Back on Track - Top 5 tips for returning to BMX race fitness
Back on Track - Top 5 tips for returning to race fitness after a break from BMX
Author: Bruce Morris - LUXBMX Race Coach
In most parts of Australia we’ve been unable to access our local BMX track, pump track or skate park due to the Covid19 lockdown rules. Though as of mid-May 2020, it looks like most states are opening up access, albeit at slightly different rates, and with restrictions in place. For most of us it’s meant nearly 2 months off the track and now we’re all itching to get back out there. Me included! This advice applies to the young shredders, and older classes too. And this return strategy can be used for any layoff, whether you're returning because you're motivated again, or you binned it and spent some enforced downtime.
Here’s my 5 top tips for getting back in shape for BMX in preparation for a return to racing. It looks like we’re all going to be in race prep mode with it looking like mid-July 2020 at a minimum until racing even at a club level can recommence, open days etc could be the end of the year. Or even 2021! Let’s look at your return and more importantly, hopefully keep you upright and stoked on BMX.
Number 1 - Take it easy
Take it easy! I can’t stress this enough and it might be age showing here, but I took one of my riders with me to a track recently and although he’s young and healthy, 6 weeks off a bike saw him not feeling so good and laying down for a bit. EVEN though my words were “take it easy mate….” Kids huh!
You might think that a couple of months off the track (and BMX bike) wouldn't affect you too much, but I’ve had enough forced time off the bike through numerous injuries over the years to be pretty honed at rebuilding my track fitness, and skills. The fact that I was still cutting laps while he was laying there at 3x his age is testament to my experience (old age) and I enjoyed saying “told ya so”. You’ve got ages until you have to pull full race laps, just enjoy riding the bike for now. BMXers, always in a rush!
Number 2 - Play
Play! A BMX track is a big playground and wearing my salty old-guy BMX hat, I want to say that I hardly see kids (small and big) “playing” on the track these days. It appears that every time riders hit the track, they’re trying out for the Olympics. Playing is important for skill development and if I’m going to grumble a little more. Stop trying to go so fast! No good being a top-fueller in 2020 on these tracks. It ain’t 1983 no more Toto. I'm looking at you 40+ riders!
Get some flat pedals on that race rig and hit the track when you can just sit back and ride without a time constraint of a gate’s session or coaching session. Unstructured play is vital and it’ll spark up your skills. If you’re a parent that rides, go ride with the kids (if you haven’t killed them during lockdown!). If you’re a mature rider like me, organise a ride with your mates. The social aspect of riding is severely underrated and we can use this time to reconnect and have fun on these little bikes. Don’t underestimate the body and mind benefits of riding BMX.
Number 3 - Interval training
Righteo, time to get down to business. You’ve eased back into riding, been out playing on the race or pump track, and experienced shortness of breath akin to summiting Mt Everest! Skill before speed and if you follow these tips in sequence, now you can ramp it up. Structured interval training is something I see missing from rider’s training, and although at its essence, BMX racing is a sprint event, with a major explosive component, you need the gas to do a whole lap. But you don’t need to be doing full laps in every session. With intervals, you can mix the length (both time and track), intensity, frequency (length of break between efforts) and how many efforts you do. And lastly, how often you do these in a week/ fortnight period. Personally, I try for 3x in a 10 day period as these take recovery time. Usually I would factor in race events in a program, but we aren’t doing these right now.
Session Example: I choose a less technical track/section for these and then mix in more technicality as my fitness improves over the weeks. This sort of work will knock you on your butt if you aren’t sharp. Pick a section from the first or second corner that would normally take you 15-20 seconds to complete. Set your phone/app for interval timing
Ride/Warm up - 20 mins. Building speed gradually. Don’t rush! You got to warm up your mind as well as your body. Start with riding all of the track’s sections, then narrow it down to the section that you are about to do your intervals on. Hit this at speed a couple of times to get your “eye” in.
Rest/drink - 5 min.
Work - 35 to 40 mins
Execution - Roll into the “work zone” and accelerate hard. Don’t start from a stand still.
