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.

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