MX is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world.
Within the last ten years we’ve really started to see what a huge role fitness plays in a riders’ success on a supercross or motocross track. The major professional teams are bringing on in-house trainers for their riders and the stars of the sport are posting photos of them out on their road bikes nearly every week.
Still, moto and cycling are so different. How can pedaling a 15lb bicycle on pavement for 3 hours equate to any benefit while blasting a whoop section on a 215lb 450? While the two bikes and types of riding may seem like complete opposites, they are incredibly complimentary in regards to fitness and speed.
Here the 5 key benefits of road cycling that make you faster at MX:
1. Keeps You Lean
If you look at the stars of the sport today, every single one is thin and lean. During a hard road ride, you can burn anywhere from 600-1000 calories per hour. Further, riding in an aerobic zone allows the body to focus on just burning fat. Why is this important for moto?
While the simple answer is that the less weight on top of your motorcycle, the faster it can accelerate and brake. However, there’s a lot more benefit than just this rather obvious conclusion. Staying lean and maintaining low body fat allows the body to function in a more optimal way. It is able to regulate temperature better (especially important during the 100+ degree outdoor national races), regulate and rebalance the endocrine system better after hard exertion, and it also increases speed and volume of delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells via the circulatory system.
2. Increases Leg Strength
This one may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked. Moto requires a ton of leg strength for sitting and standing constantly, keeping yourself up while compressing down on the face of a jump, or weighting a foot peg while ripping through a corner.
The circular motion of a pedal stroke perfectly targets each muscle group in the leg used while on the MX track. Also, by clipping in to the pedals, the upward pedal stroke mimics the action of leaning the bike over in a corner and lifting the inside leg with a heavy MX boot on.
3. Speeds Recovery
When you’re in a MX race and you over shoot a jump, start to swap out in the whoops, or almost get kicked over the bars by a braking bump; what happens? Your heart rate shoots through the roof.
Even professionals are around 85-95% of maximum heart rate during a race. When they have a close call or get in a heated battle with someone, HR can easily exceed 100% of max. This is referred to as “hitting a wall” or “blowing up” and almost always results in the rider slowing down. When HR gets this high, the body starts starving for oxygen and creating excess lactic acid. This results in foggy decision making, burning muscles, and slower reaction times.
While cycling, athletes can train each of these HR zones, including the one at and above max HR. By doing so, they are able to adapt the body to respond better when these levels are reached out on the track during a race.
4. Boosts Threshold
Threshold is the physical limit of the body for exertion. Most measure threshold via maximum heart rate, but this is a little misleading. While max HR will usually not increase, the body’s exertion capabilities do with training. In cycling we use the term “power” which essentially refers to how hard you’re pedaling.
As physical fitness increases, your threshold increases. So an unfit MX racer will only be able to exert themselves a little bit out on the track before reaching their maximum HR and having to slow down. While a fit rider will be able to exert themselves much harder before they reach that maximum level, and then they will be able to stay there.
5. Aids in Arm Pump Reduction
Arm pump is a mysterious phenomenon that can have crippling effects on riders. While there are many things that can be done to help get rid of it, improving cardiovascular fitness is always the best first step.
Arm pump is caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the forearms, and an inability for blood to flow freely in and out of the muscles due to how tightly contracted they are.
One of the key benefits of cycling on cardiovascular fitness is increasing capillary density. This basically refers to an increase in the small blood vessels throughout muscles. This allows for better blood flow, better flushing of lactic acid from muscles, and an increase in oxygen and nutrient delivery to the muscle. With this, it aids in both the factors that create arm pump.
As a former moto racer now in the cycling world, I enjoy seeing the benefits of my new sport for athletes out on the MX track. If you have any questions, I’m always happy to discuss this topic more. Feel free to reach out to me at @TrevorDeRuise.
See you on the trails!