jumping Jack
a) Stand with your feet together, knees slightly bent, and arms to your side.
b) Simultaneously jump your feet out wide, landing on the balls of your feet whilst raising your arms above your head
c) Without pausing, quickly jump the feet back in, lowering your arms.
d) Repeat movement continuously for 1 minute.
a) Stand with legs shoulder-width apart.
b) Bend your knees, place your hands on the floor directly in front of you and kick both legs back so you end up with your stomach and thighs on the floor. Your elbows should be bent.
c) From this position, do a push-up and as you press up push your hips up.
d) Jump your feet under your hips and stand.
e) From standing position jump in the air, bringing your hands over your head.
f) Once you land immediately continue and repeat the movement for 1 minute.
Flexibilty and suppleness exercises
These are a few examples of our favourite stretches that are also easy to do before and after you ride.
1. Arm circles
Main muscle stretched: shoulders.
a) Stand with arms extended by the sides, perpendicular to the torso
b) Slowly make large circles with both outstretched arms. Breathe normally.
c) Continue circling for 30 seconds, then repeat circling the other way for another 30 seconds.
2. Standing Quad
Main muscle stretched: quadriceps.
a) Touch a wall or stationary object (such as your motorcycle!) for balance, stand with your feet hip-width apart, pull your abdominals in, and relax your shoulders.
b) Bend your left leg, bringing your heel toward your butt, and grasp your left foot with your left hand.
c) Hold the stretch for a slow count of 20 whilst pushing against your hand with your foot.
d) Switch legs and repeat.
Note: You should feel a mild pull gradually spread through the front of your left leg. Try to keep your knees together as the knee should not flare outwards.
3. Low Lunge
Main muscles stretched: Legs, groin, and hip flexors
a) Step your right foot forward into a lunge and lower your left knee onto the floor.
b) Place both hands on your front thigh.
c) Gently push your right hips forwards whilst stretching your left leg back.
d) Hold for a count of 20 then change legs.
Note: Make sure your front shin stays vertical and your knee doesn’t move forward past your ankle or drop out to the side. You may have to step your front foot forwards more. The heel of your front foot should remain on the floor.
4. Wrist and forearm Stretch
Main muscles stretched: Forearms, wrist and hand.
(This is a great stretch to do prior, during and after riding).
a) Extend one arm straight out in front of you with your palm down.
b) Bend your wrist, pointing your hand toward the floor and rotate outwards.
c) Use your other hand to rotate your hand upwards until you feel a stretch in your forearm.
d) Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
Take into account that the majority of us sit behind a desk and at a computer at some point during our work day, or possibly, all day, and then sit in a car and head home. If you do spend a lot of time sitting down, you are going to develop tight hip flexors and rounded upper back. This type of bad posture causes stress on certain muscles and overtime you will find you suffer with back pain.
Riding your motorcycle with back pain just makes for a miserable trip. To help elevate any back pain, you have to concentrate on conditioning your core muscles. Core strength is the single biggest ingredient that most riders lack.
Your core is the central part of your body; those muscles involved in supporting your torso. Any tightness or weakness in these muscles is going to affect the position of your spine and its ability to move correctly.
However, its not just the core muscles you need to concentrate on. Your legs are working continuously (more so off- road) to provide you balance and control, while your upper back muscles and lats are working to stabilize your upper body ensuring you stay connected with the bike. All of these muscles must be exercised and worked when you’re off the bike.
I have chosen just a few of my favourite exercises to show you here and split this strength section into two halves, with examples of both core strength and individual muscle strength.
Different types of core exercises:
1. Forearm plank
Main muscle worked: abdominals, arms, legs and lower back.
a) Lie facedown; clasp your hands. Feet should be hip-width apart, and elbows shoulder-width apart.
b) Tuck your toes to lift your body, contracting your abdominals whilst also drawing your pelvic floor muscles toward your spine. Your forearms remain on the floor.
c) Hold for 60 seconds or as long as you can, breath normally.
Note: you should be in a straight line from head to heels.
2. Plank with opposite Arm & Leg Lift
Muscles worked: total-body with extra emphasis on abs.
a) Kneel on all fours.
b) Contract your abs and draw your pelvic floor muscles toward your spine.
c) Reach your right arm forward; at the same time, stretch your left leg back and flex your foot.
d) Hold for a count of 5, then release, repeating using left arm and right leg. Do this 10 times, alternating sides.
Note: Keep your spine straight and your abs engaged throughout the movement.
Muscles used: Arms, chest and shoulders.
a) Kneel on all fours.
b) Hands under your shoulders. Lift your feet and cross your ankles.
c) Contract your abs. and with elbows pointed back, look forwards and bend the elbows until your chin touches the floor.
d) Pause at the bottom before pressing back up.
Note: Don’t let the belly collapse don’t let the shoulders come too far forwards.
Functional Strength exercises
A squat and a lunge are the functional exercises for standing up on the pegs and with this, your whole body has to work in order to stabilize you; a variety of muscles must work together to produce these movements. Remember though, that motorcycling involves a lot of upper bodywork. Muscles of the arms, shoulders, forearms, wrists and hands are important for maintaining control of the bike, especially over rough terrain.
Therefore, every exercise routine must maintain an even muscle base. You do not want to create imbalances, so movements solely concentrating on squats and lunges are not the only ones needed.
1. Body-weight Squat (also called Air Squat)
Muscles used: Quadriceps, butt, and abs. This exercise will help you hold your ‘up on the pegs’ position.
a) Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. With your knees slightly bent, head up and eyes forward. Place your hands on your hips.
b) Slowly lower yourself as if you were going to sit on a chair, keeping your weight on your heels. When you're halfway to the floor, pause, and then slowly come back up
c) Return to the start position, keeping your knees slightly bent (don't "lock" your legs).
d) Try to do as many of these as you can in 1 min making sure you keep the movement controlled and maintain your ‘form’.
Note: As you squat, keep your head and chest up and push your knees out and remember to keep your abs tight!
2. Walking lunge
Muscles used: quadriceps (front of thighs), gluteals (buttocks), hamstrings (back of thighs) and calves. This exercise uses muscles that will help with your neutral ‘up on the pegs’ riding position.
a) Stand with your hands by your sides.
b) Take a large step forward with your left foot so that your right leg is stretched out behind you. Right heel lifted.
c) Slowly bend your knees so your left knee is directly over your left ankle, and your right knee nearly touches the floor.
d) Inhale as you go down. Maintain balance.
e) Squeezing your glutes, exhale and push up, bringing your right foot forwards to meet the left foot, returning to start position .
f) Keep moving forwards using alternate legs. Try to do as many lunges as you can in 1 minute.
Note: Do not allow your front knee to go forward beyond your toes as you come down, as this places stress on the knee joint. Make sure that you keep your front shin perpendicular to the ground. Keeps your abs tight and your torso upright throughout these walking lunges.
To sum up: When you choose which exercises to perform, the aim is to find ‘functional movements’ that engage the same muscle groups that you use while riding. Every type of exercise you do must be transferable to your riding.
I promise you, as your fitness, strength and suppleness increases, you’ll gain added control over your motorcycles and become a smoother and more efficient rider. More fitness equals more miles and miles equal smiles!
Don’t procrastinate, go on, get started today! Your bike will thank you for it.
These are only a few of the exercises that Simon and I do in order to keep ourselves fit for adventure. Make sure you check our our website as we'll add more details and exercises in the upcoming weeks!
Lisa Thomas is better known as the world’s foremost female adventure rider, but what few know is that she owned and operated her own gymnasium and fitness centre, and is a qualified fitness professional and coach.