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Forearm Training for Motocross

by Coach Seiji

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If you are doing hand/forearm exercises like the popular one shown above, read and understand why this is NOT recommended for motocross.

Forearm specific strength training – Do it, don’t do it, what to do, what devices to use, etc. Especially for beginners, questions and concerns about forearm specific strength training can be pretty common. My personal recommendations follow and they might surprise you.

For both elite level riders and weekend warrior types, I don’t recommend forearm specific strength training at all. Before you start to stammer “Why not,” let me provide some explanation.

The first reason I don’t prescribe forearm specific strength training has to do with work load. Work is defined by the simplest of physics equations:

W (work) = F (force) x D (distance)

The amount of force a muscle can produce is dependent on its cross sectional area, basically the size of the muscle. Of all the muscles utilized at a high rate during motocross riding, the forearm muscles are amongst the smallest. This means that the forearm muscles can handle a relatively small amount of total work compared to say the quadriceps muscles of the thigh or the gluteus muscles of the hip.

Say the elite level rider rides 3 to 4 days per week and does strength training and cardio on top of that. Training produces positive results when the stress of training overloads the system and then recovery allows it to build up to stronger levels to accommodate the repeated stresses. The most important aspect of training for any motocross competitor is the actual motorcycle riding. So the elite rider, whom we can assume has a rather large base of motocross specific training, stresses the forearm muscles 3 to 4 times per week while riding and during weight lifting. This is a high frequency of forearm specific stress and the rider manages to partially recover between these stresses and fully recovers during planned recovery periods. Basically, his or her forearm muscles are stressed at high frequency, at high loads, but the elite rider has the base, training background, and recovery capacity to not have any negative effects on the actual motocross riding. The forearm muscles receive adequate stress loads and recovery periods to keep positive changes coming consistently.

The weekend warrior is strangely in a similar situation, but in a much different way. This rider has a regular job and probably only gets to go out and ride 1 to 2 days per week on the weekends only. Of course, he or she is going to ride as much as possible during these sessions. This is a high forearm specific load, but at a lower frequency. He or she may also lift weights during the week, adding another forearm specific stress. Unfortunately, this rider doesn’t have the same huge base of motocross specific training and fitness as an elite level rider. His or her overall fitness level is lower, thus reducing the recovery capacity. The weekend riding plus the possible weekday strength training provides a forearm specific training load that is barely manageable in recovery in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the weekend’s riding. Remember that all of this is regarding the musculature that has about the smallest capacity for workload of all the muscles being used while riding.


The same principle applies to the forearm muscle. If the wrist or hand is moving - Isotonic. If the wrist or hand is stationary (gripping) - Isometric

Another reason that I don’t recommend forearm specific training has to do with the nature of forearm muscle contractions during actual riding. The forearm muscles are used in a static length. The muscle fibers stay at the same length while they generate various amounts of force. This is called an isometric contraction. Both the wrist and fingers are used in fixed positions. You would have to mimic this isometric contraction at the identical muscle fiber length to specifically train these muscles for motocross. Any training that causes shortening of the muscles (as in “regular” strength training where you move a joint) is not specifically addressing the way these muscles are used while riding. Gains on the bike would be very limited if you had any gains at all. Most forearm devices involve shortening of the muscles while force is being applied (isotonic contractions) which isn’t how they are used on the bike. However, this is the way these muscles are used during strength training exercises that involve free weights where you have to hold the weights (barbells, dumbbells). In other words, when lifting weights, the forearm muscle is put in a condition of isometric contraction due to the nature of grasping the bar, dumbbell, or handle to move the load.

The only time that I prescribe isometric forearm exercises is when a seasoned rider who usually rides 3 to 4 days per week misses out on riding for say a week due to some reason. A session of strength training that involves forearm specific training is simply replacing the forearm stress load of a motocross riding session. It isn’t adding to the weekly frequency, intensity, or total weekly workload compared to a regular training week. Recovery would be adequate to prevent negative effects on the next motocross riding session.

In conclusion the fundamental reasons behind not prescribing forearm specific strength training have to do with:

  1. The total amount of work load these muscles can accommodate without negatively affecting the actual motocross riding.
  2. The specific nature of the muscle contraction of these muscles while riding.

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.

Thanks for reading and keep up the hard (and smart) work out there!

About the Author: Seiji Ishii is the head coach of www.coachseiji.com. Coachseiji.com provides online coaching and personal training services to motorsports athletes. Coach Seiji has worked with both pros and elite amateurs including: Heath Voss, Ryan Clark, Austin Stroupe, PJ Larsen, Hunter Hewitt, Drew Yenerich, Rusty Potter, Jason Anderson, and Andrew Short. Learn more at coachseiji.com or contact Coach Seiji 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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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    NorCal Doug June 04, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Coach Seiji,
    Thanks for the tips. I ride one to two times per week and do a cross-fit style class three to four times per week (non-moto specific). My job has me in front of a computer most of the day. The cross-fit class includes a lot of pull ups, kettle-bell swings, squats, kettle-bell presses, ring rows, and rowing. Lately the trainer has had me concluding the work out by swinging a mace, which is a four foot pipe with a 20 lb weight on the end, about 200 times. The swing is accomplished by starting with the pipe held vertically in front of you with both hands with the weight towards the ceiling. If your right hand is on top, you push the top of the weight to your left and let it swing down behind your body passing from left to right, then you complete the swing by pulling the weight around your right shoulder and back to the starting position. While doing this exercise, I get the same burn in my forearms as I get from arm pump. I have been wondering if this exercise will help to alleviate arm pump while riding, or would make it worse. Based on your article, it sounds like this exercise will not help to alleviate arm pump while riding, and will likely result in my forearm muscles being overstressed from not having enough time to recover. In my scenario, would you agree?
    Thanks!
    NorCal Doug

  2. Gravatar
    wiggo June 05, 2015 at 10:52 am

    For training my grip for motocross,I sit and padle ligth on a stationary bike.Then I have a 3,5 kg (7,5 pound) dumbell in each hand that I just twist and flip fore about 5 minutes,then I hold on hard to the bar for 5 minutes,and then back too the dumbells again...You can switch between dumbells and gripping the bars for the amount of time your moto last or longer...This exersice work!!!

  3. Gravatar
    Coach Seiji June 09, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Actually both of you are describing exercises that ARE isometric: the muscle length does not change while tension is being applied so you are training the correct type of contraction. To be even more specific you would also want the same diameter of grip, including your gloves.

    One thing you want to have an awareness about is how hard you are contracting. Ideally you should be using the least force necessary in any circumstance to maintain your grip. In strength training, it happens a lot as the effort of the lift goes up, so does the amount of force being applied even though the needed force remains the same. It is a motor pattern based on subjective effort, not actual force required, so pay attention to that when lifting, especially in CrossFit. The load remains the same, just because the overall effort might go up in the set or as the time domain strings along, the force required is the same. During a moto, this force changes all the time, I am just trying to reinforce that you want to avoid the motor pattern of increasing your grip force just because your overall effort goes up.

    Hope this makes sense. I am also saying all this assuming you don't ride enough times during the week to have a negative impact from these workouts. If you think about it, you are actually following exactly the main points of the article.

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