Efforts - 25-30 seconds of work at 100% effort
Rest - 8 mins
Repeat - 5x
Recovery - 10 mins off track rolling
Put simply, interval training’s role is preventing “fade” in the back half of the race. Most of us will be familiar with this effect at the last corner, some of you, at the second corner. After about 6 weeks (at twice a week) of this type of dedicated training efforts and you’ll notice the difference when you punch out a full lap. BMX racing complex to train for due to the technical requirement and training skill under fatigue is what you’re also aiming for in these sessions.
Number 4 - Sprint training
Pretty straightforward, BMX requires an explosive start, but you don’t need a gate to train this component. Better still, do it on the track to make them less boring, plus work in a skill component into the session. Let me explain how.
Pick a berm that has a flat exit that you can throw in 5-6 cranks before the first jump in that straight. Using a start block (or Sprintblock), measure out the distance back from the jump by pedaling 5 or 6 cranks (Left is one, Right is two, Left three, etc) and make sure when you set up, you’ve measured it out so that you hit this jump with you “normal” foot forward. Make sense so far?
No matter if the straight you chose is the 2nd, 3rd or last, the goal is the same. Maximum acceleration effort, then no more pedals as you get down this straight using your pumping, manualing skills to get “spat out” at the end. Two focuses, acceleration, track speed (by working backsides and being smooth)
Ride/Warm up - 20 mins or so. Ride the track, have some fun and throw in some acceleration efforts starting with rolling starts and slowly bringing them back until you do a few from a stop. Workout where you’re sprinting
Work - 40 to 50 mins
Execution - At the spot you've picked, measure back from the first jump in that straight 5 or 6 pedal strokes. Make sure you hit that first jump with your normal "forward" foot.
Efforts - One straight is probably 15 seconds of work at 100% effort (depending on the speed the rider can produce)
Rest - 5 mins
Repeats - 8 to 10
Recovery - 10 mins riding the track. Playing.
Number 5 - Overspeed
Hell yeah, Star Trek stuff right here. A little warp speed! This session will be fun and will help your reactive skills in tight sections by running a rhythm straight at a speed higher than race speed. Typically found on the third straight, rhythm sections can be the make or break of a race. Get untidy here and best case scenario is you lose a couple of places, worst case, you’re upside down looking at everyone blow by you.
The idea here is to run a rhythm straight faster than normal and mix up the combos through the straight, not just run it the same way every single time. Especially if you have access to the one track. We all fall into the track dialing in a section on how we feel comfortable on it, and fast on it. This session is designed to give you the skills that you can transfer to other tracks, and to use in situations where on race day you only have a short time to dial in the track, or recover from screwing up a combo.
Session length - 1 hour+
Loose Structure - BMX is fun, remember?.
Difficulty - You’ll need to be comfortable with the section you’re riding before you start ramping up the speed
Sub-set - Reactive skills. Example, what happens if you drop a front wheel in a manual at full speed? Can you stay soft/loose and absorb the bobble? Or do you stiffen up and get bucked? You can actually train these traits, starting slowly, then working up the speed scale to a point that you can recover quickly from a mistake.
How to run this - You’ve picked the straight, now run through it at race speed, working up to it just by riding the track for 15-20 mins. Run it with your normal combos, then start to really hit it with a few over-speed runs with good rest between the runs. You want to be fresh as we’re working on skills here, not physical conditioning.
Got your eye in? Recovered a few mis-adventures? Now it’s time to mix it up a little and throw in some jump combos if you’re at that level, or change up the manual/pump combos. Here’s the thing, manualling isn’t always the fastest way through a section. Being able to pump a couple of the smaller doubles or single roller at speed is just as important a skill as jumping
Ride with a mate or two and challenge each other, call some combos and build up your speed. Do a few runs with them to really add in some real race replication and put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Sharpen up your race skills by placing yourself under a little pressure, but in a fun environment.
There you are, 5 tips to improve your BMX racing as you spend this time not racing but just riding. The key to longevity in BMX is to be always challenging yourself, and just not measuring results in podiums or titles. Improving your skills, hanging out with mates and staying sharp without racing. Catch you at a track soon.