How to Stay Cool in Motocross: Advice from the Pros!
by Racer X Virtual Trainer
Brett Metcalfe learned the hard way that wearing this type of cooling vest during your moto is not advisable.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson
It doesn't take a Rocket Scientist to realize that racing motocross in the middle of summer in extreme heat poses a high risk to the health of a rider. The danger is the same whether you are a weekend warrior or a pro racing the Outdoor Nationals. Even though a fit pro rider may be able to withstand the heat longer than us regular folk, they are still very much at risk. Last year we saw a couple of instances where riders were dangerously close to having a catastrophic event like what unfortunately happened to Josh Lichtle at RedBud a few weeks ago. Mike Alessi basically cooked himself at the GP at Glen Helen and never seemed to fully recover, Eli Tomac overheated in Texas which put the brakes on his season, Dean Wilson had a meltdown of epic proportions, and Trey Canard succumbed to the heat and collapsed after his race. And these are extremely fit, young professional athletes. Imagine the affect of the heat on the general weekend warrior who doesn't have a team of people looking out for his best interest? Add being overweight and some-what out of shape and the weekend warrior is up against a real battle when the heat index pushes triple digits.
But one thing the weekend warrior can always do that is equal to all the top stars in motocross is train and be knowledgable. You may not be able to turn a lap as fast as RV or fly as high as Chad Reed but you can be as fit and prepare equally if you choose. That is what is so cool about fitness. Aside from the few who are physiological freaks of nature like Lance Armstrong, we all have the same basic makeup which means we can all be in shape. And the limiting factor in motocross should never be your fitness level.
But what do the pros do to prepare before, during, and after races that are in 100 plus degree environments? Do they pre-cool using cooling vest or cold showers, do they weigh themselves to calculate precisely how much fluid they need post race, what about camel packs, and are ice baths recommended as an effective post race method of cooling down? In preparation for this article, I did some simple Google searches (and highly recommend you do the same!) and found all sorts of information on "keeping athletes cool". The problem I found is that most of this research has been performed on endurance type athletes and none on the motocross athlete. Lucky for us, in motocross we have a few very knowledgeable trainers and doctors who know a thing or two about this topic. What they know is no secret and to prove it, I have asked a few of them to share with you their race day protocol when the temperatures sore. So if you go out and cook yourself or succumb to the heat on race day, don't point your finger at the trainer because, collectively, we told you so!
Coach Seiji (Trainer - Andrew Short, Hunter Hewitt, Rusty Potter)
My clients use a cooling vest to combat performance decreases due to the negative cascade of physiologic events that can occur with elevated core temperatures. The use of cooling vests can delay the onset of raised core temperatures and prevent reaching an athlete’s personal tipping point where the rising core temperature cannot be mitigated by the body’s own heat dissipating mechanisms.
The cooling vest is used once the heat index surpasses the athlete’s personal limit which is determined through practice and experience. The vest is used during warm up and is worn into staging; it is removed as late as possible before racing begins. It is then worn again as soon after racing as possible and is continually worn until body core temperature returns to normal. The vest is worn between motos as long as the athlete remains outside and the heat index is above the athlete’s personal limit. It can be removed when the athlete moves indoors or normal body temperature can be maintained without physical stress (again, a personal limit). The effectiveness of the cooling vest can be increased by also adding ice bags to the body’s largest “heat sink” areas: the groin and armpits.
I prefer Renewable Phase Change Material (RPCM) cooling vests used in conjunction with an extra set of cooling packets. These cooling packets work by absorbing heat energy which causes the material to change from a solid to a liquid form. They are quickly recharged into their solid form in cool water (ice is not necessary) and the temperature that this phase change occurs is constant throughout the packets’ use cycle. With the use of an extra set of cooling packets and their quick recharge time, you can always have a fresh set available as the currently used set totally changes to liquid phase.
The best and almost only practical and usable defense against heat at the moment is to use the proper clothing and/or modify it to increase convective heat loss through increased airflow across skin surfaces. Loose clothing, vented gear, etc., are available from most manufacturers but you can also modify items to vastly increase airflow: cut/slit helmet liners, jerseys and pants, remove drop liners from pants, cut the bottom off pants so the bottom remains open above the boots, cut the jersey cuffs to allow more airflow into sleeves, increase venting on chest protectors, etc. Just keep in mind the structural integrity of any gear item in regard to its protective functions. The future promises clothing that actively cools the athlete but the technology is just isn’t there yet for use in motocross.
