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How Strength Training Results in Faster Lap Times – Part 1

There are numerous professional opinions on whether or not strength training should be an instrumental part of a racer’s training program.  In my opinion, strength training is imperative for the successful racer at multi-day races like Loretta Lynn’s, Ponca, Lake Whitney and Oak Hill. Overall body strength will help prevent the effects of cumulative fatigue and allow for proper bike position and efficiency on the bike throughout the entire week of racing.  Also, full body strength is a complement to the other elements of a complete performance training program: endurance, flexibility, nutrition and mental preparedness.

Let’s take a look at three direct benefits of strength training from a physiological stand point and how it relates to motorcycle racing.  First, it will increase the amount of force your muscles can exert on a particular object.  As a racer, moving a motorcycle around that weighs anywhere from one hundred to two hundred plus pounds for any extended period of time requires strength levels above the typical athlete that only has to concern himself with one’s body weight.  When you add both the weight of the rider, the weight of the motorcycle and the law of physics that exponentially adds resistance to the working muscle, force is a key component for finishing a race as strong as you started.

Second, strength training will permit your muscles to reach a maximum output of force in a shorter period of time.  Even if you are not a big fan of science, hang in there with me for this concept.  Weight training will increase and facilitate the balance of strength in all working muscles and the resulting motor units (witch include motor nerves and muscle fibers).  One nerve impulse can charge hundreds of fibers at once; a rapid series of multiple fiber twitches can generate maximum force quickly and for a long period of time.  Weight training will “teach” your nervous system to recruit a wide variety of fibers.  As one group of fibers fatigue, another group will be prepared to relieve the fatigued group.  Without getting to complex, think about nerves as messengers from the brain which control every physical response.  If motor nerves don’t “tell” the muscle fibers to twitch, your muscles won’t contract.  The entire concept behind physical training is to teach your nervous system, with repeating particular muscular movements, to get the correct message to the working muscles.  With a diversified strength program, you will initiate a message to include the number of fibers to be recruited, type of fibers used (fast twitch A or slow twitch B) and frequency of contractions.  Remember, a diversified training program will recruit all of the fibers and the types of fibers needed for the required physical demands.  This is the purpose behind sports specificity and related workout – the more specific the more productive.

Finally, the duration of time your muscles can sustain the level of force before exhaustion is extended.  The overload principle is based on the concept of subjecting the muscles to slightly more load levels than it has incurred in the past.  With incremental load levels, the muscles will increase the fiber solicitation and corresponding recruitment.  With proper rest, the muscles will grow stronger by developing new muscle tissue as an adaptation to the load levels.  With increased muscle mass, the muscles are able to exert higher levels of force and for extended periods of time before exhaustion.  To capture a better idea of this concept, imagine you have muscles that fall under the category of primary and secondary muscles.  The primary muscle groups are the obvious muscles that are responsible for assisting movement.  The secondary muscle groups are also referred to as “assisters” for primary movement.  However, once the primary muscle groups fatigue, the secondary muscles are required to step up to finish the task at hand.  Strength training makes this task familiar to the secondary muscle groups at both the muscular and neuromuscular levels.

Three indirect benefits of strength training include stronger tendons and ligaments, greater bone density and enhanced joint range of motion.  Concerning tendons and ligaments, weight training will increase the size and overall strength of both which will increase the stability of the joints that they surround.  Bone density will increase as a by product of tensile force being placed on the bones – without this tensile force, the bones will actually become brittle and susceptible to breaking.  An increased range of motion at the joint is due to the increased strength and size of the tendons and ligaments.  This increased strength will enhance the ease of mobility within the joint due to tendon and ligament strength and resulting efficiency.  When you look at all three of these components collectively, they address the concern of every racer: broken bones and torn up joints (particularly knees).  Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the muscles and a self protecting mechanism called the Golgi Apparatus are to keep the bones from being taken outside the normal range of motion.  If your have a strong muscular system (accompanied with good flexibility), you will be able to take large impacts without the typical injuries because your body has the proper mechanisms to protect itself.

As a top racer, you need to identify your weaknesses and address these variables specifically.

7 Simple Tips to Find More Speed

 1: Practice Specific Race Scenarios

Set up your practice sessions to simulate a true race scenario (duration, track conditions and intensity levels). Skills associated with racing require that you are able to manage yourself and an environment around others with the ability to adapt to changes of pace, positioning and where decisions have to be made quickly. You have to learn how to get the most out of your performance environments by setting up the closest scenario possible so that you can adapt and improve both physically and mentally as a racer.

