Fitness For Motorcyclists | Sport Rider

Fitness For Motorcyclists

Motorcyclists don't get much respect as far as athletes go. After all, say the critics, what's so difficult about riding a new Yamaha R6 up the local canyons or taking hot laps down at the area raceway? As anyone who's come out of a turn with his arms aching from the power needed to flick a 350-pound sportbike around at speed knows, bikes take plenty of fitness to ride well. The logical extension of that is the more fit you are, the more performance you'll be able to wring out of your rides.

Go for an hour or so ride through twisty canyons and you will see physically fit riders separate themselves from the herd of beer-chugging weekend warriors. They may not be better technical riders necessarily, but their increased fitness allows them to stave off fatigue, which limits performance and can be dangerous when you're riding at the limit of your abilities. Fatigue has a number of negative effects. First, you won't have the power to control your bike as well as you could. Second, and most importantly, two major symptoms of fatigue are a loss of judgment and decreasing reaction times. Simply put, you will start to fall asleep at the clip-ons. Proper fitness won't protect you from bad decisions or poor form, but it can help you sustain better technique longer and have more fun on the bike.

What is Fitness?

There are two basic kinds of fitness relating to the energy systems your body uses. Aerobic fitness is your ability to do work over a sustained period of time. A primary component of this is the health of your cardiovascular system. Aerobic, in this case, doesn't mean Tae-Bo; it means the body's capacity to do work over a period of time when oxygen is present in the muscle. To build cardio fitness you have to put in some time--namely you need an exercise regimen that includes a sport such as cycling or running.

Anaerobic fitness is more related to musculature. Anaerobic workouts are high-intensity exercises that create a temporary oxygen deficit by consuming more oxygen at a particular moment than the cardiovascular system can supply, thereby forcing your muscles to burn glycogen, instead of oxygen, for energy. The anaerobic energy system kicks in for shorter, harder expenditures of energy, where the muscles are operating at such a high capacity that they can no longer flush the lactic acid waste from the tissues, causing the "burn" often referred to in exercise literature. Weight training is a common anaerobic training method.

A basic exercise regimen will build on these two kinds of fitness. The form you gain from exercising will help stave off fatigue during a long, hot race, help you to post personal best finishes and recover faster after arduous efforts.

Find the Time

Adopting a fitness regimen isn't easy. And sticking to one is even harder. You'll have to carve approximately five to eight hours per week out of your schedule to make room for it. And since you want to ride motorcycles on the weekend, you'll try to fit most of the workout time into the work week. The best method is to get creative: Try commuting to work by bicycle two days a week, and bring extra clothes on the days that you drive. Or use your lunch hour a few days a week to go for a run. Some companies offer financial incentives or rewards to employees who use alternative transportation. Others have arrangements with local health clubs for discounted memberships--check with your human resources department.

If you can't get out during daylight hours, check into a health club's options for things such as spinning classes on stationary bikes or aerobics classes. Don't snicker, most serious aerobics enthusiasts would kick your butt in physical ability tests. When you're ready to collapse, they'll just be getting warmed up. If classes aren't offered at the times you have free, look around at other clubs. Some feature early and late operating hours for folks with difficult work schedules.

Easy Does It

When you first join a club, do not overdo it on your initial workout. Some clubs will give you a personal trainer who will make you jump through hoops to find your "athletic potential." Don't do it. Other than a quick lesson in humility, you'll only get prolonged muscle soreness. It's not beneficial if you are so sore you can't work out for another week, and your motivation level is not rewarded either. Build up to your potential.

Spice it Up

Once you have a fitness program in place, avoid stagnation. Whether riding the same roads on your bike over and over, or plodding through the old, familiar circuit at the gym, it's easy to get bored and lose motivation. The solution: mix it up. Your muscles will adjust to a set of exercises in about five weeks, not coincidentally about the same time you'll begin to get bored of the routine. That's when you should change it. Find new routes to ride or run, switch your weight workout to a new routine, or change the order you do your weight circuit. The best cure for boredom is company, though. Join a running or cycling club. Find a partner to help you in the gym. Working out with a friend will help speed up your workout (your buddy can "spot" you) and will also increase the fun factor.

Most importantly, focus on why you're trying to get in shape. By keeping your goal of better riding in mind, you can help maintain your regimen. Remember, for the lack of respect motorcycle racers receive as athletes, most top GP racers train year-round and have established workout programs that they follow. Many employ coaches to help them meet their fitness goals. While you may not be an aspiring Max Biaggi, a workout program can help you get the most out of your riding. Whether you're interested in winning a local race series or simply enjoying your weekend sport rides more, riding is more fun when you're in shape.