Once training or race motos are done, the faster your core temperature is brought back to normal, the quicker and more complete recovery from training becomes. This can be done quickly by the use of cool water/ice water baths, cooling vest combined with ice bags or just showering in cold water. In most cases since strenuous activity has stopped, returning to normal body core temperature will happen quite quickly using any of the above methods. Remember that the core area, groin and armpits are the most efficient areas to provide cooling efforts.
Eddie Casillas (Athletic Trainer - Asterisk Mobile Medic Unit)
Training in the conditions you expect to race is advisable for acclimatization, but not to the extreme that I have seen happen over the past few years. Too many athletes and parents fall victim to the more is better philosophy. If RC/RV trained X hours in the heat and won then by training 2X hours we should win twice as much. WRONG!! Remember the hotter it is the more stress on your body.
If you train in the heat it takes at least 24 hrs to recover from that exertion. If you experience any heat related issues i.e. cramping, excessive salt on jersey or around your mouth the recovery time increases to 48 hrs plus. By recovery, I mean minimal to no exercise. So if you are training everyday plus not using A/C or other cooling mechanisms you are putting yourself at risk of overtraining and possible poor performance come race day.
- Research shows that training 1 hr a day for a minimum of 5 days in similar conditions to the race environment is enough to properly acclimate. Also the acclimating should take place no more then 10 days out from competition.
- Use a heart rate monitor to check true resting heart rate (RHR) for a couple of days. If RHR is elevated by more than 10 beats for two consecutive days your body is not fully recovered.
- Training does not have to be on the track to acclimate to climate. It can be a run, bike ride, gym workout, etc.
Research also states the intensity of ones strength training can have just as much of an effect on acclimatization as training in heat.
Recovery plays a much bigger part in how you perform then anything else.
Pre-Cooling (before race)
There has been a lot of talk about the different types of pre-cooling before a race. The objective is to lower ones core body temperature so as to prolong the effects of overheating. The only way to do accomplish this is through active cooling.
Active cooling is basically maintaining a certain temperature for a given time in order to reach the desired effect. Two ways to do this.
- Sit or lay in a tub of ice water for 15 min or until a slight shiver begins.
- Continue to add ice to maintain desired temp.
- Use of GameReady ice machine with vest attachment.
- Set temp to 3 snowflakes for 15 min.
- After 15 minutes, cycle at low rpm (10-15) or walk for 5 min. This is done to move cold blood from torso to extremities.
Ice vests DO NOT reduce core body temperature thus they are unable to prolong the effects of overheating. Does this mean don’t use them. No. Ice vests do provide some relief from the heat by cooling off the skin.
Cool Down (after race)
Submerge rider back into ice tub for 5-10 min.
Equipment: Your body cools itself through sweating (yes we all know that), but remember that your body also gets rid of large amounts of heat through your FEET, CROTCH/RECTUM, ARMPITS, and HEAD all of which are covered by GEAR. Remember this COTTON is your enemy. When you use thick cotton boot socks under thick cotton knee brace socks under cotton underwear you are asking for a heat injury. I would say over 80% of the riders we treat for a heat injury have this combination of gear. It is amazing how much sweat these garments can hold and how hot to the touch they can get.
Suggestion: Mountain bike socks, thin full length tights, dry gear for every moto.
Hydration: I put hydration last because I believe very few riders start a race weekend under-hydrated. I have yet to see a rider come in before practice presenting with symptoms related to heat illness. As a matter of fact many of the riders like to state how clear their urine is. Also, for the most part many riders do a good job of taking in fluids during the day. The problems start when a riders body is put under the extreme stress of racing and the body cannot recover quickly enough. Coming in overtrained or not acclimated, not pre-cooling properly, poor choice of equipment all have an effect on how much fluid your body will loose. The more fluid your body looses at a given time the longer it will take to fully replenish itself. The reason being is that your body can only put back so much at a time. This is why I am a strong believer in using a scale to measure weight before and after practice and motos. A quick loss in bodyweight is a sure sign of a decrease in fluids. A 2% loss of bodyweight is a red flag and should be taken very seriously. A rider could not expect to replace this amount of fluid loss in less then 60 min. If a rider has back to back motos they increase their chances of sustaining a heat injury.
Suggestion: Get on a scale the morning of race and after each practice or race. A 2% loss of bodyweight would require at minimum 1 1/2 hrs to replace fluids.
Example: A rider weighs 187 lbs. then goes riding for 1 hour and then weighs 184.5 lbs. What percent weight did the rider lose due to perspiration and how much fluid should he ingest?