 2: Warm Up 

We all have experienced the fact that our lap times get faster as the race transpires. This is because the body is warmed up and the muscles are performing at an optimal level. The trouble is we allow the first two laps of the race to warm up our bodies which results in slower lap times early in the moto.

 3: Eat a High Quality Snack

To top off your blood sugar levels, in your muscles for movement and in your liver to feed your brain for processing, eat an easily digestible snack 10 minutes before your practice or race.  Through our research, we have determined that when a rider struggles to get up to and maintain potential speed it is directly related to food (quality & quantity).

 4: Practice Your Speed Work Early in Your Riding Session

Now that you have topped off your blood sugar levels with an easily digestible snack and jump started your metabolic engine by warming up (ideally for 20 minutes), you can now handle higher intensity levels.  The key to breaking into faster lap times is to implement your speed intervals early in the workout so that you develop both the mental and physical skills necessary to create consistent speed and eliminate late moto fatigue.

 5: Break Speed Ruts

Capture your lap times for 10 lap moto as well as a 20 lap moto. What you will find is that there is not much difference in your speed no matter how long the moto lasts. This is a perfect example of a speed rut.  In the world of human performance, the body should always be able to perform at a higher rate of speed for a shorter period of time; we refer to this as the inverse relationship between volume and intensity.

 6: Implement Fundamentals

Instead of focusing on throwing more effort into going fast, slow down and apply the appropriate skill set to maintain speed and momentum throughout every lap. The most inefficient racer is the one that bounces off the face of everything and blows through every corner – losing momentum which results in lower lap times. If you want to improve not only your overall speed but also your endurance, focus on applying the skills developed through your riding coach that include the utilization of your break, clutch, throttle and body position.

 7: Film

Every factory team films, why aren’t you?  If there is a section that you can’t figure out, film the riders that did.  This is helpful prior to heading out for your first practice – what is the fastest approach to a section, body position, etc.. Duplicate what others are doing to get through the section fast on your first lap verses taking four laps to get up to full speed.  Most everyone has a smart phone these days with a pretty good camera, so use it! Keep in mind that the brain learns in many ways, watching and implementing are two of the most powerful to increasing your speed!

Six Healthy Habits of Fast Racers

Over the last 33 years of working with elite racers, I have noticed there are six specific habits that run consistently through all of these riders.  Not only do these habits create both speed and endurance on the track, they are easy for any rider or racer to implement on a regular basis.

Manage Your Schedule

You can’t manage time, only yourself.  Time keeps ticking no matter what you choose to do with the 24 hours that are in a day.  To get the most out of a day, avoid being rushed.  If you are short on time getting to the track, unloading, getting geared up and then trying to ride, you will inevitably skip your warm up because you are short on time.  If you cut your warm up short, the quality of your riding session will be negatively affected (notice how you feel better at the end of a moto than in the beginning?  This is because you are finally warmed up).  If you are tight on time, you will skip (or at least delay) eating after your session which results in a delay in your recovery process (leaving you sore and tired). You can see how this daily problem becomes a bigger ripple as the week transpires resulting in less than optimum results.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep allows the body the opportunity to “absorb” the workloads completed on a daily basis.  If you don’t fully recover from each workout, you drive yourself into a mode of overtraining with negative performance results.  Strive to get 8 – 9 hours of sleep a day.  If you are getting less than this, look at your overall weekly schedule and make it a priority to sleep – you will be amazed at what happens to your performance results.

Don’t Over Train

Many riders believe that the professionals train all day every day when in fact the opposite is true; ironically, many amateur racers ride and cross train more hours per week than the professionals!  It has been my experience that the most successful riders train for 60-90 minutes in the morning (2 hours after breakfast) and then again in the afternoon for 45-60 minutes after a 2-3 hour nap and high quality snack or smoothie.  The reason for this pattern is to allow the body to absorb and recover from each workout.  Keep in mind that a rider doesn’t become faster by riding and cross training, but rather from eating and sleeping (see above).

Eat Every Two Hours

To help keep our rider’s body fat levels low and their strength to weight ratios high, I have my riders eat one piece of fruit, a sliced vegetable (the darker green the better) and a lean source of protein (2-4 ounces) every two hours.  By eating every two hours, the rider’s blood sugar levels remain constant which helps manage hunger levels.  Low hunger levels result in less food being consumed before the feeling of being full is achieved.  Two additional benefits to eating every two hours with fresh fruits and vegetables are that the rider becomes pre-hydrated with water and they receive a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for the production of energy.

