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Evaluating Strength on and off the Bike

by Robb Beams

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Nico Izzi knows the importance of strength training. Here he uses the TRX for some atomic pushups.

photo: Tim Crytser

In the article, Cardio Training on the Motorcycle, we discussed the importance of aerobic function as it relates to high levels of intensity similar to a typical race. We also discussed how to evaluate and improve this physiological principle. If you haven’t taken the time to read the first article, please do so to fully integrate the following article into your training program and reap the desired racing results.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of strength training and how to incorporate into your weekly training regimen. Strength training is imperative for the successful racer at multi day races like Loretta Lynn’s, Lake Whitney and Oak Hill. Overall body strength will help prevent the effects of cumulative fatigue and allow for proper bike position and efficiency on the bike throughout the entire week of racing. Also, full body strength is a complement to the other elements of a complete performance training program: endurance, flexibility, nutrition and mental preparedness.

Direct Benefits of Strength
Let’s take a look at three direct benefits of strength training from a physiological stand point and how it relates to motorcycle racing.

First, it will increase the amount of force your muscles can exert on a particular object. As a racer, moving a motorcycle around that weighs anywhere from one hundred to two hundred plus pounds for any extended period of time requires strength levels above the typical athlete that only has to concern himself with one’s body weight. When you add both the weight of the rider, the weight of the motorcycle and the law of physics that exponentially adds resistance to the working muscle, force is a key component for finishing a race as strong as you started.

Second, strength training will permit your muscles to reach a maximum output of force in a shorter period of time. Weight training will increase and facilitate the balance of strength in all working muscles and the resulting motor units (which include motor nerves and muscle fibers). One nerve impulse can charge hundreds of fibers at once; a rapid series of multiple fiber twitches can generate maximum force quickly and for a long period of time. Weight training will “teach” your nervous system to recruit a wide variety of fibers. As one group of fibers fatigue, another group will be prepared to relieve the fatigued group.

Finally, the duration of time your muscles can sustain the level of force before exhaustion is extended. The overload principle is based on the concept of subjecting the muscles to slightly more load levels than it has incurred in the past. With incremental load levels, the muscles will increase the fiber solicitation and corresponding recruitment. With proper rest, the muscles will grow stronger by developing new muscle tissue as an adaptation to the load levels. With increased muscle mass, the muscles are able to exert higher levels of force and for extended periods of time before exhaustion.

Nico also uses the TransformX bars to gain superior strength with off-balance pushups

photo: Tim Crytser

Indirect Benefits of Strength
Three indirect benefits of strength training include stronger tendons and ligaments, greater bone density and enhanced joint range of motion. Concerning tendons and ligaments, weight training will increase the size and overall strength of both which will increase the stability of the joints that they surround. Bone density will increase as a by product of tensile force being placed on the bones – without this tensile force, the bones will actually become brittle and susceptible to breaking. An increased range of motion at the joint is due to the increased strength and size of the tendons and ligaments. This increased strength will enhance the ease of mobility within the joint due to tendon and ligament strength and resulting efficiency. When you look at all three of these components collectively, they address the concern of every racer: broken bones and torn up joints (particularly knees). Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the muscles and a self protecting mechanism called the Golgi Apparatus are to keep the bones from being taken outside the normal range of motion. If your have a strong muscular system (accompanied with good flexibility), you will be able to take large impacts without the typical injuries because your body has the proper mechanisms to protect itself.

Incorporating Strength Training
Now that we have justified the reason for incorporating strength training into your performance program, let’s take a look at how to incorporate strength training into your weekly training regimen. The first variable to look at is where you are at in your race season. If it is early in the season, your focus is to prepare your body for the upcoming demands of your pre-competitive season (low priority racing). During this time frame, you are also looking to enhance your aerobic function (as discussed in part one of this series) so to keep the stress from becoming too stressful, the amount of weight is kept to a moderate level and three workout sessions a week. During the competitive racing season, the strength component of your program needs to be reduced to two sessions during the week to allow for ample rest for high intensity training and competition. For this article, we will assume that you are well into your competitive cycle and looking to peak at one or two key events during the summer.

