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Strength Training for Motocross - Periodization

by Coach Seiji

Periodization in Strength Training
A typical periodization graph for the year
In past articles on Racer X Virtual Trainer, I have focused on periodization in motocross training. The emphasis has been on the aerobic training component of your training but in this segment we will discuss periodization of the strength training portion of your program.  Simply put, periodization is the practice of splitting a program into distinct time periods, with each period building on the former periods’ progress.  During my past five years of working with motocross athletes I have realized that not everyone believes in strength training for motocross. There are several components or abilities that make up the total package that produces a successful motocross athlete. Among these are:

1.) Riding ability
2.) Aerobic/anaerobic endurance and power
3.) Muscular strength, endurance and power
4.) Flexibility
5.) Mental abilities

As you can see strength training makes up a very large portion of the package. Why would you want to leave a key ingredient out of your overall program? The improvements in muscular endurance and power not only directly improve your overall motocross ability but they also indirectly impact your riding positively by helping you avoid injury. Strength training can help you avoid overuse injuries by reducing muscular imbalances caused by motocross riding and aerobic training. It can also prevent crash related injuries by providing muscle mass, which acts as an energy absorber, and by reducing the chances of a joint being forcefully moved into an injurious position.

The most common reason to avoid strength training that I hear is that it causes arm pump. It is my belief that riders can learn a faulty motor pattern during strength training. Increasing the tension of your grip on the weights or apparatus as the set gets more challenging is a motor pattern that you possibly could carry over into motocross riding. This can produce arm pump quickly as your efforts on the bike rise. While lifting you should try to actually reverse this: as the set becomes more challenging you reduce the tension you apply to your grip; try to relax your grip as the set progresses and requires more effort. This can actually produce a motor pattern that can actually prevent you from tightening up on the bike as you strive for more speed.

The Ten Rules of Strength Training
There are rules of strength training devised to get you the most out of your precious available training time:

1. Spend the least amount of time in the gym that still provides you with positive gains. The most important part of your program is the actual motocross riding. Spending less time in the gym will provide more time for motocross riding and recovery processes.
2. Focus on multiple joint exercises. This means utilizing exercises that move more than one joint at a time. Example: Knee extensions (only one joint, the knee) vs. lunges (three joints: ankle, knee, hip). This is more functional as it mimics real sports oriented motions more closely but also saves time in the gym as you cover more muscle groups in a single exercise.
3. Focus on closed chain exercises. In simple terms this means using exercises where the end of the limb being used (hand or foot) is grounded or is pushing or pulling against a surface. Example: Knee extension, open chain (foot is free, load being applied to the shin by the machine) vs. lunges, closed chain (foot is grounded to the floor). These closed chain exercises not only mimic the way you have to apply force in sports but they are generally safer as they produce less concentrated shearing forces on the joints being used.
4. Focus on the number of sets per exercise, not the number or exercises. Choose the most efficient exercises and spend your precious time doing more sets/resting adequately between sets when appropriate vs. trying to do as many different exercises as possible. This not only saves time but produces better results. When you try to do too many different exercises within the same workout you start running into diminishing positive effects as your energy and effort get spread out and each exercise that you do starts to lose effectiveness.
5. Play it safe. What I want to get across here is that motocross is already inherently dangerous so reducing your risk to injuries in the other areas is training smart. It would be catastrophic to miss a National because you hurt yourself in the gym. There are definitely exercises that could be more effective but they carry more risk. Example: Hip extension; you can do squats (high potential for back injury) or leg press (much safer). Also: success in the gym means failure at each set which is much safer with a spotter. ALWAYS warm up. Be conservative when choosing loads when switching to a new strength training period.
6. Ride before you lift. When you have to ride motocross and lift on the same day always ride first then lift after a recovery period and a meal. Riding is the most important component of your training so do that while you still have the most energy and focus. It is also the most dangerous training activity so do it while you are as fresh as possible. Riding after you have accumulated muscular fatigue is not only dangerous; it is not nearly as effective.
7. Use perfect form.  Not only is this a safety issue but it is also a performance issue. Only strive for the next repetition if you can maintain perfect form. This will not only target the correct muscles more effectively but it also teaches you body control and mental habits that can translate into better cornering form, etc. under stress.
8. Exercise order is determined by the size of muscle groups involved. Always move from larger to smaller muscle groups. This is another safety precaution that is also a performance issue. Using larger muscle masses earlier in the workout continues the warm up process so that when you stress smaller, more fragile tissues you are more likely to be completely warmed up. It also allows you to perform the exercises that generally have higher loads to them before accessory or stabilizing muscles are fatigued so that you will get higher quality sets.
9. As training periods progress, exercises become more and more functional and resemble actual sports specific movements more closely. Early training periods have general strength training movements but as you get closer and closer to your high priority events the exercise motions start to mimic motocross related motions. Example: in early strength training periods you may do a simple chest press but in later periods you do single arm decline chest press at a quick pace to mimic your reaction to handlebar movement during rough sections of the track.
10. Eat correctly to support recovery. It is totally a waste of time to work hard in the gym if you don’t provide your body with the correct fuel and building blocks to recover from the workout and thus make gains. You have to consume quality carbohydrates so that your body can fuel the recovery and tissue building process. High quality and complete proteins are necessary so that you have all the building blocks necessary to build new muscle tissue after you break them down in the gym. Exactly half the training process is recovery!

