Fit for Riding
I need to remember next season that my first ride of the year (on a brand new chassis might I add) shouldn’t be with one of RSMHA’s top racers, Erin Beukelman, and backcountry professional, Shane Kelley. After spending all summer long cross training on my dirtbike on some of Idaho’s toughest single track, and working out 5-6 days a week, I thought for sure I was fit for the season. Evidently I was wrong, as I was pretty sore the day after. But the good news is that it became very obvious to me which muscles you use most when riding! In this article I want to cover how to focus on these muscles which are most important for riding, and ways to increase your musculoskeletal health.
Fit for Riding
Western snowmobiling has evolved tremendously in the last 5 years. Technical backcountry boondocking has become more physically demanding than the riding we use to do just a few years ago. I think everyone knows what I am talking about as riding looks more like a balancing act and we continue to push our sleds into the most off-camber hills, creeks and drainages that will physically hold snow. While our sleds use to be the limiting factor, I feel now the rider has become the limiting factor. If this is the type of riding you like to do, being in good physical shape is imperative.
There are 4 main aspects of exercise that need to be addressed in order to best condition yourself for the season; aerobic, anaerobic, balance and cardiovascular exercises. Aerobic exercise is the most common form and is done when the muscles are full of oxygen and fuel and can contract repetitively. Anaerobic is essentially the exercise done with the absence of oxygen and fuel and generally constitutes high intensity exercises that are done until failure. Cardiovascular exercise focuses on increasing your heart rate and endurance. Of course we all know what balance is, but we will discuss this issue in more depth.
Be Cardio Fit for Technical Riding
The first and arguably most important form of necessary exercise is cardio. Technical riding is a workout! This is not sitting on your bottom trail riding. If you fatigue quickly and don’t have the energy and oxygen to stay sharp and quick, you make mistakes. You get stuck, you can’t hold your line on a side hill, or you possibly get hurt. We all have seen that guy who is continually stuck at the back of the group. When you go back to help them, they have their helmet off, panting like a dog trying to catch their breath. Think this is a coincidence?
I highly recommend some form of cardiovascular exercise done at least 3 times a week, for a minimum of 20 minutes. If your heart rate is not double your resting heart rate, it does not count as a workout. Although running is one of my least favorite forms of cardio, I do it at least twice a week merely because it does such a good job of increasing cardiovascular endurance. My second favorite is the stair climber, followed by interval bike training and lastly swimming. It is also good to mix up these exercises and the environment in which you do them. But make no mistake about it, these exercises MUST be done weekly!
Core Muscles at the Root of Fitness
At the root of all aerobics exercises and muscles is your core. The “core” has become a popular buzz word the last few years in the realm of exercise. Your core is essentially composed of the muscles that attach to your pelvis; abdominals, low back muscles, hip flexors and gluteal/posterior leg muscles. This area is constantly used while riding and stabilizes your spine. Some great exercises to help strengthen this area are Planks, Leg Lifts, Crunches, Russian Twists and Back Extension movements. For this area, I recommend focusing on these muscle groups at least 2 times a week. Personally, I pick one of these exercises and do it daily at the end of my work out.
The largest upper body muscle group that directly correlates with snowmobiling is the back; primarily the lats. Think about it, these are the primary muscles (besides your forearms) to hold onto your sled. The two most beneficial exercises that I recommend are pullups and seated rows. There are exercises like bent over rows and overhead extensions that work this area as well, but I feel the first two I mentioned crossover the best to the motions used while riding.
Arms, Wrists and Hands
The last muscle group that I want to cover is your arms, specifically your forearms and hands. To me this is a very obvious one. It’s especially obvious the first ride of the year when I get arm pump 2 miles from the truck! Strong hands and forearms are what help you literally hold onto the handlebars.
My favorite way to increase the strength and endurance in these muscles are wrist curls, or using a grip strength handle like the “Harbinger Hand Grip”. I actually have one of these in my truck and just grab it a couple times a week while driving and hold it for a minute in each hand. Another great way to train these muscles is to simply grab some dumbbells and just stand there and hold them at your side for as long as you can. I like to use a weight that I can only hold for about 60 seconds; you’ll have to determine that respective weight for your individual needs.
While I only focused on three primary muscle groups, I feel that having a well-rounded workout that hits all your muscle groups is important. Along these lines, this is where anaerobic exercise comes into play. Like I mentioned earlier, this is essentially the state in which your muscles are deprived of oxygen. Anaerobic exercises can be incorporated in your daily routine simply by super setting exercise, or changing your set/rep combination.
For example, if you are working your back, you could do 10 pull ups, followed by 10 seated rows, and then straight back to pull ups, with no rest, for 5 minutes or until failure. Or you could do 15 seated rows, increase weight and do 12 rows, increase weight and do 8 reps. Essentially we are trying to completely fatigue the muscle, and go into an oxygen deprived state. I think this is important because this happens while riding when are on a long pull, or climbing up large drainage, or pounding bottomless powder.
Lastly, the final area I want to discuss is your balance. As we push our limits into off-camber terrain, your ability to balance your sled is immensely important. If you can’t balance your sled properly and lose you line, you are headed into the creek bottom, or down the mountain or into a tree. My favorite balance exercise is using a wobble board. However, balancing on a wobble board with two feet is easy. I like to stand on the wobble board with just one foot. This is much more difficult, but in my mind, it directly crosses over to snowmobiling much more as you usually only have one foot on the running board when you are dangling off your sled.
I hope this information is useful for you and something you can incorporate into your weekly exercise routine. I will advise that if you have any medical concerns that you consult with your doctor beforehand.
This is a great way to stay in shape throughout the work week—while you can’t be slicing out through the powder. These are all great exercises to improve your musculoskeletal health as it relates to snowmobiling. While nothing beats simply getting out and riding your sled, these will help you stay one step ahead of your buddies.
Anthony Oberti, D.C., owns and operates Whole Health Chiropractic in Nampa, ID. He lives in Eagle, ID with his wife Melissa and their 3 young boys. Anthony has been in practice for 12 years. He was voted Top 5 Chiropractors by Sacramento Magazine last 2 years in a row before moving to Idaho. Anthony began riding snowmobiles at the age of 9. He raced RMSHA in college, and for the last 7 years has starred in the Boondockers Movie.