It is important to take the time and evaluate the weaknesses of your current fitness through regular field testing. As racers, we tend to work on the elements that we like to do and usually are very good at. However, to complete yourself as a top racer, you have to identify your weaknesses and address these variables specifically. With our racers, we have pre-determined field testing dates to evaluate if the training programs we are implementing on a weekly basis are addressing the identified weaknesses of the racers. So if your field testing results show that you are not lacking in the strength department, your approach in the gym will be different to a racer who lacks overall physical strength.

Assessment
The subject of strength assessment has had a lot of varying opinions on what is the correct format to assess strength as it relates to racing. At Motoendurance.net , we incorporate two elements into the assessment equation: track specific and gym specific load levels. Please keep in mind that the implementations of testing protocols are established based on the individual racer and his or her backgrounds, age and racing capabilities. The following outline is merely an example of what can be used for assessment purposes. Feel free to contact Robb (407.701.7586) to discuss the appropriate assessment model for you and your program.

Track Assessment

  • Warm up on the motorcycle by free riding for 15 to 20 minutes – very low intensity
  • Stretch passively for 10 – 15 minutes from head to toe
  • Ride the motorcycle for another 10 minutes – free ride / low intensity
  • Complete the following testing protocol:
    • Complete with a start from the starting gate, complete two laps (based on two minute lap times – adjust your lap count to complete a 4 to 5 minute interval) around the track taking the non-smooth lines of the track; however, strive to hit the same non-smooth lines of the track, but slightly off of the line taken the previous lap. Capture your lap time for both laps and then take the average of the two laps.
  • Rest for 3 Minutes
  • Repeat the same protocol until you have completed six (6) work/rest cycles and have the average lap times for each interval.
  • Ride the motorcycle for another 10 minutes – free ride/low intensity
  • Stretch passively for 10 – 15 minutes from head to toe

Complete the following on track testing assessment:

  • Compare the average times from the two lap intervals and subtract the slowest from the fastest to determine the time deviation. If the racer was consistent and took the non-smooth line throughout the track, then the testing data is going to provide a solid picture of strength.

As a general rule of evaluation:

  • 5 seconds or more deviation – strength needs to be a high focus in the gym
  • 3-4 second deviation – strength is a weakness in the racers program
  • 1-2 second deviation – strength levels are strong and need to be maintained

The key point of evaluation is that it takes muscular strength to put the bike where it is not optimal (i.e. the fastest line) and where momentum is not doing most of the work for the racer. Think about your effort level when you don’t get the holeshot and you are taking non ideal lines to move up through the field. Your heart rate is high and the demands on the muscles are at the highest point. Remember, our goal with strength training is to enhance your overall strength levels and then be able to maintain that output of power for longer periods of time.

Gym testing assessment:
Take each of your gym exercises and take the average weight amount that you have been using over the last two weeks. Complete as many repetitions that you can complete with good form (no swinging – no momentum) until you can not complete any more repetitions. Using a load level calculator (there are many of these calculators on the internet), you can determine what your max strength level is for each muscle group. The idea behind this test is to determine what load levels and repetitions you should be using during your time in the gym. Remember, our goal with strength training is to optimize your time in the gym to enhance your overall body strength as it relates to racing.

Together with your track and gym assessment numbers, you have the foundation to create your own individualized strength program. If you have questions about your testing results, please feel free to email the testing data to Robb at robb3@earthlink.net and he will provide you with some training protocols to enhance your strength program.

