Andrew Patton presents introductory strength training for motorcyclists in their quest for improved riding performance and safety.

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.

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.

Continue Reading: Introductory Strength Training for Motorcyclists >>

Upper Body

As mentioned earlier, our hands bear generally less weight than the feet and hips on the bike. However, that doesn’t mean we can totally ignore our upper body. We need to make sure that we are able to support ourselves under hard braking, maintain a flat upper back while turning, and generally be able to apply force when necessary without straining or getting too tense.

Exercise: DB Bench

Most people are familiar with bench pressing using a barbell, but this is a variation with dumbbells. As motorcyclists, we operate both of our hands separately, and we want to ensure that both arms are equally strong while working independently. Additionally, DB bench tends to be slightly less stressful on shoulders, wrists, and elbows and with the preponderance of those injuries in high performance riders, barbell bench press seemed less important.

Place the flat side of the dumbbells on the tops of your legs, and pop them up into your chest, leaning back at the same time. Once flat on the bench, squeeze your shoulder blades, control the descent of the dumbbells, with palms facing wherever is comfortable. Once the weights make brief contact with your chest, drive them up to the top position. When completed, rock the weights back onto your legs and sit upright. Dropping the weights is a great way to injure your shoulder, so be careful.

Dumbbell bench will do wonders for your chest and arm stability, and will hopefully reduce the necessity for those motocross and supercross bar pads. I like these in three to five sets of six to 12 reps.

Do: Control the weights.

Do: Pinch shoulder blades for the duration.

Don’t: Go too heavy and get squished.

Don’t: Drop weights off your chest/to the side.

Exercise: Pull Ups

Almost everyone is familiar with pull ups. Almost everyone doesn’t do them enough. It’s one of the single best ways to develop stability and strength in the shoulders and upper back. If we need to push on the handlebars, we need to pull as well. Being proficient with pull ups will definitely help. Jump up onto the bar with your hands slightly outside your shoulders and pull so that your chin is above the bar, descend with control, and repeat.

Do five sets, with as many reps as you can manage each time. If you can’t do one pull up, find a box or step and use that so you are standing with your chin close to the bar as is. Grab hold and try and descend as slowly as possible. Get back on the box to skip the ‘up’ part of the pull up.

Do: Control your body on the way down.

Do: Push yourself on these.

Don’t: Wriggle around on the way up.

Don’t: Get discouraged.

Exercise: DB Row

Yet another pulling variation, the dumbbell row will give us upper back and shoulder stability in the general position that we hold our handlebars. We don’t want to be tight on bars, but we need to be able to hold positions under duress. Set yourself up so that your back is flat (and remains so), and pull the dumbbell to the bottom of your ribcage so that the direction you pull is perpendicular to your chest.  Make sure the dumbbell actually touches you each time. Return to the extended position under control.

Initiate the pull with your shoulder blades and lats, not with your biceps. In order to keep your back flat, push your knee into the bench. Keep the dumbbell row between three to five sets of five to 20 reps. Feel free to mix up the reps and sets on this one and don’t be afraid to go heavy.

Do: Touch your chest every time.

Do: Use your lats.

Don’t: Round your back.

Don’t: Lean way back.

Continue Reading: Introductory Strength Training for Motorcyclists >>

Accessory & Core

This section will be a quick overview of three of my favorite exercises for improved torso strength and stability. At all times we need to be able to control our body positioning, and a strong trunk is mandatory

Exercise: Hanging Leg Raise

This will work the abdominals and hip flexors. Find a dip rack or HLR straps and give these a go. Keeping your abs flexed, pull your knees to your chest, and then extend slowly back down to full extension. For bonus fun, bring your knees to the left, then right sides of your chest.

HLRs will make you crazy sore the next day your first time. Don’t be a hero on day one. Stick with three to five sets of six to 10 reps and go from there.

Do: Flex your abs.

Do: Pay attention to how your hips feel.

Don’t: Fall off the equipment.

Don’t: Do too many too soon.

Exercise: Supermans

Despite the improper plural, supermans are a great exercise for lumbar strength and stability. Lay flat on your stomach with arms and legs fully extended. Raise them both slowly using your back and hamstrings. Hold for a two count at the top and return to the floor.

These can be performed in sets three to five sets with 10 to 20 reps each or can be reps timed in 30 second intervals.

Do: Squeeze yourself up.

Do: Lots of these.

Don’t: Throw your legs and arms up too hard.

Don’t: Relax between reps.

Exercise: Oblique Raises

Grab a 30-50 lb weight in one hand and place your other hand on your hip. While remaining with a non-rounded back, drop the weight slowly to the side so that you are only bending your back in the lateral direction. Pull back up using your torso muscles.

Start off on the lighter side and get the hang of the movement before you go wild with the weight. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself doing these because your back wasn’t strong enough to support the weight. Hurting yourself doing these is the equivalent of falling and breaking your wrist by getting your boot caught in your tailbag while dismounting. Start these off with a three sets of 10, and gradually ramp up sets, reps, and weight as able.

Do: Feel that side stretch.

Do: Pull up with force.

Don’t: Round your back.

Don’t: Go too heavy too soon.

That’s how to gain more strength for riding. Now I want to know what other exercises you do to keep your back, legs and core strong to increase motorcycling stamina and ability.

ABOUT: Andrew Patton is a strength and conditioning coach with NCAA, NFL, MCLA, WCLA, and ACHA experience. Currently he is the head S&C coach for UC Berkeley MCLA lacrosse. He also has worked with a variety of private clients in the fields of powerlifting, distance running, professional golf, elite military fitness, and others. He personally trains under Jesse Burdick at CSA Dublin as a Powerlifter. Andrew can be contacted at his website PattonStrength.com. He rides a CBR F4i and a DR-Z SM.