Improved Riding Through Balance Training
by Dr. Dale McDonald BA, DC, CSCS, CCSS(C) Resident
Balance training does not have to incorporate circus acts to be effective. Here, Darryn Duhram stands on an Indo Board while tossing a ball against the wall.
Photo: Courtesy Johnny Louch and the Rockwell Training Facility
Nothing beats time in the saddle, but how many of us can ride all year long? The confines of winter or the rigors of day-to-day life often conspire to keep us off the bike and in the gym (or house or office). Thankfully there are a multitude of things that we can do to keep sharp for that seemingly rare occasion when we actually do get to ride.
Balance training for performance enhancement and injury prevention is enjoying a surge in research in recent years. Our brain derives information regarding balance from three sources: our eyes, inner ears and our balance receptors (proprioceptors). These proprioceptors are found in particularly high concentrations within the muscles, tendons and joints of the upper neck and ankle regions. This is a wonderfully efficient design as it allows our body the opportunity to send simultaneous information to our brain about what the two opposite ends of our body are doing. Motocross racers are uniquely positioned to benefit from a comprehensive balance training program.
Riding can put an extravagant amount of chronic strain on the muscles and joints of the upper neck, causing the proprioceptors in this region to send less accurate information to your brain regarding the position of your head relative to the rest of your body. While the average person can get by on two out of three available sources of balance information, motocrossers are by no means average! Imagine riding with your eyes closed and you’ll immediately understand what I mean. Choosing the correct line on the track requires fine motor control and lightning quick movements. Such swift, controlled movement can be enhanced by the judicious use of proprioceptive/balance aids.
|Trainer Aldon Baker incorporates balance training with his riders Adam Cianciarulo and Ryan Villopoto. An Indo Board and balance ball is all that's needed!
Balance aids come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Wobble Boards and Bongo Boards are two examples that make great choices for riders looking to improve their balance. When using a Wobble Board, Bongo Board or other proprioceptive apparatus, aim to reproduce your riding position. For motocross racers, this is akin to an "attack position" where your knees, hips and back are flexed as they would be while negotiating a technical section of the track or trail. Proprioceptive training in this manner has been shown to have a positive influence on sense of position of the ankle joint and on balance, in addition to increasing muscle tone.
Increased muscle tone is one of the best side-effects of balance training. Time spent "out of the saddle" demands that racers have excellent hip strength in all planes of movement. Far more than just strong hip flexors and gluteal muscles, standing while controlling the lateral motion of the bike require great strength in the abductor/adductor (side to side) muscle groups. These side to side muscles are used as stabilizers when going through a whoop section, and are also very active when trying to control the lateral movement of the bike. Using an SRF board (available through FitterFirst) is an excellent way to strengthen the adductor and abductor muscle groups. An SRF board or ProFitter can also help with improving the strength and position sense of the ankle dorsiflexors (the muscles on the front of your shin). Used in pedaling and balance control, this muscle, like the other muscles in the ankle, is loaded with proprioceptors.
|Check out this great deal we have over on the Virtual Trainer store. Get an Indo Board and Virtual Trainer Push-up bar in one convenient package. We call it the Virtual Trainer Pro Pack.|
Motocross racers tend to be a tough bunch in terms of pain tolerance. A recent study concluded that human ankle proprioception is quite resistant to muscle pain. Adequate muscular strength can help to prevent injury in the first place, but take solace in knowing that your proprioception is not going to suffer too badly from banging up against a rock even if the rest of your ankle does! In the event that you do suffer a more serious ankle injury, balance training can expedite your return to riding. One of the leading causes of chronic ankle instability is believed to be a combination of diminished proprioception and lateral ankle muscle weakness. Balance training has been proven very effective in reducing the frequency of ankle sprains in people with chronic ankle instability. Studies show that 80% are functionally stable after completing a well-designed program.
Balance training can help enhance your riding experience from performance enhancement to injury prevention to post-injury rehabilitation. Anything that can do all these things should be a staple in your year-round training. Too bad a wobble board won’t fit in a tool pouch!
About the Author: Dr. Dale Macdonald is a post-doctoral sport specialist in Calgary and director of Elite Sport Performance and The Knee Clinic - the only private knee clinic in Alberta. He is not only a former intermediate/local pro motocross racer, he is also a chiropractor and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Check out Dr. Macdonald's website here. Follow on Twitter and become a Fan on FaceBook.
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.