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There is a lot of uncertainty, misconception and just lack of understanding when it comes to strength training for motocross.
In this post I am going to lay it all out straight, keep it simple, and give some extremely effective ways that you can get started on your strength training the right way for your racing.
Let’s start with why you should be incorporating strength training into your program and the benfits you will get from it.
One of the biggest benefits of strength training, when done correctly. Is an increase is movement efficiency and movement patterns. What this means is that when you perform certain movements, like a deadlift for example, one of the first adaptations that will occur is you will learn how to become more efficient in the way you move and the muscles you use and incorporate into the movement. The higher your muscle recruitment and the better you physically move in your technique, the more weight you will be able to move. This translates over on to the bike by making all your movements and techniques on the bike more efficient. Greater efficiency in movement, equals great ‘endurance’ on the bike.
Coupled with this, we also get gains in our coordination and proprioception. Helping us to have greater awareness of our body positioning and technique. Ultimately helping us to move better on the bike, and also pick up new techniques and concepts on the bike faster.
The other incredibly essential benefit of strength training, Is when done properly, it will ‘bullet proof’ the body against injuries in the event of a crash. One of the adaptations the body makes as we get sronger, is all of our connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) also get stronger. Meaning less chance of joint injuries. Your bone density will also go up, helping to prevent bone breaks and fractures.
There are many other little side benefits as well, but I think these points should be enough to convince you that strength training is absolutely essential to your performance and progression in the sport of motocross.
Ok, as I stated at the beginning of this article, there are a lot of misconceptions around strength training for motocross. So lets put them all to rest right now…
1: “Strength training will build to much muscle and make you big”
This is entirely depentant on the way in which you perform your strength training. If you perform you standard 3 x 10 set/rep scheme or follow a basic training program you found online or your local gym/pt gave you, then yes, you probably will gain a bit of size.
But there are many ways to increase your overal absolute strength and your strength relative to your bodyweight without increasing your total muslce mass. As stated above in the benefits, we can increase our strength simply through learning how to move better and increased muscle recruitment. We can also make the muscle that we currently have stronger, without having to actually build muscle.
We achieve this through lower repetitions and higher loads. My general rule is staying between 3-6 reps.
It is also worth noting, that even if you did train with the intent of increasing muscle size, this would still not be possible if you are not eating in a calorie surplus in order to facilitate this muscle growth. So keeping an eye on what you’re eating is also important.
2: “Strength training causes/makes arm pump worse”
Once again, this all comes back to the way that you train. If you are training properly with the intent of increasing movement efficiency and building strength and not muscle, then you will never have to worry about your strength training making your arm pump worse. In fact it will do the exact opposite, and will go a very long way to helping you to reduce your arm pump through greater movement efficiency, better technique on the bike and greater strength to simply hold on to the bike and manuvour it as needed.
If however you are training like a bodybuilder and ‘chasing the pump’ in your training, then we simply need to think about what we are teachning our body to do…
3: “Strength training is any form of lifting weights (reguardless of set & rep schemes)”
This one needs to understood! Just because you are ‘lifting weights’, does not mean you are ‘strength training’. As already mentioned, there are many different ways to train, for various outcomes and goals.
Manipulation of your set & rep schemes will ellicit all kinds of different results from your training.
Using one of the more common things that I see as an example. Riders doing several sets of 15+ reps of exercises is NOT strength training.
4: Strength training should be split in to body parts for each day of the week
Once again, this one comes from bodybuilding style training. The main problem here is that when we do this, we start to focus more on training certain muscles and less on training movements.
When training for sport performance and for racing, we need to focus on training movements and big compound exercises (squats, deadlfts, pressing and pulling). So a better way to split up your strength training for a week would be ‘push days’ (eg. bench press & squats) and ‘pull days’ (eg, rows & deadlifts), which would mean full body training sessions. Or, you can do basic upper body and lower body days. Whichever you choose, the main thing is focussing on movements and not muscles. You are an athlete, not a mirror poser.
Below are 5 top tips to help you to not only get started strength training the right way, but to also stay safe and avoid injury. Our training off the bike is supposed
1: Technique First
Form and movement quality must be your highest priority at all times. Leave the ego at the door, worry less about what weight you are moving and more about how you are moving it. Like we have already gone over, our main goal of strength training is to dial in your movement. If you aren’t moving properly, then you are just drumming in poor technique. Not to mention it will be quite unsafe.
2: Start Light
Following on from point 1, it is best to start light. Even if that means an empty barbell or even just a PVC pipe or broomstick. Learn the movement, make sure its good, then and only then can you start to load it up.
3: Strength Is Made In Low Reps!
Once you have got your movement dialled and you are confident and competent in the movement. Then it is time to start getting those strength gains! Stay in the 3-6 rep range with higher weights. But don’t push it too far. We don’t want to be hitting max efforts. Keep it at around a 7-8 out of 10 effort.
4: Focus On The Big 5
The 5 main movements that should be a staple in your strength training are the Squat, Dealift, Bench Press, Bent Over Row, and Shoulder Press. You cannot do these often enough when first starting out. So stay here, get them dialled, get them strong.
5: 2 Main Movements Per Session
As a general rule, it is great t get 2 of the Big 5 in at each strength session. And even better, aim for a lower body and and upper body movement so that you are making your session full body.
All of the advice given in this article is aimed at riders that are new to strength training. If you are more experienced in strength training, then this may not be too aplicable to you.
It is also worth noting that inside my programs, we do take things quite a bit deeper than just this. But that is done so under the guidance of professional Strength & Conditioning Coaches.
Remember, stay safe and always stay within your limits and comfort zone and seek professional help and advice.