When most people think of motorcycle riding the first thing that comes to mind may not be “physical fitness”. It definitely isn’t exercise bike either. Riding a motorcycle is anything but lethargic. It takes physical exertion. Who cares about what you can throw on the squat wrack when your bike is pumping out over 100 HP, right? With great power comes great responsibility. Fatigue plays a bigger part in road accidents than one might realize, not to mention, this is supposed to be fun.
Any veteran rider knows how much physical endurance and health matters when riding a motorcycle. After a 500-1000 mile multi day motorcycle road trip, the out of shape folks are gassed out. After that much traveling on a motorcycle you can also get dangerously fatigued. On top of that, the faster and more aggressive the bike is, the faster and more aggressive you have to be to ride that bike safely and precisely. If this is something that you think is a problem for you or just something you’ve never thought about looking into, no sweat, we’ve got you covered. Below I will highlight 6 tips that are a combo of exercises and routines to keep you going strong and most importantly keeping you safe on your motorcycle all year round.
1. Specific Focus: Less Glamour Muscle Routines
Motorcycle riding, depending on the style, is a very specific activity and repetitive activity from a physical perspective. If you’re trying to be a fitness model, then you should ignore this first tip. If you are trying to ride a motorcycle for 5-6 hours at a time for multiple days while feeling food and staying safe, listen up.
The “glamour muscles” I am referring to are largely biceps, chest, delts, and lats. These are muscles that, when sized up and toned, make you look like a superhero. Think comic book characters or that Superman costume full of fake fluffy muscles. This is for the folks either competing in fitness competitions, or trying to impress people on the beach in the summertime. You don’t build these muscles for the purpose of function, but for looks. Sure, if you look like Superman, more power to you, but are you fatigued after 2-3 hours of hard motorcycle riding? Probably. More non functioning muscle actually drains you of oxygen. This is why huge boxers or MMA fighters tend to gas out faster than the little guys.
Not to worry though, strength is huge with motorcycle riding, since motorcycles do weigh a considerable amount and don’t throw themselves around. You’ll need strong legs, back, shoulders, and core to do this. If you are reading this and have the glamour muscles dialed in, well then you probably already have a strong foundation to build from to get your motorcycle riding stamina up.
Cardio and its byproduct, endurance, is also an important ingredient in your focus. A lot of professional motorcycle riders ride bicycles to boost cardio while being gentle on the body. Plus, it keeps you on two wheels, which is a solid angle to take. You want to know how to handle a bike when you are pushing your stamina to the limit.
I’ll get more specific into these routines below, but tip no.1 and arguably the most important tip, is to train yourself for the specific task you are undertaking. In this case, it is motorcycle riding.
2. Be Light on the Bars - The Magic of a Strong Core and Legs
A deeper dive into the focus of your workouts is focusing a big part of your motorcycle exercise routine on lower back core/ab exercises, and leg exercises. When you strengthen these areas of the body they act as your support instead of relying on your arms and upper body to hang on to the bike. These lower muscle groups hold and shift your body weight on top of the bike leaving the upper body free to move just the bike free of body weight. No more arm pump and tired wrists and hands. When you stay light on the bars it’s a wild feeling being able to whip a bike around a corner with ease because your core and legs are keeping you stable on top of the motorcycle!
A couple main areas of hard riding that will be enhanced by a strong core and ab exercise routine is accelerating and braking. Your core keeps you centered over the bike while your legs allow you to shift positions instead of your wrists and arms doing all the work.
Core: Planks | Crunches | Russian Twist
Lower Back: Glute Bridge | Superman | Back Extensions
Legs: Lunges | Squat | Calf Raises
Keep it simple at first so start with these leg, core, and ab exercises above. Really focus on developing and improving all of the core muscles over time. It’s more about stamina than strength. This will help you better maneuver yourself on top of the motorcycle for longer periods of time. There are many more leg, core, and ab exercise routines on line so do some research and get that lower body solid so you can stay light on the bars.
3. More Strength in Upper Back/Arms/Shoulders
Now that we’ve gotten you light on the bars and you’ve got a sense for developing a strong core it’s time to focus on what the upper body delivers to your motorcycle experience so you can focus on those areas.
Where as the core muscles control the body, these three muscle groups control the actual motorcycle. A dirt bike weighs 150-250 pounds and a Harley Davidson motorcycle weighs anywhere from 500-1000 pounds. Getting these areas in check will help you do so and in harmony with the core and abs will keep you moving all day long.
Upper Back: Pullups | Seated Row
Arms: Wrist Extensions | Pullups
Shoulders: Shoulder Presses | Lateral Raise
These workouts above will help to control you and the motorcycle under a load from heavy braking, accelerating, or cornering. The key is to align the strength of your upper body with the core for bike handling. Next we will get into taking this alignment and making it even more maneuverable through added mobility.
4. Build Endurance
This topic has a lot to do with safety. Listen up. In a lot of competitive extreme sports, like snowboarding, skateboarding, motocross riding, road racing, etc… on a practice day you should “never have a last run”. You never call or deem a particular session as the last session. You are tired and knowing it is the last run could result in pushing yourself. This is when the majority of accidents happen. You are fatigued, tired, and at the same time, pushing yourself.
Now, if you are taking a motorcycle road trip maybe you aren’t competitively racing your motorcycle, but the same principle applies. The last couple hours of a long day is when the majority of accidents happen. Knowing when your stamina, therefore your strength, balance, and reflexes are toast, is a self awareness that you want to learn. To combat fatigue and increase stamina it’s important to incorporate some endurance focused routines into your workouts.
One of the top ways that motorcyclists train to build endurance, as stated in tip no. 1, is to ride bicycles. Mountain bikes or road bikes, doesn’t particularly matter. There’s a few reasons for this. The muscles that are trained while riding bicycles hard are largely the same or very similar to the muscles utilized when riding motorcycle. It’s a lot of core, balance, legs, arms, and shoulders. It’s also more gentle on the body than some other forms of endurance/strength training like cross fit or running.
Another endurance exercise used by motorcyclists is the stair climber. Like cycling, it is gentler on the knees and ankles than running. Riding motorcycles hard is tough enough on the leg joints. No use wearing them out while training.
Looking through these exercises listed above you might notice a few that you need to incorporate more into whatever routine you have. If you have no current routine that’s ok too. Just remember to start slow to avoid injury. Another great exercise discipline to incorporate with your motorcycle training to avoid injury is stretching.
One of the most overlooked parts of working out and exercise is full range of motion through stretching. Stretching is the best way to keep mobility and agility in the areas of your body that are being worked when you ride a motorcycle. You maintain a relatively static posture on your motorcycle road trip. This posture places stress on your back, shoulders, and hips, which can cause your body to get worn out without you really even noticing. Stretching is a way to counteract these static postures.
It’s important to stretch the shoulders, back, and hips before and after a ride to make sure you maintain mobility and give your muscles a chance to go the other way. This also helps with muscle stability and allows you to apply the strength that you’ve developed from doing the preceding workout routines. The top guys in competitive motorcycle racing usually do some form of yoga or pilates.
We’ve picked our favorite stretch poses for you to try out. Perform these before and after a long ride. Most importantly, listen to your body during your stretch routine. Be mindful of how it’s feeling and where the pain spots are. Work on and breathe into those areas when doing stretches. Consistency is also key. We recommend daily stretching to keep the muscles and tendons loose and strong. See below for our recommendations.