The Strength Training Periods
Strength training periods are similar to regular training periods and have similar purposes:

Coach Seiji is the brains behind the VT premium training plans. All of the plans utilize the periodization principle for both strength and cardio.

Anatomical Adaptation Period (AA): This period is characterized by high volume, low load exercises done in a circuit style format. This usually means common strength training exercises done to sets of 20 repetitions. Circuit style means that you do all or a large number of your different exercises one after the other without resting between sets, then go back and repeat that "circuit" as many times as required to complete the prescribed number of sets per exercise.

Example: Upper body exercise #1, 20 repetitions; (no rest) upper body exercise #2, 20 repetitions (no rest); upper body exercise #3, 20 repetitions; (no rest) upper body exercise #4, 20 repetitions. Repeat this upper body circuit three times. Move on to lower body circuit repeated three times then finish with core circuit repeated three times.

The AA period is done at the very beginning of your training year and its purpose is to get your joint structures, tissues, and muscles prepared for the "real" training that is to follow in subsequent periods. The AA period can be between two to four weeks in duration, depending on athlete age, strength training experience level, years of consecutive lifting and individual rates of adaptation.

Muscular Transition Period (MT): This period is an extension of the AA period. The same exercises are performed in the same circuit style manner for the same number of sets. The loads are increased so that momentary muscular failure now occurs in the 12-15 repetition range.

This phase is to further prepare your body for the very intense training that occurs in the next period. The MT phase can last between one week to four weeks depending on athlete age, strength training experience level, years of consecutive lifting and individual rates of adaptation.

Maximum Strength Period (MS): This period is the most intense strength training period and requires the most recovery efforts. It is characterized by very high load, low repetition exercises done in a straight set format. This means that all sets of a specific exercise are done in a row with a rest period in between before moving on to the next set. Repetitions per set range from 8 all the way down to 3.

Example: Lower body exercise #1, 8 repetitions, rest 5 minutes. Repeat twice more for 3 total sets. Move on to lower body exercise #2, repeat the same format. Continue for each exercise in the workout plan.

During the MS period it is important to allow for adequate recovery. This means intelligent planning of the other workouts. MS strength training even in elite athletes can require up to 72 hours of recovery before the next strength training session even with smart planning of the other workouts that make up the program. This period is generally four weeks in duration.