Eat Plenty of Fat and Protein

Fat and protein are the ONLY food items that actually satisfy your hunger.  Healthy fat (avocadoes, salmon, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil) is necessary for optimal health and performance.  Protein (specifically amino acids) is necessary to rebuild your muscles after you tear them down during your riding and cross training sessions.  The body that you have today is a result of what you have consumed over the last six months because it takes this long to completely rebuild your body; if you want to have less body fat and more muscle in six months, start today

Receive Massage & Stretch Regularly

Simply put, as muscles are used for physical movement, they become progressively tighter.  As the muscles tighten, they shorten which puts strain on the attachments at each end of the muscle (origin and insertion).  If the muscles become too tight, they develop a condition referred to as a trigger point.  To illustrate what a trigger point is, put your finger tips into the muscles in your shoulders (between the base of your neck and the end of your shoulder).  Push each finger tip down into the muscles and act as if you are playing the piano.  You will inevitably find a couple of “hot spots”, this is a trigger point.  To help get the trigger point to release and decrease the tension on the muscle’s attachment, keep direct pressure on the center of the trigger point and breathe deep; within 5-10 seconds you will notice the level of tension becoming less.  By receiving a massage on a regular basis (as often as once a week) keeps the muscles from becoming overly tight.  As the tension in the muscle is reduced, the range of motion of the muscles (primary and secondary) improves which results in higher levels of strength and endurance.  In addition to massage, top riders know how to properly isolate and stretch muscles.  For optimum stretching results, stretch muscles ONLY after they have been warmed up with low intensity movement (ideally sport specific) for 10-15 minutes.  The low intensity movement allows the blood to be diverted from the spine, organs and glands and into the various muscles in the arms and legs.  Once the temperature within the muscle reaches an optimum level (as evident by sweat on your arms and face), stop and stretch (refrain from bouncing) the isolated target muscle; hold the stretch for 4-6 seconds while focusing on your breathing.  For some riding specific stretches to reduce improve your range of motion and reduce your risk of injury, please visit my Youtube Channel.

How to Find New Levels of Speed on the Track

There are many different ways to train, depending on who you listen to.  Though each approach is designed to improve a distinct function, there is always some overlap.  The two ends of the spectrum are aerobic to anaerobic and here we will discuss the five elements that fill up the middle of this spectrum.  The key to ultimate success in racing is to combine all of the following elements into your training so that you will be able to compete closer to your anaerobic threshold for a longer period of time without fading.

Explosive Speed

This high energy training is designed to develop power and the ability to throw in bursts of speed when necessary (i.e. to bridge to a rider in front of you or after you go down and need to restart your bike) and to finish a race strong.  The duration of these intervals is usually between 15 and 30 seconds and can be completed 4 to 8 times while maintaining high output levels.  You will be enhancing your fast twitch fibers A (slightly oxidative) and fast twitch B (anaerobic).  Adjust your recovery time to allow for full recovery – don’t begin your next interval until your heart rate is around 20 beats above your resting heart rate.  The fatigue levels associated with this type of training is high and should not be performed within more than twice a week with a minimum of two days of recovery in between.

Sprint Speed

This type of training helps you adapt to high levels of lactic acid and oxygen debt.  The major benefit to this type of training is that it teaches you how to vary your speed within a race without depleting your glycogen storages (i.e. bonking).  The duration of these intervals is usually between 30 seconds and 2 minutes and can be completed 4 to 6 times while maintaining high output levels.  You will be enhancing your fast twitch fibers A and B as well as your slow twitch fibers.  Each interval needs to be started fully rested.  If you allow for this to happen, you will split your energy sources evenly between anaerobic and aerobic.  In my opinion, this type of training is the most productive for high level racing, yet is the most overlooked within a racers program.  High level racing requires that you get up to a fast pace quickly and then maintain it for the entire duration.  During the first lap, your respirations will increase, lactic acid will accumulate and your effort level will be very high.  If your muscles are trained to cope with the lactic acid level and oxygen debt of the initial sprint, your body will not be as “shocked” as a body that has not familiarized itself with this glycogen burning byproduct (i.e. lactic acid).  Due to the higher levels of lactate, you will experience significant muscle soreness and stiffness so keep the frequency of these workouts to two times per week (with a minimum of three days of rest for optimum performance).

VO2 Max

This type of training gets a lot of publicity and is tossed around by many performance coaches as the key indicator of ability.  There is credibility to this mind set due to the fact that a racer that has a greater oxygen uptake number should also indicate a greater aerobic capacity and hence the fastest racer – it is not that simple.  In a race, physical capacities as racers come down to combinations of all the other elements in one’s performance: anaerobic thresholds, technique and efficiency while fatigued and desire.

