Introductory Strength Training for Motorcyclists

How To -


Introductory Strength Training for Motorcyclists

I’ve been reading RideApart since its inception, and was glad to see an article written by Wes Siler called, “How Getting in Shape Makes You a Better Motorcyclist,” devoted to the partnership between fitness and riding well. As a strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate level and a practicing strength athlete (in addition to a commuter and sport rider) I reached out to see if I could provide RideApart readers with more information on the specifics of how to get started on the path to increased strength and stamina. After an email exchange, RA was on board with my contribution of this article.

In the sections below, I’ll generally present exercises that will best suit strength training beginners in their quest for improved riding performance and safety. While reading this, remember the end goal: to be better at riding. While exercises and movements can be used for a variety of reasons, we are only looking for riding improvement. Aesthetic changes, while welcome, are not the primary purpose.

Lower Body

Of the five general points of contact on the motorcycle, three are on your lower body. Furthermore, the need for soft hands on the bars for proper steering, braking, throttle control and clutching means that the vast majority of your weight is supported by these three points of contact. For the purposes of this article, lower body exercises will cover everything from the lumbar spine (low back) and down.

Introductory Strength Training for Motorcyclists - Lower Body
Lower Body

Photo by Gontzal García del Caño

In order to determine which exercises to choose, we need to identify what the physical needs are of our sport, which in this case would be riding a motorcycle. For example, we need to rapidly shift our weight from peg to peg while sport riding, use our legs as shock absorbers and props while off-roading, and generally have the ability to handle and maneuver a possibly 500+ pound bike while fatigued.

Exercise: Back Squat

The alpha and omega of strength training exercises, the back squat is probably the most significant exercise you can do for any sport whether it is golf, football, sprinting, or riding a motorcycle. At its most basic, the back squat is placing a barbell across the muscles of the upper back, descending into a squatting position so that the hip crease breaks parallel while maintaining a relatively upright torso, and then returning to the standing position. The back squat is a prime strength builder for the quadriceps, glutes, hips, and lumbar spinal erectors, with secondary involvement of the hamstrings and thoracic spinal erectors.

By strengthening the legs in conjunction with the lower back, we have the ability to produce more force with the legs to move across the pegs faster, to absorb bigger bumps, or push the bike in neutral, while also being able to maintain a stable back position, which is crucial for high performance riding. Stick between three to five sets, with anywhere from five to 15 reps. The less advanced you are, the more you should stick to the middle of those ranges.

Do: Squat to full range of motion.
Do: Start light… Seriously, go lighter than that.

Don’t: Round your back.
Don’t: Let your knees come inward during the ascent.

Exercise: DB Lunge

My favorite accessory exercise for the lower body, DB Lunges do a bit of everything in a manner that is less technically involved than a squat. It’s a deceptively simple exercise, but one that will seriously test your fitness, balance, and strength levels. If it is your first time doing these, stick with 20 lbs in each hand and go up from there. All you need to do is stand upright, step out far enough so that your front shin is vertical, and drop your back knee so that it almost, but does not quite touch the ground. Press off your front foot to the standing upright position. Now do the same, but with the opposite leg. Both legs equal one repetition. While lunging, keep an upright and braced torso.

I like to perform these in pretty high volumes. Anywhere from three to six sets with 10 to 15 reps each is about right. In a pinch for time? Do 100 lunges in as few sets as possible using whatever weight you want. Your legs and lungs will be on fire. The ability to balance yourself under load will pay dividends next time you’re getting pushed around by G-forces, whether you’re dragging your knee or hitting whoops.

Do: Make sure front and back feet point straight.
Do: Push yourself hard on these.

Don’t: Round your back.
Don’t: Let your back knee touch the ground.

Exercise: Back Bridge

As the case with most non-strength athletes, you are most likely front dominant, especially in the lower body. You have decently developed quadriceps with weak hamstrings and glutes. We want to ensure that you are balanced for injury prevention as well as increased strength and mobility. Lie on your back, and bring your feet up so that your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Lift your toes, and dig your heels into the ground flexing your hamstrings and squeezing the glutes to lift your hips up off the ground, pause when your hips are approximately six to 12 inches off the ground, and return to the floor.

I promise that you’ll be sore the next morning. Hamstring and glute involvement is crucial for pushing when the knee is flexed, a position aggressive sport riders are in frequently. Somewhere between three to five sets with 10 to 20 reps at the end of a workout is about right.

Do: Squeeze your butt and hamstring.
Do: Lots of these.

Don’t: Push with your quads.
Don’t: Relax between repetitions.

Continue Reading: Introductory Strength Training for Motorcyclists >>

  • stever

    Doing Turkish get-ups in a gym crowded with juiced dudes on machines and make-up ladies on ellipticals is a great way to practice for walking into a store while wearing a day-glo onesie.

