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Listen to any pro’s interview and they will always say they need to work on start. The start is one of the single most important aspects of winning. If you can holeshot, you just saved yourself a lot of tear offs. Shawn Simpson (European GP MX2 racer) has once said that “Getting the holeshot is 50% of any race. If you don’t get away with the top three, you have lost 15 seconds or so by the end of the first lap, not to mention getting filled with roost and having to pass a lot of other crazy fast riders.”
So, what is a solid way to get good starts? First of all, you have to see yourself getting the holeshot. Like I said in my visualization article, see yourself getting the start from your perspective, then through the eyes of a spectator. If you can conquer this mental monster, you have beat half of the guys on the line who doubt their abilities. Now, don’t get cocky; just know you have as good a chance of coming out first as any other rider on the gate.
Most of the gates now are dirt; even the Supercross and National races are all natural. For me, I always had an easier time with dirt because I could “feel” my rear wheel spinning. I have had the best results with gates that have the straightest rut outside of the gate. When you come off the line, you don’t want to follow a sideways rut from a 450 Beginner. You will lose forward drive and momentum. So, if you are allowed, try and get a peek before your class lines up. Be warned however, that the shortest distance to the first turn is not always the fastest line. You have to take into consideration of getting cut off or pushed out. That is why you want to look for the straightest line.
Once my gate is picked out, you have two choices for prep. You can either put some more dirt back into the rut and pack that down or you can clear the loose dirt out of the rut and pack it down. Both have drawbacks. If you put dirt in the rut, you run the risk of not packing it hard enough and your rear wheel will just spin. However, if you choose to clear it out and pack it, your rut will be deeper and you have a greater chance of wheeling out of the gate; this forces you to slip the clutch and loose drive. Each gate and every soil is different. Experimenting with different scenarios would be a smart thing to do each time you ride.
Now that you are set up on your gate, start to go over the visualization again. Get into that “zone”. For dirt starts, a solid spot on the seat is that “dip”. Maybe a little bit further up depending on your weight. You want your weight shifted forward, but not too much because you will spin the rear wheel if you are too far forward. When that 30 second board goes sideways, it’s time to get those RPMs up. When looking at the gate, some people say to look at the pin holding the gate up, others look at the actual gate itself. However, it is up to you.
As for throttle amount, I like a little more than half throttle at the gate. That way I can still get on the gas harder (if need be) or if I mess up, I can still let off a bit. A good way to tell if you have the clutch out enough is when your chain tightens up. This is the point where the clutch is almost un-engaged and all you have to do is GENTLY let it out. When you let the clutch out, don’t dump it and stab the throttle. You want everything to be in motion, smooth motion.
For 250f’s, you can get away with 2nd gear. For the bigger bikes, it is personal preference. Once you are out of the gate, you want to keep both feet down (start with both feet down on the gate, placing all your weight on the seat) throughout the gear you started in. If I started in second, I want to keep both feet down until I have to shift up. When I need to shift up, I bring both feet up. Shifting with your heel is spotty at best. Try to get it normally.
It’s a lot to take in, but this is a broken down process. Try it a few times and it will get easier.
Training for any kind of sport is goes a little bit further than going to the gym, doing a workout you see in Muscle and Fitness then running for an hour. This will get you nowhere. Sure it is better than doing nothing, but there is no structure. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have seen me talk about periodization. This is the cycling of training priorities from non-sport specific activities of high volume and low intensity to sport specific activities of low volume and high intensity. These cycle so you prevent overtraining, optimize performance and more importantly, peak when it counts.
Starting with the smallest cycle, a microcycle is only one to four weeks long. Combining multiple microcycles together gives you a mesocycle. This can last several weeks to several months. The final culmination of all of the mesocycles results in the macrocycle. This is typically an entire training year.
Let’s use Johnny Racer for an example. Johnny just moved up from minis and plans race Loretta Lynn’s this year. Last year, he did well at his area qualifier but had a bad regional qualifier. It’s a new year and he just hopped on his 125. However, he has a hard time controlling the bike at the end of the moto when it gets rough. For the example’s sake, let’s say that the reason Johnny is getting so tired is because both his cardiovascular system and muscular system are not used to bigger bike. He will need to increase his strength and work on his cardio.