(184.5-187)/187=0.0134 multiply by 100 to get percent ======> 1.34% or simply 1.3%
- So the rider lost 1.3% of his bodyweight
Recommended replenishment of fluid = 2-3 cups per pound of weight loss. This rider lost 2.5 lbs (which was mostly due to sweat).
- So he would need 5 to 7.5 cups of water.
Aldon Baker (Trainer - Ryan Villopoto, Blake Bagget, Tyla Rattray, and Jake Weimer)
Pre-Race: I don't do anything special or out of the ordinary when it comes to pre-race cooling. I do common sense things like keeping my guys out of the sun and in the shade, gradually taking them out of the cold AC in the truck and letting them get used to the outside temperatures. We train mostly in Florida in the summer so my guys are already acclimated and use to the high heat and humidity. As far as pre-cooling, we have tried some of the ice pack type cooling vest in practice and found them to be too cold. My guys are used to the heat so it's not something we have a problem with. Basically, my goal pre-race is to get as much fluid in the riders as possible in the days leading up to and the morning of the race. But for the amateur or the guy who doesn't live and train in a hot humid climate, I can see where a cooling vest like the a phase change vest would be beneficial.
During the Race: I don't have my guys do anything during the race. Most camel packs don't carry enough liquid to make a difference, so I don't bother with them. Light colored riding gear is good if you can do that. We have tried some of the evaporative cooling vest that you wear during a moto and found that they were not good at all. They may work in a hot dry climate, but certainly not in places where the humidity level prevents evaporation to cool the body. I don't recommend any type of bandanna under your helmet either.
Post Race: My goal after the race is to get as much fluid back in my guys as possible. I know that after a race they have lost a fair amount of fluid so I try to make sure they are always drinking and getting as much fluid back in with electrolytes. I'm not a big fan of the 50 gallon drums of water that everyone shares. I wouldn't want to be the second or third rider who had to use the water! After the first rider in the drum, I think the water is not cold enough afterwards to get the core temperature down. Ryan normally just goes in his rig and takes a cold shower. When I was cycling professionally we would do ice baths for our leg muscles only, but only on days when we really went hard or raced under extreme conditions. If you don't have the facilities for a cold shower, cold water baths can be used.
Robb Beams (Trainer -Zach Freeberg, Jon Jon Ames, Chandler Lindsay, Colton McCloud, Pup Whatley, Jeff Thode, Mattew Gross)
Identify your sweat rate to avoid over or under hydration. You need to know how much sweat you lose during a high intensity 20 minute race in 100% humidity and temperatures in the 85-105 range. Though this may sound obvious (and even difficult to implement for most people), this will help eliminate two significant problems during race week: dehydration and hyponatremia.
Heat Tolerance. Completing race intensity intervals early in the morning or late in the afternoon is not going to improve your ability to handle the heat and humidity of Loretta’s. Motocross is the only sport on earth that requires the athlete/racer to cover every square inch of your body while exerting maximum effort. Your skin is responsible for ridding the body of heat – exactly how a radiator does for your bike. This process (known as the endothermic process) is interrupted by your gear, so your body has to learn how to adapt to high internal heat. To help you acclimate to the heat of Loretta’s you need to approach your high quality/speed workouts as if it was your actual race day. Here are three steps that you need to do:
Step 1: Wake up and spend the morning outdoors so that your body acclimates to the rising heat of the day. If you walk out of a 75 degree air conditioned motor home into 95 degree heat and 100% humidity, your body will lose a tremendous amount of energy trying to acclimate quickly, not a good situation when you are getting ready to head out to the track.
Step 2: Ride at the hottest part of the day with complete recovery. Your goal is to train within an environment that is hotter than what you will experience during the week. Though this may not be enjoyable during your first couple of training sessions, with proper preparation and hydration, your body will not push back against your efforts to go fast for a long period of time.
Step 3: Bring your core body temperature down slowly (see below for more in depth information) to conserve energy. You have to be strong for three to four days of racing, the last thing that you want to do is elevate your fatigue levels as your body strives to acclimate to extreme temperature variations (i.e., going from extremely hot to being submerged or covered in iced cold fluid).
