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Off-Season Training Analysis

by Aldon Baker

Off-Season Training - Not Just for the Pros
Ryan Villopoto knows all about off season training. Just ask his competition.

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Off-season training has been covered quite extensively over the last month or so here on Virtual Trainer, but I still wanted to give my opinion on why I think it is so important and offer some insider secrets on how I train my athletes during this period.  The off-season is definitely the time to really get your program dialed in by evaluating what you have done in the past and making improvements towards the future.  It is also the time for aerobic base training.  Whether you are a Weekend Warrior who races once a month or a Factory rider, the off-season is where you can make huge advances in your racing.  It is pretty easy for the average Joe to understand how a Professional rider or fast local guy can benefit from a good off-season training program. But what is not so easily understood is how a guy who is admittedly out of shape, races every other weekend and only rides for fun can benefit from the same type of training. To me it is obvious how a guy in this category can benefit from off-season training and even more obvious how the off-season is the best time for him to start doing something about his fitness. Training, even modest amounts, will certainly translate into a more enjoyable experience when you venture to the race track this spring and summer.  Even being in just slightly better condition than the previous year will certainly lead to fewer mistakes during a race (i.e. better results), a higher likelihood of bouncing back after a hard fall (especially for the older guys), and shorter recovery time so that when you head back to work on Monday you don’t feel like you have been run over by a truck!

Step 1: Evaluate the Past and Plan for the Future
Even though my experience has been with guys at the elite level in motocross, the general guidelines and philosophies translate even for the most modest of weekend warrior.  One thing that we do as professionals that I’m not sure the average Joe does is to keep a log of our race results.  In this log, I make notes about the race weekend and keep track of the things that we did well and the situations that kept us from performing at our best. I also log our training that coincided with the race.  At the end of the year I review the logs and look for trends on things that we need to work on. I believe everyone can benefit from keeping logs. With this type of information, it is easy to look back and see where you were strong and where you need improvement. Training logs are nothing new, people have been keeping them for a long time, but I think they are way under utilized when coupled with race results.

To really elevate your race program you need to be able to determine where your mistakes are coming from.  You may find that you make mistakes on the bike due to lack of fitness, endurance or intensity, which is all training related or you may find that you make mistakes because of poor form on the bike.  By keeping a race log, you can go back over a season and pinpoint exactly what you should be working on most in the off-season. I do this with all my guys.  Even though the off-season is extremely short for my guys, we always take the time to reflect on their strengths and weakness over the season and then formulate a plan of attack for the upcoming year. For us, the off-season is just about the only time when we can string enough weeks together on the training side to really benefit from training, recover from injuries, and just clear our heads for the upcoming season.

Step 2: Aerobic Base Training
From Left to Right: Aldon Baker, Blake Baggett, Ryan Villopoto, Tyla Rattray, Jake Weimer
The other area that I believe is very important and not well understood by the average guy is aerobic base training. Think of this type of training as the foundation to a pyramid.  The broader the base the taller the pyramid can be built, which is equivalent to how long and hard you can go.  Without a wide base the pyramid cannot be very tall which is equivalent to being gassed after a few laps. By increasing your anaerobic threshold, you'll be able to race at a higher intensity and for longer periods of time with less fatigue.

Since I’ve started working with James, we have really been focusing on broadening his aerobic base for the upcoming season. We are doing this by avoiding the interval training that we will use later in the year and utilizing less intense, longer training periods. The problem most guys have with this type of training is that they have become so accustomed to beating their bodies up by training really hard (think interval training), that when they bring the intensity down for aerobic base training, they feel like they aren’t working hard enough and end up pushing too hard.  I think this is an area where a lot of amateurs get it wrong. There is definitely a time for long, moderate exercise and the off-season is that time.  Along with strength training, this type of anaerobic threshold training is extremely important no matter what your level of fitness or riding ability.

Raising your Anaerobic Threshold (also known as the lactate threshold (LT)), is extremely important for the motocross athlete. The LT is the exercise intensity at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the blood stream.  This happens when Lactic Acid is produced faster than it can be removed. This point is referred to as the anaerobic threshold, or the onset of blood lactate accumulation. When exercising below the LT intensity any lactate produced by the muscles is removed by the body without it building up. The lactate threshold is a useful measure for deciding exercise intensity for training and racing in motocross, and can be increased greatly with training.  Simply put, the more efficient your body is at burning oxygen the harder and longer you can go before you feel like you are out of gas and the only way to increase your anaerobic threshold is by doing long aerobic type training.

