Much has been written and said about preparing a rider’s motorcycle for a new touring season, but relatively little is ever said about preparing a rider’s body for long motorcycle rides. As all serious riders know, it takes much more mental focus and physical stamina to ride a motorcycle all day long than it does to drive a comparable number of hours in a car. The motorcycle requires more strength to maneuver it, and the rider’s body is in almost constant motion in the saddle, especially on curvy roads. Weather conditions and the other on-the-road elements a rider experiences may also help to deplete his or her energy.
When a body becomes fatigued, reaction times lengthen, rider and bike agility suffers, and the ability to make sound, quick decisions in challenging riding situations can be seriously degraded. And, of course, falling asleep or suffering a heart attack, while on a moving motorcycle, portend even more serious outcomes than if those same things happen in a car. The logical course of action to help prevent these calamities is to prepare your body for the rigors of the road. Your physical conditioning regimen can include many dimensions, but should have at least three main areas of focus: flexibility, endurance and core strengthening.
Getting and Staying Flexible: Lack of flexibility in the body can result in a litany of physical problems and general discomfort. These often include sore muscles, lower back pain, impaired muscle coordination, increased risk of injury and more. The best way to improve and retain flexibility is through daily stretching exercises. For motorcycle riding, the most important areas to stretch are the back, neck, thighs and hamstrings. Although numerous books and videos on stretching are available, there are a few important things to keep in mind, particularly if you’re just beginning a stretching program:
1. Warm up for at least five to 10 minutes by doing some type of aerobic activity, like walking or riding a bicycle. Muscles are more supple, easier to stretch and less prone to injury when they’re warm.
2. Be sure to follow the proper form demonstrated for doing the stretch. Inappropriate body position may cause an injury.
3. Do not overstretch because that also can trigger an injury.
4. Be consistent. It’s better to do a little stretching every day than a lot of stretching a couple of times a week.
5. Stay committed. It took a long time for you to lose flexibility, and it won’t return overnight.
Attending a stretching class at a health club or working with a physical therapist, at least initially, may be a good way to learn how to do the stretches you need most and to make sure that you’re performing them correctly.
Increasing Endurance: Aerobic, cardiovascular exercises are an excellent way of increasing a motorcyclist’s endurance and alertness for a long ride. By improving the fitness of your heart and lungs, the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles is increased, and your body can perform at a higher level for a longer period of time. Some of the best aerobic exercises include: walking, swimming, running and bicycling. In addition, health clubs offer a number or machines that focus on improving aerobic capacity, including the elliptical exercise machines.
There’s a rule of thumb metric that can be used in cardio fitness training. Subtract your age from 220 to find you maximum heart rate. Your pulse rate should be in the range of 65% to 85% of that number. As with any new exercise program, you should start slow and build up your stamina. Start out at around 65% of your maximum heart rate and gradually work up to between 75% and 85% of your maximum. Heart rate monitors are available at many retail outlets and on the Internet. Minimum aerobic training should be for about 30 minutes three times per week. If you haven’t been physically active recently, it’s always wise to consult with a physician before beginning a cardiovascular program.
Gaining and Maintaining Core Body Strength: Many of us, mistakenly, equate physical conditioning with the bulging muscles of a body builder. Instead, our main focus should be on building what’s called core body strength. The muscles in question are those deep in the abdominal area and the back muscles that attach to the pelvis or spine. These are the muscles that originate motion and keep your body stabilized and balanced. They are fundamental to riding a motorcycle.
Although abdominal crunches are a component of a core body-strengthening program, there are other important ones as well. Some examples of these exercises are demonstrated in photos by Mayo Clinic staff members at: www.mayoclinic.com/health/core-strength/SM00047. Other sources of core body strength training are Yoga and Pilates classes.
Getting your body in shape to ride long distances not only makes your touring trips more enjoyable, it also makes your everyday life healthier and more pleasurable as well. What are you waiting for?