The benefit associated with this type of training is that your heart pumps a lot of blood per beat and your stroke volume is elevated during the recovery phase, which allows more blood to be pumped during the next working phase.  More blood means more oxygen.  By elevating your VO2 max, will allow you to perform closer to your aerobic capacity.  The duration of these intervals is usually between 2 and 10 minutes and are progressive (you will elevate your HR to a high output level within the first two minutes and then maintain for the duration of the interval).  Your interval count should be no more than 4 times in order to maintain workout quality.  You will be enhancing your fast twitch fibers A as well as your slow twitch fibers.  Your rest interval will be half of your work duration.  One interesting side note, since your VO2 Max is a numerical value determined in relation to body weight, the leaner you are the higher your VO2 maximum due to the increased mitochondria and capillaries (in relation to body fat) present to deliver oxygen.  These types of workouts can be completed three to four times a week with adequate hours of quality sleep and consistent food intake to enhance the recovery opportunity.

Anaerobic Threshold

At your anaerobic threshold, lactic acid begins to diffuse back into the bloodstream for use as a fuel.  If you slow down, you will activate your aerobic system; if you speed up, you will produce lactic acid at a faster rate than you can diffuse it.  Anaerobic threshold training teaches your body to perform at the highest point possible without exceeding your anaerobic threshold.  The duration of these intervals is usually between 1 and 3 minutes.  Your interval count can be as minimal as 10 and as many as 50 (depending on the interval duration) and still maintain overall quality.  You will also be enhancing your fast twitch fibers A as well as your slow twitch fibers.  The rest intervals are short – between 20 and 60 seconds.  It is the enhancement of your Anaerobic Threshold in conjunction with your VO2 Max that makes the ideal racer.  The combination of these two performance elements allows the racer to perform at a higher level of output and for the entire duration of the race! Anaerobic threshold training is not as demanding as VO2 max training; your day to day recovery will be quick.  By keeping your workout recovery times to a minimum, you are stimulating your aerobic metabolism more than you’re anaerobic.  Your lactate levels are not nearly as high (resulting in less residual soreness).   Additionally, you are breaking the effort into shorter segments than in distance training which allows you to perform at a higher intensity level developing your aerobic energy stem to burn more fatty acids in proportion to glycogen.  This side benefit leads to a leaner body which in turn drives up your VO2 Max – see how this disciplined form of training has all kinds of fringe benefits?  Most importantly, working at this level of intensity simulates race pace and all of the physiological changes that occur within a race.  As the body becomes more familiar with this effort, the easier the racing becomes.

Aerobic Training

Aerobic training teaches your body to conserve glycogen and burn fatty acids as a primary fuel source.  Benefits to enhancing your aerobic engine: you will engage the fat burning process within the first 10 to 15 minutes of aerobic exercise; expedites the delivery of oxygen to working muscles; increase your stroke volume within the heart; increases the capillary density within the muscles; increases the mass and number of mitochondria and helps release ATP aerobically.  The ironic element of Aerobic Training is that it is the discipline of training that gets pushed aside first, yet has substantial benefits.  Because we are so acclimated to the “No Pain, No Gain” mentality, we have tendency to think that the easy, long workouts are not productive.  If you want to get fast – go long and at measured aerobic enhancement intensity!  The duration of Aerobic Training intervals are usually between 15 minutes and 3 hours.  Due to the continuous nature of Aerobic Training, there isn’t any actual interval count. You will be enhancing your slow twitch fibers with this type of training.   A couple words of caution with this type of training.  First, don’t check out mentally and go too easy.  You need to be at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate to reap the physiological benefits we are looking for during these types of workouts.  Secondly, though the intensity is low, don’t jeopardize your mechanics of whatever type of training you are doing (i.e. pedal mechanics, swim stroke, etc.) to avoid any unnecessary injuries.  These types of workouts are ideal for working on mental rehearsal and breathing focus (more on these elements in future articles).

As you can see each of the energy systems provide important physiological benefits to a racers performance program.  When you incorporate the proper workouts into a week of training (based entirely on your race periodization – Pre Season, Pre competitive, Competitive) you are building a human body that is as capable as any motor that a mechanic can build for you.  It just takes a little bit of research and field testing on behalf of the racer to determine how to put all of the elements together at the right time and at the correct intensity levels for optimum performance.

