Story and photos by Luca Williams
The first time I went mountain biking, I went with buddies from high school on a bike that wasn’t designed for mountain biking. The guys told me that the first rule of mountain biking was I had to bleed by the end of the ride. It was a requirement. I laughed and soon after crashed into a tree, bruising and cutting my thigh.
The wrong equipment and the pain didn’t deter me. I loved this new sport. I loved the feeling of speed and the total concentration that mountain biking requires. No question, the pain from a crash is difficult to overlook. But to our detriment, we often overlook the day-to-day soreness, discomfort or tension of the arms, necks and shoulders until it becomes pain. The problem with ignoring the slight discomforts is that to do so, we also shut down the sense of awareness that tells us when we are using too much muscular effort.
As in all sports, true grace comes from using the least muscular effort possible. Excessive force drains our energy and taxes our bodies, causing injury and tension. When we reduce that force, we become more sensitive and attuned to what we’re doing. Over-effort is not a conscious choice, but it is a choice nevertheless. Thankfully, you can make a different choice.
The next time you mountain bike, choose an easy-to-medium climb or downhill ride. Pay attention to subtle differences in areas of tension and over-effort, such as the jaw, neck, shoulders and arms. How much effort are you using in your jaw to steer your bike when things get a little tough? To climb or descend that hill, how high do you draw your shoulders toward your ears? Does doing that really make your legs more effective?
Take a moment to completely contract and tense your neck, jaw, arms and shoulders. Now take a deep breath and feel your shoulders and jaw relax and release downwards. By increasing our awareness and resetting our shoulders we can minimize the pain that begins at the hands and moves to the arms, shoulders and neck.
Ideally, we want our lower arms to act like shock absorbers while riding. The softer you grip your brakes and handlebars, the more control you have and the more effective your shock absorbers work so your shoulders, neck and head don’t have to absorb as much.
In order for your lower arms to act as shock absorbers effectively, you will need to reset your shoulder blades. Gently retract your shoulder blades towards your spine and down your back. Notice how your elbows draw inward a little bit. Make sure to keep your elbows softly bent rather than stiff. When you gently bring your shoulder blades together and down your back, your upper body aligns more with your lower body, gaining its support and strength. Now the whole body can help with braking and gripping rather than just the forearm muscles doing all the work.
Just by practicing awareness, we can reduce overall muscular tension which allows us to redirect our energy so that we can ride with more power, grace and efficiency. When I first started mountain biking and snowboarding, “No pain, no gain” was my punk motto. My motto has changed to “Pay attention, build awareness, use less force.” x
Luca Williams is a Certified Rolfer in Glacier, WA. She helps snowboarders, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to get aligned and out of pain. Website: lucasrolfing.com blog: movingwithgravity.wordpress.com