Constructing a S&C Analysis for Motocross and Off-Road Racing
By Daniel Moffatt-Martin
Motocross and off-road racing is a physically and mentally demanding sport that requires multiple performance indicators to be met in order to achieve an elite level. The needs of the individual athlete also need to be considered in terms of specific strengths and weaknesses when building and developing an effective strength and conditioning program. Focusing on one particular area may be an easy task, but we know that the demands on the athlete are never a single focus effort, rather a multi-dimensional effort almost all of the time. This proves that a concurrent training approach must be taken in order to prepare the athlete to excel in all aspects of riding and competition. Add in the demands of extensive competition, travel, media, sponsors commitments and life outside of sport, and we can now see the whole picture of what we need to do in order to produce a training schedule (from the yearly macro-cycle down to the weekly deload micro-cycle), that caters for every aspect of the athletes’ life.
Competition Format – MX Nationals
I will use the 2018 MX Nationals as an example here, but the same principles can be applied for any competition schedule. If we have a look at the dates and locations of each event, we can see that the racing doesn’t follow the same pattern in terms of weekend layout with the double header events and the travel commitments extend across the country.
RD1 – Victoria 15th April
RD2- NSW 29th April
RD 3&4 – Victoria 19th-20th May
RD5 – SA 27th May
RD6 – QLD 1st July
RD 7&8 – NSW 14th-15th July
RD9 – QLD 5th August
RD10 – QLD 12th August
The location, travel, race format and travel type all need to be factored into a rider’s program. Typically, if Monday is an active recovery session on the program and the race is in South Australia, the athlete may not return home till Monday night and therefore that session has been lost or will be pushed to Tuesday, taking away another training day from the schedule. If it is a local race, the athlete will continue training as normal come Monday morning. These are the small factors that are already accounted for in the yearly macrocycle and have been planned. Rider fatigue levels must be measured from travel and training protocols adjusted if necessary.
Training blocks during the season should reflect the race formats and track types that the athletes are scheduled to race at next. The demands on the athlete vary and therefore training should reflect what they need to prepare for. Longer race formats V’s shorter sprint races, sand tracks V’s hard packed surfaces all require different training approaches. The base foundations should have been laid during preseason and therefore allow us to “pivot” during the season with adjusting training approaches. The way I prepare my athletes for motocross differ slightly for supercross. The way I prepare my athletes for the AORC sprint series differ slightly for the Finke or Hattah guys. All have the same base foundations with only 15-20% difference across each program.
The physical demands on the athlete in figure 1 above will differ slightly from the athlete in figure 2. The faster paced track above will keep the heart rate elevated higher and strength demands will differ from figure 2. Motocross athletes need to be able to adjust physical and mental approaches in a very short time frame as conditions can vary and change rapidly.
Motocross and off-road racing is both physically and mentally demanding. The athlete is attempting to extract the fastest speed and lap times around the constantly changing track, to finish the race ahead of all competitors. The riders must be able to push the limits of the bike and themselves whilst minimising mistakes. To do so, the athlete must be challenged on their physical capabilities within cardiovascular endurance, strength, strength-endurance, visual qualities, co-ordination and cognitive functioning.
During any race format, the riders are subject to elevated physical demands, thermal stress, vibration and emotional stress. This means the heart rate response is going to reflect a high energy cost. Riders heart rate data at an elite level have shown to reach between 190-200 bpm and consistent averages of 85-95% max for the 20-30min race efforts.
Figure 3 – Heart rate data from an elite motocross rider during competition.
The training protocol to meet such demands must be looked at holistically. There are many energy systems working in conjunction with one another and conditioning athletes must ensure all energy systems are targeted. The basic misconception with trainers is that there is a belief the athlete is only using one of the 3 (there is actually up to 6 different training zones, but that will be a different article) energy systems at a given time. The standard elite level motocross race is 30 min + 1 lap, so let’s say the athlete is completing a 35min effort. That is clearly an aerobic effort being driven primarily from the oxidative energy system. Though the heart rate data shows the athlete in training zone 4-5 which is primarily an anaerobic and glycolytic energy system response. After the first few minutes of the race, all 3 energy systems are working together! Therefore, a holistic and concurrent conditioning approach must be used to prepare the athlete for not only extreme heart rate activity, but longer lasting efforts with minimal to no rest.
Strength and Strength-Endurance
With the demands placed on the athletes from the machine they are riding and the forever changing track conditions, certain strength and strength qualities must be met for optimum performance. Riders must be able to hold their body position on the bike without fatigue causing a change in rider position or lack of focus. The main strength elements needed for motocross and of-road riding are:
- Lower body eccentric strength
- Core strength
- Grip strength
- Upper back / shoulder / strength
- Neck flexor and extensor strength
Training protocols should reflect individual rider needs according to strengths and weaknesses. Body posture and movement quality plays a great roll in the athletes riding position and strength training should reflect the most important weaknesses to be addressed first.
Figure 4 – How the correct strength training can reflect stronger riding positions.
The class format or category an athlete competes in can influence a rider’s body composition needs. A typically smaller framed, lighter rider will have an advantage in the smaller of the machine categories such as the 250 class. Power to weight ratios are often seen to be an advantage in the pro level of racing. A larger framed and heavier rider will most likely over time work up to the larger capacity classes as they will notice it is much harder to be competitive in the smaller class. This can have dramatic impacts to the strength and conditioning program when working with athletes. We now know they require large strength qualities for elite level competition, however lean muscle mass must be the focus for strength and conditioning coaches in order to achieve athletic qualities and keeping in optimal anthropometric ranges. According to research conducted by Bach. et al 2015, the typical riders profile is accordance with –
As mentioned above in the strength paragraphs, an athlete’s ability to be in the correct riding position can cause dramatic effects to riding results. Through adequate movement-quality assessment, we can prescribe the corrective exercises to ensure the athlete is able to achieve the correct positions both in training movements and riding posture.
Reaction time and Co-ordination
Many riders and coaches can agree the race result is very much influenced by the start of the race. Riders are to begin the race as a gate drop in most formats, and attempt to be the first rider around turn 1. Reaction time and rider technique both play an important role in achieving a great starting position. Whilst the race effort continues, the riders must stay very coherent and mentally focused on the task at hand. Because a high element of speed is in play, athletes are attempting to constantly adjust their vision on certain sections and obstacles on the track, whilst assessing race situations with other riders and making multiple decisions at once. Sport specific training has proven to be the best enhancer of rider performance in terms of reactions and quick thinking during race conditions, but external activities are still a key element in training athletes to be mentally focused during high levels of fatigue.
The many physical demands as mentioned throughout this article can all be placed on an athlete at any given time and more often than not, all at the same time. As mentioned, the travel, media, sponsor commitments, race commitments, training schedule and family life must all be balanced throughout the athlete’s week to week planning in order to achieve long term athlete development. Having good strategies and load management protocols within the program is a key factor to helping the athlete stay healthier for longer, achieve better results and continue enjoying the process at the top level throughout their entire career.
Daniel Moffatt-Martin is the Head Coach and Director of the
To The Edge High Performance Centre in Newcastle Australia.
He has been training professional action sports athletes since
2013 and works as a High Performance Consultant to many
Australian race teams.