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Motocross Training Myths Worth Ignoring

by Racer X Virtual Trainer

Although it is not recommended to look like this for MX, this guy could still potentially ride without getting arm pump!

Here at Racer X Virtual Trainer I get a lot of great questions and useful feedback from MX athletes all across the country. When fielding these questions it becomes painfully obvious to me that not everyone is getting the memo on what they should and should not be doing when training for motocross. Although there is no such thing as a “bad” question, a lot of times the same questions are asked over-and-over again. I believe these questions are born out of myths that have been circulating around the race tracks and training culture for decades. Well, Virtual Trainer is here to set the record straight.

Myth #1 – Lifting Weights Causes Arm Pump. Okay, one last time for those of you who were in the bathroom the last time I said this; lifting weights does NOT directly cause arm pump. I am not sure where the notion of this came from, but it is utterly ridiculous. Need proof? I have a good friend who is a body builder and races in the B class. He is mid-pack fast but has never had an issue with arm pump. Wonder why he doesn’t get arm pump? Well, he has great form on the bike and his cardio/muscular endurance is ski-high even though he has huge muscles. If you are still a believer in this myth, it’s my opinion that you have just found a convenient excuse for not going to the gym. No worries; just like the World needing ditch diggers, someone has to finish last! (More on Arm Pump)

Myth #2 – Warming up Before a Moto uses too Much Energy. This is another statement that I hear over-and-over. Let’s look at this a little closer by examining a few other sports. What does every team do no matter what the sport before a game? You guessed it; warm-up! As a matter of fact I’ll bet you can’t name a sport where the players don’t warm-up (motocross doesn’t count!) To think that you don’t need to warm-up before a race because it uses too much energy is like saying that you shouldn’t start your bike until right before the race because the parts will wear-out too fast. The same guys that blame arm pump on strength training are most likely the same guys that go straight from their lounge chairs chugging a 16 Oz. energy drink to the starting gate. Need more proof, don’t take my word for it, read what one of the top trainers in our sport has to say about it!

On June 22, 1997, John Dowd won the Southwick National with a 1-1 sweep as a member of Team Yamaha. John was 31 years, 10 months and 12 days old. (By the way, in 2006 John finished sixth overall at Southwick with 6-7 moto scores—at age 40!)

Myth #3 – I am too Busy to Train. All I can say about this myth is Bullshizzle. Instead of saying you are too busy; simply say you don’t want to train. We could get into a pissing contest as to who is the busiest, but the fact of the matter is, if you want to exercise you will; simple as that. Training on a busy schedule is actually very easy. In that loaded down day planner or fancy blackberry schedule 45-minutes, Monday, Wednesday and Friday to exercise. Use the exclamation point if you need to increase the importance and just do it. Tell your boss that a healthy employee makes a happy employee.

Myth #4 – My Body, Particularly my Back Hurts because I’m Getting Older. I can speak first hand on this myth because I have had a “bad" lower back all my life. My dad has it and so do I. The myth is that it get’s worse with age. I just turned 44 and my back is no worse now than it was when I was 18. In fact in a lot of ways it is better. Body pain (your back in particular) is one of the leading physical complaints aging adults present to physicians, coaches, and trainers, but it’s primarily due to muscle weakness and being overweight rather than age. Strengthening your body’s structural core (abs and lower back) while increasing your overall health and fitness will lead to a higher quality of life no matter what your age and have you competing at a high level well into your 60’s and 70’s…..relatively pain free!

Myth #5 – Long and Slow is Better for Fat Loss. Although this myth relates more to general fitness, I still get questions from overweight people all the time who think that long, slow exercise is the best way to lose weight. While it is true that long slow exercise draws its energy from fat, high intensity exercise burns more calories. At about 30 percent of your maximum effort, approximately 70 percent of your energy comes from fat and the other 30 percent from carbohydrate. But when you increase exercise intensity to 50 to 60 percent of maximum effort, the fuel mixture shifts so you’re burning about half fat and half carbohydrate. However, because your overall caloric burn rate is higher, you actually burn more total calories per minute and per hour than at the lower intensity. The result: More fat disappears from your body in less time. The simple way to think about this is calories in and calories out. If you burn more calories than you take in over a given period of time you will lose weight. To lose one U.S. pound (.454 kg) of fat, you must burn 3,500 more calories than you take in as food.

Here are a few extras from Coach Seiji and trainer Robb Beams

Coach Seiji:

  1. Motocross athletes don't need to do anything other than ride.
  2. More is always better.
  3. Harder is always better.
  4. Resting is for the weak. (Read Related Article)
Robb Beams: I think that one of the biggest myths is the lack of importance given to hydration - Do I need to worry about it? Or how to accomplish hydration properly. (Hydration Articles)

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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  1. Gravatar
    William December 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I have to say, there has been some good info here, but to totally disregard that bigger muscles don't pump easier, I have to disagree with you mate. I used to pump iron in the sense of body building, definitely noticed that at my biggest size I was getting arm pump way earlier than when when I stopped and started going of lean instead of bulk. We could easily see that in the sport, there isn't one top competitor that is also a football player candidate in the line backer sense!! In fact I would say that many MX riders would do better as kick footballers(soccer)!! Just my opinion.

  2. Gravatar
    Dave Thais December 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    probably because your cardio wasnt on par with your muscles. if you increase both equally, arm pump will not be a problem.

  3. Gravatar
    pizzacorner December 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Well your example of the weight lifter is flawed because you say he has perfect technique, which allows him to relax. We all know forearm muscles only get blood flow when they are relaxed. Take a rider with not so perfect technique. If this guy bulked up his arm/forearm muscles lifting weights, wouldn't these big muscles require more Oxygen rich blood sooner in the ride/exercise? In my racing I find wrist curls about 45minutes before racing helps me?? It pumps my forearms up and they cool down before I race? Could just be mental, who knows?

