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Foundations for Getting Faster

by Coach Seiji


Part of the powerful allure of motocross is the challenge of getting faster. You have no doubt put in endless hours at the track and you may have spent much time and effort training for cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and flexibility. The average motocross rider is not at all afraid of hard work and a common "training plan" is "go harder, get faster." This credo can produce results in the short term especially to those new to the sport; but the more interested you are in producing sustainable improvements, the more imperative it is to use the most powerful tool in your training arsenal: your brain! Once you have transitioned from not just training harder but training smarter, improvements to your riding become planned and expected, not just a haphazard wait and see game.

The first step in training smarter is actively seeking out knowledge about training and you are already on your way browsing through the many excellent resources here at Racer X’s Virtual Trainer. This search for knowledge usually begins with the "how’s" and "what’s" of motocross training but you should really search for the "why’s." You can easily find training regiments to follow and exercises to incorporate into your program but it is the smart rider that also knows why things are done. This deeper understanding of your training will provide clarity and direction in your training as you will know how each training activity contributes to your goals. Your long term motivation will be much improved as your path to your goals will be much clearer and you will be assured that you are moving in the right direction every day.

Think of intensity as a powerful drug: the correct dose at the correct time can produce the desired result. Too much of it or incorrect timing can produce detrimental effects.

Motocross training may consist of riding laps, lifting weights, running, cycling and other exercise activities. All these components that could make up your program must all follow the same scientific principles in order to continually improve your overall motocross riding. Broken down into the simplest terms training pretty much looks like this:

The Overload Principle

Apply stress to body → break down body systems → accumulate fatigue → recover from fatigue → supercompensate → apply higher levels of stress to body → repeat cycle until reaching peak of fitness.

The stress you apply to your body during training is called workload. Workload is composed of the following elements:

  1. Frequency: how often you work out. The correct frequency depends on both ability level and where you are in the training year. A beginner may ride at the track twice per week and an expert may be able to ride at the track four times per week. In both cases, the frequency is correct for that particular rider. Frequency goes up as the training year progresses to increase total workload but goes down before a big event to allow proper recovery.
  2. Duration: how long you workout. This varies by day of the week, by time of the training year and by ability level. Early in the training year you may want to ride trails at a low intensity but for a long duration to stress riding endurance. At other times of the year closer to your peak you may want to ride 3 laps at faster than race pace which is very short duration in comparison. All this depends on what specific area of fitness you are working on that day.
  3. Intensity: The most important element of workload to hit correctly. Simply stated, this is how hard you go. On the motorcycle this is measured through a system called Rating of Perceived Exertion. During cardiovascular activity it is measured by heart rate or power output (in cycling). In the gym it is measured by the weight you are lifting. Intensity is the element that can cause the most positive change when administered correctly but can also cause the most damage to your season should you have an intensity overdose. You can have the correct frequency, the exact right duration, but if you blow intensity it won’t matter. Beware!

A successful motocross training program consists of:

Planned cycles of the overload principle where the three elements of workload are progressively changed to produce an increasing fitness level leading to a season peak.

Training Intensity

Intensity is the element of training workload that is the most easily abused and the most difficult to administer correctly. Think of intensity as a powerful drug: the correct dose at the correct time can produce the desired result. Too much of it or incorrect timing can produce detrimental effects. How much intensity, when it is applied in relation to your important events and how to recover from bouts of intensity are the most crucial pieces in the training puzzle.

One of the most important rules of training is to train moderately. This is to ensure that you can go really hard on your hard days because you are actually going easy on your easy days. The most common error that athletes make in training is that they go too hard on the easy days turning the hard days into mediocre days at best. Quantifying intensity is the only way you can consistently use the correct intensity of training so you can make expected performance gains by making those hard days really count.

Intensity and Body Fuels

Measurement of training intensity is really an estimation of the ratio of fuels your body is using to perform at that moment. There are two fuels that your body uses for energy production: Fats (FAT) and Carbohydrate (CHO). Similar to the air/fuel mixture your engine uses, FAT and CHO are used as a mixture in various ratios depending on how hard you are going. These two fuels are used by your muscles to produce something called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the actual energy providing molecule your body needs to perform work. ATP is the energy "currency" that can be used by all cells in your body. The food you eat and the air you breathe are converted to this universally accepted energy currency.

