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Top Three Core Exercises for Motocross

by Racer X Virtual Trainer

Ryan Villopoto knows the importance of core training. The V-up ranks #4 for the Rectus Abdominus and #5 for Obliques. Solid movement for sure!

One of the most important muscle groups used by a motocross rider is the abdominal region. The abs are the cornerstone to any athletic training program and should be given serious consideration when training. The abdominal region of the body, including the lower back, is sometimes referred to as the core muscle group. A strong core muscle group is responsible for maintaining good posture, eliminating lower back pain and acts as the base of support for the entire body. With strong core muscles, a rider can concentrate on riding instead of being distracted by fatigue and weakness. Strong core muscles can help make a rider faster on the track as well as prevent injury. Unfortunately, working the abs is one of the most neglected body parts in most people’s routines.

Traditionally, people have trained their core muscles by performing crunches and lower back extensions. Many variations of the crunch can be performed to strengthen the abs, including the obliques. Unfortunately, crunches alone do not provide enough stimulation to the necessary muscle groups for the demands of motocross. Proper training of the core muscles is imperative to maintain proper form and function during a race. If the core muscles are weak, the rider will alter his or her posture and riding position, therefore transferring work to the weaker shoulders and arms. When this happens, the arms, shoulders and even legs do more of the work and become fatigued quickly.

Late night television plays host to products and exercise videos that promise a more toned and fit midsection. And every person who has ever trained has their own favorite ab routine that is guaranteed to be the best. So what are the best ab exercises for motocross? A recent study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), has revealed the best and worst methods for getting strong abs. The study covered traditional exercises like the crunch and basic sit-ups and also the ab equipment that is so ever-present on late night television. The findings of this study relate directly to building a strong core muscle group for a rider.

The study ranked the best core exercises based on activation of the Rectus Abdominus and the Obliques

The study, which compared 13 of the most common abdominal exercises and ranked them from most to least effective, was conducted at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University. Muscle activity was monitored during each exercise using equipment that measures muscle stimulation. Activity was recorded for the upper and lower abs, external obliques, and hip flexors. The data for these muscle groups was examined by the researchers to help determine which exercise is the most effective.

Overall, the top three abdominal exercises (for the Rectus Abdominus) were the bicycle maneuver, the captain’s chair and the crunch on the exercise ball (aka Swiss ball).

  1. Bicycle Maneuver: This exercise is performed by lying flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Place your hands beside your head and bring your knees up to about a 45-degree angle and slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion. Touch your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee.
  2. Captain’s Chair: This is one of the few “most effective” exercises on the list that requires gym equipment. Start with your legs dangling and slowly lift your knees in toward your chest. The motion should be controlled and deliberate as you bring your knees up and return them back to the starting position.
  3. Crunches on an Exercise (or Swiss) Ball: These crunches are performed by first sitting on the ball with your feet flat on the floor. Then, slowly let the ball roll backwards and lie back until your thighs and torso are parallel with the floor. Then tighten the ab muscles to curl and lift the shoulder blades off the ball to no more than 45 degrees. To work the oblique muscles, make the exercise less stable by moving your feet closer together.

Top three exercises for the obliques were the captain's chair, bicycle crunch, and reverse crunch.

Due to the fact that crunches on the exercise ball generated significantly less activity in the thigh muscle, therefore making it more targeted to the abs, the researchers deemed the exercise ball the best overall exercise for the ab region. Additionally, the exercise ball requires numerous muscles to work simultaneously. Some muscles are actually performing the exercise while others are required to stabilize the body.

The infomercial equipment was tested and found to be a waste of money. This finding was consistent with ACE’s 1997 study of popular ab exercise equipment. It has long been ACE’s (and the author's) opinion that expensive exercise equipment is not needed to effectively strengthen the abs. If you are going to buy any equipment, invest in a high-quality exercise ball, which retails for approximately $30.

In training for motocross, crunches on the ball should be at the top of your list for working the abs. The exercise ball is relatively inexpensive for home purchase and almost every gym across the country has some. This is perfect if you travel frequently and can’t get to your local gym. If you can’t find a ball to work out on, then obviously the exercise of choice would be the bicycle maneuver. No equipment required here; just some good old blood, sweat, and tears.

Two recommended exercises for the exercise ball are the crunch and knee tuck. The crunch was described above while the knee tuck is performed as follows: Start with your stomach resting on the ball with your hands and feet on the floor. Walk the hands out and allow the ball to role down your body while maintaining a pushup position. Keep your lower back straight by not allowing your butt to sag or rise. The Move: bring your knees towards your chest, making sure that you maintain a neutral spine and then return to the starting position, and don’t let your hips sink down. Perform this exercise in a slow and controlled movement.