How did I determine what muscles are weak?
To keep things in perspective, we are analyzing the racers body in three planes:
- Front and Back
- Top and Bottom
- Left and Right Side

The more in balance we can keep the strength levels in the related muscle groups found within each of these two planes, the higher the overall strength levels. For example, we would like to see similar strength levels in the quadriceps (front of leg) and the hamstrings (back of leg) to avoid unnecessary strains around the knee. We would like to have the chest muscles as strong as the back muscles to avoid any strains to the shoulder capsule. Though there are typically some strength discrepancies amongst muscle groups (front and back of the body for example), we are constantly striving to develop functional integration of all muscle groups to avoid unnecessary injuries.

What muscle group do I need to work on in the gym?
The answer to this question is all muscle groups! If you can identify one muscle that is not used during a race, then you have found a muscle that you don’t have to train during your strength workouts. From head to toe, we are looking to enhance your overall body strength. As a rule of thumb, the muscle groups that you identify as weak based on your load level calculations, need to be put under more load levels and lower repetitions than the established strong muscles (which would need moderate load levels and higher repetitions). Remember, once we get your weaknesses to match your strengths, then your overall program has risen to the next level of capability and performance potential. For exact repetitions and sets to complete in your program, contact Robb to discuss in greater detail.

What exercises do I need to complete in the gym?
At Motoendurance.net, we see three key weak links in a racer’s overall strength program:

  1. Lack of core body strength
  2. Lack of balance between prime movers and antagonist muscle (i.e. biceps and triceps in the arms and the quadriceps and hamstrings in the legs)
  3. Lack of flexibility in all muscle groups

Motocross is all about the concept of pushing and pulling throughout the entire body while racing. Think about it this way, the back of the body is working (engaged) while the bike is accelerating and the front of the body is working (engaged) while the bike is de-accelerating. Therefore, you need to address every muscle group from head to toe while in the gym. While in the gym, Motoendurance.net prefers to use stretch cords and individual dumbbells for all strength work for one main reason – the solicitation and development of the stabilizer muscles around each joint verse the machine doing this work for you. Please consult a qualified personal trainer at your gym to help you determine which exercises you will be doing to develop strength and show you the proper form with all of your lifting exercises. Keep in mind that it is better to have quality lifting exercises than to have quantity. Also, don’t be afraid to change up the program every four weeks to avoid getting bored and allowing the muscles to get stale with your program.

What should a typical week look like for a racer?
Remember, all physical training is a supplement to riding your motorcycle. Nothing replaces seat time. The concept behind human performance is to prepare your body to perform at a higher level for longer periods of time while reducing fatigue and potential injury. Here is a Motoendurance.net sample outline of a racers training schedule for a week (NOTE: ONLY FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES TO OUTLINE STRENGTH, ENDURANCE AND FLEXIBLITY PROGRAMS PROTOCOLS). For an individualized training program, please visit Motoendurance.net.

Remove the Guesswork

At Virtual Trainer, we believe there is a right way to train for motocross. It starts with having a clear goal, finding expert instruction (on and off the bike), performing structured training and receiving immediate feedback throughout the process. Coach Seiji (Andrew Short's longtime trainer) has teamed up with Virtual Trainer to offer our audience an exclusive motocross community geared towards improving your performance on and off the track. The community offers motocross specific training plans designed by one of the best – to help you achieve your best performance. This is literally a one-of-a-kind training and conditioning experience for you, the motocross athlete.

About the Author: Motoendurance.net is a premium resource center for motocross, supercross and GNCC riders of all abilities and ages. The website outlines the MotoE Performance Training programs available to racers for 2010 - such as those used with great success by X-Games and 2 time WMA Champion Ashley Fiolek, Mini O's 2009 Champion Ian Trettel & Loretta Lynn National Champion Adam Cianciarulo and numerous off road racers.

Additional resources available include the MotoE Performance Training Facility in Haines City, Florida, eBooks on various human performance elements and online instructional videos. To discuss your current program or have a new one developed for you; feel free to contact Robb Beams at
Motoendurance.net or 407.701.7586 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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