Staying Sane After Injury
World Cup woes. Photo by Michal Cerveny
Crashing is a ubiquitous experience shared by anyone who rides a mountain bike. Our sport is inherently risky, and if you put tires to dirt long enough, the trail will bite back.
Most of the time we emerge from these crashes with a funny story and possibly a cool scar or two, but sometimes they can result in injuries that keep us off the bike for weeks or months at a time.
Slopestyle trouble, Whistler.
This time can be spent wallowing in bike withdrawal and depression, or it can be used to ensure that when you’re cleared to return to biking, you’re just as fast as the day you were injured. The following tips will allow you to survive your time off the bike and maintain your strength and mental confidence for when you return.
XC racers crash too. Photo by Michal Cerveny
ANALYZE YOUR ACCIDENT
Crashes can happen in an instant. In the blink of an eye, you’re brought from a high of singletrack euphoria down to the low of unforgiving dirt. It can be difficult in the moment to understand what just happened. But, crashes often give us the best insights into underlying issues with our technique or other mistakes we may have made. If a mistake is big enough that it leads to injury, it’s definitely something you should take note of.
Head over heels. Photo by Michal Cerveny
Think back to the time leading up to your crash, starting before the ride when you woke up that morning. Did you not eat enough breakfast, leading to less energy and a bonk mid-descent? Did you head out with a bald front tire, which slid in the mud and caused your tumble? Were you on trails that were too much for you? Trying flats instead of clipless pedals? Crashes always happen for a reason, and identifying what caused your injury is the best way to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
OBSESSIVELY SERVICE YOUR BIKE
If you crashed hard enough to earn yourself a break from riding, chances are your bike didn’t escape unscathed. The problem could be as simple as a twisted handlebar or as serious as a taco’d wheel. Some jobs are too much for home mechanics, but most crash repairs are as simple as buying a replacement part and installing it.
It’s best to do these repairs while you’re off the bike, as you’ll have time to consider upgrades and do the work at your own pace. We’re not all professional mechanics after all.
While you’re recovering, it’s also a good idea to give your bike a full, top-to-bottom service. Often, the finer points of bike maintenance are ignored in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
With all your newfound free time, work your way from front to back, removing and checking components and applying Loctite and grease as you go. This can be completed in a weekend and will ensure that your bike won’t have any lingering mechanical issues when you get back on it. These little mechanical gremlins can come back to bite you on a future ride, so it’s best to be proactive about them.
Even the best riders crash occasionally. Kate Courtney. Photo by Michal Cerveny
CROSS-TRAIN YOUR HEAD OFF
Mountain bikers are simple folk. We enjoy good rides, good friends and good food. When we can’t ride, however, that balanced lifestyle can be thrown off. If you’re spending more than a couple of days off the bike, it’s good to do some cross-training to offset all that good food. Obviously, you should always follow your doctor’s orders regarding rest and recovery, but finding ways to get the blood pumping without causing more damage will make your transition back onto the bike smoother.
One easy way to cross-train is yoga. Free instruction can be found online or on YouTube, and there are about as many different yoga poses as there are ways to get injured on a bike. Find some poses that feel good, and develop a routine that builds strength in the legs and core while avoiding any injured parts of the body.
The late Kelly McGarry, tangled up. Whistler.
Another important part of recovery training is cardio. Mountain biking is a car-dio-intensive sport, and keeping the heart and lungs performing well is crucial to smoothly transitioning back onto the bike. The good thing is that cardio can be done several different ways, so you can work around most moderate injuries.
If your upper body is injured, try a stationary bike or go for some runs. If your injury is in your lower body, try rowing or low-weight, high-rep resistance training to maintain strength while working the cardiovascular system. The idea here is to make it so when you return to the bike, it feels like you’ve never taken a day off.
MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
The effect that your mindset has on physical performance in sports cannot be overstated. There’s a whole field of kinesiology devoted to unlocking better performance through an improved mental state and improving your mental state through physical exercise. Keeping yourself happily in the rider’s mindset while off the bike will allow you to keep your old confidence when you get back in the saddle.
Lisa Jennings has a master’s in kinesiology and teaches sports psychology at Humboldt State University. She says that psychology plays a major role in athletic performance, a role that often isn’t fully recognized.
Rider down. Photo by Michal Cerveny
“Many people hold onto that athletic identity and feel like they’ve lost a part of themselves when they can’t do the sport,” Jennings said. “That can lead to stress and anxiety, which can actually make it take longer to heal.”
Jennings says that the best ways to mentally prepare for returning to a sport are visualization, selftalk and social support.
Injuries can happen almost anywhere. Photo by Michal Cerveny