Is Mountain Biking a Full-Body Workout or Just Leg Training?

More often than not, we cyclists have reached the end of a gnarly, technical trail feeling completely and utterly spent. “Every muscle in my body is aching” is the thought that resounds in our heads. But is that actually the case?

In the strictest sense, mountain biking is generally not thought to be a full-body workout. Mountain biking will enlist more of your other muscle groups than just your legs but a full-body workout is considered one in which every muscle group from your legs, your torso, and your arms are engaged.

So what parts of your body do mountain biking exercises? You might be surprised at just how close to a full-body workout mountain biking actually is.

What Muscles Are You Using on Your MTB?

Mountain biking works quite a few different muscles. As you’re cycling along you will quite obviously engage your leg muscles; these leg muscles are your quadriceps (thighs), calves, hamstrings, and glutes (your buttocks).

Cyclist riding through the forest

But while you’re out on the trails you’re also exercising your lower back, your obliques, and, of course, your arms. Let’s have a closer look at some of these muscles.

  • Quadriceps. These are the large muscles on the front of your thighs. The quads are one of the major muscle groups that you will engage in while you are cycling. These are the muscles that you will feel burning as you’re ascending steep hills and when you push for maximum effort over a difficult technical section.
  • Hamstrings. These are to be found on the other side of your leg from the quads. The back of your thighs. You can feel these working especially when you’re standing up to the pedal. Something that mountain bikers do regularly.
  • Calves. You will use your calf muscles either when you’re attempting a steep climb or when you’re standing up to pedal. They translate the effort of the quads and your hammies to your pedals.
  • Glutes. This is a huge group of muscles that benefits from mountain biking. These muscles are engaged with every turn of the pedals. This is why cyclists have such admired rear-ends.
  • Obliques. These muscles lie on the sides of your abdomen, from the middle of your rib cage to your hips. These muscles are used when you bend forward and rotate from side to side. This is something that mountain bikers do a lot.
  • Arms. Your arms will be working hard as they’re the muscle groups you’re using to keep you connected to your bike. They work especially hard when you’re leaning over the bars as they have to support the weight of your torso. You will use your deltoids, triceps, and your biceps, and also your forearms.
  • Abdominals. You might not feel that your core is getting a full workout on your mountain bike but your abs are always employed when you’re exercising your leg muscles.

What Other Muscles Are You Using?

The one muscle that everyone seems to forget when discussing a full-body workout is the heart. This is somewhat neglectful because your heart is essentially the most important muscle in your body, and it is the most valuable muscle that you will strengthen during exercise. Mountain biking is an excellent form of cardio workout and, although you may be screaming in pain inside your head on some torturous climb, the oxygen levels in your blood are increasing and your blood vessels are dilating, clearing the way to accommodate the increased blood flow.

As far as general health is concerned, aerobic exercise such as mountain biking will significantly help reduce the risk of contracting diseases such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and type 2 diabetes. It goes a long way in decreasing the level of harmful cholesterol in your blood and, of course, helps you to shed excess pounds of fat from your body.

If you what to start mountain biking for fitness reasons, we have written an article that breaks down in-depth the number of calories burned while mountain biking, check it out!

What Else Does it Do For Me?

Man on a bicycle

Mountain biking, indeed, any form of cycling or aerobic activity does wonders for your body. These other parts of your body should be considered when deciding on what is a full-body workout.

  • Your lungs. When you’re at the top of your game, your lung performance will be more than 25% better when compared to the average Joe who leads a sedentary life.
  • Your joints. Mountain biking is considered a low-impact activity (as long as you remain above your bike) and your joints, while being more supported by your new-found muscularity, will be more flexible and much more capable of taking impacts.
  • Your waistline. Depending on how hard you ride, you will burn anywhere from 500 Calories (a fairly easy ride) to 1000 calories (if you’re carving up a technical single-track). Cycling also increases your metabolic rate so you’re making efficient use of the food you’re fueling your ride with. A higher metabolic rate is also why so many good cyclists are so slender.
  • Your fitness. This is easily measured by your resting heart rate, your peak heart rate (depending on your age), and your recovery time. Mountain biking helps people get fit and fitter people will live longer, healthier lives than people who aren’t. 
  • Your mood. When you get out on your bike, your central nervous system and your pituitary gland release a chemical called endorphins. These will interact with receptors in your brain that induce a positive feeling in your body. The runners high, or in this case, the mountain bikers high. These endorphins will also reduce your capacity to feel pain which, in the case of mountain biking is just as well.

When it comes to training many people ask the question: How often should I train? If this is the case for you, check out the article: How many days a week should I mountain bike?

We Do it Because it’s Fun.

Mountain biking is a great way to exercise most of the muscle groups in your body, and the most wonderful aspect of it is that it doesn’t feel like exercise at all. It just feels like fun.

As we have seen, there are so many benefits to getting out on your mountain bike and blasting the trails or just taking a leisurely commute to work. It may not be considered a full-body exercise but it is one of the best ways of maintaining full-body fitness.

I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.