Are Motocross Riders the Fittest Athletes? - Risk Racing

May 11, 2021 5 min read

Every motocross rider knows the physical demands of motocross riding – if you aren’t in good shape, you are not going to have a good time on the track. 

Motocross is a physically demanding sport requiring both strength and skill. Motocross riders need to ensure they are in peak physical condition to compete safely. Motocross riders are some of the fittest athletes in the world, although no study conclusively proves they are the fittest overall.

Read on to find out more about the physical demands of motocross, including what kinds of muscles motocross works, what makes it so physically demanding in the first place, and how you can better prepare yourself to withstand the demands of one of the world’s most physically challenging sports. 

pack of mx riders 365-76-57-60-15-18 twelve plus all turning together on an outdoor track

Why is motocross so physically demanding?

Motocross demands the most from you physically for two main reasons. First of all, as you already know, motocross bikes areheavy – most in excess of 200 lbs. Sure, it’s not like you’re carrying the thing on your back, but you still have to control it and you still have to stay on it. Navigating a motocross track on a heavy bike requires a lot of physical strength and a lot of physical endurance. The bike is a machine that you have to bend to your will. 

Secondly, motocross does not involve the nice, smooth track of a speedway. There’s obstacles, there’s jumps and there’s mud, dirt, or sand, and you need to be able to get you and your bike across the track quickly. If you aren’t physically fit it is going to be an absolute ordeal trying to complete a challenging motocross course.

two risk racing pro riders wheelieing high up directly at camera

What muscles does motocross work?

Motocross riders need to be both light and strong, with a good amount of muscular strength and endurance. To stay on and control your bike properly, you need good upper-body and core strength, good shoulder and arm strength, and good hand and leg grip. Motocross is effectively a whole-body workout.

That being said, the most important muscles to focus on for motocross are your core (meaning your abdominals, obliques, hip flexors, and spinal erectors) in order to have good riding posture, and the arm and shoulder muscles (meaning your deltoids, biceps, triceps, hands, wrists, and forearms), in order to be able to control the bike properly over obstacles, complete stunts and travel smoothly over difficult terrain without injury. 

This means that you definitely do not want to be skipping core day or arm day at the gym – your ride depends on it!

mx number 3 Risk Racing pro rider (in full Risk gear) exiting a rhythm section of a track w opponents in the background

What are the other physical demands of motocross?

Like most other sports, motocross has had scientific studies done regarding its physical demands and the impact of those demands on riders. 

A study conducted by Finnish researchers determined that motocross riding not only has immense muscular demands on the riders (such as the physical strength required to be constantly handling the bike and the impacts of rough terrain), but that it has physical demands on other bodily functions as well. A motocross rider’s aerobic endurance is pushed to the limits during a ride, with functions such as heart rate and respiration near-maximum the entire time. 

There is also a psycho-emotional response as well - essentially, motocross riding can be incredibly stressful and requires a lot of mental focus, and there is also an incredibly high level of skill required to protect the rider from injury. You probably don’t need me to tell you all of this, though – you’ve been out on the tracks and you know how exhausting it can be, and how much focus you need to ensure that you clear those jumps perfectly.

mx number 65 casing number 41's head during a very serious motocross crash

What injuries can be caused by motocross?

Another reason why motocross is classified as such a physically demanding sport, and why motocross riders need to be so physically fit, is the prevalence of injuries – in fact, research shows that up to 95% of motocross riders have sustained some sort of injury during a ride. Most injuries occur either during a jump or a bend in the track. 

There is a wide range of possible injuries that can be sustained during a motocross ride, but some of the most common motocross injuries are:

  • Concussion
  • Broken collar bone
  • Dislocated shoulder
  • Broken wrist
  • Broken ankle
  • ACL joint sprain or rupture
  • Broken leg
  • Broken rib

Some ways to prevent injuries are always wearing proper equipment, warming up before riding, and maintaining your fitness levels.

mx num 164 Risk Racing Pro Rider wearing RR jersey pants n gloves while hitting the top of a berm turn

Is motocross the most demanding sport?

Although some studies have been done on this topic, it is a hard question to answer as different sports require different abilities and levels of endurance in different ways. It’s a bit like trying to compare apples with oranges – both are fruits, and both are healthy for you, but they have vastly different characteristics.

There are two main studies that we can look at for a possible answer to this question, where researchers compared motocross to other sports in an attempt to determine which sport is the most physically demanding. 

First up there was a 1979 study by the National Athletic Institute which compared motocross with other sports like basketball, gymnastics, soccer, wrestling, and American Football. Motocross was determined as one of the top-rating sports for physical demand, alongside sports such as soccer, long-distance running, and wrestling. 

The second study was conducted in 2002 by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Performance Complex. Researchers performed a lot of physical tests (such as treadmill tests) on professional motocross riders, however, the results of these tests have not been published and therefore the study is inconclusive. 

Ken Roczen strength training for motocross with free weights

How can you maintain your fitness for motocross?

Alright, so there may not be any real scientific conclusions as to whether or not motocross is the most physically demanding sport of them all, or if motocross riders are the fittest athletes, however, motocross is certainly a very physically demanding sport and it is important to be in proper physical shape. If not, you won’t have the endurance needed and you will be likely to injure yourself. 

To maintain your fitness for motocross, make sure that you warm up before every ride and focus not only on strength exercises but on cardio as well. Some great exercises to focus on are:

  • Stretches such as rotating wrist and forearm stretches.
  • Core exercises like planks.
  • Light weights.
  • Bodyweight training.
  • Cardio exercises like cycling or running.

Also, make sure you are getting a lot of time out on the track – the only way to improve your riding is to practice! It will make you stronger and build your endurance too.

mx number 1 training his moto take-offs using a holeshot gate by Risk Racing

Conclusion: Are motocross riders the fittest athletes?

Now that I’ve spent all of this time talking about the physical demands of motocross, why it’s such a challenging sport, and the need for physical fitness, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to answer the all-important question: are motocross riders the fittest athletes?

Well, as I said before, scientific studies don’t conclusively prove anything. However, just take a look at what any typical motocross track looks like – to tackle that, riders certainlyneedto be fit. 

Motocross is as much about endurance as it is strength, and motocross riders need both. They also need to practice constantly, as motocross is a sport that is not forgiving when it comes to errors. Motocross riders put their bodies under an immense amount of physical strain every time they ride, so while there may not be a way to prove that motocross riders are the fittest athletes in the world, they are all certainly up there with the best. 


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