Top 10 Things to Make Your Key Race More Successful

1. Taper.

If you have followed your plan, you are trained. Realize that you are NOT going to gain any more fitness or speed before your big race. However, you CAN negatively affect both if you panic and try to “squeeze” in one more high intensity workout. The body needs the opportunity to “absorb” the workloads that you have subjected the body to in the form of intensity, volume and frequency.  To race to your full potential you need to come into the race feeling fresh – mentally and physically.  A rule of thumb is to come into your high profile races one percent undertrained, rather than one percent over trained.  If you are over trained, even by one percent, you will not be resilient to the challenge of a typical race week: heat, humidity, loaded competition, setbacks, frustrations, rain, etc.

2. Identify your sweat rate to avoid over or under hydration.

You need to know how much sweat you lose during a high intensity effort in the humidity and temperatures you plan to race in. Though this may sound obvious (and even difficult to implement for most people), this will help eliminate two significant problems during race week: dehydration and hyponatremia.  Dehydration is when your body loses too much water in the way of sweat.  You don’t want to lose more than 3-4% of your total body weight (including the amount of fluids you consumed prior to the race).  Send us an email at Contact@CoachRobb.com to receive a copy of our Sweat Rate Calculator. Hyponatremia is when you consume more water than your body can absorb and properly hydrate the body.  Walking around with a gallon of straight water is the quickest way to over-hydrate and become physically ill.  When the body is over hydrated, you will feel nauseous, dizzy and have little to no energy.

3. Determine your nutrition and hydration plan.

Prior to your race you need to plan and test your nutrition and hydration. If you are bonking or experiencing gastrointestinal issues, then you know that what you are eating or drinking is not working and you need to reevaluate. Testing is key to developing a solid plan that will work for you on race day.

4. Establish an effective warm up.

To avoid using the first 10 minutes of your race to get your body up to your full race speed, you need to come to the starting line warmed up.  There are a few physiological adaptations that your body will go through, but understand that if you are warmed up sufficiently, your muscles will embrace the high intensity levels right from the beginning of the race.  A proper warm up will not only increase your speed, but will offset the potential for fatigue later in the race because the muscles and energy systems are working efficiently.

5. Learn to breathe.

Though this skill may sound odd, the ability to maximize your oxygen uptake is the foundation for speed AND endurance.  Click here to watch a video on how to learn how to breathe properly.  Once you can breathe deep through your belly in a relaxed setting (i.e. when you are lying down to go to sleep), you can begin to implement during your training and racing. This is a simple drill and skill to learn with huge rewards!

6. Get a therapeutic massage rather than deep tissue.

Avoid deep tissue massage prior to a race. The residual soreness and inflammation associated with deep tissue is completely contrary to what your body needs while you are peaking for your key race. Though deep tissue work is counterproductive for peak performance prior to a race, therapeutic massage is beneficial because it will help the tissue relax (you will sleep better) and improve range of motion within the muscles and associated joints.  A good massage therapist will help you identify any overly tight muscle(s) which will maximize your stretching and soft tissue efforts.

7. Nothing new.

Don’t try anything new the week of your race.  If you haven’t consumed something in training and have concrete evidence that the food you are eating will yield a positive result, don’t eat it, especially the night before your race! Many adverse reactions can result from introducing new foods: dehydrations, diarrhea, nausea and low energy levels.

8. Establish a schedule to avoid rushing.

One of the biggest energy robbers on race day is rushing around the morning of to get to the starting line. Once the race schedule is established, sit down and create a daily schedule including sleep, eating, warm-up, race and post race recovery. You need to know where you need to be and when and then stick to the schedule.  Sounds basic, but this task will save you energy when you are doing exactly what you “planned” to be doing.  You will be both more productive (because you are focused) and less stressed (because you have a little bit of extra time in case something goes wrong).

9. Eat real food.

Avoid eating anything that comes out of a box and instead snack on real food: fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein. Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in water and natural electrolytes – both imperative for optimum performance. Lean protein sources will provide your body with the necessary amino acids to replenish the torn down muscles associated with high intensity racing.

10. Don’t carbo load.

The quickest way to throw you off of your race game is to follow the old theory of “Carbo-Loading”. What you may not know is that to store one gram of carbohydrates in your body (you store sugar in your body in the form of glycogen and you store it within your muscles and liver) your body stores 2.5 grams of water.  So, if you “load up” on carbs, you can easily add 3-5 pounds in extra water – overnight.  Think about strapping a five-pound dumbbell to your waist and hit the starting line. The added weight will throw your form off and you won’t even understand why. [Note: your liver fuels your brain when you sleep and your muscles fuel your racing efforts.]