Mountain biking: more than just legs

Your Body on a Mountain Bike

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Mountain biking: more than just legs

Mountain biking: More than just legs!

Get ready for the adventure of your body on a mountain bike. It’s time to hit the trails—enjoy the great outdoors, fresh air, trees, and dirt. Sounds fun huh?!

If you are an avid, average or a beginning cyclist, Yoga Tune Up® practices might be the way to take your cycling to another, higher level. Strength, neuromuscular education, and body balance, along with YTU Therapy Balls will help you feel more confident, relaxed in the saddle, hone your ability to stay focused on rough terrain, support you with inclines and declines, thereby improving every phase of your riding.

This is what you’ll need besides your bike, helmet, and water—a whole lot of your body!  So you don’t leave out anything essential here’s your packing list of specific areas to train for cycling enjoyment.

It is a misconception that the leg muscles are the main essential contributors and the most significant in your mechanics of riding. There is so much more because descents, ascents, and rugged terrain, all use different muscles.

Starting with your feet, since you apply force through your feet with each pedal stroke poor placement, for example pronation or supination, will travel up through the entire kinetic chain, causing stress or discomfort in the knees and hips.

Ankle and foot mobility is needed to balance the rest of your body on a bike

Ankle and foot mobility is needed to balance the rest of your body on a bike.

And yes the legs are super important and a necessary part of your whole experience. Once you are conscious of proper foot stroke placement, notice the knees, and maintain proper alignment over the centers of your feet, not rolling in toward your bike frame or bowing out beyond your pinky toes.  Move on up to the thighs,  quadriceps get tighter as they get stronger,  the rectus femoris functions to both flex your hip and extend the knee, whereas the vastus medialis assists straightening your knee in the down stroke. Gluteus maximus is used extensively when lifting and lowering our thighs, the semi tendinosis (a hamstring) works in conjunction to flex your knee, all these are major players in the pumping actions producing the pedal revolution.

The psoas works extensively as hip flexion is the majority of your cycling stance. Even when having a properly fitted bike your leg will never go into a full extension. At bottom range both your knee and hip maintain a slight degree of flexion. If you are a regular rider and have not had a professional fit your bike to your body dimensions, do it. This aspect is so very important for your pleasure and safety.

We’re getting to the good stuff! One of the most important aspects to incorporate in your cycling training program is core strength. The rectus is heavily used going uphill, both internal and external oblique muscles, transversus, quadratus lumborum, and paraspinals, help as you pull on the handle bars, and contract to incorporate as much axial strength possible inching your way along, maybe you will stand up and these very muscles become what will keep you safe while pedaling elevated, out of the saddle, stabilizing you and adding to success while maneuvering up hills, around rocks and maintaining a calm confidence in tricky territory.

Your very core, the diaphragm is the essential muscle facilitating proper breathing. Another place where I notice riders go unconscious is in the breath, they’re breathing, and will defiantly say they are breathing fully, but the posture that riders often default to (especially road riders) is spinal flexion. Shoulders become rounded forward, straining upper and middle thoracic spine. Thus leaving a limited space to be available for fullest diaphragmatic extension and contraction.

Give your diaphragm and ribs room to expand for better breathing on your bike

Give your diaphragm and ribs room to expand, and breathe better on your bike.

Also note, when you round your spine forward, the back edges of the vertebrae move apart, the front edges toward one another, and the disc gets wedged in the posterior direction.  This can be a potential problem if the discs begin to bulge into this space, because right behind the back of the vertebrae runs a very important and sensitive structure: your spinal cord.  That’s right, all the bundled nerves that pass between your brain and the rest of your body, in this case your lower body, pass down just behind the discs. So besides limiting the amount of space you have to fully inflate your lungs, doesn’t it make sense that with a rounded spine you’d be cutting off some of the potential energy production available for the legs?

Another important note is BALANCE!—body English, your ability to adapt to changing terrain, and surfaces. Rocks, mud, dust, roots, hills, narrow trails, and drop offs, and even other riders (though they may be few).

Stay tuned for my next post (coming in a couple of weeks), further exploring the anatomy we discussed with a practice that will help us strengthen and mobilize for our next ride.

Liked this article? Read Therapy Balls in Motorsports
Shari Williams

Shari is a Yogi and a Scientist. It's her passion for the practice of yoga which fuels her desire to teach. She has direct experience of healing and the significant transformation yoga offers & specifically the increase in strength and joint mobility Yoga Tune Up(R) provides. You will be presented with instruction firmly rooted through her education in kinesiology. The study of human movement. as well as her vast athletic, energetic and Yogic understanding. She has 30 years of teachng and practice experience, Shari knows yoga! She has a developed "eye" to see nd enlighten you to your body's blind spots. Being a lover of the human form and compassionate about the nuance of human condition you will find her warm and accessible. she is hands on (yet respectful if this is not your choice) assisting you develop healthful alignment, the foundation to build your postures. She loves life and enjoys being in nature, hiking in the woods, or biking through the forest. Yoga practice with Shari will enhance your life, give you more time in the day through enhanced energy, self esteem and well-being. She is available for private sessions, workshops, and teaches weekly classes at the Golden Mandala Collective in Nevada City, California.

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Thank you for explaining what is happening in the body as a cyclist. That said, having a bike fitting is a good point as to ensure your body is in correct alignment.

Sara Dewhurst

Thanks for the helpful information Sherri. I never noticed before that the leg is never fully in extension when riding. I can’t wait for your next blog to see if there are some ways to correct the rounded spine on a bike.


This is great, thanks for the overview on what is really happening in our bodies when we cycle. I’m not an avid cylcler but these tips are super helpful !

