Motocross training used to go by the saying go hard or go home, train harder, hard work beats talent, and out train the competition. These all make for cool shirts at the gym, but the word hard(er) should be replaced by the word smart(er). When I was racing intermediate and eventually pro in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Ricky Carmichael came out for the season opener in 2001 and instead of the pudgy kid he used to be, he was fit and lean. According to the magazines, Ricky took his training off the bike very seriously and decided he wanted to leave no stone unturned and hired the support of a personal trainer. This was a complete shock to the motocross community, and everyone plugged in all the Rocky movies and had them on repeat (well, I did). That year Ricky Carmichael de-throned the king of Supercross, Jeremy McGrath. With this shocking visual and physical change in Ricky Carmichael, everyone wanted to get the results like he was. Motocross and Supercross went from a sport where talent and some physical work was common, to a sport in which physical fitness off the bike started to take control and a lot of racers started prioritizing off the bike training over on the bike training.
What we started to see was a lot of overtraining and quite a few cases of the Epstein Barr Virus. I believe the reason for this was that motocross guys thought they could take the training on themselves and if they had the luxury of paying for a personal trainer, they hired an ex 80’s-90’s pro who was probably fantastic on the bike, but just threw the rider into their old training program that they may or may not have applied back in the day. Riders were reaching the point of no return and driving themselves into the ground. These riders were doing themselves a disservice by pushing their bodies too hard and being worse off than if they simply just did on the bike training.
I learned the hard way that training smarter, not harder, would win in the end. I was sixteen when I turned professional. I received Rookie of the Year in my first professional season of AMA Arenacross. The sky was the limit for me if I put my head down and trained harder. Well, that did not work out how I had planned. I would find myself doing 30-minute motos multiple days during the week, hitting the gym after and doing intense cardio in the anaerobic zone, only to get to the races and last a pathetic four or five laps. I was only taking 1-2 days of recovery a week. After each race I was devastated, sitting in my van, I would tell myself, I just was not in good enough shape and double down on the week. On came the next weekend with even worse results than the week before, gassing out early and suffering from terrible arm pump. I would get injured very frequently too. When I came back from a few months off, healing from my injuries, I would have the best race I had had all year and tell myself, “Man, wait until I start training and get back in shape, these guys don’t have a chance against me.” Boy was I wrong, I would just repeat the cycle, train harder, poor results, train even harder than the week before, even worse results and sprinkle a lot of injuries in there too!
The reason I am writing about this topic is that it is something I am seeing to this day. Like my good friend Ben Moberg of Pure Endurance Training said, “You can be a professional at a very young age, but you need to train with the wisdom of a fifty-year-old.” Now I am not saying we should all be couch potatoes and we can win a Supercross title. This article is for the dedicated racer who has the Rocky Balboa mentality. We can pick on the couch potato some other time. We need to be smart and listen to our bodies. If you do not have the restraint and lose your mind without going to the gym every day, find a recreational hobby to help you recover. I find with racers; their hobby is riding and fitness. They want to do it every day. Training and riding every day are a recipe for disaster, as an athlete, you need recovery days just as much, if not more, than you need those hard training days. If you can only ride one day a week, then it is great to get a few cross-training days in during the week. If you are an aspiring professional or at the professional level doing three days of three 30-minute motos during the week, proceed with caution. That intense level of riding during the week just may be enough of physical activity. Instead of going and destroying yourself at the gym on the days off, focus on some restorative exercising like stretching, walking and flexibility.
I am a firm believer, that if you sit on the “go hard, or go home” side of the spectrum. It is better to be slightly undertrained going into the weekend than over trained.