In 1993, Roger DeCoster wrote “How To Win,” a training handbook within the pages of Dirt Bike Magazine. It was during his stint as Dirt Bike‘s Executive Editor, between his more well-known jobs at Honda and Suzuki. Today, his advice is still as relevant as ever. Below, we have parts 1 and 2, on fitness and diet. Stay tuned for more in coming weeks.
By the time you get to the races, it’ s too late. The die is already cast. Racing results are decided in the days, weeks and months before race day, and the events that unfold on the track just make it all official.
There is certainly an element of chance that plays a part in each and every race, but that often is used as an excuse. I have always believed that a rider makes his own luck. If a rider’s bike breaks, it is more often the result of improper preparation than the workings of chance. If a rider crashes, it is most likely because of physical and mental fatigue. Bad luck, all considered, is vastly overrated.
In this section, I have tried to distill the most important building blocks that come together on race day. Some of the wheels are placed in motion months before the race. Some come into play on the morning of race day, others during the race itself.
In the first part, I outline a training program. Motocross is an athletic activity. You wouldn’t enter a marathon without having trained, yet somehow people tend to think they can ride without being in good shape. Perhaps they think that if they have a fast enough motorcycle, it can make up for their physical shortcomings. The opposite is true. If you are in poor shape, the last thing you need is horsepower. At the same time, I know that not everyone is training for National competition. I have outlined programs that you can build upon as your involvement grows. Next. we will walk through the basics of preparation, both for you and your motorcycle. On the morning of the race, you want to think about nothing but the race itself. If you are wondering whether or not your dirty air filter can make it through one more Sunday, you won’t win.
For the race itself, I’m not going to discuss your technique in turns or how you should jump or hit whoops. Volumes have been written about how to ride. I would rather talk about how to think: what your concerns should be when you line up for the start of a race, your strategy throughout the race, how to outsmart riders who are difficult to pass. Finally, we will discuss your diet. Eating right is a critical part of winning.
None of the guidelines I outline here will force you to rearrange your life around motocross. Most people race because it’ s fun; the last thing we want to do is turn it into work. By the same token, though, winning is fun. It might not make you rich, better looking, smarter or younger, but it sure beats losing.
Training programs you can live with
At the end of the Daytona Supercross, Mike Kiedrowski looked great. He took a few seconds to gather himself, then he was answering questions, smiling and barely even breathing hard. If you had talked to one of the riders who didn’t make the main, though, you would be face to face with a wreck of a man. Most of the riders were drained, exhausted and used up–and they didn’t ride nearly as hard as Kiedrowski!
The difference, obviously, is physical conditioning. You can’t win without it. Fitness is important for several reasons. Motocross requires strength, endurance, flexibility, good reflexes and, most importantly, quick thinking. If you are tired your brain isn’t working very well, either. It’s starving for oxygen, just like your muscles. When that happens, the motorcycle starts riding you, instead of vice versa, and you become a danger to yourself and everyone around you. Getting hurt is no fun at all.The best and cheapest insurance is to get in shape before you decide to race. It’s also the cheapest way to improve your results. You can spend thousands making your bike better. Getting into shape is free. Of course, you should always consult your doctor before starting any training program, but here are some of the tips that have worked for me over the years.
From my experience, jogging is the most time-effective activity in a good training routine. First of all, it gives your heart and lungs a great anaerobic workout. Second, it strengthens more muscle groups than virtually any other single activity. Also, when you run, it’s easy to measure your progress. If you get your workout by playing basketball, for instance, you never know if you worked harder than you did last week. When you run, you can keep track of your time and distance and always get a good feel for your current level of conditioning.
A good program might include two 40- minute runs and two 30-minute runs in a week. It might be difficult to start off at that level, but remember, you don’t have to sprint for the entire distance. In the beginning, you might alternate walking and running. Then you work up to a slow run, and on to a quicker pace. Interval running is an excellent way of building both endurance and strength. After you warm up (about 15 minutes), sprint for 30 seconds, then slow down to a comfortable pace for three to four minutes. Repeat this three or four times.
You can measure your progress by the distance you can squeeze into the same amount of time. You simply run away from home until half your time is up, make a mental note on where you turn around, then try to maintain the same speed back. The average local moto is about 20 minutes long, so extending your run to one or two hours is of limited usefulness. It’s best to get a better workout into that same 30- or 40-minute time span-it will disrupt your life much less.
A light jog the day after a race is a good way to get rid of the soreness and recuperate faster. The best time to run is first thing in the morning. Just jump into that training suit when you get out of bed, before you start thinking, stretch and take off. The hardest part is getting out of bed an hour earlier the first time- once you get past that, the run itself is easy.