    It bulks up your IDGAFus maximus.

    • omgz


  • Matt Mason

    I just watch a bunch of Revzilla product reviews and expect to slowly absorb Anthony’s muscles….it’s diffusion duh!

    • omgz

      I agree

      • omgz


        • omgz


  • Kr Tong

    I try to focus on chest, arms, shoulders, lumbar, and hip adductors, and then just overall stability:

    Hang cleans
    step ups (weighted)
    side lunges (weighted)
    stability rows

    Also, THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing this. I cant express enough how happy I am ride apart is reading my mind as of late.

    • APG7

      As the author, hit me up via my website/email address (at the last page) if you want to talk in more detail.

      • Benjamin Lindemuth-Mcrobie

        +1 there, always great to get a roadmap for success in this case. I’ll be hitting those squats again.

        • PattonStrength

          Glad you liked it. RideApart members are getting a month of free work from me if you want something written and planned out.

  • Antonio Bošković

    just do mtb, it works
    i see no pros like motogp or wsbk lifting weights, most of them do cycling with a bit of gym with light weights, technique is more important than power

    • Wes Siler

      Trust me, every single one of them lifts. You don’t turn into the incredible hulk the second you enter a gym, that’s an entirely different thing.

    • APG7

      That’s where the knowledge of the coach comes in. I would never program an aspiring motorcycle racer in the same manner as a high school linebacker getting offers from Florida. Its about general preparation of the body to support and move itself and loads (heavy bikes) under stress.

    • Benjamin Reynolds

      I thought that as well, I picked up cycling and got into great shape. Only one little snag, about three years into it I started to develop muscle imbalances. Now I have a very structured gym routine to compliment the cycling and all of my problems have went away.

    • Kr Tong

      I know what you mean. JUST cycling will go pretty far. Btt that said I know of plenty of cyclists that weight train in the winter/off season. My roommates and I are into mtb’ing and train in the gym all the time. putting on muscle is a hard thing to do without picking things up and putting them down.

    • Stuki

      All athletes lift these days; probably even chess players. MTB’ers do for sure. I was shocked to see the conditioning program of a top F1 driver.

  • Generic42

    Can you give a little more detail on the sets, timing, rest between, a rotation, etc? I’ve never had a good understanding of what I should be doing between each set.

    • APG7

      Sure. Assuming a basic set of 3×10 (three sets of ten repetitions), I’d wait between 1:00-2:00 between sets. During that time, just literally stand around and rest. Generally speaking, the larger number of repetitions, the shorter rest between sets. In more advanced strength training, it’s not uncommon to wait 3-5 minutes between sets.

      Also, you can experiment with super-setting, or complexing. That is when you take a primary exercise (like a squat), complete the first set and then immediate go into a secondary (like a back bridge) without any rest. Once the second exercise’s repetitions are finished for that set, take the 1-2 min rest.

      • Mark D

        I’ve been doing a really helpful body-weight “super-set” (I know it as a circuit training). The great thing about body weight exercises is that you can do them anywhere, anytime, with nearly anything (a milk carton or small, heavy suitcase when traveling will work!)

        • PattonStrength

          Yup. Something like that is great when you’re stuck in a hotel room (or inside due to a snowstorm). Little bursts of metabolic conditioning (your circuit) are also really useful as workout finishers. Bang out your weights for the day and then hop into some intensity conditioning (<10 min total), and you'll get stronger, more conditioned, and more explosive.

        • Generic42

          Thanks for this also

      • stever

        So that’s what all those dicks are doing when they’re standing around the damned squat rack, gossiping instead of lifting!

    • APG7

      Let me know if that covers it, or if you have any more questions.

      • Generic42

        That was great, thank you.

  • Ryan Chambers

    RideApart, you are my bible.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    What’s next? Does masturbation teach your proper throttle control?

    • Bones Over Metal

      OMG just burst out laughing at work. Thanks I needed that.

    • Jen Degtjarewsky

      Enlighten us…

      • Rameses the 2nd

        About which one? Masturbation or Throttle Control?

        Throttle control is something that can save your life and Masturbation is also something that can save your life. TBH with you, they both are very useful.

  • APG7

    For a true beginner, this isn’t entirely true in my opinion. It’s important to apply a significant enough load to the muscles and skeletons to start gaining strength and stability. During this process though, various stretches and mobility work should be applied to get the trainee so that they are able to squat to full depth comfortably. Too often, people spend months squatting far below their capacity when they could be both getting stronger and more flexible by just doing what they are able, and intelligently applying accessory mobility work.

