The Internet's Official BMX Magazine.
Live to Win
by Grant Hansen

BMXers, for the most part, are lazy. In fact, most won't read this article because it's about training your body for top race performance. I don't mean to bag on BMXers specifically; most people are lazy by nature. That's why only a few excel in areas where most could. BMXers are at a disadvantage because BMX is not an organized team sport like basketball, baseball, football, etc. Teams usually have set practices; set exercises like running laps, doing suicides; and skills training. For BMXers it's up to the individual, and there's no risk of being kicked off the team for not showing up to practice.

Getting back to being lazy -- how many racers do you know stick to a set routine of sprints, weight training, and diet? I bet not many. In fact, my buddies down at the track poke fun at me because I train! Well, they're not laughing when I beat them to the finish line. There are a bunch of guys who have more talent in their one finger than I have in my whole body (and I respect the hell out of that), but when it's race time, they don't measure up. But then there are the people like me…fast, in shape, dedicated…but lack the skills to be a nationally ranked amateur or pro. How can we mesh the two to create the ultimate force in BMX? I'm glad you asked.

Let's start off with the easiest thing to get started: training. That's right, training is the easy one! It's getting off your fat ass that's the difficult part, but once you're actually training, it's easy. Why? You don't need special skills, you don't need to build anything…all you need is your bike and a few weights. I'll break down the few simple exercises you have to do to get your body in the perfect shape for BMX racing:

  • Sprints
  • Plyometric jumps
  • Push ups
  • Pull ups
  • Biceps curls
  • Abdominal exercise
  • Cardiovascular
  • Stretch

That's it. Sure, there are plenty of other things you can do but the above list is all you really need to do. But the key is to do each of these with intensity. Going through the motions is a waste of time and you'll achieve zero results. Work out till it hurts, like the old saying goes: "No pain, no gain." Greg Hill has told me that John Purse would sometime train until he puked. Now that's intense!

Sprints. Like any form of exercise, sprints can be boring if you do them by yourself. If you can find a training partner it'll make the whole experience so much more enjoyable. But if you're on your own don't worry. Be dedicated and handle the situation. I recommend sprint training 3 times a week (and a race day can count if you work really hard that day). One day do about 25 short sprints (about 40 yards) and really concentrate on your snap and first 5 pedal strokes. This will not only increase your speed but it will also develop your explosive power. On your next sprint day, increase the distance (to about 100 yards) and decrease the number of sprints to about 12. When doing these longer sprints, really concentrate on your spin. On the third sprint day (if it's not a race) I like to mix it up. You can do some long, some short, some uphill, some downhill. Play around and have fun, but make sure to put out 100% effort. I guarantee you stick to the sprint program I have laid out for you, you will get faster. Period.

Plyometric Jumps. For those who don't know what a plyometric (plyo) jump is, I'll explain. Basically, it's jumping in place. Bend your knees until you can touch the ground with your finger tips, then explode up and jump as high as you can. Repeat until failure. Plyo jumps are an intense workout and really develop your explosive power and stamina. Start out doing 3 sets, each until failure. If you can work up to 6 sets of more than 30 jumps each, you'll be in fantastic shape.

Push ups, Pull ups, Biceps Curls. Developing your upper body is important for BMX because you use your arms, chest, and back for jumping, pumping through rhythm, and for snapping out of the gate. While most physical trainers may tell you heavy weights and slow repetitions are the best way to build muscle size (and they may be right), that's not necessarily to best way to train for BMX. You want to build explosive power for speed, rather than bulk which will slow you down. I recommend doing each of the above exercises with a moderately light weight, so that when you get to the 20th repetition, you're really feeling the burn. Do 3-4 sets of each.

Abdominal exercise. Working out your abs is very important because it also develops your lower back, which is extremely important for BMX. Simple crunches and leg lifts will get you on your way.