INJURIES & HOW TO PREVENT THEM
One of the few drawbacks to jogging is that it can be hard on your joints, especially your knees, if done improperly. You need a good set of running shoes–d on’t run in normal tennis shoes. That will cushion the impact somewhat. If you can jog in grass or sand, it helps. Running up hill is good, too. The impact is greatly reduced for two reasons: The speed is reduced, and with each step the ground is slightly higher so your foot doesn’t have to “fall” as far. The problem with jogging uphill is that you must then jog downhill, where the impacts are much greater. When you jog downhill, you tend to land directly on your heel, which has very little shock absorption (compared with the balls of your feet). Some runners counteract this by actually turning around and running backwards downhill, so they can land on their toes. I wouldn’t recommend this. It’s dangerous, and besides, it looks too undignified.
By far the most common cause of running injuries is inadequate stretching. Running is an activity that involves a very limited range of motion, and as a result your muscles tend to tighten up. When that happens, a sudden movement beyond that range can cause a torn ligament, tendon or muscle, all of which are bad news. This won’t happen if you stretch properly. Stretching before a race also can prevent injuries in case of a crash. A flexible body can tumble and twist without getting tweaked.
You should look at stretching as a program in itself. Take note of how far you can stretch in any exercise, and try to improve. You will, but don’t hurry; it can take a lot of time. I have demonstrated my favorite stretches in the photos. In each case you should never ” bounce.” That’s the exact kind of motion that causes injuries.
As I have said, I think that running gives you the best return for the amount of time spent. Many riders can ‘ t run, though. If your knees are injury-prone, you should look at bicycling. Of all the ways you can get a good anaerobic workout, bicycling is probably the safest.
Bicycling will require double or triple the time to get a workout comparable to running, though. The biggest problem is that riding a bike requires a large uninterrupted space. If you ride a road bike, then you will be stopping at intersections and lights, unintentionally resting. If you ride a mountain bike, you might find yourself coasting down hills (when you run, there is no coasting). The most effective place for bicycling is either an uninterrupted country road or a continuous uphill trail.
Other than that, you can treat a cycling training program much as you would a running program. It, too, involves a limited range of motion, so a stretching routine is required.
There are a number of machines on the market that can be used for an anaerobic workout, if you don’t have the space for biking or the knees for running. The “Nordic Track” is one of the better ones, because it offers both lower body and upper body workout. Rowing machines and bicycle trainers can be effective, too, but the cheaper models should be avoided. Machines that provide resistance through friction or hydraulic damping usually do a poor job of simulating the real thing. Others that have some sort of momentum storing capability are more life-like.
There are lots of good excuses not to work out. Even if you are a businessman, always on the go, you can find time to work out if you plan well. I remember traveling to races on a weekly basis with David Bailey and Johnny O’ Mara- we could get a good workout just walking through the airport. Using the escalators was a big no-no. If you think about it, you can get a good workout in many ways, even if it means a little yard work.
As you get more serious, your program has to change. The same routine that worked in the Intermediate class might not work in the Expert class . Pretty soon, a few weight-training sessions will be very helpful.
- Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Work on your weaknesses. If your shoulders get tired in a race, work on your
shoulders. If it’ s your legs, work on them.
- Don’t lift your maximum. Instead, start with smaller loads and adjust them until you can do three series of 15 repetitions. If you cannot do at least eight in the last series, then lower the load. Conversely, if you can do more than 15, go to more weight. Take no more than a minute’ s rest between each series.
- Work on opposing muscle groups.
If you have just done some exercise that
involves extending your arms, then switch to one that involves curling.
- Keep a good pace. Even if it means using less weight and not being able to dazzle the guy next to you. Remember, you are doing all this to become a better rider, not an Olympic weightlifter.
Bear in mind that if you have done nothing but watch that silly thing called baseball on TV all week, and you start working out the Friday before a race, it will hurt more than help. The training you do now will help next month.
This is just one type of program. Everyone is different, and if you have something that seems to work, stick with it. The most important part of any program is to make it part of your routine
ARM PUMP: WHAT IT IS, HOW TO DEAL WITH IT
Everyone has suffered through arm pump. Everyone. You might know what it feels like,but this is what it is:
- Your body runs on sugar, or glucose.
- This sugar, in the grand scheme of things, combines with oxygen and fat to produce a high-energy compound called ATP (let’s not even bother with the long name). ATP stores and releases the kind of energy that fuels every cell in the body.
- Your muscle cells start using fuel much faster when you work out.
- If there isn’t enough oxygen to combine with glucose and form ATP, then the glucose, instead, forms a substance called lactic acid.
- Lactic acid can be used for energy in directly and slowly, but eventually it builds up in the blood and shuts down muscular contraction. This means burning, pain and cramps!
So the problem isn’t a lack of strength, but rather an ineffective oxygen supply for your muscles. To avoid arm pump, warm up and stretch before the race. Other ways to increase blood flow help, like massaging, and alternately holding your arms up and down.
The types of exercises that help are ones that involve lots of repetition. That’s why riding itself is a good way to prevent the problem. It also helps to improve your diet (more on that later).