Power Endurance Period (PE): In this period focus is shifted from the high loads of the last period to quick movements. It is the speed of the positive phase of contraction that matters here; not the amount of weight being used. Explosive movements are the key. Straight sets are used and the goal is 12 repetitions at full speed per set. The set is over when the contraction speed drops, not when you cannot repeat the motion due to the load being used.

Example: Leg press, single leg, during PE phase: slowly lower the weight deck until your knee is at 90 degrees. Come to a complete stop then as quickly and explosively as possible extend your hip and knee. Be careful not to hyperextend your knee at the end of the motion. Repeat until your contraction speed slows down with the goal being 12 repetitions.

The VT premium training plans give the user the option of strength training with either free weights or the TRX Suspension trainer.

The PE period is also very stressful, second only to the MS period. Practice the same recovery efforts as the MS period and pay close attention to any tweaks or slight injuries during this period as the explosive movements can aggravate even the slightest of injuries. Advanced athletes with a lot of strength training behind them can do plyometric exercises during this period.

Strength Maintenance Period (SM): In this period only two sets per exercise are done in straight sets. The first set load is chosen so that failure occurs in 12 repetitions. The second set load is raised so that failure occurs at 8 repetitions.

This training period is the least stressful and requires the least amount of time. It is exactly what it sounds like: maintenance purposes only. This period of strength training is done when the other training is in a more intense period. This period of strength training generally lasts from the end of the PE period to whenever your other training reverts back to Base periods.

Scheduling of Strength and Cardio Periods
Strength training periods are scheduled one period ahead of the periods used for your endurance and motocross training: the first column is the period for endurance and motocross training. The second column is the corresponding strength training periods.

Cardio Strength
Preparation Period (Active Rest)
Anatomical Adaptation (AA)
Base 1 (Endurance) Muscular Transition (MT)
Base 2 (Strength) Maximum Strength (MS)
Base 3 (Speed) Power Endurance (PE)
Build 1 (Pre Competition) Strength Maintenance (SM)
Build 2 (Peak or Competition) Strength Maintenance (SM)

As you can see, the strength training period works on aspects of strength in the gym one training period before you use them in endurance training or on your motorcycle. This allows you to develop the necessary muscular adaptations in a very controlled environment before putting them to use elsewhere.

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.

You are now armed with the basic knowledge necessary to plan and execute a periodized strength training program. This will allow you to make the most of your available training time and efforts in the gym. Integrating periodization in your strength training to accompany your periodized aerobic training and motocross riding will produce benefits that you can feel at the track and at the races! Get out there and train smarter, not just harder!

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.

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
    mitch August 18, 2013 at 12:26 am

    how long is the power endurance period?

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer August 20, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Most periods are 4-6 weeks depending on the athlete.

  3. Gravatar
    Billy October 03, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Great break-down of strength program, particularly with the examples. Do you have any similar information the cardio?

  4. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer October 03, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Billy - This article is on Cardio Training ( It may be what you are looking for. The Virtual Trainer premium training packages go into more detail as far as base and build periods and how those relate to the periodized strength training.

  5. Gravatar
    billy October 03, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks. Great site!

  6. Gravatar
    Tony Graves January 09, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    isnt it suppose to be high reps low weight why is the reps so low

  7. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer January 11, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Tony - Depends on the period of training you are talking about. Max strength phase is certainly low rep, high weight. Power Endurance is higher rep, lower weight.

  8. Gravatar
    Bryson September 06, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Hey I want to gain strength on my whole body so how much weights should I use for upper body and lower body ? I don't want lift heavy weight and get arm pump so what's the correct amount of weight for motocross and still gain strength and muscle . I'm using Dumbbells kettle bell bar bell ?

  9. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer September 09, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Bryson - Browse the site and read all the articles on strength training. Your answer is in the articles. OR you can join the Virtual Trainer Premium Training community and have everything done for you.

    Just click the "Premium Training" link in the menu.

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