Choose your exercise and perform at least 3 to 4 times a week as part of your overall workout. For the beginner, perform 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. For the advanced, perform 4 to 5 sets of 15 to 20 reps.

There are literally 100s of core exercises. Some are good and many are bad. Here is a list of other ab exercises I often use with my riders. In no particular order....

  1. Ab wheel roll-outs (Ranked #9 for rectus abdominus and #10 for obliques)
  2. Exercise ball roll-outs (Great replacement exercise if ab wheel roll-outs hurt your lower back)
  3. TRX pendulum swings (not ranked*)
  4. TRX pike (not ranked*)
  5. Planks and the many variations thereof (Ranked #10 for rectus abdominus and #4 for obliques)
  6. Hanging Knees to elbows or Toes to bar (not ranked)
  7. V-ups (Ranked #4 for rectus abdominus and #5 for obliques)
  8. Russian Twists (not ranked)
  9. TRX Rip Trainer (not ranked*)
  10. TRX Overhead Back extension (not ranked*)

* In fairness to the TRX, it was not invented at the time of the study.

Link to complete ACE study.

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
    Rob Styron January 30, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Seriously?! 1. The rectus abs. (like any other muscle) shouldn't be isolated when training. 2. Read any Stewart McGill stuff. The core complex is a stabilizing group or an anti-flexion group. 3. Spinal flexion creates improper loads on the intercalated discs. I think, actually know that there are quite a few far better exercises.

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer January 31, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Rob, yes. Seriously. As always I appreciate discussion on this website so let's dig a little deeper.

    1. Not sure what you are trying to say with this point. I assume you are saying that all of the exercises above are isolating the core. I would disagree that they are. Most of them in fact require the core to be used as a stabilizer while moving other parts of the body. That is one of the things I love about the TRX Rip Trainer.
    2. I assume you are talking about Stuart McGill. Yes, I am familiar with his work and I generally agree with what he says. I've also talked to many other Chiropractors, doctors, PTs and such about the exercises recommended above and I can tell you this. None of them agree 100%. But overall the professionals I have talked to and the research I have done all agree that the list of exercises above is "good." Each expert will have a reason why a certain exercise is bad but none of them agree that one particular exercise listed is bad. As with everything in fitness, the condition of the athlete, past and present injuries, etc. etc. will determine what is best for that particular individual.
    3. The one exercise that Dr. McGill specifically disagrees with is the crunch on the swiss ball. He recommends what he calls "stir the pot" which is pretty similar to exercise ball rollouts which I have listed. You state that "there are quite a few far better exercises." Please share with us your list.

    One exercise that I did leave off the list which I do quite a bit of personally is the Bird Dog. That was my mistake and should be added. But overall, in my opinion, I think that the exercises listed involve very little spinal flexion if done properly (except for the crunches on swiss ball). The majority of the exercises involve core stabilization in order to move other parts of the body. Or at least very little flexion. For those interested in learning about Dr. McGill......

  3. Gravatar
    Rob Styron February 06, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    In progressive order.

    1. Planks
    2. Punching or Reaching Planks
    3. Stir the Pot or Palloff Press
    4. Side Planks w/Row on Cable Machine
    5. Anti-rotation with a Landmine
    6. Ball Roll Out
    7. Ab Wheel
    8. Body saw on Slideboard or Valslide
    9. Body saw on TRX
    10. Pike Up on TRX


  4. Gravatar
    Kayne Duncanson February 09, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    In regards to this caption: "The study ranked the best core exercises based on activation of the Rectus Abdominus and the Obliques"

    I believe there is a bit of a misconception here about the "core". These exercises are ranked in order for their effectiveness at targetting the Rectus Abdominis and Obliques. However, these muscles alone cannot be defined as the core because you have not taken the deeper stabilisation muscles into account.

  5. Gravatar
    Brendon Mills March 18, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    I have searched all over to find good workout routines yet all I have found are amateur trainers workouts or things that people "recommend". The workouts above look very good, but you do not say an order or how many reps I should do of each workout. I guess what im asking is if you can help me create a workout routine which includes these core exercises, Thanks for reading.

  6. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 19, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    My best advice for you would be to join the Virtual Trainer premium training community. Once you join you will receive an email each day with a complete workout telling you exactly what to do. Cost is a low $19.95 per month and the first month is free!

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