Mind, Body, Motorcycle: Getting Geared Up For Safety
By Jill Dunphy
As this issue goes to print, many of you are likely preparing to ride to the 31st International Women On Wheels® Ride-In™, or other moto-vacations of various length. It seems that there are dozens of articles and forum posts with tips for packing and motorcycle preparations, yet very few about prepping yourself. Your motorcycle and gear can be in tip-top shape for a ride, but if you, the operator of the machine, are not mentally and physically ready for the journey, the rest of the preparation may not matter much.
As a long-time yoga practitioner and former instructor, I know how a regular yoga practice has benefitted my motorcycling: increased focus and awareness; the ability to ride through moments of mental and physical discomfort; greater balance and flexibility. WOW member and exercise physiologist Emily O’Shaughnessy has experienced similar benefits of a regular strength training and cardio routine, such as increased balance, core strength, reaction time, and endurance. ALL of these are key to safely operating a motorcycle in any circumstance!
For this issue, Emily and I teamed up to provide you with some pointers for getting physically and mentally prepared for your summer riding season so that you can enjoy your vacations (relatively) pain-free. Our goal for this issue’s column is to provide suggestions for you to explore, rather than a step-by step regimen. We have included photos to illustrate some of the exercises we call out.
A few months before your trip, Emily suggests increasing your overall strength by working key muscle groups in order from your head to your feet. All are necessary for balancing and steering your bike (as well as picking it up…). She notes, “the neck is often a neglected group of muscles; full-faced helmets are heavy and your head must swivel through twisty turns and switching lanes. Twisting your head from side to side while wearing a helmet will increase your range of motion.” Working the arms next, Emily states, “Bicep curls and triceps dips will work the muscles required to maintain the riding position for extended periods of time. Finger and wrist curls with a small dumbbell or tennis ball will aid throttle, front brake, and clutch operation.”
Your core muscles are key to balancing and properly steering your bike, and can be strengthened through exercises like crunches and bridges, and through balancing yoga postures such as tree pose. The leg muscles, the largest muscle group in the body, support our core and are especially important for standing up on the pegs while riding off-road. Emily suggests strengthening your quadriceps and hamstrings by doing lunges and squats, or using resistance bands while seated in a chair. Ankle strength is required to shift the bike and apply pressure to the rear brake, and can be improved by doing toe/calf raises and ankle rotations. According to Emily, “An easy routine to follow includes up to three sets of 15 repetitions of each of these exercises, every other day.”
The typical riding position tends to round our shoulders forward and often upwards towards our ears, especially if we are tense, and who hasn’t suffered a leg or hip cramp from sitting for so long, or using our legs to maneuver and balance the bike? Quick and easy stretches and exercises can be done during rest stops in full gear to relieve muscle tension and cramps, and reduce fatigue. Yoga postures such as downward facing dog and tree pose can be modified to do while standing up, using your motorcycle or a tree as a prop; and will open the hips, stretch the hamstrings, and pull your shoulders back and down away from your ears. Your shoulders can be further opened by clasping your hands behind your back and lifting your arms up behind you. Taking a quick walk around the rest stop will increase your heart rate and reduce fatigue, making you more alert for the rest of the ride.
At day’s end, focus on counteracting the riding position. Supported reclined bound angle pose opens your chest, shoulders, and hips, and provides a slight backbend. This can easily be done using a camp roll or rolled up hotel towel supporting your back and neck, and boots or a folded sweatshirt supporting your head. Counter the effects of sitting all day by getting your feet above your head and reversing your blood flow; I like to rest on the floor with my legs up a wall. For maximum and continued benefits, stay in these postures for three to five minutes to release the connective tissues holding your muscles in the riding position. If you are not totally wiped out from the day’s riding, consider hopping on the hotel treadmill or walking around the campsite for about 10 minutes to get blood circulating throughout your body.
Ready to get fit and focused for your moto-vacation?
See page 6 for the complete article…