Cardiovascular. This is more important for some than others, but a BMX racer doesn't want to be carrying excess baggage around the track. One day at the local track a little pudge of a kid was telling me how he was getting these hubs, those rims, and that crank set to make his bike the lightest it could be. I told him, "You know how you can make your bike 10 pounds lighter?" His eyes lit up and he asked me how. "Lose 10 pounds." He didn't like the answer but it is the simple truth. Before you go worrying about how light your bike is, worry about how heavy you are.

Stretch. If you don't stretch, your muscles are prone to cramping and soreness. Respect the work that your muscles have been doing for you and stretch them before and after every workout. Your muscles will recovery more quickly and have a better chance at growth.

I'm not a nutrition guru but I know what has worked for me and I've been reading a lot about this area. (Dingo's Jeff Dein agreed to write something on nutrition for us because he's the metabolic guru. Stay tuned!) Anyway, while I think training is the easiest thing to do, I think diet is the hardest. First of all, I like to eat. And I like to eat until I can't move. This is horrible! And I know it, but sometimes I can't help it (perhaps it stems from my Italian upbringing).

The key is to eat about 6 small meals a day, rather than 2 or 3 large ones. A recent article in Muscle Media magazine really put this in perspective for me. Look at the animal kingdom. Let's take a bear. It binges and then goes weeks without eating, so it's body is conditioned to store fat. Likewise, a bear is a big burly animal. Now let's take a horse. It grazes all day long, eating a little bit at a time. A horse is a lean, fast animal. It's body's metabolism is used to processing food. Get the picture? Whose going to win a race: a horse or a bear? Be the horse.

Another reason maintaining a good diet is hard is because it's easier to eat junk and some people are so busy that they don't have the time to eat 6 times a day. Well these are just excuses…good excuses, but excuses nonetheless. If your school or workplace has a grease-filled cafeteria, prepare you lunch. And prepare ahead of time small snacks that you can eat at your desk. Or buy some protein shakes or bars…they taste great and they're good for you! You'll quickly find out that when you eat small and often, that you won't die from hunger pangs. You'll feel fine all the time.

Protein intake is also very important for your muscles to grow. Most foods don't contain much protein, so I and other athletes turn to protein shakes like Met-Rx or Myoplex. Two shakes a day with skim milk will give you 70 grams of protein, and they act as a good small meal too. (Stick to vanilla-flavored shakes…the chocolate ones are nasty!)

Most importantly, drink a lot of water. What's a lot? About ¾ of a gallon a day. It's not that hard if you keep a bottle of water with you at all times and take sips here and there. Don't down a glass of water just to get it in you because you're bladder will get very pissed off at you (no pun intended).

If common sense hasn't told you already, stay away from foods high in fat and sugar. Stick to fruits, veggies, pasta, chicken, turkey, and fish. No chocolate bars dipped in peanut butter!

There's no point in possessing mad speed only to have to slow down before a jump or rhythm section. So it's important to become one with your bike. This can be achieved by practicing manuals, bunny-hops, wheelies, and riding trails. A trail boss who possesses speed (like Brian Foster) is a scary person to have next to you on the gate. So be that person. I'm not going to go into how-to's right now, but if you practice, the skills will come. You won't achieve immediate results because this stuff is hard. But once you get good, you can then pedal around each part of the track as fast as you can. Most of the other guys at the trails will encourage you to get better and will show you how to do certain things. Don't be intimidated…they had to start out somewhere too. If you're already a good jumper, work on other things at the trails like transitions, staying low, and building momentum. Nothing is ever too easy if you're creative.

I hope what I have written will be a benefit to your riding and racing. You'll get out of BMX (or anything else for that matter) what you put into it. Winning isn't everything to a lot of people…they just ride for fun. And that's cool. But for me, winning is everything. Winning is fun. So I work as hard as I can to make sure I keep winning. I appreciate your thoughts or comments of what I have written.

*Special thanks to Greg Hill and Jeff Dein for their continued education on diet and training philophies.

Copyright 1999. All rights reserved.