Don’t Ice Bath. (PLEASE READ THE FIRST COMMENT BELOW FOR FURTHER CLARIFICATION ON ICE BATHS) Thanks to the popularity of video coverage of the top pros submerging themselves in kiddy pools and trash cans filled with ice and water – last year the presence of these “post race tools” were everywhere. In my opinion, these pools and cans are actually counterproductive for two reasons. First, the extreme temperature changes (straight from the track and high intensity racing) to an ice cold tub or bath puts the body into a mode of additional stress as the body attempts to acclimate to the extremely cold conditions. This stress adds to your already fatigue levels – not a good scenario during a week of racing. Second, you increase your risk of muscle cramping and spasms. To bring your core body temperature down slowly and safely, follow these steps:
- Get out of your gear as quickly as possible
- Sit in front of an oscillating fan in the shade (NOT in the air conditioning)
- Pour slightly cold water into washcloths located on the back of your neck and wrists; make sure that the fan is blowing over these washcloths for a minimum of five (5) minutes
- As your heart rate comes down you can increase the amount of cold water you are adding to the washcloths and then over your head
Avoid jumping into the air conditioning and/or creek unless you are finished racing for the day. The bigger the temperature change (i.e., from an air conditioned/low humid environment to the heat and humidity of outside) the harder it is for your body to acclimate and the more fatigued you will become.
Charles Dao (Trainer - Justin Brayton, Broc Tickle, Cole Seely, Nick Paluzzi, Travis Baker, and Lance Vincent)
Pre-Race: Cooling Vest -
Approximately 75% of energy is expended as heat by our body to maintain normal body temperature and only 25% of energy is used to activate our muscles and stimulate the brain. Racing under severe heat and humidity conditions not only alters physiological adaptations for optimal performance, but can also result in serious life-threatening medical emergencies. Utilizing the “cooling vest” as a means to decrease internal core temperature is only effective if there is an apparatus allowing constant circulation of cooling fluids throughout the material, otherwise the heat from your skin temperature will actually decrease the “coolness” of most damp vests and only soothe the peripheral tissue.
Through research and personal experience, studies show that “pre-cooling” an athlete’s core temperature in feverish surroundings is the most effective method of decreasing internal core temperature. By chilling the body approximately 15 minutes on a spin bike at a low heart rate immediately prior to the race as part of a warm up routine, can drastically decrease inflammation and improve an athlete’s performance up to 21% by reducing the demands on the body to cool its own core and preserves muscle energy for competition. Although a huge inconvenience, the payoff is arguably worth the extra effort.
A proper hydration protocol should always be implemented with any cooling method to ensure athletes are properly hydrated and not mistaking the sensation of coolness with proper fluid replacement. Our bodies are comprised of approximately 70% water and competing racers whom are continually exposed to hot weather often demand a minimum of 6 liters or more, according to several studies. Utilizing hydrations packs such as “camel backs” are somewhat controversial but in my professional opinion are not necessary for racing the outdoors. If you experience the harsh fate of being dehydrated the day of your race, you’re already too late unfortunately and may consider seeking medical attention and asking for a saline IV instead.
In any type of sporting event, if you lose enough water to equal just 5% of your total body weight, it is considered serious enough dehydration to be cause for medical intervention. Riders should start taking the role of being more “pro active” than being “re active” when it comes to implementing proper training and nutrition protocols. Staying hydrated the week of your race and making sure to stay properly fueled is all preventative maintenance and play a large role in your overall program. In addition, endurance athletes may need more sodium and potassium because they lose more in sweat from intense and prolonged physical activity. Replenishing your fluids with electrolytes and consuming starchy complex carbs with natural sugar from fruit. Eating fruit during long training sessions and directly after exercise, accelerates the replenishment of glycogen levels thus optimizing recovery rate. Make sure to incorporate a minimum of 1 gallon of water fortified by additional electrolytes and consume fruits high in sodium (pineapples, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruits) as well as potassium rich foods (spinach, cantaloupes, almonds, brussels sprouts, bananas, oranges, grapefruits, and potatoes).
Post-Race: Ice Bath-
Implementing a “post race” or as a “between motos” protocol, such as an ice bath, is absolutely vital to restoring normal thermal levels and allowing the body to begin the recovery process. Contrary to popular belief, numerous studies have shown that applying a cooling vest to a hyperthermic individual neither increases the cooling rate nor reduces an elevated core body temperature. Immersing your body under ice-water remains the best method of rapidly cooling severely hyperthermic individuals. But if you don’t have the means to a portable whirlpool, soaking your garments in ice water to cover your head, neck, and feet is a technique very similar to that of the ice-water immersion and has shown to assist the recovery period by 22.6% faster than not using anything at all.
