Strength Training For Motocross
Work Hard but Work Smart!
One of the most common questions I receive as a trainer is about strength training: "What do I do in the gym?" It makes strength training sound simple as if I could explain it in one sentence and they could go home and correctly execute the plan that will suddenly make them podium regulars. There are so many ways to strength train and equally as many misconceptions. Strength training can be beneficial for both performance and injury prevention but only if done correctly. But if you ask 100 trainers what correct strength training for motocross means and you will get 100 different answers! Here is my general take on strength training specifically for motocross:
Coach Seiji's rules to strength training:
1) Spend as little time in the gym as possible to still get positive gains. You are a motocross rider. Most of your time and energy should be spent riding motocross and recovering from motocross. You are not a weight lifter or bodybuilder. Lots of riders I talk to go crazy in the gym and thus sacrifice performance out on the track because the recovery from strength training interferes with riding/recovery from riding. This is a prime example of "too much of a good thing." Keep clear in your mind what your primary sport is and what your priorities should be.
2) Do multi-joint exercises that are closed chain: what the heck does this mean? A multi joint exercise uses more than one joint at one time. Example: bicep curl is single joint only (elbow joint) and a row is multi joint (elbow and shoulder). Closed chain means the end of your arm or leg is "grounded" or "loaded." Example: hamstring curl is open chain (foot is not grounded or loaded) and stiff leg dead lift is closed chain (foot is firmly planted on the ground). Multi-joint, closed chain exercises mimic how your body actually works on the motorcycle. Your body doesn't naturally perform movements with only one joint or open chain. The closer the exercise motion is to the motion required in your sport, the better the training effect and the more efficient you will be with your time.
3) Multiple sets of a few exercises are better than only one or two sets of a lot of exercises. Doing three sets of only four exercises will be more productive than doing two sets of six exercises. Choose your exercises wisely and spend your time in the gym doing more sets for each exercise. The benefit of multiple sets starts to taper off after three sets so if you are budgeting your time that is the best place to stop. Four sets is better but the difference in benefit becomes smaller and smaller after three sets.
4) Work opposing movements. If you do one "push exercise" such as a dumbbell chest press then also do one opposing "pull exercise" such as dumbbell rows. This ensures that you stay in balance which prevents injury and maintains a fuller range of motion. It also prevents chronically weak motions or ranges of motion that you will compensate around which negatively affect your performance and lead to injury.
5) Use perfect form. Not only is this safer but it is much more effective. If you compromise your form to get those last repetitions in, then guess what? You are simply getting better at compensating around your weaknesses. A primary goal of strength training is to eliminate weaknesses. The set should be over when you cannot do the next repetition with proper form. It is also much safer to use perfect form. Most injuries in the gym occur when form is broken in order to complete a set. Proper form is not only the most effective way to lift but also the safest. It would be horrible to miss a race because you hurt your back in the gym!
6) Stretch! Strengthening muscles tends to make them shorter so counteract that with stretching so you can maintain muscular balance and full ranges of motion. I recommend stretching the muscles you use in a set right after the set is completed.
7) On days where you ride moto and lift, ride before you lift. Why? First off you are a motocross rider and the most important workouts happen on your bike. This is the time to feel as fresh as you can and have the highest quality workout as you can. Lifting before would drain some energy stores, cause some central (nervous system) fatigue, cause you to ride with some muscle tension and you would technically be riding with micro damaged muscles. Secondly, motocross is dangerous enough as it is. Reduce some of the risk of riding by riding as fresh and rested as you can be by doing it first. There are also many other physiological things that happen during and after strength training that can be detrimental to riding performance and possibly riding safety. Be smart; get the most out of your riding and limit your risks. Lift after you ride
8) Plan your recovery from lifting. Strength training is basically tearing down your muscle fibers on purpose. You are causing micro trauma to your muscle fibers and your body responds to this stress by recovering and rebuilding the muscle fibers stronger so that they are better able to handle the repeated stress. If you don't plan the recovery from lifting then you are really only doing half the process. If you keep that up you will actually get into overtraining and becoming weaker. Plan that recovery by creating a schedule that allows your muscles to repair themselves and get stronger.
9) Feed the need: eat properly! Balanced and wholesome foods will provide the fuel and building blocks necessary to take advantage of your hard efforts in the gym. Working out hard but not eating well is akin to putting a sweet full Ti exhaust on your bike but then filling it with bad gas or using stripped bolts. I am constantly amazed at people who won't put pump gas in their race bikes but will eat junk all the time. Why work so hard and then shortchange yourself with a bad diet? Let all your work pay off in the biggest way by eating well!
10) Periodize your strength training. This is beyond the scope of this article but in general you want to move from high repetition/low load work to low repetition/high load; you then move to explosive movements and finally to a maintenance phase. The strength period proceeds the training period in which that type of strength will be used elsewhere. An example: the explosive phase in the weight room should be completed before using explosive movements in other modes of training.
I hope these ten rules to strength training can help you develop your own strength training program. Strength is one of the three key components to fitness (the other two being cardiovascular fitness and flexibility) and improvements can increase performance, decrease injury and build confidence. Be smart in the gym and make the most effective use of your time and efforts. Working hard is mandatory for continued improvements but working smarter and harder can catapult you to the next level. Be smarter, be more balanced and be faster!
Seiji Ishii is the head coach of coachseiji.com. Coachseiji.com offers both online based fitness coaching as well as personal training services to the aspiring motorsports athlete. Seiji works with elite amateurs like Xtreme Team Green's Hunter Hewitt and PJ Larsen as well as seasoned professionals like Team Solitaire's Ryan Clark. Seiji has worked with every type of racer; from the weekend Vet warrior to former Supercross Champion Heath Voss. For more information go to www.coachseiji.com. Seiji is also president and founder of Pinnacle Elite Fitness, a personal training, performance testing, Pilates and massage therapy center located in Austin, TX. Go to www.pinnnaclefit.com for more information.