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Cardio Training on the Motorcycle

by Robb Beams

12 year-old amateur sensation, Adam Cianciarullo works with Robb at MotoE to make sure he is fit enough to win championships!

Whether is working with seasoned professionals or young amateurs, the common question is how do I get stronger and improve my endurance so that I can run with the faster racers for an entire moto? To answer these questions, four key elements need to be gathered:

  1. Aerobic capacity and strength as it relates to motocross
  2. Physical and mental related limitations
  3. Current training programs
  4. Availability of time to train effectively

Let’s examine each of the four variables a little closer to help you assess your current level of motocross fitness.

Current level of Strength & Aerobic Capacity as it Relates to Motocross
The simplest way to answer question number one is to evaluate your lap times over the course of a moto. If you are very strong early in the moto and then begin to fade, you lack the necessary aerobic base and/or strength levels to sustain high levels of output. One component of fatigue is related to your body’s ability to provide adequate levels of oxygen and nutrition to the working muscles. What makes motocross so difficult is the amount of force necessary to move the bike around the track throughout the entire moto. One of the most common mistakes racers make is training at a level below that which they ask of their body on race day – this leads to confusion for the body at all levels (strength, aerobic capacity and nutrition).

Physical and Mental Limitations
The evaluation of these limitations is not intended to discourage the racer, but rather to identify where the racer’s strengths and weaknesses lie so that we can optimize training time to lesson or alleviate the limitations. Most racers tend to train elements for which they are already proficient  (this is human nature); however, you are only as strong as your weakest link – you need to bridge these weaknesses! Field testing at specific intensity levels and durations help identify these limiting factors.

Having a training plan is a very important part of a successful program

Current Training Programs
This element ties in the two above points – if you are not pleased with your current level of fitness and you continue to duplicate your weekly training protocols, your results, at best, will remain consistent. Racers must look at the human body as a tool that will adapt to stress as long as the body is given time to adapt to the new training load levels. The key to physical progression is subjecting the body to just enough stress, specific to motocross, then allowing the body to adapt. Another important component of this equation is making sure that the exercises (for both strength and endurance) are specific to moving a motorcycle around. Technical numbers from a lab are irrelevant if there isn’t a practical application to the realities of training and racing.

Availability of Time to Train Effectively
Remember that training hard each and every day is  not the answer to becoming a stronger racer. You have to keep in mind that the body considers a stress as anything it has to endure and adapt to – stress at work or school, lack of sleep, inadequate calorie intake, etc. All of these variables put the body in duress and have to be factored into your weekly training (this includes, seat time on the bike, strength training, aerobic enhancement, flexibility, eating, etc.). The key to overall body adaptation is to introduce the correct stress level and frequency and duration at the right time during the racing season – much easier said than done for sure!

So What Can You do to Begin Enhancing Your Current Level of Fitness?
For this article, we are going to help you determine your race intensity specific to motocross. This is not the only testing procedure for determining maximum heart rate.  However, for our purposes here, this test will provide you a baseline evaluation. This test should be performed again in eight weeks. For the testing, you will need your race bike, a familiar track,  and a chest strap heart rate monitor and watch that captures your HR every minute – Polar makes several units that are relatively inexpensive and have the memory capacity.

Note: Do not complete this test if you haven’t had a physical in the last three months and have clearance from your doctor to exert yourself to this level of intensity.

Adding a heart rate monitor to your training is a relatively inexpensive way of adding value to your training

The testing protocols are as follows: Warm up for 15 to 20 minutes easy – free riding is ideal/low intensity. After your free ride, stretch passively (no bouncing) for 15 minutes focusing on all of your major muscle groups. Re-mount the bike and free ride for 10 minutes before moving into your first main set.

Main Set #1 – Complete a 10 lap moto with each lap progressively getting faster and faster so that your last 3 laps are at an all out race effort. After your 10th lap, ride easy for 2 laps and then take a 10 minute rest.

