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Best Form of Cardio for Motocross?: Run, Bike, Row, or Swim

by Coach Seiji


One of the most common questions posed by motocross athletes is, "What is the best form of cardiovascular exercise for me?" How effective a mode of cardiovascular exercise is for any rider partially depends on how enjoyable it is for them; just plain personal preference. Another aspect to consider is how a certain mode of exercise may irritate and injury. In addition to these factors, the listing below of my personal pros and cons of popular modes of exercise will help in the decision making process for those new to training.

If you are going to A1 or will just be in the So-Cal area next week, you might want to stop by and check out the third annual Specialized Ride Daze.
Road Cycling
The most popular mode of cardio training by far for serious competitors.

Pros: Non-impact, can be done almost anywhere, high enjoyment factor for most, easily controllable intensity level (via heart rate or power), can become a lifetime activity, can be done in a group (has a social aspect).

Cons: High cost of entry, volume/duration needs to be higher than other forms of cardio, possibility of injury due to crashing, difficult to travel with equipment required, cold weather/rain can interfere.

Mountain Biking
Almost a natural cross-training choice for motocross riders.

Pros: Non-impact, very high enjoyment factor for most, can become a lifetime activity, can be done in a group, relatively easy to control intensity (but not nearly as easy as road cycling).

Cons: High cost of entry, accessibility to riding areas difficult for some, possibility of injury due to crashing (although lower speed on usually softer surfaces compared to road cycling but they occur more often), hard to travel with equipment required, volume/duration needs to be higher than other modes of aerobic activity, cold weather/rain can interfere.

That's Coach Seiji showing off his new MTB
The ultimate in convenience; head out the door and you are already training.

Pros: Very low cost of entry, can literally be done anywhere at any time, easy to control intensity, can be done over a wide range of temperatures and conditions, can be done in a group, duration/volume can be lower than other modes of cardio, easy to travel with required gear

Cons: High-impact, boring to some, high rates of overuse injury

The most therapeutic of training modes.

Pros: low equipment cost, zero impact, full body usage, can become a lifetime activity, relatively easy to control intensity, promotes good upper body range of motion, duration/volume is low compared to other modes of cardio exercise, only mode listed that involves movement in a different plane (twisting), easy to travel with required gear.

Cons: must have access to lap pool which can be impossible/expensive to some, boring to some, additional time needed due for driving time to/from pool.

In motocross, the Concept2 rower is so popular that it might very well be the only piece of fitness equipment to ever sit in Daytona's famed victory lane.
Consistently gaining followers in the moto-world.

Pros: zero impact, full body usage, can become a lifetime activity, rowing machines are in most gyms these days.

Cons: high cost of entry (if you want your own machine), boring to some if done on machine (vs. real rowing on the water).

Of all the pros and cons to each listed activity, the two factors that mean the most to me as a motocross trainer are:

  1. Low impact activity: motocross is very high impact, about the most impact you can take doing a sport. Gravity is the enemy and the motor and suspension make it possible for you to be exposed to forces much higher than in other activities. Ideally the cardiovascular portion of your training would allow you to recover from your bouts with multiple gravities aboard your motorcycle. Some modes like swimming and cycling are done in less than one gravity so they are therapeutic to the joints that are stressed beyond normal during motocross. MX is high impact enough, why add to it? I believe that utilizing cardio that minimizes your already high impact load will allow recovery from riding at a much higher rate and can prolong the years that you can ride pain free.

  2. Enjoyment: Much of the cardio training is done alone and it's probably second to motocross riding in terms of weekly volume. To ensure long term motivation, your cardio training has to be enjoyable to you on some level. Some athletes find swimming relaxing (no noise, fluid movement, floating in water) while other find it utterly boring for the same reasons. Maybe mountain biking will be exciting; maybe road cycling in a big group will do it because of the social aspect. Whatever it is, it has to be fun or relaxing (or both) for your motivation to remain high for a long time.
I think it is best in the long term to utilize at least two forms of cardio on a regular basis. It's much healthier for your body to move in different ways, use different ranges of motion and just be exposed to different stimuli. It's also just more engaging mentally to be involved in different activities. This all leads to greater motivation for a longer period of time.

Coach Seiji was a pro cyclist in a former life. Naturally his first choice of cardio is cycling. Here, Andrew Short completes a Lactate Threshold test.

I also believe for long term success of your training program you should strive to become good at your chosen disciplines of cardio; if road cycling is one of the modes you use, then strive to learn the skills, tactics, etc. to become a good, competitive cyclist. This will add dimension to the things that you are interested in, it can add more long term motivation and can lead to a healthy, lifestyle for the years beyond motocross. It's not just a training mode, it's another challenge for you to accept and conquer!

Hopefully this primer on some of the popular cardiovascular cross training modes helps you decide what direction to pursue as you expand your motocross training. The benefits reach well beyond making you faster and last longer on the track; aerobic exercise promotes improved general health, has been proven to enhance mental function and can lead to a lifetime of health and fitness.

About the Author: Seiji Ishii is the head coach of provides online coaching and personal training services to motorsports athletes. Coach Seiji has worked with both pros and elite amateurs including: Heath Voss, Ryan Clark, Austin Stroupe, PJ Larsen, Hunter Hewitt, Drew Yenerich, Rusty Potter, Jason Anderson, and Andrew Short. Learn more at or contact Coach Seiji directly.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    mike December 26, 2013 at 10:40 am

    great read!! I like the cycling the best as well. It developes the vastus medialis on the inside of your leg which is an added bonus to motocrossers and their knees.

  2. Gravatar
    Brian December 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    As an avid cyclist both on road and off it is the most enjoyable for me. That being said if you become proficient at it it becomes relatively easy. You develop the necessary muscles and are almost able to isolate them. I can go out riding after long periods off the bike with little cardio fitness and out pedal guys who are in better shape but don't have 30 years of riding under their belt. It's common to see "old fat guys" at local group rides outpacing young and fit guys with less experience. I've always thought if I was cycling for fitness instead of being a better cyclist I would ride a mountain bike everywhere. It makes no sense to ride an efficient, light weight, low rolling resistance, road bike when cardio training unless you have access to mountains to climb.

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 26, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    I agree 100% Brian but that is why you should train with HR zones. And I don't want to put words in Coach Seiji's mouth but I'll bet his real answer to the question, "Which is best?" is all four!

  4. Gravatar
    jack stanford September 26, 2017 at 3:00 am


    I am a 13 year old Motocross racer who rides a 125. My question to you is how many minutes of cardio should I be doing?

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer October 05, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    That all depends on so many factors. How much do you ride. How serious are you about racing. How much time do you have available. What are your goals, etc.

    But generally speaking somewhere between 40 min to 1.5 hours per day.

    If you are even sort-of serious about motocross, ask your parents to take a look at the VT premium training plans. This will remove all the guess work.

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