Motocross strength and Conditioning Part 1 – The Core

Motocross is a fast-paced sport that is all about control. Watching the elite riders, it is incredible how it looks like their heads barely move, while the bike under them bounces around the track. This doesn’t come naturally and requires hours of effort, both on and off the track to achieve.

Many people believe that riding motocross lacks physical effort because you’re on a machine with a motor and wheels. The reality is that there is a demand for strength, endurance, balance, and agility. Any motocross racer can tell you, that if you’re not conditioned you will not be able to ride for very long before your muscles are screaming and you’re struggling to breath. The better conditioned you are the longer and safer you will be able to ride.

To enjoy your motocross experience you need to be able to spend time riding. Just riding will give you some of the conditioning that you will want, but due to combination of the high aerobic, anerobic and technical requirements of the sport, you will struggle to achieve a level of conditioning needed to be successful by just riding. You would progress much faster and reach a much higher level of riding with focused effort on each of the aerobic and anerobic components of your conditioning and then putting them together on the track.

Your off-track training should consist of core work, strength, endurance and agility training.

The core is the transmission of the body, so I will be starting here. Whether you are producing, absorbing or redirecting force, it has to pass through the core. Core strength determines how resilient your body is to the force demands you place on it, while core coordination and agility determines how adaptable your core contractions are for the specific demand at the right time.  Coordination and agility are the ability to shift from one movement pattern to another, quickly and seamlessly. You will notice this with elite riders as it doesn’t seem to matter where their bike is, they are able to redirect force to bring the bike back into alignment with their bodies. The unique challenges of motocross require you to be strong and fluid, this is where motocross strength and conditioning come in.


To get a strong core you need to be able to achieve a good spinal position and then hold it against resistance with a goal of achieving a high threshold for force production. This should be the foundation of your motocross training, with everything else being considered an auxiliary movement. To achieve the strongest spinal position, you need to know what it is. Optimal Alignment is the term I use to set my clients up on the foundation of functional posture. If you don’t get anything else out of what I am about to explain, then just understand that the overarching goal of Optimal Alignment is to elongate your spine like you are trying to prove you’re an inch taller then you actually are. This will provide good muscular tension on the system, which allows more travel upon impact for shock absorption and more stored energy for force production. If you understand this and strive for it, then then you will be 75% of the way to great functional posture. It’s like having a built-in suspension system for your body if you know how to use it.

To understand Optimal Alignment you need to understand that the core is anything from the scapula (shoulder blades) down to the pelvis. This can also be termed the trunk of the body. Good core engagement revolves around 3 main areas that should be focused on;

  1. Maintaining a tall spine. You want to elongate your spine vertically so that the muscles are active and they are taking the brunt of the compression and not your vertebrae or discs.
  2. Scapula contact with ribs. You want your shoulder blades to have as much contact with your rib cage as possible to provide the highest degree of stability and control of forces entering into and going out from your core.
  3. Engagement of core stabilizers or your abs. The most advantageous way of stabilizing your abs is to pull your belly button towards your spine, then isometrically brace down with your rectus abdominus or “six pack” muscles and then while holding this, to push out against the wall you have made with your muscles.

With this understanding we can now talk about how to set up for Optimal Alignment.

  1. Start from a standing position with your back to a wall and your heels about 1-2” away from the wall.
  2. Your feet should be touching each other with heels and toes on the floor.
  3. Now create an imaginary line from your ankle up through the base of your skull that would come out at the top of your head.
  4. Then working one joint level at a time, starting at your feet and working your way up to your head, activate the muscles that allow you to express the greatest “height” that you can.

Remember, the main goal of Optimal Alignment is to elongate your spine. This being said there is more that goes into Optimal Alignment than just elongating your spine. For those who are interested in the inner workings of Optimal Alignment, I have included a more in depth description of how to attain it. I will provide a sequential pattern to follow and it’s important to note that any movement done in the sequence cannot disturb the position of the previous step. Follow this guide and work within your abilities and you will improve. The set up is the same as above with your heels 1-2” away from a wall.

