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Cross Training and Performance

by Editor


Most athletes in the motocross world have probably never heard of Joe Friel. For those of you who have not, I can tell you that he is a big, BIG deal in the endurance world. He is one of the most well respected and studied coaches of all time. When Joe speaks, people listen. Many of the principles and methods presented on this site are based on Joe's books and articles. Coach Seiji (Andrew Short's long time trainer) is a life long student of Joe's work and is the first trainer in motocross to take what Joe does for the endurance athlete and apply it to motocross. The program's Coach Seiji has written for the premium training plans offered on Virtual Trainer are based on these same principles. The following article is a great example of how Joe's writings transend the endurance world and can be applied not only to the motocross athlete but life in general. - Virtual Trainer

Original Post Link
By Joe Friel

I often get questions about cross training. This is one that came in today from “Jack.” Most of it had to do with the athlete’s advancing age and having read my new book, Fast After 50. I’ve omitted all of that, but I’m most appreciative of his kind comments. Here is the focus of the email that gets at his question about cross training…

“I continue to train and ride, seeking the next sportive challenge. I’ve got my eye on the Assault on Mt. Mitchell in 2017 (May timeframe).  That will be at age 53.  I know, I know, I’m still a young pup. Anyway, I do have a question for you if I may.  Although the book was quite extensive, I wish to know more about benefits of cross training.  As I’m still working (Mon-Fri), I have a limited amount of time to spend training and therefore, devote almost all of it to cycling or the gym (two to three times per week).  I don’t see a lot of room in my schedule for something else, but if there is a benefit, I’m willing to reconsider.”

And my reply…

Hi Jack,

Thanks for your note.  And for your kind comments about my book.

Cross training is an interesting topic. Many do it who have “health” goals instead of “performance” goals. It’s great for health in part because the variety makes for high motivation and since many who are focused only on health are limited by lack of motivation for such a vague goal.

In answering your question I’m assuming that you are quite serious about cycling, as your email suggests, and that performance is your primary focus. If that’s the case then in order to reap a benefit from cross training the other activity you choose must overlap considerably with the physiological demands of cycling to prove beneficial. [In the case of motocross, to be fast on the motorcycle, you have to ride. - VT]

There are two broad categories for these demands—cardiorespiarory fitness and muscular fitness. Essentially, any mainstream endurance sport (swimming, running, cross country skiing, etc) will benefit the heart and lungs. This is actually not much of a challenge. The muscular system is a big challenge. If you’re not using the muscles in the same way they are used when on the bike [or motocycle - VT] then there is no significant muscular benefit. It may even be a waste of training time for achieving a high performance goal. For example, while you may use your legs quite a bit while running, the two movements are not even close in terms of the muscles. One relies on eccentric contractions of the calf muscles primarily (run) while the other calls for a great deal of concentric contraction from the quads primarily (bike). One of the best cross training activities for cycling has been shown in research to be weight lifting—especially heavy loads with low reps. But even then the movement must simulate cycling. Doing curls or even knee extensions won’t be of much benefit. Compound (multi-joint) strength-building exercises such as squats, step ups, and lunges come quite close to replicating the muscle activity on a bike.

The other issue is periodization. When should you do cross training activities and to what extent? There’s nothing in the way of research I’ve seen on this. My 35-years of experience as a coach and athlete tells me, however, that the closer you get to a targeted event, the more like the event your training must become. [Also true for motocross. - VT] So the other side of this coin is that the farther away in time your event is, the less like the event your training can be. All of this suggests that cross training is best done many weeks and even months before the event. In common periodization-speak that would be the “base” period. But in the “build” period (last 12 or so weeks leading up to the event) you should make your training increasingly like the demands of the event. That implies cutting back on cross training in the build period. How much you do of it is determined by how lofty your performance goals are. For example, I can guarantee you that you won’t see a pro Tour de France GC contender running, swimming, or XC skiing in the last few weeks before the event starts. It would have to be an extremely unusual circumstance (perhaps an injury that precludes riding) for that to happen. And it would be a sure death knell for his race performance with such a lofty goal.

So bottom line is, some cross training is ok, especially well in advance of a high-goal event, but less so in the final few weeks. [Great advice for the motocross athlete. - VT]

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
    John Sherry April 17, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    I have a question I'm a 60 year old x a rider I've fallen into something I don't know how to fix I have the look down sydrone in apex of corners look at roots rocks etc I have blacken the bottom of my googles tied cords to my helmet and rode across 2x6 to help myself look ahead but I go back to looking for gold in every turn I know what I'm doing but don't know how to stop it I can remember riding with guys that would see everything on the track and I would not remember seeing any of this I am a veteran of the great black water 100 any help would be greatly appreciated

  2. Gravatar
    Kirk April 26, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    I don't consider myself an expert, but I struggle with this same issue from time to time. What helps me is slowing down and making it my number 1 priority to practice looking ahead instead of going fast, etc. Then when I go back to normal pace it becomes more of a reflex. Practice enough and it will become a habit.

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 27, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I'll make sure Gary Bailey sees this. Maybe the Professor can help!

  4. Gravatar
    Professor Bailey April 27, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    First of all I would be sure that your visor is up high enough. I have seen this problem before and so many times the riders visor is so low it's hard to look ahead. Without doing a lot of guessing if I could see a picture or two of you riding that would help a lot to be able to determine what the problem is. Also does this problem exist when you're standing and sitting or just one or the other?

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