Some Advice for You Off-Road Guys
Troy Ross (Trainer -GNCC Pro Rider, Chris Bach, Chris Johnson, Chris Douglas, Zach Klamfoth, Zac Nash.)
During the week/Pre-Race: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate obviously. Acclimate to the heat/humidity as much as possible. No AC in the car, just roll the windows down. If riders are working in the garage, keep a fan going. If you're outside when not training stay in the shade at all times. I do advise to use AC in the house if you need to aid yourself with recovery and relaxation and for comfort during the week. Train and ride in the heat of the day (12pm-3pm). However, caution needs to be noted regarding multiple training days in the heat and of course your fitness level and age. For some, it may be too risky to train in the heat for consecutive days as the body may not recover properly. Be aware of any physical changes and exhaustion symptoms. Stay HYDRATED with water and electrolyte drinks and eat fruits that contain water as well, such as; watermelon and cantaloupe during the week and on race mornings.
Race Days: Make sure to conserve as much energy as possible. Keep your standing and walking to a bare minimum (this applies to during the week as well). Stay in the shade or under an EZ up and try to keep as cool as possible. All along while hydrating and resting to conserve energy. If you must walk around the pits take an umbrella with you to use as shade. Stay out of the direct sunlight at all times! Regarding Camelbacks, some of my riders choose to pack their Camelback into a cooler soaking in the cold water all morning and load the pack with tons of ice, more ice than water. Because the ice will melt obviously. However, if you soak the Camelback make sure it's not dripping with water when the rider puts it on. That unwanted water will run down their backs and wreak havoc on their bottom side as it rubs on the seat during the race! Keep your gear off until the last possible moment before you head to the start. Take an umbrella to the start line and stay in the shade and keep your helmet OFF and in the shade as well. Wear lightly colored and vented gear. Put a cold damp towel around your neck until it is time to put on the helmet for the start of the race. GNCC has pit stops, so hydrate during your pit stops if needed. I recommend avoiding having anyone pour water over the racer during the race or pit stops. The wet gear will collect a layer of dirt and dust and will actually prevent air from circulating through the gear to cool the racers skin.
Post Race: Start rehydrating ASAP. Remove all gear as soon as possible. At this time it's OK to pour cool water over the head or over the riders body to cool them off and to also clean the dirt/dust off their skin. Use a cold wet towel around the neck. Stay in the shade with a fan or even a cool water mister or even an air conditioned motorhome. If you can take a cool shower do it. For some of my more fit riders we may choose to have them spin on a bicycle trainer at a very light pace with a fan and cool water on them. It seems to cool their core temperature quicker since the blood circulation from pedaling cools the entire body from the inside out. And if a rider is showing any signs of heat related complications, seek medical help immediately obviously.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) - Position Stands
“Wide variations of heat tolerance exist among athletes. The extent to which elevated body temperature below 40 C (104 F) diminishes exercise performance and contributes to heat exhaustion is unknown, but there is considerable attrition from exercise when rectal temperatures reach 39–40 C. In controlled laboratory studies, precooling the body will extend the time to exhaustion and preheating will shorten the time to exhaustion, but in both circumstances athletes tend to terminate exercise due to fatigue at a rectal temperature of about 40-C (104-F) .”
"The goal of prehydrating is to start of physical activity euhydrated and with normal body electrolyte status. Prehydrating with beverages should be initiated at least several hours before exercise to enable fluid absorption and allow urine output to return to normal levels. The goal of drinking during exercise is to prevent excessive (>2% body weight loss from water deficit) dehydration and excessive changes in electrolyte balance from compromising performance and health. Because there is considerable variability in sweating rates and composition between individuals, individualized fluid replacement programs are recommended. Measurement of pre and postexercise body weight to determine sweat rates is a simple and valid approach to estimate sweat losses. During exercise, consuming beverages containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can provide benefits over water alone under certain circumstances. After exercise, the goal is to replace fluid and electrolyte deficits. The speed with which rehydration is needed and the magnitude of fluid/electrolyte deficits will determine if an aggressive replacement program is merited."
“In controlled laboratory studies, precooling the body will extend the time to exhaustion and preheating will shorten the time to exhaustion.”
Still want more? Here are some articles that will keep you busy for the next few weeks.
All of the trainers above are available for discussion. If you want to comment in general, please feel free to add your comment below. If you have a serious question or concern, please go to the Racer X Virtual Trainer expert forum and post your question there.
Comments added to this article are not capable of auto notification to the authors of this article, so your comment may go unread. But the forum IS capable of notifying the authors and they will be sure to respond.
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.