Main Set #2 – Duplicate the above set; the only change is to ride the last four laps at an all out race pace. After your 10th lap, ride easy for 2 laps and then take a 10 minute rest.

Evaluation of Data – Take and download all of the data collected in your watch (HR in 1 minute increments) and print the HR levels achieved throughout both sets. Highlight the highest number achieved and determine at what duration point you achieved this number. You will have two variables that we evaluate – Max HR and Max HR Peak Duration Point.

Click here for a pacing and evaluation spreadsheet.

So What do You as a Racer do With This Information?
Here is where you have to hold yourself accountable. If you feel that you were truly at an all out effort during your test, then you have hit the point where your body can not deliver oxygen to the working muscles fast enough (anaerobic level) and thus the lactic acid levels begin to shut down the contraction of the muscle (“the burn” during high intensity racing).

Now that you have this data, you can specifically train at various levels of intensity (based off of this Max HR number) and for various durations of time. The key here is to teach your body to function in an aerobic capacity (this will teach your body to spare glycogen and utilize fats for fuel) while still racing at an optimum pace. Please understand that you can not simply train at near maximum to become physically fit – the body can not handle this high intensity level and repetition. The key is to have one key workout a week where you are pushing yourself just up to that maximum HR zone and getting comfortable with the intensity. In the world of physiology  this type of training is often referred to as lactate tolerance training.

Out of seven days in a week, you are going to give up two to racing, one to lactate tolerance training and the others to strength and aerobic-active recovery type workouts (generally speaking – some racers can tweak this outline due to age, genetics or availability of time to train).

What is the Ultimate Goal of This Type of Testing?
There are two things that we ultimately want to teach your body to do. First, understand what it feels like to be at that upper end of your intensity spectrum and play around that specific point for a pre-determined duration of time (this is dependent on the racers goals and background). This is to teach the body to handle all of the physical challenges faced in a race setting. Many injuries within our sport are a result of pushing beyond our normal training intensity. These injuries occur when the muscles shut down due to the surplus of lactic acid. Frequently, a rider will  miss his lines and then find himself on the ground with that exhausted feeling throughout.

After training smart (not training too hard and too often) for six to eight weeks, you will have the opportunity to evaluate the second goal of this test – how long does it take for you to achieve your Max HR number during the re-testing. If you have enhanced your aerobic capacity, it will take longer to get to that peak point. This interprets to faster paces for LONGER periods of time before physical fatigue begins to settle into the body. There are other significant elements which must be factored into this equation of performance – heat, humidity and hydration levels. For the purposes of this article, focus only on identifying your maximum heart rate as a racer.

About the Author: is a premium resource center for motocross, supercross and GNCC riders of all abilities and ages. The website outlines the MotoE Performance Training programs available to racers for 2010 - such as those used with great success by X-Games and 2 time WMA Champion Ashley Fiolek, Mini O's 2009 Champion Ian Trettel & Loretta Lynn National Champion Adam Cianciarulo and numerous off road racers.

Additional resources available include the MotoE Performance Training Facility in Haines City, Florida, eBooks on various human performance elements and online instructional videos. To discuss your current program or have a new one developed for you; feel free to contact Robb Beams at or 407.701.7586 directly.

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
    Mike Wendricks (mxwebsitesDOTcom) March 18, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Very good article, thanks for sharing.

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 19, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Thanks Mike. You going to send me art work one of these days??

  3. Gravatar
    Anderson Cidade March 20, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Very good article.

    I'd like to know what model of heart rate monitor is he best for motocross?


  4. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 22, 2010 at 7:36 am

    I recommend the Polar Heart Rate monitor. Which one you buy really depends on what you want. I have the Polar F7 and like it.

  5. Gravatar
    Brett Muller April 25, 2010 at 3:59 am

    I use the Garmin Forerunner 405.
    Here's some of my training results uploaded online.
    It's a great watch, and the GPS function is awesome.

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