BMX Fitness strenght training for novice lifters
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Strength Training for Novice Lifters

If you read my first article on the importance of the first straight then you’ll realise that my role as a strength and conditioning coach is to get you to that corner first.

This week I am introducing body weight exercises that can be carried out anywhere without the need for any equipment. These are aimed at youth riders but if you’re an elite rider and haven’t undertaken a strength program before, you may want to try these out too. Most gains from an appropriate strength program will be from learning and mastering new coordinative movement patterns specific to cycling. Base strength and flexibility levels are required before moving on to more advanced lifts. Sets and reps will be determine by your level of competence however you must ensure long rest periods between sets (3-5 minutes) and 48-72 hours between workouts to allow the body and the nervous system to recovery. 

Use full range of motion in all of the prescribed exercises and ensure you are technically proficient before progressing on to the more intense, complex movements. However, you don’t cycle the same distance at the same pace with the same recovery every single session do you? If you do there are improvements to be made but that’s another story. Anyway, the same principle applies to strength training, if you use the same sets, weight and the number of repetitions every session, you’ll either plateau or decrease performance where you haven’t given your body a chance to recover. My recommendation would be to hire and strength coach to develop a periodised programme that allows you to peak for certain events (Regional/Nationals).


Example Strength Training Programme’s

Before following a strength training programme, you are required to warm-up appropriately to prepare for exercise. I use a foam roller for self myofascial release to work on my muscle tissue quality and then follow a RAMP protocol (Raise, Activate, Mobilise, Potentiate). A good warm-up can last up to half an hour and the exercises gradually progress into the workout.

This example is for athletes new to strength training and is more about educating the system into these movement patterns. Ensure you are recovered after each set before trying the exercise again.

 Exercise Sets Reps
 Bodyweight Squat
 2-4 10-15
 Glute Bridge
 2-4 10-15
 Split Squats
 2-4 8 each leg
 Incline Press up
 2-4 10-15
 Plank 2-4 15-45 seconds

Some people like to stretch following a workout. If so I would recommend you stretch your calves/soleus, and your hip flexors/quads unless you know where your problem areas are.

Once you are technically competent at all of the progressions, a more advanced programme may look like this:


 Exercise Sets Reps
 Squat Jump
5 3
 Power Press Up5
 Hip Thrust
3 8
 Bulgarian Split Squat
3 6 each leg
 Pallof Press
 Moderate 8-12

Notice that this programme is more detailed where the athlete will be working from their repetition maximums, which would have been tested. Don’t add a load until you are competent at each exercise. If you feel you are competent, try the exercise slower. After all it’s not about how fast you can lift the weight, it’s about how well you can do it slowly.



Example Strength Training Exercise progressions


Knee Dominant Exercises (Pedal Faster)

Knee dominant exercises target the muscles in the front of the upper leg (the quadriceps) and are most specific to peddling. Because of the sport-specific character, training this movement pattern has been shown to improve athletic ability.


Bodyweight squat

Bodyweight Squat

Reps: 12

The bodyweight squat is a fundamental exercise and should be included in most exercise programmes. It is pretty much a full body exercises that is required for everyday function (sitting and standing).

Coaching tips:   

·         Keep your feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart with the toes pointing out slightly.

·         Push your elbows back and stick your chest out.

·         Keep your head and eyes looking forwards.

·         Initiate movement from bending at the knees and hips simultaneously.

·         Lower yourself slowly under control and stand up more explosively from the bottom position.

·         The bottom position is when the top of your thighs break parallel and the weight should be through your heels (you should be able to wiggle your toes in the bottom position).

·         Push your knees out during the movement.


 Overhead squat


Overhead Squat

Reps: 12

Once you have mastered the bodyweight squat, I like to progress to the overhead squat. This move is very similar except the arms are extended over the head. Follow all of the previous coaching tips for the back squat. Do not hold your hands above your head and try to keep your arms up without letting them fall forwards.


Squat Jump




Squat Jump

Reps: 8

The squat jump is a form of jump training that is more explosive and helps to develop lower limb power. For this exercise, squat down into a quarter squat position (first image) before rapidly extended upwards with the intent to jump as high as you can. To focus on the lower limb, you can place your hands on your hips which will remove the momentum created from the arm drive. It is important that you land correctly with this exercise where the knees must remain in line with the toes and you land in that quarter squat position. Try to land with stiffness without letting your butt drop too low! Pause for ?5 seconds between each jump and have your rest after the prescribed repetitions.


Further Progressions

Once you are competent at the knee dominant exercises, you may require an overload to bring about an adaptation. The best way of doing this is to add a load to one of the above exercises or perform a variation, which will create a new stimulus. Examples of the next few progressions are:

·         Goblet Squat

·         Back Squat



Hip Dominant Exercises (Powerful Gate Start)

The start involves a powerful extension of the hips and is vital for positioning at the first corner. Therefore the exercise progression that I have listed are specifically to get those glutes and hamstrings firing through a hinge motion at the hip!



Glute bridge


1.    Glute Bridge

Reps: 12

Coaching tips:   

·         Lie on your back with your heels pulled in tight towards your butt.

·         Start with your feet flat on the ground but progress to heel only contact (seen in the image).

·         Have your by your side with your palms facing up to stop you pushing into the ground.

·         Lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line between your hips to your shoulders.

·         Pause in the top position before lowering your hips back down.

·         Maintain alignment between the hips, knees and ankles.


Hip Thrust


2.    Hip Thrust

Reps: 12

This exercise is very similar to the glute bridge except you now have your shoulders elevated and resting on a bench (or bed/sofa) rather than the floor, which increases the range of movement and intensity. Follow the previous coaching tips for the glute bridge.


