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Offroad Training: Better Starts with Interval Training

by Troy Ross


Question: I want to improve the first 5-10 minutes of my off-road race. What are some good workouts to do?

The start of most off-road motorcycle races are certainly an important piece and are more critical than any other 5-10 minute segment of the entire race duration. You have the best chance at the beginning of the race to pass the most riders! Establishing your race position early will allow you to settle into your rhythm without having to charge or chase down your competition later in the race. However, it is also critical that you don’t start off too hard since it is possible to negatively affect the rest of the race if you go too hard too soon. Knowing yourself and what you are capable of doing will help you to figure out how hard to go at the start of your next race. Fortunately, by training for race starts you also learn just how hard you can go and how various intensities affect your ability to withstand such an effort over the entire race.

During the first 5-10 minutes of the race you will rely heavily upon your VO2Max fitness (max effort). How hard you’re able to go and how quickly you can recover from such intensity depends upon how well you’ve developed your maximum aerobic capacity. By doing more VO2Max (max effort) training you’ll be able to withstand more time spent above your aerobic threshold and you’ll also recover more rapidly from such efforts. Below is an outline of a few workout examples that will help target improvement to your fitness at VO2Max. These workouts can be performed by; cycling, rowing machine, elliptical machine or running. So take your pick and mix it up to keep in interesting.

# of Sets
# of Intervals
Interval Duration
Rest Duration
Interval Intensity
Rest Intensity
1 5-7 3 Minutes
3 Minutes 9 or 10 RPE
<5 RPE, Easy
1 4-5 4 Minutes
4 Minutes 9 or 10 RPE <5 RPE, Easy
2-3 6-10 30 Seconds
30 Seconds 9 or 10 RPE 6 or 7 RPE

RPE = Rate of Perceived Exertion, using a 1-10 scale with 1 being easiest effort and 10 being a max effort

There are two types of VO2Max workouts that I recommend:

  1. Continuous work intervals followed by full recovery of the same duration. This is common interval training that most are familiar with; go hard for a set time, then recover fully for a set time before repeating.
  2. Intermittent training will have you change the intensity numerous times prior to taking a full rest.  The intensity level will vary between VO2Max and Tempo meaning that the sequence will eventually become very challenging.

Continuous work intervals are difficult right from the first set, however the intermittent workout allows you to build into it before the workload really becomes challenging. Both VO2Max training workouts will be effective so be sure to try and include both in your racing fitness preparations.

I recommend performing VO2Max training sessions a couple days per week (typically earlier in the week than later). It is intense training so be sure to properly recover between such workouts. With improvements to your maximum aerobic capacity, you’ll certainly be more prepared to handle the first 5-10 minutes of your next off-road race. Establish your position early, but don’t burn all of your candles in order to do so. With each VO2Max workout you’ll learn just how much you’re able to do so that on race day you can be wise with your pacing strategy. Work hard, have fun, and the VO2Max training is sure to benefit the race start and first 10 minutes or so of your race. Good luck and let us know how you do!

Nail the start and you might be the first to the finish!

About the Author: Troy Ross has been involved in motocross and off-road racing for 25+ years. He has been working with XC1 rider Chris Bach since November of 2008 and also trains several top GNCC amateurs such as: Chris Douglas, Chase Bishop, Zac Nash, and Austin Mount, as well as Pro WORCS and Pro National Motocross racer Chris Johnson. He also works with elite amateur motocross racers; Josh Osby, Brody Bell and Nate Allen. Troy lives in Laguna Niguel, CA and can be contacted through email or Twitter.

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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