Now let’s set a goal for little Racer: It’s almost February and Loretta’s is early August. That gives us 7 months to work with. Since it is early in Johnny’s training cycle, we will begin with higher volume, lower intensities. Resistance training is light weight with 20 reps, only 2 sets and should be a total body workout. With strength training, you want to give yourself at least 48 hours for recovery to avoid early burn out. Some light cardio, or active recovery, for 30 minutes at 50%-60% of you max heart rate will help with soreness. For cardiovascular work, you can keep the heart rate in the 60%-70% from 45 to 60 minutes 3 to 4 times per week. For added recovery, you can throw a rest week in every 3 to 4 weeks where training is kept to a minimum.
By late March to early April, things can begin to get more intense. However, with added intensity comes less volume. Our resistance training set and rep rang shift as well as our cardiovascular work. For strength work, we move to 3 sets, but drop down to only 10 reps. You want to movements like a dead lift or squat for the first exercise then concentrate on lunges, pull ups, stability ball exercises and core work. Just like the resistance training, cardio goes up in intensity significantly. Our percentages would be 70%-80% and time is about 30 minutes after a warm up.
To wrap up the last 5 to 6 months, we move into more on sport specific training. Our strength training sessions are high intensity with little volume. You want to be fast as possible with reps as they should be in the range of 10 -12 reps and only 2 sets. Cardiovascular training is high intensity as well. You would shift from more of a longer, steady state to interval training. Lower intensity bouts would be in zone 2 while the more intense bout would be in zone 4. Recovery is king in this stage of the year. You only need to be doing this strength training twice per week. The same goes with the intervals. Recovery rides in zone 1 are great for active rest.
This is a rough outline of what a training program would look like. This is a general outline of what needs to be done, but the goals and weaknesses of each rider would determine the schedule. Knowing where you want to be and what you need to work on will make the difference come race day. Not having an idea of what you want to accomplish only leads to lack luster results. Keeping a log of everything you do will help you determine goals and areas of strength and weakness.
Here are a few links for if need clarity on zones for interval training and finding your heart rate zones:
When strength training for moto, you want to choose the most dynamic exercises you can. This means you want movements that will give you the most bang for your buck. You don’t want to spend hours in the gym. The main part of any training program is riding as the cardiovascular and resistance training should just be used to improve physical weaknesses. With that in mind, keeping strength training movements to big, multiple joint exercises will have the greatest effect in the shortest amount of time. In no particular order, here are 5 exercises that you should have in your strength training program.
- Front Squats – Normal barbell squats are revered as one of the best overall exercises. Ever. When you do these, you are utilizing the biggest muscle group in the body (legs) as well as the core and lower back for stabilization. However, when you place the bar in front of your neck instead of behind it, this changes things quite a bit. More emphasis is place on the quadriceps, core and lower back. These will help with the attack position and correct form while riding with the quad work and core stabilization.
- Atomic Push Ups – Push Ups are great for everything upper body. They engage the chest, triceps, shoulders and once again, the core. Throw your feet into a TRX or similar suspension training device and you have yourself one of the best upper body movements for moto. Think about anytime you went through braking bumps or a rough section; the bars are violently thrashing side to side and the whole front end is moving up and down. This requires a lot of upper body strength and muscular endurance to maintain a straight and steady course. You can even place your hands on an Indo board for even more core activation and added intensity.
- Dead Lifts – If you can’t squat, you dead lift. This simple movement is only second to squats. Deads are great for hip, hamstring, and posterior work. If you are moving up in bike size or having trouble controlling the bike at the end of a moto, incorporating dead lifts will make a huge difference. Forget the power lifting style of the wide sumo stance. Go with a narrower stance with your feet about 12 inches apart. For moto applications, it isn’t necessary to go super heavy with this, but still make sure you have the form down to avoid injury.
- Rows – These can be done with almost anything that creates resistance: barbell, dumbbell, kettle bells and suspension training devises. There are even more options with hand positions and going unilateral. This is a great movement for the latissimus dorsi as this goes hand and hand with the push up movement and braking bumps. Rows are the ying to the push up’s yang. Doing these will complete a strong, versatile upper body.
