Updated: Mar 1, 2020
As a motocross athlete you know you can’t rely solely on your motor to get you through a race, you need to be strong to control the bike and have excellent cardiovascular and muscular endurance to get you to the finish line, and preferably not as the last one off the track. At the end of the day, yes, seat time is what is going to make the biggest difference in your race day performance, but what you do off the bike could be the difference between whether or not you’re standing on that podium at the end of the year. Strength and conditioning can not only help improve lap time but also reduce the wear and tear on ligaments by increasing the stability of your joints, not to mention the extra strength will prove to be an invaluable asset when things get rough out on the track. Riders need to increase their strength without putting on too much extra mass, luckily it’s not that easy to gain large amounts of muscle. Building mass requires a consistent surplus of calories and workouts that focus on hypertrophy, not performance, so instead, here’s what you do need to work on.
Trunk Strength and Stability
To be able to maintain proper position and control on your bike you need to have a strong trunk, or “core”. Without it, the workload will get put on your arms, legs and lower back, increasing the rate of fatigue and causing lower back pain. Your truck is the foundation of how you control your bike, without a strong one there will be no strength or control behind your push and pull. The trunk needs to be able to maintain a stable position while moving your arms and legs independently, (interchangeably sitting and standing while using your arms to steer and maintaining a braced core) but also be strong through full body dynamic movements.
- Dead bugs
- Bird dogs
- Isometric exercises
- Med ball work e.g. Lateral med ball toss, wood chops, rotational med ball slams
Lower Body Strength and Muscular Endurance
Your legs are the primary point of contact on your bike - sitting, standing, absorbing force, and delivering force back to the bike - your legs need to be strong and have good muscular endurance to keep control and get through the race. Lower back, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves all need to be trained to create a strong lower body, one weak link can break the entire chain. A strong posterior chain also creates good posture, aiding in the maintenance of good riding position. Eccentric training is a great way to train your legs to absorb and deliver force. Studies have shown that while high forces produced in muscles working eccentrically (think, landing a big jump or absorbing shock through whoops) can cause damage, muscle and tendon appear very capable of adapting to such high forces if the muscle experiences this stimulus progressively and repeatedly. This is why training eccentrically during the off season is so important to either build up the tolerance to high eccentric forces or to maintain it.
- Barbell Front squats
- Front or back racked split squats and Bulgarian split squats
- Depth drops variations
- Single leg RDLS
- Glute ham raise
- Eccentrically focused exercises
- Isometric exercises
Arm Strength and Muscular Endurance
It is note worthy to again mention at this point that you can increase your strength and muscular endurance without putting on crazy amounts of mass. When it comes to upper body strength, it goes without saying that arm pump is something that every rider is trying to avoid. Not training upper body is not the way to do it. No, you are not trying to build up the muscles in the forearm which could decrease blood supply and make arm pump worse. However, grip strength and endurance along with strength of the entire arm and shoulder will help slow down the onset of arm pump. Blood flow decreases during muscular contraction, if you can lower the intensity of your muscular contraction while riding you can increase the blood flow. I’m not here to say this is a “cure”, nor that this is a quick fix, but if you can reduce the rate of fatigue and instead increase the blood flow in your arms it will help. Coupling grip strength training with increasing your cardiovascular endurance will be the best way to do this. Shoulder strength and stability are another must, this is the contact point at which your upper limbs attach to your trunk, if this is weak or unstable the entire mechanism falls apart.
- Towel grip pull ups or inverted rows
- Farmer carries
- Rowing and skipping
- Plate steering wheels
- Inverted KB press
- Body weight exercises – push ups, dips, pull ups
- Compound barbell exercises
As an MX athlete I’m sure you already know the importance of training your cardiovascular endurance. Increasing your CE improves oxygen uptake in the lungs and heart and can help a person sustain physical activity for longer. CE measures how well the body performs during long periods of exercise and someone with good CE can maintain a high intensity of physical activity (insert your next sand race here) for a long period of time. Although not completely necessary, you can test this by performing a Vo2 Max test which can also be used as a good baseline test before and after a training program. Some of the best ways for an MX athlete to train their CE is through high intensity interval training, mountain biking and of course hitting laps on the bike. You have to push yourself to see a change in your cardiovascular system, really challenging yourself is when your heart and lungs will start to adapt to the pressure and you will notice a difference in your CE. Using a heart rate monitor to make sure your hitting optimal HR Zones is extremely useful if you are unsure of whether or not you are training at an optimal level.
This is the most neglected area of training especially with motor sport athletes. A dynamic warm up before exercise and stretching post workout will help not only get your heart pumping and blood flowing but also ward off injury in the gym and help improve your strength by increasing your range of motion during strength training.
- Pigeon pose
- Thread the needle
- Thoracic openers
- Walking quad stretch
- Sit and reach
- Inch worm
If you’d really like to take your training to the next level you can work with a coach to improve how fast your eyes focus, how strong your peripheral vision is and also increase your hand eye coordination for those times you need to make quick decisions on the track. This is especially valuable for anyone who has a history of concussions, just be sure to be cleared by a doctor to return to sport before engaging in strenuous exercise.
When it comes to strength training, focus on compound or full body dynamic movements and avoid muscle isolating exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions or leg extensions.
It is also important to use periodization to build a program appropriate to your race season. You should not be performing a hardcore strength program in the middle of your season, this will cause serious muscle fatigue and burn out resulting in poor race day performance. Instead save the heavy lifting for the off season and focus more on your cardiovascular endurance, maintenance, and recovery in season.
Thanks for reading! For more explanation on anything in this post or to register for our next MX S&C training camp, please contact via email – firstname.lastname@example.org.