Erika Hurst, a dirt and street rider and fitness trainer, focuses on strength – and female riders. What’s her job like, why do you need to be fit if you want to ride well (and long!), and why strength training is your best bet if you’re a motorcyclist – in this interview, Erika talks about all of this and more.
Erika, how did you get into bikes?
I bought my first dirt bike at the ripe age of 27 (I’m 31 now). I’ve always leaned towards motorsports and had wanted to be on two wheels since I was a kid – unfortunately, my parents didn’t dig this idea (ha). I got super heavy into off-roading in my late teens and even did a couple rock races in my 20s. It was a blast, but I ended up having to sell my woods rig and I needed a new hobby.
At that point in time I was at a pretty low point in life and I needed something to help pull me out of the dark hole I was in. It was dirt bikes and fulfilling my childhood dream of riding one. It was love at first ride and to this day I still can’t get enough.
I now ride dirt and street and have proudly owned more bikes than cars.
How did you become a fitness trainer?
This story is literally all over the place! I was SO not an athletic kid, but I was always pretty small. Towards the end of high school after losing my mom, I started to gain a lot of weight. I knew nothing about health and fitness, so I just followed the old, outdated “eat less, exercise more” advice, which long story short, snowballed into an eating disorder, obsessive exercise and my weight yo-yo-ing all over the place for years.
The need for strength never occurred to me so I spent hours and hours miserably running on the treadmill, thinking this would make me “fit.” I started going to school for automotive and realized I couldn’t even lift a tire or break bolts without having to ask for help. Being a woman in the automotive field and trying to find a job was hard enough, but adding a lack of physical capability made it near impossible.
So I made my way into the weight room one day (after literally months of trying to get up enough guts to do so).
I soaked up every bit of knowledge I could on how to get stronger and completely changed my life and body inside and out. I stopped self-loathing about my body and trying to burn off everything I ate on the treadmill. Instead, I trained to see what my body was truly capable of and eating well to support that.
A few months of lifting did more for me than anything I’d ever done in the past, including freeing me from disordered eating. I felt like it was my duty to share this “secret” with other women, so I switched careers and started school for exercise science and human performance and eventually opened my own women’s strength gym. I’ve been in the fitness industry for almost a decade now, but just passed my 5th anniversary of owning my own gym.
When did these two passions become one?
Last January, Kelly McCaughey, creator of Over and Out Moto, reached out to me for some tips on how she and the three other ladies on her team could get in better shape for the Northeast 24 Hour Challenge they would be doing in July. I was honored and floored that these ladies wanted my help, so I was like let’s turn this into an online training group and I’ll see if any other ladies who ride want to get in on it, since it would be so beneficial. Women from all over the U.S. got on board and from there, Gnarly Babes Fitness was born.
Getting to combine my passion of helping women get strong with a safe and intelligent approach with my love of dirtbikes has been so awesome.
Why is your training woman-centric?
When it comes to fitness, women face unique challenges. Navigating the health and fitness world as a woman who wants to get in shape can be confusing and frustrating. There is just so much BS, conflicting information and harmful fads out there – but this inspires me to raise my voice. I strive to be a source of sanity, clarity and sustainability for women who have struggled for so long like I did in the past.
It just makes me so heated that we’ve mostly been told that the only reason to exercise is to burn calories and that constantly going on and off diets is just part of being a woman, because we deserve SO much better. My goal is to help women build healthier relationships with exercise, food and their bodies because when we’re liberated from the shame that we used to believe should be our motivator during our fitness journey, a whole lot of powerful stuff happens!
Why should motorcycle riders be concerned about their fitness? Isn’t riding, especially off-road, enough to keep fit?
It depends! If you just want to be in shape to ride and you’re one of the lucky people who gets to ride every single day, then that’s probably enough. Unfortunately, that’s not many of us!
If you’re only riding 1-2x/week, then it makes sense to do some things on the other 4-5 days that you’re not on the bike, to accelerate your progress.
A good moto training program will also help bring up any weaknesses and help offset common imbalances caused by riding.
What are some of the common mistakes that motorcycle riders do when it comes to fitness?
Not focusing on strength is a huge one. Strength makes everything easier and being strong will never put you at a disadvantage (but not being strong will!). Also, if riders make getting strong their first priority, gaining endurance and stamina will come much easier.
Having a base of strength also better allows our muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments to take a beating when we ride, which significantly lowers our injury risk.
This also takes a lot of stress off of our joints, so that nagging back or shoulder ache you might get when you ride starts to dissipate when your core, glutes, hamstrings and upper back are strong enough to handle more load for longer.
The other common mistake is using traditional ab exercises like sit ups and crunches to build core strength. The purpose of our core is to prevent movement through our midsection in order to protect all of our internal stuff like our organs and spine. So the most effective core training involves trying to resist movement through our mid-section and maintain good alignment under a load or force that is trying to alter that alignment (which doesn’t happen with exercises like crunches, but happens a whole lot while riding!).
What’s the best part about your job?
Getting to build relationships with so many awesome women while helping them and watch them grow and bloom throughout their journey. I love seeing women surprise themselves with their strength or their abilities whether it’s in or outside of the gym (I get a lot of pictures of my clients carrying big bags of cat litter by themselves or picking up their bikes..and I’ll never get sick of that stuff!).
… and the worst?
My boss is kind of a hard ass, haha! I think just setting boundaries within my businesses and with myself are the toughest. When you’re self-employed you can literally work 24/7 if you want to and since there’s always a list of things to do, I struggle a lot with shutting my brain off and taking time off.
What would you say to people who want your job?
I would say that the most important thing you can ever do is actually genuinely care about the people you want to help or are helping in your business.
Want to keep up with Erika? Follow her on social media!