The Sixty Four Thousand Dollar Questions….How Long, How Often, How Intense?
Knowing what base training is and why you should do it is fine, but if you don’t know how to implement the method, then that knowledge is pretty useless.  Let’s address each question individually.

----> "What is the best form of exercise to use for aerobic base training?" Personally, I like to use the road bike with my athletes but you can use any other type of cardio exercise, like running, swimming, riding a stationary bike or another one of my favorites, rowing. The key is to find an activity you like so you raise your odds of sticking with it.

----> "How intense should my workouts be?" Aerobic base workouts should remain in the 70 – 80% of maximum heart rate zone.  To ensure that intensity levels are not exceeded, I highly recommend the use of a heart rate monitor. If you have never used a heart rate monitor or have no idea what your heart rate training zones are, here is a good calculator for estimating your heart rate training zones. My article on Heart Rate Training goes into further detail about how to calculate your zones and what it all means. (You can also enter “heart rate” in the Virtual Trainer search field to read other articles that go into more depth regarding heart rate zones).

----> "How long should my workouts be?" As a general rule of thumb, I like to use the formula of 4 times the length of your race when determining the length of your workouts.  So, for my professional athletes with a race time of 40 minutes, that equates to base training rides around two to three hours in length. If your races are 15 minutes in length, that equates to a ride of 1 hour.

----> "How many times per week should I train like this?" I recommend doing long aerobic workouts three times a week in conjunction with strength training at least two times per week during your off-season.

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. Results start here.

I feel off-season training is one of the most important periods in the MX athlete's season. It's during this time of the year when great gains can be made for all levels and types of riders.  In no other period of the season is the athlete willing to devote large chunks of time to developing key systems like the aerobic, muscular and nervous systems. Once into the Pre-Season and Race Season phase the athlete becomes totally focused on race-specific fitness, which is as it should be.  Unfortunately, many MX athletes short change their off-season training by jumping ahead and making it sort of a mini-Pre Season period by doing anaerobic intervals and generally race-type workouts. What a shame. Most never realize what they are missing in their seasonal preparation and could be so much more fit if they took advantage of the gains that could be made by developing a good aerobic base, increasing their overall strength through strength training and of course evaluating the previous years program and planning for the upcoming year.  That’s it for now, until next month thanks for reading and good luck with your training!

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
    Austin Stauffacher January 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Hey, aldon my names Austin Stauffacher. I will b racing the pro am class this year in the atva nationals
    I was just wondering, how often shld I be lifting weights n. Running

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer January 20, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Austin - generally speaking two days of strength 4 of cardio and riding. But as general as your question is it's hard to give a specific question.

    Have you looked at the free training offered on the site by Coach Seiji. It would be a great program for you to follow. It is a periodized strength and cardio program that will help set you on the right path. Good luck and hope this helps.

  3. Gravatar
    Jim February 26, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    I race cross country races. They range from 2-2.5 hours. Does that mean when I train I should be training for 8-10 hours? Seems like a long time if you use the 4 times rule.

  4. Gravatar
    Jim February 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Sorry, forgot to say thanks for such a great site.

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 18, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Jim - For sure, no you would not train that long. Check the forum and do a search on this topic. This question has been addressed over there.

  6. Gravatar
    Nick January 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    What amount of comparison of sympathetic vs parasympathetic recovery analysis and efficiency should there be in motocross related training?

  7. Gravatar
    Mike February 14, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks for all the expert guideance Aldon. I'm 58 and race hare scrambles and MX. After a race I feel like a truck hit me for 2-3 days. How much time should I take for recovery before starting to work out again after a race weekend?

  8. Gravatar
    Mike Hague March 07, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Hello, I was just wondering how often should I be training on the dirt bike?

  9. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 07, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Mike - You should be riding your dirt bike as often as possible. The best way to train for motocross is to ride!

  10. Gravatar
    Nick Ragland September 03, 2013 at 11:37 am

    All of these workouts seem great but how do you alter them for off road (enduros and hare scrambles)

  11. Gravatar
    Barak Aljasmi May 22, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Thank you Aldon and the RacerX crew for this amazing article. I am just confused about something. Since training on the bike is the most important, Is it a good idea to make riding at the same day of cycling (3 days a week) and make the other days for Strength training ? Thank you

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