Leanne van Beers-Werneke

I’m a mountain biker, as well as a road cyclist, myself and what I have found to counteract the flexion of the spine is a soft grip on the handlebars, an internal rotation of the shoulders – along with a soft bend to the elbows, which will lead to and extension of the back thus opening the upper chest. Because the chest becomes more open, one’s breath will become unrestricted. Bonus!

Mélanie Ouellet

Interressant, the aspect of forward flexion of the column and the loss of effectiveness of the lower limbs.Effectively the breathing is compromised there. I will try to keep it in memory when I climb a bike


Thanks for the good resume of all muscles involved during cycling .I have many friends doing mountain bike intensively, but I don’t think they are conscient of that ! I will share this information with them so than can be more efficient to prepare there body.

C Coleman

All the members of my family ride moutain bikes except me. I am intimidated by the sport but these tips present a new way for me to approach this sport.


So timely! PLEASE keep writing and adding anything related to cycling. I used to be mobile, I let my kettlebell and bodyweight work slide, rode a a lot and failed to keep my core and mobility work in place. Now I am recovering and trying to re-open up my shoulders (unable to go fully overhead) and my hips and back. Good stuff. Thank you!

Véronique Lamothe

I imagine you’re going to talk about the shoulder position in a future article? There are so many things to consider in this part of the body in mountain biking. Thank you for sharing!!


Yes balance is very important to maintain especially as we age but I also can relate as I used to massage my feet a lot when I was training as a ballet dancer and could always notice a huge difference in my balance at the time and would perform better. Now I regularly use the therapy balls just to get the feel-good sensation but also I do notice feeling more grounded in general. My running mechanics seems better too.


Great article pointing out the WHOLE body involvement in mountain biking, including the core, balance and proper posture and breathing! Wonderful reminder to think beyond the obvious!!

Julie Rosier

Great ideas about prepping for riding. I really liked the info about foot and ankle flexibility. I had not realized how important feet are on a bike. And I love that picture of the diaphragm.


This is a great read Shari! Being born and raised in Belgium (where I basically grew up on or with a bike), I never realized how breathing is limited when you are cycling (and rounding your spine forward). I was wondering what effect mountain biking might on your wrists and elbows (especially during a decent on an uneven/bumpy road)? Would love to hear your comments on that.


Amazing article. Having a backround as a professional dirtbike racer makes it so interesting to read. I mean yes you do add a motor to your activity, but the posture and techniques resemble very much. And people will absolutely say the work is all located in the legs (or there is not at all since you’re on a motor bike haha), but wow does the whole body engage. I will definitely share your article to my motocross family, just to remind them how poor posture can affect their breathing, therefore not performing as well as they should. Thank you so… Read more »


It’s true, we always thinking to strengh legs in mountain bike, but we always forgot how the core is very important for the stabylity. Thank you to remember me.

Sarah Atkinson

What I am loving so much about the YTU training and practice is the way that I see mobility in everyday things. I just had a recent bike ride in Ottawa where I live. I kept finding myself shifting and readjusting to a more efficient posture. I am now totally satisfied that if riding my bike makes me less mobile after then i either need a new bike or to have it fitted for my body. I am curious to try rolling then riding to see if I can improve my form while riding.


Living in cycling-country Holland, I’ve never given it a thought what cycling requires from a body! I much better understand my own and other peoples pain when cycling for long(er) distances and know what can cause the pain.
Maybe it’s time for a Tune Up Cycling class…..
Thanks so much for sharing Shari!


I haven’t really ever thought about how much ankle and foot mobility play a role in biking, although it’s certainly very true. I see so many bad postures on a bike and tend to focus on the spinal alignment. Maybe I should focus on the breathing instead and the spine will fall into place.


Thank you for your article. This is a good reminder as it’s spring now and mt. biking season will be getting started where I live soon. I know that I have a tendency to need to correct my foot placement during squats but I can’t say I’ve paid any attention to foot placement on my bike. Also a good reminder for core strength and posture to facilitate proper breathing.


Great article Shari. It hit home as mountain bike season is almost upon us again. I have found in the past that the seasons where I have been diligent about core strength in the off season, often feel as though I haven’t been off my bike all winter. The awareness of your ankle inverters and hip external rotators is key when you need to unclip in a hurry! I can’t wait to see what the season feels like when I introduce YTU & coregeous work into my routine!


Thank you for this great reminder. I attend spinning classes where I “clip” into the pedals, making foot alignment not something I often think about, yet when I ride my road bike, my feet are in baskets and I need to consciously remind myself not to allow the proper tracking of foot and leg to deteriorate.
Always a great reminder too to carry the voice of my spinning instructor in my head about upper body positioning, “shoulders down! full breaths!”

aniela eva

As I fell upon this article I was riding a staionary bike (2 birds with 1 stone) and I was able to put the article into direct practice. I noticed my feet were pronating and the impact on the knee and hip joint. Also I was rounded and collaspsing the spine. Extend and lengthen I did and properly engaged the muscles. Thank you

Ranghild Helmberger

In fact this is a very helpful und practicable post. In Austria we love mountainbiking, but we don´t really care about our body. So, what you mentioned I can use for bringing some bikers in my yoga tune up classes! Thank you!


I enjoyed reading your post, and find the tips to be very useful for me even though I don’t consider myself an avid cyclist. But I live in NYC and find myself depending more and more on CitiBikes to get from place to place because of subway changes or bad traffic. I find it so much more easeful in my ride if I spend some time doing some feet/ankle warm up and making sure I have good posture for optimal breathing. Thanks your sharing, very practical and useful post for many I’m sure!