    • TheSeaward

      Maybe I’m just tired of seeing people do 45° squats with 215lbs instead of doing the exercise correctly. There’s zero shame in dropping weight to preserve form.

      When I’m squatting it always helps if I push through my heels. You can tell you’re balanced well if you can still wiggle your toes at the lowest portion of the movement. Another thing that helps me is focusing on breaking at the hips instead of pushing the knees forward. Think of it as lowering your hips instead of bending your legs. Helps keep your back healthy too.

      • APG7

        “Maybe I’m just tired of seeing people do 45° squats with 215lbs instead of doing the exercise correctly. There’s zero shame in dropping weight to preserve form.” — Zero disagreement there.

        My comment is more in regards to the true beginner. Most of my athletes the first time they squat don’t get to parallel. We don’t just go body weight until they magically improve the ROM. It’s a process that should be dealt with from several angles though constantly drilling the movement and working on strengthening and improving mobility in the relevant muscles or joints.

        Also, I would caution against wiggling your toes at the bottom of a squat. That’s not something I would ever recommend.

    • Stuki

      Another issue with being too focused on going deep before putting some weight on the bar, is that until you have some weight on your shoulders, you have to lean far enough forward to go deep, that many/most end up with no choice but to curve the lower back more than ideal, in order not to either fall backwards, or roll far enough forward to lift the heels off the ground.

      Once you get to, say, half of body weight on the shoulders, good form is much easier to achieve for those with less than gymnast flexibility.

  • Michael Howard

    While you good-looking fitness-obsessed folks are working out in the gym I’ll be on my bike improving my riding skills. ;)

    • Brett

      Some of us have 6 months of hardcore winter to get through without that option

      • omgz

        do you?

    • omgz


  • Mark D

    Very nice set of workouts! I’m no expert, but I find using a kettlebell is great for lower body and back strength. They’re also good for doing a one-legged row; essentially the DB row above, but standing on one leg, with your other leg held out behind you. Great for balance and strong ankles.

    • PattonStrength

      Another KB favorite of mine is to sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you and spread apart. Press two KB’s above your head while keeping the torso upright.

  • Wes Siler

    Try kettlebells for that rotator cuff injury. I’ve only been using them for like two months now and they’re just amazing for fixing stuff like shoulders and lower backs.

    • PattonStrength

      Back and shoulder issues related to hitting the pavement?

      • Wes Siler

        More like from sitting in front of a computer every day. I’ve got it handled.

    • atomicalex

      Just started with those. My injuries are related to too much competitive swimming. Damage is pretty impressive for something that is supposed to be good for you!

  • Benjamin Lindemuth-Mcrobie

    Seriously awesome article. I hope this inspiration follows me off the couch and into a gym!

  • Stuki

    What about deadlifts? In my, and many others’ experience, they do more for making a big, heavy bike feel smaller and lighter, than any other easily performed exercise.

  • timdnml

    I’ll go to the gym when they put in a nacho bar.

  • Paul Stevens

    Yet another quality article from the best motorcycle discussion website on the Interwebs. Awesome work guys, and thank you in particular to the author for a cracking workout that’ll help me shift my bike to and from work with added purpose. The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department salute you ;)

  • Jason 1199

    Or join a Crossfit gym. 3 years later haven’t looked back. No juice monkey idiots, sunglasses or chicks w makeup on stairmasters.

  • quwerty

    There should be added a bit more exercises on shoulders and triceps in my opinion. Ex: Lateral raises 3x(10-15) and seated dumbbell extensions 3x(10-15). Emphasis on using dumbell is a very good idea. That will improve general coordination. Otherwise me think cardiovascular training should be main focus for a motorcyclist. For the same reason keep the reps a bit on the high side. This will also decrease the risk of injury and as a motorcyclists is already a high risk group we to try keep it to a minimum :-). Otherwise weight training session should never exceed 3/4h in my opinion and if we want to train more do the rest as pure cardiovascular.

  • 1hunid

    Kettle bells for full body strength and I skip rope for stamina and reflexes. *disclaimer-Im still a novice rider* but I feel it helps my riding.

  • omgz


  • omgz


  • omgz

    so much win

  • tiredofdummies

    I try to do the Despres work out- they are pretty easy things to do and most require no gym stuff to do.

  • Jesse VanderWeide

    I’ve been doing this workout, which is aimed at bicyclists: Any thoughts on this workout?

  • SVR

    Great article. Thanks for writing it.

    I highly recommend the Starting Strength program. It’s a terrific program built on low bar squats (the version shown above is high bar), deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, and power cleans. If you want to get strong, this is the way to do it. If you’re not squatting, then you’re not getting strong. If you’re not going below parallel on the squat, then you’re not really squatting.