I’m sure most of us have felt it at some point or another, you get about two thirds of the way through your session – generally toward the end of the day – and you’re struggling to keep the pace up as you’re feeling so physically knackered. You have to pull in because you’re missing braking markers and your turn ins are sloppy. The next day you start to think your body might be broken because you can’t walk straight.
Motorcycle fitness is an important part of track days (just as important as correct riding technique) and helps improve both fun and safety. Fatigue has bad effects on your riding, the first being the physical effects of not being able to control yourself on the bike and the bike itself.
By this I mean you struggle to cope with the G forces from braking, accelerating and turning, but also moving yourself around the bike becomes harder and things like hanging off the bike or shifting your weight around become sloppy.
The second is more psychological. Loss of judgement and slower reaction times are two major effects caused by fatigue, which basically translates into a higher chance of you making a silly decision, but also taking longer to recognise and correct a mistake once it’s made, ultimately meaning a higher risk of crashing.
Improving your motorcycling riding fitness is the only way to stave off the above effects and ensure you get more out of your track time in the way of sustained technique and mental focus, in the end meaning more enjoyment.
Enough preaching though, let’s get down to it.
Generally speaking there are two types of fitness, aerobic and anaerobic. Both forms define a different method at which our bodies use energy. Let’s have a look at them in a little detail.
Aerobic – Aerobic fitness is your body’s ability to perform work over a given period of time when oxygen is used as energy. It is your cardiovascular system that provides the muscles with the oxygen needed for the work being done, so to have a healthy and well trained cardiovascular system means you will be able to carry out aerobic work for longer periods of time. Doing ‘cardio’ such as running and cycling is an ideal way to improve your cardiovascular system and improve stamina (more to follow).
Anaerobic – Anaerobic fitness is associated more with high intensity exercise over short periods of time, resulting in glycogen being burned instead of oxygen, this is because the cardiovascular system cannot supply oxygen quick enough to the muscles for the work being done. A prime example of this is doing ‘strength’ training such as weight lifting, using high weights and low reps (10-12 reps) so you are pretty much maxing out your strength towards the end of a given set of reps.
So then, these are the two main types of fitness, let’s look in more detail how we can improve them.
How often should I train?
As we have just established, to improve your cardiovascular fitness and ultimately your stamina and motorcycle fitness, we need to exercise frequently for extended periods of time and at a moderate intensity. As a base you should look to do your cardio 3 times a week at 20 minutes for each session. If you currently do no exercise this will be more than enough to get that heart pumping and improving your cardio fitness.
As time goes on and your body gets used to the exercise, look to extend both the number of sessions and the length of them to something like 4-5 times a week at 40-60 minutes each. This will see a massive increase in your cardio fitness and stamina and you may even consider stepping up to things like long distance endurance events.
How hard should I work?
Your goal is to get your heart rate up so you can feel it beating considerably hard, but not to the point it feels like it wants to explode out of your chest. Another gauge is your breathing. If you’re fighting for air and physically can’t speak you’re going at it too hard, take it down a notch so you can breath and speak fairly easily. Don’t think you need to be able to recite Shakespeare perfectly, but you should be able to form words and sentences reasonably well.
The best way to track your work rate though is with a good heart rate monitor. If you can invest in one it’s well worth it as it’s the most accurate way of tracking how hard you’re working, but also track improvements in your cardio fitness.
Finding your cardio zone
Ideally you want to be working at 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. To work that out you need to subtract your age from 220, then multiply the resulting figure by .70 and .85, this will give you your cardio heart rate range to aim for. For example:
Max heart rate = 220 – 30 (age) = 190
Min Cardio Zone = 190 x 0.70 = 133
Max Cardio Zone = 190 x 0.85 = 161.5
So a 30 year old person would be looking to keep their heart rate between 133 bpm (beats per minute) and 161.5 bpm. Initially you should keep your heart rate closer to 70% but as time goes on and you feel you can work a little harder you can push that up to 85%.
What activity should I do?