    I found this on a Sports medicine website:
    High chance of reducing arm pump
    Frequent riding.
    Staying relaxed on the track, loosening the stranglehold on your grips, moving your fingers, and alternate between squeezing and relaxing your hands.
    Using more legs and less arms while riding.

    Medium chance of reducing arm pump
    Avoid heavy weights in arm workouts.
    Suspension set-up.
    Wrist curls with light weights and high repetitions.
    Forearm, wrist stretching.
    Using aspirin as a blood thinner. (The blood thinning attributes of aspirin work best at low dose. One pill a day is all you need.)

    Possible chance of reducing arm pump. Treatments that some riders believed helpful are sometimes diverse and contradictory:
    Taking nutritional supplements, vitamins, magnesium, potassium, calcium?
    Changing the bar type, composition, and position (some say up, some say down) .
    Lever position (some say up, some say down).
    Grip size and stiffness (some said smaller and stiffer grips helped, while others said a larger softer grip absorbs vibration and helped.)
    Steering Dampers.
    Gripper seat covers

  4. Gravatar
    William December 29, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Without getting into a pissing contest, let us do a poll on this. Based on real life not theory or my "one friend" in thousands. Let us be honest and say we will never see the likes of a "Brock Lesnar" types win an AMA, FIM MX or SX event. I realize the author has lots of credentials, I have been in the sport participating and sidelines since 1983, I have yet to see a very bulky motocrosser. I would like to hear more on this topic, unbiased opinions and civil discussions :)

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I think you guys are missing the point. I didn't say that having big bulky muscles was ideal. I am merely trying to debunk the myth that lifting weights causes arm pump. That's it....don't read too much into that. And for the record, my big muscled buddy has crazy cardio. The only reason most big guys have poor cardio is b/c they do not work on cardio. Period!

    As for the topic of arm pump, I would invite you to read this article.

    As for the topic of forearm exercises, check out this great article.

  6. Gravatar
    Joel Younkins December 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Also remember, there are different types of "cardio" too!!! Nice article Tim!!

  7. Gravatar
    kent December 30, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    How about the myth of our top pro rides drinking energy drinks while training and while on the podium? Aren't those container filled with water? :) Yes they are.

  8. Gravatar
    William December 30, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Hi Tim,

    definitely wasn't bagging on you bud, just wanted to make it clear to young people, that lifting weights is good, to a certain point. Certain body types definitely were not made for MX just like fighter pilots.

    One needs some sort of resistance training for strength and bone density. How much weight is the want to build endurance, not power lifting. Lots of reps and vary it up, heavy days, light days!! Train like you fight, don't rest too much between sets, anaerobic training, can actually help with aerobic training conditioning, but not the other way around. Take a look at some Spec Ops guys( SEALs, Rangers, Marine Recon, PeeJays, Green Berets etc), lean, built yes, but not "body builder" built.

    I have heard guys talking about " I can bench 250 lbs," woohoo, good for you, not required for MX, all "rocker room" bragging, doesn't translate to one being better on a bike. MX is not about brute force but finesse, Mxers are a combination of gymnastics, cyclists and soccer players.

  9. Gravatar
    Derek Nelson December 31, 2011 at 3:36 am

    Myth 5; its also important to remeber that higher intensity exercise has an increased post exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC, which means more calories burned after completion of the exercise due to the high oxygen consumption. This is not seen in low intensity exercise.

  10. Gravatar
    Derek Nelson December 31, 2011 at 3:46 am

    William, I dont think anyone is debating that a body builder type body is not ideal for MX, but the debate is always that increased muscle mass increases arm pump. This is not the case. Arm pump is caused from the the closure of veins during the venus(Spelling?) return of blood to the heart. Higher cardio fitness increases the oxygen uptake in the blood which results in aiding in this Venus return process and would keep the veins open and reduce the odds of arm pump. If your cardiovascular fitness is high arm pump is reduced for that reason. Other factors contribute to arm pump which Coach Seiji has gone over.

  11. Gravatar
    Nick December 31, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I am an A rider with a lot of races under my belt. The goal to eliminating arm pump is first you need seat time, being in shape is way different then being in riding shape. I am not saying that working out isn't important because it is, but you just can't beat seat time. But the number one thing to stop arm pump is to stay relaxed on the bike and don't death grip it the whole time. It's more like hang on loosely but don't let go. And when a rider build up and they don't stay relaxed then they are able to squeeze harder, thus causing more arm pump then before. You must stay relaxed on the bike, and then building up you arm strength will help you on those rough tracks.

  12. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer January 01, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Good discussion everyone....much appreciated!

  13. Gravatar
    kris January 03, 2012 at 8:56 am


    Thanks for this article. I know so many people that don't lift weights because of arm pump and then they complain when they can't muscle the bike thru whoops and when the track gets rough. Top MX riders are lifting weights! They also do a ton of cardio which keeps their weight down. Lifting weights won't necessarily get you bulky, it's mainly your diet that gets you bulky! The warm-up myth is also a good point. I never see a rider warm up before a race.

  14. Gravatar
    blknite January 05, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    ive noticed that arm pump is caused mostly by bike set up issues! dehydration,and lack of muscle useage! if shock is too stiff, back more than front it places a lot of load on the front end and requiers more muscle effort and input to control. def check suspension set up ....sag settings,bleed excess air from forks and tire pressure before riding! also death grip ....gotta hold on loose but dont let her go haha! you just wanna lightly steer the bike and grip with knees more than arms unless your taking a big hit like landing from big jumps!

  15. Gravatar
    BBmoto January 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    @William to comment on your first comment, Weston Piek races AMA and is in the top 20 and could easily be a linebacker.

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