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Body Weight Strength Training

by Rodney Womack


In an effort to bring Racer X Online readers the best information available regarding MX fitness, postings on this website are open to anyone with a specific and proven expertise in the fitness field. Rodney Womack, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association since 1998 and MX racer for life, certainly has the knowledge and experience to be considered an expert. Through his website – – he writes a free weekly MX fitness newsletter and is also the author of three training books, Motocross Fitness: The Ultimate Home Training Guide for Motocross Athletes, The Power of Pushups , and his new book Arm Pump Solutions: How to Reduce Arm Pump Through Stretching and Exercise . If you have any questions or comments he can be reached by email at - Virtual Trainer


Rodney doing pushups in the backyard with tiedowns and a box.

In a recent Virtual Trainer article, we talked about the need for motocross racers to implement a strength building program into their overall fitness program. The article is absolutely correct, and the weight training suggestions are right on the money when it comes to choosing the right kinds of exercises – compound exercises that work the big muscles. If you have access to a weight room or work out at a gym then those are excellent suggestions to follow in developing basic strength for whatever sport that you choose to participate in.

Building strength is an important component of all athletes’ training programs, including motocross/off-road riders. When most people think of strength training they think of lifting weights at the gym using barbells, dumbbells, or machines. However, there are other excellent strength building alternatives for those of you who don’t have access to these types of facilities or you just aren’t into the "gym scene". In fact, there are many great strength building exercises that you can do with little equipment at your house or in your garage.

You can either use bodyweight exercises or use alternative sources of resistance using "odd objects". Examples of bodyweight exercises would be pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and squats. Odd objects would be resistance in the form of sandbags, rocks, sledgehammers, tires, etc. – basically any object that you pick up and use as a substitute for a barbell or dumbbell. For this article, I will focus on bodyweight exercises as a means of building strength. When designing an exercise program, you can approach it in many different ways. The most common way used in most gyms is to work muscles individually (like a bodybuilder). For motocross racers and most athletes in general, this is the wrong way to train for strength. In order to be athletic, your body and muscles must be trained to work together as a unit. These days this is often called "functional training", and most exercises that fall in this category are movements that use the major muscle groups in a coordinated manner – in other words "training movements not isolated muscles".

Tie-downs connected to a pair of grips are great for doing hanging pushups

If you are just starting out with a strength building program, it is important to use a logical approach in setting up your training program. And, bodyweight exercises are the natural choice as the first step in getting starting. Ask yourself this question, "why would you start out adding external loads to your body when most people are unable to do simple exercises using only their bodyweight? Exercises such as pushups, one leg squats, inverted rows, etc. should be mastered before you ever load more weight onto your body as resistance. With that said, let’s take a look at some basic exercises that you can do using only your bodyweight as resistance.

Personally, I like to address the body in four different ways when designing a strength building program. I usually divide it into:

  • Upper Body
  • Lower Body
  • Midsection or Core
  • Total Body Exercises

Here are a few examples for each category.

Upper Body
Upper body exercises would include many different varieties of pushups, pull-ups, dips, and inverted rows. There are many different variations of all of these upper body exercises that you can do with just a pull-up bar and a set of dip bars or pushup bars. None of this stuff costs too much, or you can even build them yourself. Whichever route you choose, there are a ton of ways to work the upper body if you have a pull-up bar and an imagination. Pull-ups can be done with a wide or narrow grip, or underhand or overhand. Towel pull-ups can be used for building grip strength as well as more upper body strength. There are also many variations of pushups that you can do to add difficulty or intensity to the exercise - feet up on a chair, feet on a stability ball or hands on the stability ball. Suspended pushups using handles or rings hanging from your pull-up bar (you can use tie-downs) are probably THE BEST type of pushup to do for motocross because of the constant movement of your hands and arms, and the need for stabilization in your upper body. It is a fantastic exercise that I can’t recommend enough.