The two most popular forms of cardio training are running and cycling. Both can be done very cheaply without the need for expensive exercise equipment and it’s easy to track your progress with your heart rate, the distance you run/cycle and the time taken.
Running tips – Proper running trainers use high-void foam to help soften the forces of your feet hitting the ground. Keep an eye on this foam because if you’re running a lot it won’t take long for them to wear out. Try and keep to grass and other softer surfaces as pavement can be harsh on your joints.
Cycling tips – Don’t cycle using too high a gear, this will put more strain on your joints and move you closer to an anaerobic fitness work out. If you have a cycle computer that measures cadence you should be aiming for about 70-100 rpm (the number of times the crank rotates in a minute). Make sure your bike fits you; it could cause reoccurring injuries if it’s not set up properly.
Generally speaking motorcycle riding demands the use all of our muscles at one point or another. However your stomach, inner thighs and forearms are used more than most. This doesn’t however mean you should neglect every other part of body. Developing your core muscles is just as important because your core acts as the centre of strength for any movement performed by your extremities.
Your core muscles include your lumbar region (lower back), trapezius and laterals (upper back), shoulders, chest and abdomen (stomach). By strengthening these muscles your body will be more inclined to keep itself supported, rather than relying on your arms and legs to keep the whole body supported.
How often should I train and how hard?
We’re not trying look like Arnie, for motorcycle fitness this is just unnecessary and only serves as more muscle that needs oxygen when that heart starts pumping. Just take a look at Rossi, some would argue he even looks a little weedy yet he still manages to wield those fire breathing bikes week in, week out.
For the strength training side of motorcycle fitness you want to be looking at 2-3 sessions a week no more than around 30-40 minutes in duration. Initially you want to be using mediocre weights that allow you to easily do 3 sets of 15-20 reps. Don’t go all out in your first few weight sessions, you’ll only end up putting yourself out for a week with aches and pains. Go easy for the first couple of weeks and let your body get used to lifting weights, then start to increase the weight used.
Don’t leave too much time in between each set (1-2 minutes max) and don’t alternate reps for different sides of the body, do all the reps for one side then change over.
Each rep should be slow and controlled, concentrating on technique. By blasting through the sets you’re only kidding yourself that you’re doing the same amount of work and only increasing the chance of injury when it starts to get a little tougher. Give the muscles a chance to work – and the rest of your body to stabilise you – by controlling each rep slowly.
When working each muscle, try to use free weights, or at the very least use your own body weight. If you have access to a gym you may want to use the machines dedicated for each muscle which is fine, but it isolates that muscle and doesn’t allow the supporting muscles to come into play as much as free weights do.
What exercise should I do?
I have created a separate page recommending different exercises you can do for strength training to improve motorcycle fitness. You can find it by clicking here.
Stretching is good for the muscles after a workout because it helps remove some of the lactic acid built up during exercise, stretch out the muscles that have been shortened by the act of lifting weights, and lastly allow time for the muscles to cool down correctly.
Another reason why stretching is a good idea is because it makes you supple. This suppleness could be the difference between tearing a muscle or ligament in a crash and just feeling a little bashed about. James Whitham himself said he believes his injury to crash (of which there were many) ratio was so low because he kept himself fit and supple.
Tip: Don’t try and stretch as far as you can, just get yourself to the point where you can really feel the stretch. If you try and push past that and you could be risking injury.
Keep mixing it up
It takes a keen fitness enthusiast to continue exercising without ever feeling like they can’t be bothered. Mix up your workout routine every few weeks or so to keep it fun and interesting.
Taking all of the information above and putting it into action should see your motorcycle fitness increase considerably and with it the fun and enjoyment you get out of each track day. Keep at it and you’ll see the benefits in time. Best of luck everyone, where’s my Mr Motivator DVD?
Photo by Hernan Pinera
How to Get the Most from Your Track Time: Pre-Ride Prep & How to Approach Your Day
How to Deal With the Panic When Someone Takes Your Line
Learning to Trust Your Tyres Through Technique & Experience
Using Other Riders to Gauge Your Speed and Uncover Weaknesses