How Do MotoGP Riders Stay Fit (and what we can learn from them)
Modified On Oct 29, 2018 By Sachin Sen
Sportspersons are some of the fittest people on the planet. They are athletes and depending on the sport, they are required to be fit in a certain manner. While some sports may not require too much from a person’s body, there are sports that make their athletes not some of, but the fittest people on earth, even fitter than an astronaut perhaps.
Let’s talk about one such sport that demands a lot from its athletes – Motorcycle racing – where the racers are often seen lapping a particular route (a racetrack) number of times and the winner is decided on the basis of who finishes the last lap first, and so on. There are various forms of motorcycle racing, though, and not all of them are equally demanding physically and mentally for the riders. The intensity of racing majorly depends upon the duration, conditions (mostly terrain, and weather), the type of vehicle and the speeds they carry.
MotoGP is universally considered the pinnacle of motorcycle racing. Why? Because of soul-stirring speeds carried on motorcycles that are the quickest, fastest and most advanced two-wheelers in the world. But motorcycles don’t go so fast by themselves, they are ridden by humans who are trained to do that. There’s the interesting part – trained. Now, how much training does a person needs to ride a motorcycle and to ride it fast? Not much, we would say? However, handling a 160 kgs motorcycle, having at least 250 bhp on tap, around a fast racetrack doing speeds of 200-250 kph on average, I repeat, 200-250 kph on average, for 45 minutes non-stop in the most exhaustive riding position is no mean feat. Not just that, managing 61 degree lean angles and braking hard down the main straight from 320+ kph speeds is lots of hard work. Anybody who has ever ridden a bike on a racetrack even once would know what I’m getting at. It probably requires skills and the mental and physical ability of superhuman levels to do that. Come to think of it, don’t we often refer the fastest MotoGP guys as aliens? We do, and that is exactly because of what they are capable of doing on a track, consistently.
If you’re still unconvinced of how hard it is to be a MotoGP rider, then understand that, depending on the conditions, a MotoGP rider can lose up to 2 litres of sweat by the end of a 45 minutes race. That is a short time to lose that much sweat and enough to dehydrate and make you fall on the ground. And MotoGP riders don’t just stay upright by the end of a race, they have enough energy for a number of post-race interviews, conversations and the (often hyper) podium celebrations.
So how do MotoGP riders stay fit to perform at that level?
Immense concentration, stamina and muscle power is required to be a MotoGP rider (other than the racing skills of course). Riders train throughout the year on cardio exercises to increase stamina along with exercises majorly concentrated on increasing muscle strength (and less on muscle volume) that allow them to stay reasonably thin but pretty strong physically. However, all the physical exercises and preparations are distributed across 4 periods in a year – Pre-season, Racing Period, Summer Break and End of Season.
Pre-season: This is the time few months before a racing season starts in March. The pre-season physical exercise regime starts in December and primarily consists of cardio exercises to improve stamina and overall strength of the body as mentioned earlier. The rider exercises 6 hours each day for 6 days a week. The 6 hours are distributed between cycling and in a pool for approximately 3 hours each. Furthermore, for 2 days out of the 6-day regime, the rider switches the swimming pool session with the one on a motorcycle.
The rider continuously trains with exercises consisting of rider’s own weight, with machines and isokinetic exercises (an exercise that provides a variable resistance to a constant limb movement) as well. Isokinetic exercises help in knowing the limit of muscle contraction and in preventing different kinds of injuries.
Racing Period: During races, rider’s physical training mostly depends on his specific requirements, for example, if a rider wants to work on a particular aspect of his physical ability to handle a motorcycle. Yet, strength remains the focus here as well and the exercises undertaken are meant to increase muscle volume, strength and endurance.
Summer Break: This is the period when the riders have gone through half of the races and there’s a month-long break before the remaining half races are done.
Exercise regime during this time is more or less same as in Pre-season but modified as per rider specific requirements.
End of Season: Once the last race is done and the championship is over, riders normally take about a month’s rest, but not in a typical sense. They indulge in various sports for variety like football, basketball, badminton etc. Cardio-respiratory training continues more or less as most riders put lots of kilometers on bicycles to improve stamina.
After that, Pre-season comes. It is a circle.
How does it all help a normal rider to stay fit enough?
For people like myself, who love riding motorcycles, but have a pretty typical 9 to 6 job, it is not really possible to spend 6 hours exercising for 6 days a week. Secondly, we don’t ride 250+ bhp motorcycles at speeds unimaginable on public roads. So perhaps, we don’t really need that much intensive exercise routine after all.
Nevertheless, riding on public roads is a different challenge altogether, especially in India, where following traffic rules and having road sense is non-existent in general. At times, we just have too much going on the road that can be distracting. However, we have to ensure that we are not over-alert or anxious because that can lead to concentration of our attention on less important things or situations. This can also be a reason that our body can be too rigid and tight while riding a motorcycle (which should be avoided). Being a fit and confident rider can avoid such a state.
One of the best ways to be a confident rider is to be physically (and mentally) fit. A fit rider concentrates on all the right things rather than thinking about his own condition and where he’s getting all the pain. A fit rider also adapts better and quicker to demanding riding positions like on a full-faired superbike. He would feel active and not lazy because when you’re lazy then you work harder to concentrate and that may not be a good thing.
First of all, know your body limits. There is no shame in accepting your current physical state so that you can plan various improvisation exercises accordingly. Basics like various stretching exercises are a good way to start. Do not underestimate them as they are the foundation of a healthy body.
Building the Core
Squats – Building the core is essential to have an overall strong body. Start with basic exercises like Squats to strengthen the lower body - thighs, legs, pelvic area and lower back. Start with basic squat sessions (with own body weight) of 3 sets each with 20 repetitions. Later, they can be gradually done with weights as well.
Stability Ball Rollout – This builds strong abdominal muscles and abs. It is performed using a stability ball (big balloon ball) where the hands (palms) are rested on the ball while the legs are on the ground straight and rest of the body upright. Sliding forth and back on the ball using the abs to control the slide helps in strengthening and building abs. Another way of doing this is to rest your shins on the ball and the forearms on a chair – basically a plank position – and rolling the ball back and forth using abdominal/abs and legs.
For a rider, having strong abs and abdominal muscles is necessary to push his body down on the seat and using fewer arms muscles (so that handlebar isn’t pulled towards the rider) to help prevent a wheelie. Core exercise is important for the same reason as well, if you have strong legs and thighs then it all helps to push yourself down on the motorcycle and holding it better.
Reverse Bear Crawl – It is another fantastic exercise to strengthen the core, building strong abs and improve overall body strength. It is performed by resting your body on both feet and palms and doing a backward crawl (like a spider moving backwards). Other than building core and overall body strength, Reverse Bear Crawl is a good cardio-respiratory exercise as well.
Cycling – Not one to forget, cycling is a great cardiovascular exercise alongside running and is beneficial for increasing stamina and keeping the legs and abs strong.
Note that most exercises help in building the core and other specific areas while also building overall body strength and improving stamina – all required for a rider to stay active on the motorcycle for prolonged time. There are various other exercises as well that can be done specifically to benefit a person as per his requirements.
Stay healthy and fit, and ride safe.