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Road vs. MTB: Which Type of Cycling Hurts Your Bones More?

By Monica Buck

No doubt, the health benefits of cycling are plentiful, but as researches have shown, unfortunately biking doesn’t help to create strong bones. Depending on how much time you spend in the saddle, you can even end up with worse bone density than people who do not exercise at all.

The main reason is the fact that cycling is a non-weight bearing activity. You spend loads of time seated with no compression forces on both your spine and pelvis. No matter how hard you pedal, the force you produce does not put a significant strain on your bones, which is a key element to inducing bone growth. Combined with the increased risk of fractures from crashes and the low body mass the cyclists usually tend to have, this contributes to a higher risk factor for osteoporosis or osteopenia.

Road cycling at a competitive level is more harmful for your bone health than MTB and recreational forms of cycling. Mountain bikers get a lot of vibrations from the road, while pro cyclists endure no impact forces and spend a lot of time off their feet during recovery. But even if you like to spend the same amount of time in the saddle as the pros, you do not need to despair.

There are many ways to improve your bone density and you don’t need to turn your exercise routine upside down. Just simply include a few exercises which stress your legs, hips and lumbar spine with some impact and force. For example, it might be natural for you as a cyclist to add a bit of running and swimming and thus become a triathlete – which is a perfect way to counter low bone density. Or just include jumping, sprinting and some plyometrics in your program.

Just remember that if you’re starting out or you’re already aware of the fact that you have low bone density, you should proceed cautiously and add explosive workouts gradually. Developing solid foundations before adding high-intensity workouts is always the way to go.