BMX Race Training: 2 Super Sessions!
Author: Bruce Morris Date Posted:15 July 2020
BMX Race Training: Two targeted sessions to maximise your limited track time!
Think you can’t improve your riding or race results with just two track sessions a week? Think again! Take a few minutes to read this article and then apply the session plans to make improvements you thought you’d never make. Especially useful for older (40+) riders with limited time because of you know, life and stuff.
BMX racing is difficult, even more challenging as you get on in years! Having gapped my 50th birthday a few years back I can definitely empathise with how you feel when you wake up in the morning after a couple of hours on the track the previous evening and spend the first few minutes assessing whether your back is going to bend enough to put on your slippers. Tennis elbow? Check. Knees that ache? Yep. I’m hearing you...
If you already race, or are just starting out, I don’t really need to break down how difficult BMX racing is. As a rider of a few decades, you’d think I’d be really good at it, but some days I really suck. Funny things happen to your mind as you get older, let alone your body, and being a BMX coach with older riders in my group just starting their BMX journey at 40 years old or so, it really challenges me to dive deep into the process of getting “better” on a bike, rather than faster. How do I maximise their limited time (job, family, volunteering etc) on a track to maximise their smile?
Everybody just wants to go fast! Personally, my thoughts are that most older riders inversely apportion their track time between “gates” over other forms of training. Firstly, there’s nothing better at jacking up your spine than smashing out 20-30 gates. And secondly, there’s another 20-30 seconds of racing to go after the first corner. The over-emphasis isn’t your fault necessarily, afterall, it’s nearly always termed “gate night” at your local. Forcing you into a certain mindset that you’re there for one reason. Gates and hill times!
But is this the right approach? Well, no, and yes. Sure if you want to improve your race results you need a decent gate/hill. But if your last three-quarters of the track sees you bouncing off every jump, or your legs give out in the last corner, then it’s time to reverse your training.
Session 1 - Skill before Speed
Hard to wrap your head around, until you bury your head into the track at warp speed. You want to approach your training with the overall mindset that you layer your training. Laying down a skill, then build your speed to match it, Then repeat. Gradually building your skill levels on various jumps/sections on the track. I’m lucky to live in South East Qld, with access to a bunch of tracks that lets me ride a variety of terrain and approach my own riding this way. I spend a lot of time at lower speeds working on manualing before hitting a section fast. For one thing, it’s actually harder to manual slowly than fast. And it gives my mind time to warm up as well. This concept is something I feel racers find hard to adapt as they are so conditioned to go fast all the time. Compounded by the issue of tracks sometimes only being available for limited times for a week and sessions sometimes only lasting an hour.
Ideally you want 90 mins of track time and resist the temptation mentioned above of just hammering out gate after gate. Every week just pick a straight or two of your local and work within your skill level to gradually increase your speed through it. When you feel like you’re “over-reaching” your skill level, then it’s time to slow it down and work on moving your skills to the next level. The natural progression being, pumping, manualing, then jumping, for a beginner to intermediate rider. If you’re comfortable with manalling the first step-up (as an example) at your local at three-quarter speed, then slow it down and manual it slower and slower so that you develop your sense of balance on your bike.
I’ve seen plenty of riders manual doubles using outright speed, but can’t manual the same jump slowly. And often they can’t do this jump as full speed without their rear wheel leaving the ground. In its simplest form, manualing a small to medium double or step-up has the same set up as pumping the jump. Staying loose and absorbing the face/lip. Hit it stiff and you’re heading upwards. Work on jumps you’re comfortable with, then progress to bigger, lippier jumps. Or jumps like a step-up / step-down. You can pump, manual, pump these. Pump, jump, pump. Or double manual then pump. Just do it slowly at a medium speed to accomplish the skill, then hit it fast. Not the other way around as I can guarantee you’ll be able to bumble your way through the jump just using speed without really improving the feel you have on your bike.
And experiment with the lines you’re taking through a section, just don’t repeat the same way every time just because you feel comfortable.That’s a trap we call fall into. And give yourself plenty of rest time. Don’t rush the session.
Session 2 - Horsepower Hour
Okay, now it’s time to open it up a little! But gradually over the weeks, rather than every single session. If it’s a gate session, then let’s do some gates, but only if you have that first straight of the track dialed in. Again, it’s no good having all the horsepower, only to yank on the brakes before the first jump. Or back off the gas a few pedal strokes before it. So get that straight dialed before you open it up against the fast crew. And yep, I see it a lot where older riders will be at gates every week and not really get the first straight dialed, yet week after week they continue to do sprints to get faster. Skill before speed.
But now you’ve followed a plan, got your skills up to a level where they match your speed so let’s spend your second session of the week combining a gate/first straight set, with a track speed-endurance combo to increase your track fitness. This session then becomes more of a fitness session where you work on power and speed-endurance. Only having the opportunity to get to the track twice a week means compromise that needs you to have a purpose when riding, but not too “athlete” focused that it diminishes the fun of riding your bike. Don’t be a robot.
So split the session. Start up on the hill and do a few runs down the straight, warming up the body and mind. Then a few gates to dynamically warm up. 3 or 5 will do. Break down the first part of this session into sub-sets, 5x down to the first jump, 5x to the second jump, 5x to the first corner. If the straight’s a little short, do 5 runs to the first jump, then 10 to the first corner (split into 2x5 runs). Make sense?
Second part of this session will be 4x2 straight efforts. That is, use the last half of the track to do a little speed-endurance work. Again, do a couple of runs down these straights to get your eye in, then it’s time to let it rip. Working at a speed that your skill level matches, you’ll be rolling into the second berm and accelerating into the third and hitting it hard to the finish line (on a traditional “M” shaped track, if your track differs in shape, I’m sure you’ll work out a section to run). Do these runs at a 100% of your speed/skill level, with a 3 minute rest, and repeat 4 or 5 times.
The key here as you fatigue is to remain loose with your grip and resist the burn in your legs. By the third or fourth run you’re going to be feeling a little average. Don’t push it too hard to the point where you’re all over the shop. You might be cooked after two the first couple of weeks, but trust me, you’ll start to see (feel) the improvements in around 4-5 weeks. When you race, you’ll notice that your legs have a little more power in them as you come out of the last turn, or you are more composed down the 3rd straight in the 3rd moto because you’ve improved your anaerobic fitness. That resistance to fade.
From here you can layer up the weeks to throw in 3 straight efforts at 75-80% speed, then build your speed (with a little longer rest - 5 minutes) to 100%. After 6 - 8 weeks you’ll be feeling awesome, I guarantee you!
Final advice as a coach to you older crew… take it easy, don’t rush and remember to smile. You’re trying something that’s difficult, yet super rewarding. Plus you’re working on your fitness and mental health by doing something totally rad, and often with your kids.
Keep it upright.
Bruce Morris - LUXBMX Race coach