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Lower Your Lap Times with Core Stability

by Eddie Casillas, AT, CSCS


It seems lately that there has been some serious discussion as to what is the best way to train for Motocross. In my many years of working in the Motocross industry, I have had the unique opportunity to meet numerous training “experts”. Bodybuilders, cyclists, strength coaches, chiropractors, kinesiologists, past racers, and the list goes on. Each person brought something different to the table. A few talked about exercising while standing on large rubber balls, others used head and wrist bands embedded with moon dust claiming they increased strength and balance, some believed in being able to send energy to a rider with their hands by performing tai chi type movements. Regardless of the methods used, each program shared a common theme, the athlete must have a strong core. Which got me thinking back to all those discussions in the past and to the ones I have had recently, only a few have mentioned how to test the core. So, while the debate rages on about what is the best way to train for motocross, I would like to focus this article on developing a better understanding of the core and how someone can test to determine if there is weakness in the core.

Dynamic core stability is the key to obtaining and maintaining the correct body position in a turn.

Photo: Cudby

The muscles that make up the core are the spine extensors, abdominals, pelvic floor muscles, hip girdle, and shoulder girdle. The most important thing to understand is the relationship these muscles have with each other during exercise and while riding a dirtbike.

The terms “core strength and core stability” are often times lumped together when talking about training as though they were one in the same. The truth is that they are very different. Core strength refers to the training of the core muscles, often times individually, while moving the spine. Think sit-ups and back extensions. Core stability on the other hand refers to the resisting and controlling of motion in the lumbar spine by engaging the core muscles. In a healthy athlete the activation of core stability is done instinctively. It is important to understand the difference because even though both play a role in training, core stability plays a much bigger role in athletic performance and injury prevention. Core stability can be further broken down into two categories, static and dynamic.

  1. Static stability is what is most often tested by trainers and health care professionals. Static stability is the ability to control the spine with little to no motion. Think of a single leg balance or a plank.
  2. Dynamic stability is the ability to control the lumbar spine during functional movements and is seldom if ever tested by trainers and health care professionals. An example of dynamic stability is the core stabilizers having to engage when the rear wheel swaps out from hitting a rock or when accelerating through a rutted corner.

It is not unusual for athletes to have strong static stabilizers and weak dynamic stabilizers. Those that demonstrate weak dynamic stabilizers and fail to strengthen them will begin a downward spiral of problems beginning with the loss of functional movement that eventually will lead to micro trauma, excessive wear and tear on the body, and possibly surgery.

How this Relates to Riding
To put all this into perspective lets look at negotiating corners with ruts. Carrying speed through corners is the easiest and quickest way to decrease lap times. The technique for a rutted corner is elbows up, weight your outside peg, get your inside leg up, make sure your head is even or in front of the triple clamps to help keep the front wheel down, and smoothly accelerate out. As you can see there is a lot of dynamic stability going on and when an athlete demonstrates poor dynamic stability, the body will seek to gain that stability by other means. Core weakness can be brought on by numerous things. Broken or dislocated hips, broken or dislocated shoulders and muscle tightness to name a few. Based on my experience through observation and evaluation of motocross athletes I believe hip flexor tightness to be the top contributor of core instability. Two reasons, one is constant sitting and extending of leg in corners and two is constant hip flexor trauma without proper management. i.e. catching and then dragging leg behind you exiting corners. A tight hip flexor will often times cause the glute muscle to become weak. The glute muscle helps turn your leg out, but more importantly it is a strong hip extender. If the glute is weak then the hamstring muscle whose primary job is to bend the knee and secondary job is to help with hip extension now has to also become the primary hip extender. Your hamstrings having to perform double duty are going to get tight and limit mobility. This lack of mobility is going to make it difficult to maintain good technique in corners.  Especially in corners where you have to really lay the bike over and get your leg high up on the fork. Also, no amount of hamstring stretching is going to help, because remember we are dealing with a core stability problem that is causing tight hamstrings. If you fix the problem you fix everything else. The same can be said about about core instability and the shoulder, but we can save that for a future article. For now just know that if you have shoulder instability chances are your going have core instability. My hope is that regardless of the type of training one chooses to do that you realize functional movement testing especially for dynamic core stability is more important to healthy and optimal performance on the track as well as career longevity.

Please review the video that will help explain the two tests for dynamic core stability.

Trunk Stability Push-Up
Position - Assume face down position feet together. Hands are placed shoulder width apart and at the appropriate position. 1st-thumbs aligned with top of forehead, 2nd-thumbs aligned at chin. Elbows up, knees fully extended, ankles towards hips.
Action - Perform push up looking to make sure there is no lag, hip hike, or twisting in spine. The hands should not slide from start position.

In-Line Lunge
Position - Feet separated the distance of the tibial tuberosity to the floor. Place bar behind back making sure it touches back of head, upper back, and center of low back. Point toes forward and keep them pointing forward throughout lunge.
Action - Maintaining an upright position lower body into a lunge slowly touching knee to the ground softly behind the heel of the forward foot. Return to start position. Looking for twisting or bending of spine, bar separation from spine and head, loss of balance.

About the Author: Eddie Casillas A.T. CSCS is considered a leader in the field of action sports medicine and orthopedic rehabilitation. As an athletic trainer, and certified strength and conditioning specialist, Eddie specializes in all aspects of care of shoulder, elbow, and knee disorders. He has worked extensively with a variety of professional athletes with emphasis on the care of action sports athletes. In addition to his clinical work, he has worked along side some the worlds best medical professionals at the X games, Dew Tour, AMA Supercross, Motocross, and ABA/NBL BMX. Eddie is currently the Head Athletic Trainer and Assistant Director of Medical Services of the Asterisk Mobile Medical Unit. He is also the Director of Sports Medicine and Owner of iCHOR Sports Medicine in Murrieta California. Questions? Feel free to contact Eddie at the office (760) 575-HURT(4878) or e-mail 12/6/10

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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    Lewis517 May 01, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Good stuff Eddie. I would second all of this and also would throw out the idea of rotational mobility and last rotational propulsion work. Need mobility in rotation especially through T-spine where it seems many guys become limited (like many athletes) and then creating power and force through rotation to fight back against the bike or kickers etc... if so required by the random nature of the track and bike.

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