 Single leg deadlift

3.    Single Leg Deadlift

Reps: 6 each leg

This exercise is still a hip hinge and is more complex than the previous exercises because it is now on one leg and adds an element of balance.

Coaching tips:   

·         The standing leg should be slightly bent at the knee.

·         Initiate the movement by bending your torso forwards and extending one leg behind you.

·         Either have your arms out (arabesque) or allow them to slide down your planted leg.

·         In the finish position you should feel tension in your hamstring and there should be a straight line between your ankle and your shoulders/neck. This may take time to get to this position.

·         Return to start position without losing balance.

·         Try alternating legs to start with.


Further Progressions

Simple progressions for the hip hinge could be to perform the first two exercises I listed on one leg (6 reps each leg). Other examples are:

·         Deadlift

·         Glute Ham Raise


Unilateral Exercises (Balance & Stability)

Cycling is a unilateral (single leg) movement pattern where your body needs to able to produce high forces with each pedal. These unilateral exercises will help develop lower limb strength and stability whilst decreasing potential imbalances.



Split Squat


1.    Split Squat 

Reps: 8 each leg

Coaching tips:   

·         Push your elbows back and stick your chest out.

·         Keep your head and eyes looking forwards.

·         With both feet facing forwards, keep your front foot flat, and rear foot on your toes.

·         Lower your rear knee down towards the ground (the knee may touch but not rest on the ground) and extend up to the finish/start position.

·         Complete one leg before moving onto the next leg.

·         The knees should be aligned with the ankles and hips.



2.    Lunge

Reps: 8 each leg

Similar to the split squat, the lunge is just a more dynamic effort where you step into the split position rather than start with the feet apart. Follow the previous coaching tips for the split squat.


 Bulgarian Split Squat

3.    Bulgarian Split Squat

Reps: 8 each leg

The Bulgarian split squat is the same movement as the split squat except the rear foot is elevated, which increases the range of movement and intensity. When you first try this, use a small elevation and you can progress up to about 45cm. Follow the previous coaching tips for the split squat.


Further Progressions

There are a number of progressions for the unilateral lunge position. You can either perform the exercises listen above with your hands over your head (like the overhead squat) or you can hold dumbbells to increase the intensity. Other progressions could be:

·         Walking Lun


·         Single Leg Squat

·         Power Lunge


Pushing Exercises (Land Safer)

When you land from a jump you finish in the same position as the bottom of a press up. Improving this movement pattern will allow you to land safer and more efficiently from multiple jumps.


incline push up


1.    Incline Press Up

Reps: 12

This is the most basic pushing exercise, if you find it too challenging just raise your hands higher until you can complete the repetitions.

Coaching tips:   

·         Keep alignment between shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.

·         Use full range of motion as seen in the image.

·         Brace your abs and maintain a regular breathing pattern.

·         Avoid arching the lower back or sticking your butt up in the air.



Push up



2.    Bodyweight Press Up

Reps: 12

This progression is very basic. If you can complete the required repetitions with your hands elevated, replicate the movement with your hands on the ground, which adds to the intensity.



Power push up


3.    Power Press Up

Reps: 6

This exercise is the same as the bodyweight press up except that you have to be explosive on the way up so that your hands leave the ground in the top position. Follow the coaching tips for the incline press up.

Coaching tips:   

·         Try to land with stiffness.

·         Pause for 5 seconds between repetitions.


Further Progressions

Progressing the press up requires variation. Whether that is by changing the hand position or elevating the feet. To add extra load, you could wear weight vests or learn to bench press within your local gym.


Trunk Stability

The trunk is located between the upper & lower limbs. Think of box where it has the diaphragm on the top, the pelvic floor on the bottom, the abdominals on the front, the back muscles on the back, and the lateral stabilizers on the sides. A strong trunk allows for better posture, balance and stability, which decreases the risk of falling and increases performance.





1.    Plank

Hold for 15-45 seconds

The plank is a static based strength exercise that can be easily modified. If you perform this properly, you should be shaking/vibrating almost instantly.

Coaching tips:   

·         Lie face down resting the forearms and toes on the ground (you can start on the knees if it’s too tough).

·         Your elbows should be underneath your shoulders.

·         Keep your back parallel to the ground with a straight line between your shoulders and hips.

·         Brace your abs and maintain a regular breathing pattern.

·         Avoid arching the lower back or sticking your butt up in the air.

·         Hold this position for 15 to 45 seconds



2.    Superman

Reps: 6 on each side

The superman exercise is a dynamic trunk exercise that requires balance and stability through the trunk. It is also known as the Bird-dog.

Coaching tips:   

·         Starting on your hands and knees, extend your right arm and your left leg simultaneously out away from you.

·         It’s not about height! Try to reach out as far as possible with the toes and fingers without losing balance.

·         Keep a straight line between your shoulders and hips and avoid arching the lower back.

·         Brace your abs and maintain a regular breathing pattern.

·         Alternate sides.

Further Progressions

Progressions for training the trunk follow a rule where you're actively resisting movement of the lumbar spine. Examples are:

·         Advanced Planks (2-3 point contact with the ground)

·         Rollouts

·         Pallof Press


This is really just scratching the surface in terms of preparation for BMX racing. I didn’t get a chance to explain movement preparation (foam rolling, warm-up) or nutritional guideline for BMX Racing but there’s something for the future. The main purpose of these exercises are to improve your performance and decrease your chances of getting an injury. For further information regarding nutrition or further training, please contact me.



Mr Adam Hearn

About the Author

Adam Hearn is a strength and conditioning coach, researcher and writer based in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Sports Science and a Masters Degree in Strength and Conditioning among numerous fitness industry awards. Currently working at the Leicester City Football Club academy, he also works as a personal trainer to the general public including BMX riders from the national circuit.

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