Forearm Specific Strength Training
by Coach Seiji
|If you are doing hand/forearm exercises like the popular one shown above, read and understand why this is NOT recommended for motocross.|
Forearm specific strength training – do it, don’t do it, what to do, what devices to use, etc. Especially for beginners, questions and concerns about forearm specific strength training can be pretty common. My personal recommendations follow and they might surprise you.
For both elite level riders and weekend warrior types, I don’t recommend forearm specific strength training at all. Before you start to stammer “Why not,” let me provide some explanation.
The first reason I don’t prescribe forearm specific strength training has to do with work load. Work is defined by the simplest of physics equations:
W (work) = F (force) x D (distance)
The amount of force a muscle can produce is dependent on its cross sectional area, basically the size of the muscle. Of all the muscles utilized at a high rate during motocross riding, the forearm muscles are amongst the smallest. This means that the forearm muscles can handle a relatively small amount of total work compared to say the quadriceps muscles of the thigh or the gluteus muscles of the hip.
Say the elite level rider rides 3 to 4 days per week and does strength training and cardio on top of that. Training produces positive results when the stress of training overloads the system and then recovery allows it to build up to stronger levels to accommodate the repeated stresses. The most important aspect of training for any motocross competitor is the actual motorcycle riding. So the elite rider, whom we can assume has a rather large base of motocross specific training, stresses the forearm muscles 3 to 4 times per week while riding and during weight lifting. This is a high frequency of forearm specific stress and the rider manages to partially recover between these stresses and fully recovers during planned recovery periods. Basically, his or her forearm muscles are stressed at high frequency, at high loads, but the elite rider has the base, training background, and recovery capacity to not have any negative effects on the actual motocross riding. The forearm muscles receive adequate stress loads and recovery periods to keep positive changes coming consistently.
The weekend warrior is strangely in a similar situation, but in a much different way. This rider has a regular job and probably only gets to go out and ride 1 to 2 days per week on the weekends only. Of course, he or she is going to ride as much as possible during these sessions. This is a high forearm specific load, but at a lower frequency. He or she may also lift weights during the week, adding another forearm specific stress. Unfortunately, this rider doesn’t have the same huge base of motocross specific training and fitness as an elite level rider. His or her overall fitness level is lower, thus reducing the recovery capacity. The weekend riding plus the possible weekday strength training provides a forearm specific training load that is barely manageable in recovery in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the weekend’s riding. Remember that all of this is regarding the musculature that has about the smallest capacity for workload of all the muscles being used while riding.
|The same principle applies to the forearm muscle. If the wrist or hand is moving - Isotonic. If the wrist or hand is stationary (gripping) - Isometric
Another reason that I don’t recommend forearm specific training has to do with the nature of forearm muscle contractions during actual riding. The forearm muscles are used in a static length. The muscle fibers stay at the same length while they generate various amounts of force. This is called an isometric contraction. Both the wrist and fingers are used in fixed positions. You would have to mimic this isometric contraction at the identical muscle fiber length to specifically train these muscles for motocross. Any training that causes shortening of the muscles (as in “regular” strength training where you move a joint) is not specifically addressing the way these muscles are used while riding. Gains on the bike would be very limited if you had any gains at all. Most forearm devices involve shortening of the muscles while force is being applied (isotonic contractions) which isn’t how they are used on the bike. However, this is the way these muscles are used during strength training exercises that involve free weights where you have to hold the weights (barbells, dumbbells). In other words, when lifting weights, the forearm muscle is put in a condition of isometric contraction due to the nature of grasping the bar, dumbbell, or handle to move the load.
The only time that I prescribe isometric forearm exercises is when a seasoned rider who usually rides 3 to 4 days per week misses out on riding for say a week due to some reason. A session of strength training that involves forearm specific training is simply replacing the forearm stress load of a motocross riding session. It isn’t adding to the weekly frequency, intensity, or total weekly workload compared to a regular training week. Recovery would be adequate to prevent negative effects on the next motocross riding session.
In conclusion the fundamental reasons behind not prescribing forearm specific strength training have to do with:
- The total amount of work load these muscles can accommodate without negatively affecting the actual motocross riding.
- The specific nature of the muscle contraction of these muscles while riding.
About the Author: Seiji Ishii is the head coach of www.coachseiji.com. Coachseiji.com 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 coachseiji.com or contact Coach Seiji directly.
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