- Lunges – Another great lower body movement. Like the rowing, there are so many variations like step ups, rear lunges, side lunges, etc. This targets almost the whole leg: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, etc. Lunges are not meant to be done with heavy weight so it is best done with higher reps. Like the dead lifts, these can be extremely beneficial if you have a hard time keeping the bike under control at the end of a moto. Lunges compliment and make a great end to a workout after dead lifts/ squats.
When I first started riding big bikes, I was so stoked to finally have all of the power I wanted. However, with great power, comes great responsibility…courtesy of Uncle Ben from Spiderman. Sometimes, we can get ahead of ourselves on a rougher track and the braking bumps fight back. Most of the time, the chop and speed result in head shake. This uncontrollable shaking can be thwarted with a few adjustments.
One of the most common reasons for head shake is fatigue. When you are fatigued, your form goes out the window and it gets worse as the moto progresses. Your elbows drop and you cannot get enough leverage to keep the bars straight. As you get more and more head shake, you begin to grip harder with your hands and the forearms pump up to bricks. Sound about right? When your upper body feels like rubber, the need to grip with your legs becomes even greater. Again, the quadriceps and hamstrings are a much larger muscle group that can support greater loads of stress for longer periods of times. Start the moto out with a conscience effort of using your legs more than your arms and you will be better off.
Another problem is RPM range. The relationship between the motor and suspension is pretty crazy when you really think about it. When you hear pros run through whoops and moguls, they are running a higher gear. The RPMs are lower and take some of the load off of the forks and shock. They travel smoother and won’t bind, which gives you that bouncing effect through the rough stuff. If you shift down AFTER the braking bumps, you allow your suspension to ride with you, instead of against you. The forks will travel through the entire stroke and do their job; soak up the terrain.
Weight distribution is also important. Maintaining your attack position through the rough chop will help keep your elbows up and in good form. This attack position will place your weight evenly over the bike, allowing you to make changes if need be. As I have said before, riding on the balls of your feet will give you some extra “suspension” and forces you to grip the bike with your legs.
By throwing good form and the right gear together, head shake will be a thing of the past. Of course, making sure your sag is set on the shock and your clickers are dialed is important, but the rider can make a big difference. As always, remember the basics and keep it fun.
Everyone can go fast by hold the throttle pinned on the straights, but it’s when it comes time to slow down that separates the pros from the amateurs. Next time you are at your local track, watch the fast guys around the track; they are either on the gas or braking. Slower riders tend to have a bad habit of letting off before the corner and then braking. However, teaching yourself to hold it on longer isn’t enough. Learning how and when to use both brakes effectively will help take your corner speed to the next level.
Telling yourself to hold the gas on a split second longer is easier said than done, but it can be a life saver on the start. Unlike road racing, there are no markers to tell us how close the corner is. However, we can use simple objects like rocks, fencing or foliage. Finding a marker can help you visualize your spot on the track and help you hold the throttle down longer.
Many people have their own theory on how to brake properly. Some prefer just the front while others like the back. I believe that there is no definite answer. Each brake has different purposes. The front brake is great for diving into inside ruts and coming to a stop quickly, while the rear keeps the rear wheel planted to the ground and keeps your momentum up. Another interesting thing that seems to help me is to “push” the bike in the ground. Trying to weight front or rear down will put more force on the ground to get that extra friction for added stopping power.
One thing that aids in your momentum and drive is to avoid locking the brakes. When you lock up the rear brake, there is no control over the traction and where the wheel goes. All of your RPMs drop and it just creates braking bumps even faster. Your best bet is to “chatter” the rear. This is a method where the rear wheel is spinning, but at a much slower rate. This is great for maintaining drive in deep soil and it squats the rear end down to avoid swapping out.
Each situation is different, but remembering how your brakes control deceleration, you can utilize each one to its maximum potential. If you have an outside line in a corner that looks good, use more rear brake than front. For insides, you would be better off grabbing the front and getting that front end down. Becoming comfortable with both brakes can allow you to have faster entry speed in any corner.