At lower levels of exertion your body can produce ATP via aerobic metabolism. Aerobic means "with oxygen" and this combined with a fuel mixture of mostly FAT and less CHO produces ATP for your working muscles with no harmful by-products. As your intensity increases the proportion of CHO in your fuel mixture increases while the proportion of FAT decreases. The faster you ride, the more "rich" your mixture becomes with CHO and "leans" out on the FAT proportion. One goal of a training program is to increase the efficiency at which you produce ATP via mostly FAT metabolism and increase the intensity at which you can continue to ride using this metabolism and push back the level at which you start to need a more CHO rich fuel mixture. This allows you to perform using the fuel that has more storage capacity and does not produce harmful by-products.

When you reach a very high level of intensity your body switches from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism. Anaerobic means "without oxygen" and at this high level of exertion your body’s need for ATP surpasses its ability to produce it with only oxygen. Your fuel mixture is heavily biased towards CHO and very little FAT is being used to produce the ATP. This anaerobic metabolism produces a negative by-product called lactic acid which is dumped into the muscles and produces the burning sensation and heaviness which if not counteracted will eventually cause you to drastically slow down or stop. When the lactic acid leaves your muscle cells and enters your bloodstream it loses a hydrogen molecule to become lactate. A major goal of a training program is to increase the efficiency at which your body can remove the lactic acid from your muscles and neutralize the lactate in your bloodstream.

The measurement of training intensity must be consistent from day to day in order to be useful. This means the smart MX’er must practice measuring intensity daily and be honest with him/herself during the measurement process. Intensity of motocross riding can be measured through the Borg rating of perceived exertion.

Rating of Perceived Exertion or RPE

The Borg rating of perceived exertion has been in use in sports testing venues all over the world for a very long time. It is a simple method of self rating the intensity of exercise you are doing. Although subjective it is the most practical option in motocross for measuring training intensity as there are too many uncontrollable variables that make other methods of measurement inconsistent: track prep, temperature, etc. Elite athletes become very adept and consistent when using this scale to self report training intensity and you can too. Practicing the use of the Borg RPE scale will allow quick measurements at any riding area in any condition.

Rating of Perceived Exertion

- RPE - Description
6 Recovery - Very, very light
7 Recovery
8 Recovery
9 Extensive Endurance - Very Light
10 Extensive Endurance - Fairly Light
11 Extensive Endurance
12 Intensive Endurance - Fairly Light
13 Intensive Endurance - Somewhat Hard
14 Intensive Endurance
15 Threshold
16 Threshold - Hard
17 Anaerobic Endurance
18 Anaerobic Endurance - Very Hard
19 Power - Very Hard
20 Power - Very, very Hard
To help equate these zones, here are some more familiar comparisons specific to MX:
RPE 17 would be what you would ride if you were told to ride a 20-minute moto as hard as you could go but holding equal lap times every lap.
Trail riding for 2 hours at a comfortable pace just for fun with friends would fall somewhere in the RPE range of 9-11.
A one hour hare scrambles event would clock in at RPE 16-17.
A two-minute all out sprint to catch the rider ahead of you for the moto win would be RPE 19-20.

With constant use of the RPE scale it becomes very consistent and accurate for you as an individual rider and it will prove to be in invaluable tool in helping you control the most important aspect of training load.

Measuring Cardiovascular Exercise Intensity

Training intensity during cardiovascular exercise is easily measured by heart rate. Intensity during cycling can now be measured in power (watts) due to the advent of power meters. Both of these intensity measuring methods requires that you create your own personal intensity scale (training heart rate zones or training power zones) by administering a test to find out at what heart rate or wattage your body currently starts accumulating lactate in the bloodstream faster than it can neutralize it (Lactate Threshold; an example of this test was covered in a prior installment to Virtual Trainer). With the tools of the RPE scale and your heart rate monitor or power meter you can now measure and moderate the most important factor of training workload during all your motocross training activities.

Hopefully this article has provided a big "why" of training as well as an important "how" to go with it. Understanding the overload principle and the measurement of intensity are cornerstones of a solid training program and will serve you well into the future as your riding improves. You are well on your way to training smarter, not just harder!!! Keep that helmet on to protect that valuable training tool that lurks inside!

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About the Author: Seiji Ishii is the head coach of 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 Yenerch, Rusty Potter, Jason Anderson, and Andrew Short. Learn more at or contact Coach Seiji directly. 031507

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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    ACBR February 03, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    Great article, thanks!

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