Hindu Squats have been around for centuries

Lower Body
Lower body exercises are even simpler because you really don’t need much in the way of special equipment. Bodyweight squats, one leg squats, lunges, calf raises, wall sit, and step-ups are all excellent exercises that will build both strength and endurance in your legs. My favorite type of bodyweight squat is the Hindu Squat which has been used for hundreds of years by wrestlers to gain overall body strength and endurance. Once you learn the proper technique, it becomes a fantastic exercise for motocross racers because of the type of muscular endurance that it builds in the legs and throughout the entire body. One leg squats are another good exercise for leg development. Simply stand in front of a chair and place one foot behind you on top of the chair (or stability ball). Then squat using the one leg that is in contact with the floor until the top of the thigh is parallel with the floor. You may need to hold onto something until you develop the necessary balance to do them unassisted. As your balance and leg strength improves, you can then take the chair away and do one leg squats with your free leg off the ground in front of you. Lunges, calf raises, wall sit, and step-ups on a bench or steps are other effective exercises that can be used at home.

Midsection or Core
Exercises for the midsection or core are often neglected, but they are very important in the development of the "total athlete". Your core muscles connect the upper body with the lower body, and they need to be developed thoroughly to maintain good posture, allow for quick, strong movements in different directions, and also to help prevent injuries. Exercises that fall in this category are the various types of sit-ups that you can do, plank raises, back extensions (hyperextensions), leg lifts, etc. Even though crunches are a popular exercise, I am not a big fan of them. If that’s all that you can do as a beginner, then OK, but I prefer full range movements that utilize many muscles working together. I also like to throw in neck and spinal training (for both flexibility and strength) in this category because it is all connected via the spinal column. In fact, the neck is probably the most overlooked area of the body when it comes to developing a training program, even though it is one of the most important areas because of the potential for injury, especially in motocross. There is no substitute for a strong neck, and I urge all athletes and trainers to include neck exercises in their programs.

Pull a tire across the yard for a great total body workout

Total Body
Total body exercises are as stated, exercises that work many muscles together including the heart and lungs. Jumping rope, bear crawls, pulling a tire or sled, mountain climbers, running stairs, etc. would fall under this heading. These are exercises that work the entire body and really get you breathing hard and your heart pumping. These exercises may be a little bit more aerobic in nature, but they will also develop overall body strength as well as muscular endurance. They are also excellent exercises for the motocross athlete when incorporated into the overall training program.

Putting It Together
There are a million combinations of exercises that one could put together in a training program. For the beginner, I would recommend that you start out by working the entire body three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). To keep it simple, choose two exercises from each category listed above and start off with 2-3 sets of each for 10-25 reps (depending on your current level). At this point the order of exercises really doesn’t matter, but I would leave the total body exercises for last. Also, do not rest more than one minute between sets. You need to be breathing hard and the exercises should be done with intensity. If it is too easy, then you need to rest less and add more sets and reps. You can do the workout as a circuit which increases the intensity even more. Always push yourself and work to get better every workout. Be sure to mix up the exercises and do different variations every few workouts to avoid boredom or burnout.

Of course, these exercises are mostly utilized for developing strength and muscular endurance. To develop the total athlete, one must also include drills and exercises that emphasize flexibility, agility, power, reflexes, and balance. But, we will leave those for a future article. In the future I will outline some "alternative" types of exercises and training that you can do to add some variety to your fitness program. Just remember, strength training can come in many forms, and you, as a motocross athlete, need to develop a program to get stronger and become a "total athlete".

Remove the Guesswork
At Virtual Trainer, we believe there is a right way to train for motocross. It starts with having a clear goal, finding expert instruction (on and off the bike), performing structured training and receiving immediate feedback throughout the process. Coach Seiji (Andrew Short's longtime trainer) has teamed up with Virtual Trainer to offer our audience an exclusive motocross community geared towards improving your performance on and off the track. The community offers motocross specific training plans designed by one of the best – to help you achieve your best performance. This is literally a one-of-a-kind training and conditioning experience for you, the motocross athlete. Results start here.

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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