If you need a motocross fitness program, you don't need to spend your hard earned cash on personal trainers, or the latest fitness DVD. Getting fit for motocross is actually quite simple, but you need to train smart. Many riders get it wrong, and end up doing themselves more harm than good!
Motocross is one of the most physically demanding sports on the planet, studies show that you'll use every single muscle in the body, and your heart will be pounding throughout the race. If you don't train, you don't win! It's that simple.
In this post we'll look at what works best for the top racers, and what doesn't work. I'll help you to design your own motocross fitness program, and I'll also share a few tips that I've learned from many years of racing.
When you start any new fitness program it's important to ease yourself into it. It's also advisable to see a doctor for a check-up before starting, especially if you have any medical conditions, previous broken bones, or if you're taking any medication.
Motocross fitness tips
If you watch a motocross race you'll notice how the riders are much faster at the start of the race than after 20 minutes of racing. This is because they are tiring more and more as the race goes on. The less you tire, and the more you can endure, the better you'll do.
In my arm pump post we learned how important our cardiovascular fitness is for reducing, or even eliminating arm pump altogether. But it's not just those who suffer with arm pump that will benefit; I've seen riders pull off the track simply because they were too physically exhausted to keep racing.
A combination of adrenaline and intense physical demand really will push your body to the limit. Top riders have been measured at 190 heart beats per minute for an entire 35 minute race!
But that doesn't mean you have to train with your heart beating out of your chest. Anything that gets your heart rate up for extended periods will improve your cardiovascular fitness, this even includes brisk walking!
If you want to add more of a workout into your cardio routine, you'll benefit from swimming laps, rowing, and cycling. High intensity interval training has also proven very important in many racers motocross fitness programs.
You'll want to be doing at least 30 minutes of cardio per day depending on its intensity. For example, running will be very intense, so you'll keep it shorter. On the other hand, a brisk walk will be less intense, so you'll briskly walk or hike for up to 2 hours. Try to add a mix of intense and less intense cardio to improve your endurance.
Holding onto a 100+ kg dirt bike that does 0-60 mph in 4 seconds is hard enough in a straight line; add corners and jumps for a whole 35 minutes, and even the strongest athletes will be begging for mercy!
I recommend full body strength training for your motocross fitness program, paying more attention to the grip, arms, shoulders, and legs. The best way to add strength is by lifting weights, or with body weight exercises.
Body weight exercises work great for riders who don't wish to go to a gym. You can use exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups. You can also use different variations of these exercises to target different muscle groups. For example, underhand pull-ups for biceps and back muscles, and overhand pull-ups for the lats.
Remember that the back muscles are worked hard during a race, so don't neglect training them.
If you have your own weights or if you prefer to go to a gym, you'll be able to include a much wider selection of exercises. Machines that let you perform rows are great for motocross as they emulate the handlebars pulling at your arms, thus stimulating the same muscle groups.
You'll also need to train your legs. Referring to my arm pump post again, we learned how gripping the dirt bike with our legs will take a lot of the strain off our upper body.
Pay special attention to your inner thigh, as these are the muscles used when you grip the dirt bike with your legs. Sit on your dirt bike and squeeze it with your legs if you're not sure which muscles are being used. You can use leg exercises like squats, isometric squeezes, and lunges.
Stretching and flexibility
Flexibility is super important in motocross, and stretching is important to stay flexible. But stretching before you train or ride needs to be done properly. Studies show that stretching can actually harm performance, so if you feel the need to stretch prior to riding or working out, very gentle stretching is recommended. Whatever you do, don't stretch until it hurts!
Stretching before exercise is not proven to help prevent injury, stop muscle soreness, or improve your performance.
The best time to stretch is after a race or after your workout, when you're naturally more flexible. This way the muscles are warm and the circulation is at its best. Do this at least 3 times per week for best results.
Good exercises for your motocross fitness program:
- Heavy deadlifts
- Farmers carries
- Bench press
- Heavy squats
- Back extensions
- Cable or barbell rows
- Good mornings
- Box Jumps
What exercises don't work for motocross?
All exercises are suitable for motocross, it's the way you do them that makes a difference.
it's recommended that you keep the weight low, while doing a higher amount of repetitions. This will build more strength than size. Remember that it's strength we're aiming for, not a muscular physique.
Getting big will harm your performance, as larger muscles require more fuel, and they will tire much quicker. Riders who've built muscle in their arms in an attempt to reduce arm pump actually made the problem much worse. This is explained in my arm pump post.
So how many repetitions and how much weight should you use? A rep range of 6-12 is the bodybuilding range, so stay out of this range. You need to choose a weight that allows you to perform 15-18 reps, no more than 18 or you'll loose the strength building benefits. This higher rep range will also build the muscle endurance needed for motocross.
Nutrition will also play a big part in your motocross fitness program, and in how well you perform on race day. The better you eat, the better your body will cope with the pressure placed on it.
This means dropping the sodas and processed foods, and replacing them with carbohydrate rich fruits and vegetables. You'll want to keep the animal products to a minimum due to their negative effect on the cardiovascular system.
Tip: avoid workout supplements, especially creatine. Davi Millsaps discovered that his severe arm pump was caused by creatine, as you'll find out here.
You'll want to eat foods that promote a healthy cardiovascular system, so again, fruits and vegetables, along with legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. These whole foods will also speed up your workout recovery times, and provide your body with plenty of nutrients.
Your body will be burning huge amounts of energy, so eat plenty of starchy foods like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, corn (only organic), and oats. But keep the starch as whole as possible, meaning try to avoid refined grains like bread and white rice.
More motocross fitness tips
Ride, ride, ride
The best way to improve your motocross fitness is to ride as much as possible. Most riders won't be able to ride every day of the week, so the days you aren't riding will be the days you train.
You can also train on riding days, but do it after you've ridden. When you do ride, make sure you're pushing yourself just as you would during a race. Ride hard for at least 30 minutes, and try do ride at least 3 days a week.
When you train for strength, you cause microscopic tears to form in the fiber and connective tissue of muscles. Your body needs time to repair and recover from this, so never train for the two days before a race.
Sleep is extremely important for your recovery. Try to get at least 7 hours per night, more if you can. And try to wake up naturally, if you are woken up by an alarm clock every morning then you aren't sleeping enough.
Short of working with a professional motocross fitness trainer, which is expensive, these tips are the best way to get fit for MX racing. These are the methods I've personally used, and I also researched a lot for this article to find out what has worked for other racers. Any more tips are welcome below, enjoy training!