The Workouts

Cardio Fitness

Since your aerobic fitness is determined by your ability to do work for an extended time, building your cardiovascular strength requires sustained exercise. Don't start by running up the stairs of a 19-story office building. Instead, begin at a low to moderate intensity; you should be able to carry on a conversation while you exercise (not an oratory, but be able to speak coherently). You want to get your heart pounding--not leaping out of your chest.One way to gauge your workout intensity is to monitor your pulse rate. Once you have that number, you know whether to push yourself harder or ease up by comparing it to your target heart rate in beats per minute (bpm). Calculate your target by subtracting your age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate. Next, generate the numbers for different levels of intensity by multiplying your max heart rate by 0.65, 0.75 and 0.85. Your target range will be in the 65 to 85 percent range. When you start a cardio fitness program, strive to keep your pulse rate in the 65 to 75 percent range. For example, a 38-year-old would aim for 118 and 136 bpm.

As you progress, increase your bpm to 75 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

On a Bike

Start by making sure your bike fits. Bad bike fit is not only uncomfortable, but also can lead to repetitive-use injuries. If you're not sure, ask for help setting your bike at a local shop. When you first start riding, go for an easy, half-hour spin on flat roads. Keep the bike in a low gear; pushing too big of a gear will hurt your knees. If you're taking a spin class, tell the instructor it's your first time and ask for help.

On the Run

For running, make sure your shoe soles aren't sacked out. Running shoes use a high-void EPS foam that sacks out relatively quickly. Elite runners will wear out a pair of shoes in three months. When possible, run on dirt or grass rather than pavement, which is more jarring to your joints. Some prefer trail running since it is more interesting than its road counterpart. Trail running teaches motor skills as you run over obstacles, and also helps develop more balanced muscle groups. Go to your local running shop for advice on where to run. Do not run hills for the first three weeks of your new program; you can overstress muscles and connective tissues.

Strength Building

Although motorcyclists use their whole body when riding, the stomach, forearms and inner thighs are of primary importance. While working on your arms and legs, don't forget to develop core body strength. Your core, also called your trunk or center of gravity, is the fulcrum for many athletic movements and is therefore the center of strength in your extremities. Core muscles include the abdomen, lumbar region, chest (pectorals) and shoulders (trapezius and laterals). As your trunk strength increases, you'll find that you rely less on your arms to support your body while riding, freeing up your arms to control the bike with less effort.

As with beginning an aerobic training program, use moderate weights when you start strength building. The bigger weights will come soon enough. Try two to three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions each, rather than going for higher weight and low reps. It's not necessary to spend lots of time on these exercises. A half hour of weight work two to three days a week is plenty to build your fitness.The exercises shown can be done at home with a set of dumbbells and with improvised equipment. Good weight lifting form is slow and steady; don't blast through the exercises or you'll cheat yourself out of a proper workout. Exhale when lifting and inhale when reversing the lift. Avoid holding your breath or resting too long between sets. If you're working one side of the body at a time, don't alternate sides with each rep--do all the reps in a set on one side, then switch.

Joe Lindsey is an avid motorcycle and bicycle rider from Colorado. He is a former staff editor of Bicycle Guide and Bicyclist.


Crunches are like ergonomically correct sit-ups. Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Rotate your hips back until your back is flat on the floor. Place your arms behind your head. Look at a spot on the ceiling directly above your head. On the raise, lift your shoulders an inch above the floor. Keep your neck straight and your arms relaxed and parallel to the floor. Allow approximately 30 seconds (15 deep breaths) of rest between sets--or just enough to let the pain subside.


Lie face down on the floor to find proper arm placement. Raise yourself slowly while keeping your trunk as straight as possible. When you lower yourself, your elbows should not have more than a 90 degree bend to them. Don't lock your elbows to rest at the top of the lift. If you have lower back problems, do push-ups with your knees on the floor and your ankles raised and crossed behind you.

Dips (not shown)

If you don't belong to a club, you can do this exercise on two stools, a sturdy corner railing or between two level counter tops--just find two stable surfaces that are slightly wider than shoulder width. Support yourself in mid-air with straight arms. Bend your legs and cross your ankles behind you. Slowly lower and raise yourself. Again, the 90-degree elbow and not locking your elbows rules apply.

Bench Press

Lie on a bench (or sturdy coffee table) with your feet flat on the floor. Grip the bar or dumbbells with your hands slightly more than shoulder width apart. Be particularly careful if you don't have a rack for the bar. Inhale as you lower the dumbbells to the center of your chest. Don't lower the weight past a 90 degree bend in the elbow. Exhale as you push the dumbbells straight until your elbows are extended.

Bicep Curls

Stand with your arms hanging at your sides. Hold the dumbbells with an underhand grip. Lift the dumbbells toward your shoulders while keeping your back straight and your shoulders motionless. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Make sure your elbows stay close to your torso. Don't swing the weight or alternate sides between reps.

Tricep Extension

While sitting in a chair, hold a dumbbell above your head with both hands. Lower the weight down behind your head, and raise the dumbbell back up until your arms are fully extended. Make sure your upper arms stay perpendicular to the floor and close to your head. Keep your back straight.

Lateral Shoulder Raises

Stand with your arms hanging at your sides and your elbows slightly bent. Hold the dumbbells with an overhand grip. Raise the dumbbells up from your sides and away from your body until parallel to the floor. Lower them back to the starting position. Remember to keep your elbows slightly bent and don't raise your arms any higher than parallel to the floor. Don't shrug your shoulders.


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