Then there’s the standard fallback: Don’t hold on so hard!
EAT TO WIN
Food that makes a difference
Building a good racing program is like building a bridge. All of the parts have to be in place before you can go anywhere. Some parts are hard–you have to train. Some parts are fun, but time-consuming–you have to practice. Some parts are expensive- you have to have a fresh
motorcycle. One part, though, is easy–you have to eat right. You are going to eat something regardless, so you are halfway there. It helps to understand what you are eating and what it does for you.
WHAT FOOD IS
Your body needs three different types of food to function properly: carbohydrates, fats and protein. Those foods also have to contain the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals. Equally important, your body needs water.
Carbohydrates are the chief supplier of energy for the body. Simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugar, are easily broken down and turned into immediate energy, which is only useful for short bursts. Complex carbohydrates, such as starches, are more slowly broken down, releasing their energy over a longer period of time. Fats (dairy products, animal fats) are a
more concentrated source of energy, but are more slowly broken down than even complex carbs. They are essential for muscle operation and work as carriers of vitamins in the bloodstream.
Proteins (meats, dairy, nuts ) are the most plentiful substances in the body, next to water. They are almost never used for energy, except at times of complete exhaustion. They are essential for the development of muscle. You will find that all packaged foods in the supermarket have a list of ingredients. This includes the food’s composition, listed in terms of carbohydrates, fat and protein. Look for that list; you need to know what it’s telling you.
A BASIC DIET
All diets have to have these three parts. On average, the typical person gets more fats and simple carbohydrates than he needs. For the rider who wants to eat well, but isn’t committed enough to have motocross run his life, there are good, smart diets he can adhere to.
Forget about foods with refined sugar and flour (candy, soft drinks, white bread)- they are too high in simple carbohydrates. Drop the hamburgers and French fries- they have too much fat. The same goes for other foods fried in rancid oils. Freshly fried foods aren’t good for you, either, but when frying oil is used again and again (as in most fast food restaurants) the results are much worse. Of course, alcohol and tobacco are outright poisons. You don’t need them.
At the beginning of the week, you want to eat foods that are high in protein. As a rule, 80 grams a day is enough. If you eat 6-1/2 ounces of tuna a day, you already are getting half of that. You can get the rest from whole-wheat bread, low-fat milk, potatoes, beans or nuts. In this part of the week, protein is necessary to re build the muscle that you broke down over the weekend.
Starting Thursday, you should restrict your protein intake and begin loading up with complex carbohydrates. Oatmeal, whole-grain cereals, breads and pastas, brown rice and potatoes all are good sources. Continue with these kinds of foods right up to race day. The night before the race, stuff yourself-pasta (whole grain) is a favorite night-before meal among most racers. It’s okay to mix in some simple carbohydrates on the day of the race.
Most important of all, drink lots of water all week long. I still believe it’s the best drink of all. Your body needs it desperately, and you lose it in a variety of ways. If you drink colas or other carbonated drinks, you just make your body work harder. Carbonation actually dehydrates you.
Even if you have made up your diet of good, natural foods, there’s still a need for some vitamins and supplements. I suggest vitamins C and E, beta carotene, magnesium, potassium and bee pollen. Natural vitamins are better than synthetic ones. For example, I would take brewer’s yeast instead of a synthetic B complex. If you have a lot of lactic acid buildup (cramps, arm pump) you might take some calcium lactate, but limiting your protein intake will already have helped that problem.
A MORE SERIOUS DIET
If you plan on pushing yourself to the limit, to see just how good you can be, it’s going to be difficult to get away without a stricter diet. To get the most out of your body, you are going to have to completely do away with several foods.
Sorry, but all beef and pork have to go. The protein you get there simply isn’t worth the fat. Processed meats like salami, ham , sausage and hot dogs are even worse. While you are at it, dump salad dressings, mayonnaise, cream sauces and ice cream.
So what’s left? The latest studies indicate the ideal diet for athletes should be 15% protein, 20% fat and 65% carbohydrates. Here are my suggestions: fresh and dried fruit, still more vegetables, raw, unsalted nuts (no peanuts), seeds, beans, peas, sprouts, fish and poultry, honey (very good as a sweetener), fresh carrot juice and brown rice (rich in minerals). Again, whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas are great-tasting and good for you. For salad dressing, replace the conventional ones with lemon juice and olive oil (this is “good” fat). You might also add chlorophyll to the water you drink.
You need about 80 grams of protein a day. If you eat any more than that, you are doing more harm than good. You need a minimum of 25 grams of fat a day. You will get all that you need in fish, poultry, nuts and olive oil.
Does this sound brutal? Sticking to a diet like this sounds much more difficult than it really is. At first it’s hard, but after a while you lose your craving for those fat ty, unhealthful foods. Also, you feel better every day, not just when you race.