  1. Starting from the bottom an keeping your legs straight, turn your knees out slightly until you get the beginning of an increased foot arch.
  2. Now posteriorly tilt your pelvis like your tucking your tail between your legs. This should help flatten your low back against the wall.
  3. Finish the lumbar flattening by bending your trunk forward until your entire low back is on the wall.
  4. From this position pin your lower rib cage down and hold it there with your abdominal muscles.
  5. Now with lower ribs pinned down, extend your upper back trying to get your entire thoracic spine against the wall. Remember, you can’t compromise any of the other movements to make this happen, so move as far as you are able within this context.
  6. Then slightly tuck your chin so that your face is horizontal (not looking up or down).
  7. Pull your scapula (shoulder blades) back and try to flatten them against the wall.
  8. Finally externally rotate (turn out) your upper arms like you are trying to show your armpits to someone in front of you.

This is Optimal Alignment and all other human movements are variations of this fundamental posture. It’s important to use this concept in all of your motocross strength and conditioning.


Once you have achieved Optimal Alignment you then need to challenge it. It doesn’t matter what movement you are doing; you should always be thinking “elongate the spine, maintain the mid-line and stabilize the scapula”. For motocross riders who do not want to become weightlifters I like to work with low threshold for entry movements, which means that most anyone can do the movements without any special mobility needs. Here are the top 3 of the basic plank variations;

  1. Plank – This is essentially a push up position on your hands or elbows with your core facing the floor.
  2. Side plank – From a regular plank rotate your body 90 deg so that your core is facing a wall. Again, this can be done on our hands or elbows.
  3. Reverse plank – From a side plank rotate your body another 90 deg so that your core is facing the ceiling with support from your hands or elbows.

You may have seen or performed these movements before, but this time you will be doing them within the context of the Optimal Alignment. Follow the steps outlined above to get into the correct position with the main goal of creating as much distance between your heels and the crown of your head as possible. Make sure to keep as much surface area of your scapula (shoulder blades) against your ribs as you can in each position. Go into and out of good optimal alignment for each of the plank variations as you take a mental inventory of what your body feels like in this position and how to get there. You will want to video yourself doing this, so you can see what good alignment looks like, so when your mentally mapping this position you will know that you are doing it correctly.

You can challenge any of the plank positions by simply picking up one limb and doing your best not to let your midline shift. Not enough challenge? Try to pick up an upper and lower limb or place your feet on an elevated surface. The possibilities are endless. Once you are able to find Optimal Alignment standing, then have the strength and conditioning to maintain it while challenging it with planking and picking up a limb or two, it is time to work on being able to make the transition from one position to another become fluid.


To get a fluid core you need to practice sequential movement patterns with a focus on the transition from one motor pattern to another. As mentioned earlier, the change from one movement pattern to another should be seamless. By linking several movements together and focusing on a smooth transition between the movements, then the core contractions become a seamless interconnected network. The bear and the crab positions are modifications of the plank and the reverse plank. Transitioning from the bear to the crab and back to the bear is called the under switch. This movement helps to challenge your ability to maintain your spinal position as it moves through 3 dimensional space. It is simple, but extremely effective if done correctly.

Here’s how to do an Underswitch;

  1. Start on your hands and knee, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
  2. Pick your knees up about 1” off the ground.
  3. Pick up you right leg and slide it under your left (supporting leg). This is why it’s called the UNDERswitch.
  4. As you move your right leg under your left leg, your hips will rotate towards the left and you will need to pick up your left hand to allow the rotation to continue.
  5. Keep rotating your hips until they are facing the ceiling and both feet are flat on the floor with your left hand coming around until you are in a full crab position with both feet and hands firmly on the ground.


This core routine could easily serve as a warm up for any training session. This is what a warm up/core session could look like;

  1. Optimal Alignment – 10x10sec with contractions between 2-10/10 efforts
  2. Front Plank, Side Plank and Reverse Plank – 2×10 reps of each moving into and out of the Optimal Alignment while in the plank. For an increased challenge pick up an arm, leg or both.
  3. Bear to Crab Underswitch 2×10 to each side (right 2×10, left 2×10)

The core is the transmission of the body and all force that is produced or absorbed by the body has to go through the core. With this knowledge I hope you can understand the power core training can provide for improving your motocross strength and conditioning and ultimately your riding. Now you have a simple, but very effective core training session that builds from positional awareness, to core strength to core fluidity and can be used as a warm up for any training session. Now get out there and live the dream!

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