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Cross Country Training - Part 1

by Robb Beams


Unlike the sprint characteristics of motocross and supercross, GNCC racing brings a completely different set of physical and mental challenges for the weekend racer who enjoys off road riding and racing.

Besides GNCC, Bach raced WORCS, Regionals, OMA and motocross. Next stop, Quidditch.

Photo By: John Gasso

Before we review the five most common mistake that an off road rider needs to avoid, let's take a brief look at the physiological demands put on the off road rider.

Due to the duration of most events, the off road rider has to 'teach' the body to conserve glycogen and burn fatty acids as a primary fuel source. Please note, the higher the riding intensity level, the more glycogen (aka stored carbohydrates) your body burns. The downside to higher intensity and the utilization of stored glycogen, is that your body only stores about 60-90 minutes of glycogen within the muscles ' not enough to finish strong, hence the need to prepare and train properly (which will be outlined below).

With this in mind, it is imperative that the off road racer focus on maximizing his or her aerobic capacity, both on and off of the motorcycle. When this is implemented properly, the following physiological adaptations take place (which result in better endurance and overall speed):

  • Improved delivery to the working muscles
  • Improved elimination of lactic acid (a by product of burning carbohydrates)
  • Lower overall heart rate due to the increased stroke volume of the heart
  • Increased number of mitochondria (remember in school: 'The power house of the cell'

In my opinion, one of the most beneficial by-products of endurance training is that it prepares the rider for the psychological demands of off road racing, especially late in the race when mental focus can make the difference between 1st and 5th place. When you teach yourself to stay mentally sharp, you the rider will be able to make the necessary decisions that will build upon themselves throughout the race. Here's how. When you don't mentally drift off, you will consistently consume the necessary fluids and calories (ideally every 15-20 minutes) which will result in stabilized blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar levels are optimized, your brain has the necessary 'fuel' to implement the proper techniques that you have worked hard to incorporate into your riding. These proper techniques lead to faster speeds which your brain has to process efficiently throughout the entire race. If your brain runs out of fuel, you will find yourself missing your important lines, resulting in slower average speeds and ultimately more work and fatigue on your body as it fights the non-optimal lines. You can see how this becomes a problem quite quickly, not good for long races. In the next article, we will provide you some cross training protocols that you can implement both on and off the motorcycle to improve your average speed on the motorcycle during long races. But for this weekend, here are few things you can implement immediately to enjoy your riding and/or improve your race results:

Mistake #1: Deviating from your regular routine
When it comes to getting the body warmed up sufficiently and properly, it needs to be subjected to the same exercise protocols that are used in training when away from the track. For example, it doesn't make any sense to expect a bicycle to be a sufficient warm-up tool if you're using something like the Concept 2 rower in your every day workouts. You also need to consider intensity levels. We don't want the intensity to be so high during the warm-up that it ends up leaving the body tired, but we also don't want the heart rate to not rise to a level that starts to produce and activate lactic acid shuffle. What we see is either riders are using the wrong tools to warm up or they're warming up at too high of an intensity.
Mistake #2: Coming to the starting line dehydrated or under nourished
When you sleep at night, your body pulls the necessary glycogen (which is sugar) from your liver to sustain your brain functions during the night. Then when you wake up in the morning and put demands on the muscles, the energy necessary comes from the glycogen that's been stored within the belly of the muscle tissue. The challenge that we have on race day is the duration of time since your last meal - sometimes between 12 to 15 hours.
12-year old amateur sensation, Adam Cianciarullo hired MotoE in December to make sure he is not only fast but fit!

Think about race weekends: you're going to be racing on Sunday morning and practice or racing begins at 7:00 am. Let's say that you ate dinner at 6:00pm Saturday night and you wake up at 6:00am Sunday morning, that's 12 hours since your last meal. To put it in perspective, imagine that if you ate your morning breakfast at 8:00 in the morning, but then you didn't eat dinner until 8:00 pm and you had no snacks or any meals in between that timeframe, you'd be extremely hungry. But for some reason (whether we chalk it up to a nervous stomach or we're afraid that we're going to get cramps) we don't take the time to eat a good sized meal early enough so the muscle glycogen is already at a deficit before the gate drops. When you add high intensity racing, which tends to drain the glycogen from the tissue very quickly, and you can see why riders have a tendency to fade quickly or miss simple lines ' all because the blood sugar levels within the rider is too low. Frequently this fade or silly mistake syndrome is blamed on a lack of fitness, but rather, should be attributed to low blood sugar levels.

