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Injury Prevention Training for Motocross

by Luke Duncan

The squat is one of the many tried and true strength exercises.

Motocross is and always will be a high-risk activity. Longevity in the sport is largely determined by how well you can keep yourself from getting beat up on the track (for most people, that mean’s keeping the rubber-side down). Even the best riders are prone to crash eventually though. This supercross season has already produced a couple of wild wipeouts involving Trey Canard, Ryan Morais, & Chad Reed. Seasoned fans will also conjure up the memorable get-off Chad had at Millville last year.

The only thing you can really do is put as many cards in your favor as possible. That means wearing all the proper safety equipment and making sure that your bike is tuned up well.

To really improve your chances, there’s one more thing you can do though. I’ve said over & over that the main reason motocross athletes (or any other athlete for that matter) should train is for injury prevention. I quantify injury prevention into 2 different categories:

  1. Range of Motion
  2. Tissue Density

Range of Motion
The foundation of all injury prevention & pre-hab work is a focus on having a large functional range of motion. There’s two sub-categories that comprise range of motion: mobility & flexibility. By mobility, I’m referring to the range of motion of the body’s skeletal mass and by flexibility, the range of motion of the body’s soft-tissue mass (muscle & connective tissue). I consider mobility training to be more important than flexibility training, but they both hold their share of weight in a proper program. The reason I give priority to mobility is because flexibility is often inhibited not by the limits of the muscle itself, but rather the joint(s) it’s attached to (due to improper skeletal alignments). If you improve your mobility, in other words re-align your skeleton, the joints can move through a greater range of motion allowing your soft-tissues to return to their natural positions. This can be further improved by incorporating specific stretching in certain problem areas if necessary.

  1. Range of motion is important for a couple reasons. First, having a large range of motion allows you to move more freely on the motorcycle. An important part of riding fast is being relaxed. If you’re too tense, you can’t react to the bike or the terrain quickly enough to stay in control at high speeds. Inability to move around in the saddle will make you tense up on the bike and use bad technique. You might be able to squat double your bodyweight or run 5 miles, but if your riding technique sucks, you’ll still be slow.
  2. Second, when you crash, having a large range of motion across your body gives more wiggle room for you to move before you hyperextend a joint or a muscle. For example, if you have some stiff shoulders, they have less room for error in a crash before they become dislocated. A large range of motion can be the difference between getting back on the bike or going to the hospital.

Tissue Density
Tissue density refers to the amount of material that makes up the musculoskeletal tissues of your body. It’s not necessarily a reference to the size of these tissues, rather just how much material is packed in them. Having high bone density is important because you’ll be less likely to have a break or fracture. Think of the martial artists who break bricks and kick down trees; if the average person tried that, they’d probably walk away with at least some hairline fractures in the respective areas. These guys (and gals) however have a much higher than average bone density, so they can withstand much greater trauma than the average person. In a similar manner, high soft-tissue density makes you less likely to have a pull or tear.

Both of these attributes are developed in response to loads placed on the body. They can be static loads (such as the load experienced in weight lifting) or they can be dynamic loads (i.e., impacts, the loads experienced in jumping, running, climbing, etc.). Continued exposure to above-average loads will develop tissue density.

How to Train for Injury Prevention
Having outlined the basics of injury prevention and why they’re relevant, let’s discuss how to train for it. The best way I’ve found to incorporate both of these is through a proper strength-training program. Some need to begin with mobility-specific work before moving into a strength program (and, quite frankly, everyone should be doing it in some capacity), but for most normal healthy people, they can begin with a basic strength program. The reason I advocate this method is because you can train everything all at once. A program based around frequent use of compound strength exercises done through a full range of motion will not only increase or maintain one’s mobility, but will strengthen the tissues around the working joints simultaneously, essentially teaching the body to hold itself together at the extremes of its movement patterns where it is most vulnerable.

One exercise that should be incorporated in some capacity into the routines of all athletes is the squat. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a loaded squat, but a variation in which you can move properly and comfortably while achieving full depth. Being able to do this is as close to a guarantee of high lower-body mobility and strength as you can get. Other favorites of mine are basic calisthenic exercises like chins, pushups, walking lunges, hanging leg raises, dips, & bridges. These are great because they’re accessible to everybody, they’re easy to teach, and they have a low risk-factor compared to other forms of strength training.

More advanced trainees or trainees under proper supervision can also incorporate barbell training. The basic barbell exercises (squat, deadlift, & press) have been the foundation for athletes the world over for more than a century. What makes them so effective is that they incorporate large amounts of muscle mass in a way that reinforces the structural integrity of the human body, something you don’t necessarily get with other implements like dumbbells or kettlebells.

The goal of this strength training is not outright strength (as in powerlifting or Olympic lifting), nor is it outright hypertrophy (as in bodybuilding). So you don’t need to worry about spending 2 hours in the weight room training to failure all the time. The goal is to develop the strength of the body’s tissues through a large range of motion. The most important thing is to focus on the quality of the rep rather than how heavy they are or many of them you can do. Technique in training is just as important as technique in riding. All exercises should be done through a full range of motion, occasionally working up to maximal sets in which proper technique can be maintained. For bodyweight movements, this means a set where you do as many reps as possible before you can no longer do strict technique; for barbell exercises, a set where you use the maximum load you can under the same conditions.

With the foundation accounted for, mobility & flexibility work can be incorporated around the ends of your strength workout. If you feel the need to stretch, do so at the end of your workout when you’re warmed up and most elastic. An effective way to incorporate mobility work is in your warmup. Exercises like arm circles, arm swings, high knees, hip circles, spinal rocks, dislocations, pull-aparts, & jumping jacks loosen up your body while also increasing circulation (something that stretching doesn’t do). If you have a length of PVC pipe or a medicine ball, you can also incorporate soft-tissue rolling before your workout.

A sample training day may look something like this:

Soft Tissue Rolling x 5-10 minutes

Barbell Squats – 5 sets (reverse pyramid) x 5/3/2/2/1 reps

A1. Chins – 5-10 sets x sub-maximal reps
A2. Pushups – 5-10 sets x sub-maximal reps
A3. Walking Lunges – 5-10 sets x sub-maximal distance

Cool down
Stretching x 10-15 minutes

The total time for something like this would probably be between 45-75 minutes depending on how fast you did it. The use of sub-maximal reps ensures that you don’t get sloppy with your technique and also makes the workout easier to recover from. There aren’t really any significant benefits of going to failure in our case anyway since this is not intended for bodybuilding or powerlifting.

When you’re out on the track or trail, don’t allow yourself to be the victim of circumstance. Take control of your body give yourself the best chance possible to walk away from whatever lies in wait. Your racing career or your life could depend on it. Until next time…

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.

About the Author: Luke Duncan is the author of “Layman’s Strength," a blog site directed towards the aspirations of real world people and their concerns. A Certified Fitness Trainer with the I.S.S.A. and a Los Angeles County certified E.M.T. from 2008-2010, he is a health & fitness enthusiast with a passion for helping people realize their fitness & lifestyle goals in the most efficient, sustainable, & commonsense-way possible. He has ridden motorcycles since the age of 6 and currently produces motocross & other action-sports’ related content for D-Squared Images.

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
    Jason Brooks April 05, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I'd like to get your opinion on how effective CrossFit type workouts are for motocross/supercross athletes? I've started doing some of the CrossFit workouts and have found them very challenging from both a strength and cardio perspective because the exercises are done one after the other for around 15-20 minutes total.

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 05, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Without getting into the argument of good and bad Crossfit affiliates, I think Crossfit provides exactly what this article is talking about. For the most part, Crossfit builds a pretty muscular athlete. In my opinion, MX athletes should be built like a linebacker in football not a wide receiver. There is absolutely no reason a more muscular guy cannot have enough endurance to run a moto.

    So to answer your question more concisely. Yes crossfit is great.

  3. Gravatar
    JImboMX374 April 05, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Good stuff as always Tim !

    Is tissue density genetic ? If not how could you develop more mass or is that acomplised with strengt traing ?


  4. Gravatar
    Joel Younkins April 05, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Hypertrophy is determined by genetics but can be trained through bodybuilding type exercises ranging from reps 6-12 reps. You can also increase muscle mass from time under tension with your main lifts. So either shorter rest intervals or tempos on your lifts.

  5. Gravatar
    Greg DiRenzo April 05, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Crossfit for MX? Really? Although I think it is challenging and demanding, I do not believe it it a good training modality for MX at all, in my opinion..... Or for any sport really - besides Crossfit. And as Tim so delicately mentioned, each Crossfit affiliate can make or break the athlete. The men and women you see on tv at the Crossfit games are truly freaks of nature, but they would be and most have been before Crossfit came around. Not enough room here to debate Crossfit honestly, but when you look at the methodology and principles Crossfit is using or trying to use, isn't it really just interval training with max effort? Shouldn't you do that doing things/exercises that use proper progression? Maybe even throw in a little neurological development on complex motor patterns and movements before you try to take on the world.... Just my .02 cents. :)

  6. Gravatar
    Joel Younkins April 06, 2012 at 5:46 am

    X2 Greg! I'm working on an article right now in which I think you will like...

  7. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 06, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Greg and Joel - I am 100% in your corner on all of this. I have been looking and doing Crossfit-type workouts for 3 years now. Well, scratch that. I have been doing Corssfit-type workouts for the past 15 years. Crossfit is definitely a viable modality for motocross at certain points in the season. It is not the be-all end-all of training. Its really nothing more than HIT training just done in a different way. Coach Seiji is one of the smartest dudes I've met when it come to knowing his shit on training. He likes it and is using it at times with Short. Like any good trainer, he takes what he likes and uses that for his riders.

    I would also add that some Crossfit affiliates are bad.....just like local gyms. I've been to plenty of gyms where the "trainers" don't know their ass from a hole in the ground. So to say that Crossfit has a problem with some of their affiliates is really saying nothing more than Crossfit has the same problem most gyms have.

  8. Gravatar
    Greg DiRenzo April 06, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Tim - what? You mean to tell me that there are trainers that don't know what they are doing? For Pete's sake man, they have a certification paper that says they are a trainer!!! LOL!

    (with all that said there are some good Crossfit facilities out there; and I have never hired a bad trainer.....ok that last one was a lie)

    Joel - looking forward to reading it!

  9. Gravatar
    Eddie casillas April 07, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Crossfit is to the fitness industry as Krispy Kreme was to the donut industry. Started out as niche business gained popularity with good marketing and then imploded because of greed.
    Crossfit is becoming what it hates the most. A Global Gym. Just like Curves you can't drive two miles without seeing one.
    Does anyone remember Step Aerobics and Spinning? Both these programs developed competitions much like the Crossfit games.
    Oh and don't forget to wear your super cush Reebok shoes when you Crossfit.
    I bet that's going over well with the OG's of Crossfit.
    To say you only use parts of Crossfit is not doing Crossfit.
    A professional studies the sciences kinesiology, physiology, anatomy, etc. stays current with peer-reviewed research and is as able to do a needs analysis of a sport, performs appropriate testing in order to devise a program that will provide the athlete with the greatest potential for development.
    An true professional does not need cook book training systems such as Crossfit.

  10. Gravatar
    Jordan April 09, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    By sub maximal are you saying the most you can do with out compromising form for 5-10 sets?

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