Mistake #3: Lack of a post race recovery routine
When you come off that course, there's an enzyme that helps you replenish glycogen within the muscle and the liver called the Glycogen Synthase Enzyme. You've got about 20 to 30 minutes where that enzyme is at its highest level, so when the athletes come off the course the first thing they need to be focusing on is the replenishment of depleted glycogen. For example, if you took a bit of oil out of the engine after each lap, you wouldn't expect the engine to still be running strong at the end of the race. The idea here is that every work out depletes some level of glycogen (the exact amount is based on the duration and intensity level) and it's the athlete's responsibility to get the body replenished to perform at an optimum level. Whether its 20 minutes later, 30 minutes later, whenever that next race is, you have to understand that as soon as you come off the course, priority number one is to get that body replenished and to get it rehydrated. Failure to do so is going to manifest itself out on the course as you start to fade and go backwards. Again, we're right back to an empty gas tank within the muscle. If you want to be able to perform optimally, moto after moto, day after day, it starts after each race or workout ' so plan ahead and implement consistently.

Mistake #4: Racing at an intensity that is not familiar to your body
This mistake is not a misprint, many racers fail to race to their full potential by riding too hard too early in a race! It is obvious that on race day you're going to be pushing a pace that's difficult to emulate during training, but training at an intensity level that's much less than the demands of race day leads to a culture shock to the body. It produces more lactic acid than the body has been acclimated to and the physiologic process of absorbing and diffusing lactic acid shuts the muscles down. The end result is that the contractions of the muscles are slowed down, you begin to focus on how bad your body is hurting and instead of focusing on racing the course, and you begin to make errors on the course that begins to negatively affect your confidence. To offset this negative effect of lactic acid, you want to try to incorporate a couple of workouts a week that is held at an intensity level on the motorcycle that will accurately emulate race intensity. Additionally, you need to make sure you are testing and training at the same intensity levels off the motorcycle with various forms of cross-training. If you want to race at a higher level on the race weekend, incorporate similar conditions and intensities when you're practicing on the motorcycle along with your cross training off of the motorcycle.

Mistake #5: Not racing the course
The final and biggest problem that we see on the race day is racers shifting their focus from preparation and implementation of a normal routine to who is on the gate. The rider begins to size themselves up against somebody else and then pulls in a past performance of the other rider, and then immediately dumps that information into the race at hand. For example, if somebody was going to roll up to the gate against David Knightl, it doesn't really matter that David may have won 10 straight races, what matters is the fact that you have the same opportunity to go out and race the course as aggressively as he does. Your goal is to make the least amount of mistakes, carry as much momentum as possible and charge the course.

If somebody else is jumping something, they think they need to jump it. My question is why you don't just focus on racing the course; race every section as hard and as fast as you can, try to optimize every single section of the course and your goal is that you would do it faster and better than everybody else. It's not that you can't learn something from somebody else, but when the gate drops, the only thing that you can take control of is yourself. So, what I want you to be thinking about is how I can get through this section faster than anybody else. Frequently, this requires thinking outside the box. When another rider is doing something through a section that nobody else has thought about, and probably not even willing to try, the results speak for themselves. Be smart, but creative and you will be surprised at the outcome.

If you really want to optimize your fitness and preparation, you want to create the mindset that you are racing the course - minute after minute with your pace falling off as minimal as possible. We don't want you to come around the course on the opening lap with a time of 12:00 and then fall off to a 12:15. Ideally we are looking for less than a 10 second deviation from your first to last lap - you've seen this emulated by the best racers. The only way you can do this, is to race the course, minimize mistakes and make the best of something when it goes wrong. Allowing frustration and anger to sidetrack your focus, doesn't fix the fact that you've messed up a section. Re-establish your timing; get back to charge mode and carry as much momentum as possible to create the fastest lap times on the course. Remember, practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect!

Part 2 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 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
    chris jones December 07, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    For atv racing, should you train at high intensities during the off season or do low intensity, longer, workouts?

  2. Gravatar
    Coach Robb December 08, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you for posting here on Racer X VT! If you are in the pre-season phase of your training, the intensity needs to be 95% aerobic on the track with an emphasis of maximizing your strength. The purpose for this is so that you have built the foundation for speed intervals during your pre-competitive and competitive race cycles. This is one of the biggest limiters as it relates to long term speed. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to post here and I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have. Thanks again for posting!

    -Robb Beams/MotoE

  3. Gravatar
    Chain Drive November 16, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Hello, I'm looking for information on periodization for xc racing including volume, intensity, strength guidelines. Any information would be wonderful!

  4. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer November 17, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Chain - Check out the premium training section for complete programs developed specifically for xc racers.

  5. Gravatar
    chris Alvik December 24, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Hey coach Robb, I have s question, what's the best work out for gncc off-road racing on dirtbikes. Email me at christia

  6. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 26, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Chris - You should check out the new off-road training plans on the premium training community.

  7. Gravatar
    Camden Hadley April 29, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    I feel like some parts of these paragraphs got a little off topic and transferred to getting better at moto like the section about rehydration and stuff. Woods racers don't need to prep for their next race in 30 minutes unless your race has tests in which the race stop and go interval still wouldn't be that large

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