Study Takes Scientific Look at 'Pedaling Power' in BMX Racing

Released: 23-Nov-2011 9:00 AM EST
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Citations Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Track Difficulty Has Important Implications for Training BMX Racers, Reports JSCR

Newswise — Philadelphia, Pa. (November 23, 2011) - While pedaling power is important in bicycle motocross (BMX) racing—especially at the start of the race—other skills have a greater impact on performance on the difficult tracks encountered in higher-level competitions, according to a study in the November issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

On tracks with higher technical difficulty, BMX racers have less opportunity to develop maximum pedaling power, according to the new study, led by Manuel Mateo, of the Spanish Cycling Federation, Madrid. The researchers believe their study—one of few to examine the mechanical and conditioning requirements of BMX racing—has important implications for training regimens for BMX athletes.

Differing Demands at Different Levels of BMX Tracks
Mateo and colleagues designed a series of experiments to assess pedaling power and speed production in BMX racing. After an initial test to determine maximum pedaling power, nine members of the Spanish national BMX team were tested with and without pedaling on three different types of BMX tracks: low, medium, and high difficulty.

There's no standard track in BMX racing—the different types of tracks were selected to represent the different levels of technical difficulty encountered in BMX competitions. More difficult tracks had a higher gate start and more difficult and frequent obstacles.

Data from special power meters were analyzed to determine how power and velocity varied during different phases of the race: the start gate phase, when racers accelerated down the starting ramp; a mixed central phase, with combined periods of pedaling to maintain power and speed with periods of not pedaling when tackling obstacles; and a stamina phase, in which racers tried to maintain maximum speed through power and coordination.

The results showed that peak power was achieved within the first two seconds of the race, reaching about 85 percent of the individual athlete's maximum pedaling power. However, average power throughout all phases of the race was much lower: about 34 percent of the maximum.

Power varied significantly with the difficulty of the track: both peak power and average power were less important on more difficult tracks. On tracks with lower technical difficulty—a less steep starting ramp and easier and more widely spaced obstacles—the athletes were more likely to pedal at close to maximum power.

On the high-difficulty course, only about three percent of power measurements were between 75 and 85 percent of maximum. But regardless of track difficulty, the racers were pedaling at less than half of maximum power for nearly 90 percent of the race. The results suggested that up to 83 percent of riding performance may result from impulse actions, without any pedaling.

An increasingly popular sport, BMX was added as an Olympic sport for the 2008 games in Beijing. Coaches and trainers working with elite BMX racers need scientifically valid information on training regimens to meet the unique power and technical needs of their sport.

The new results show that BMX racers generate maximum pedaling power during the first few seconds of a race. That's important, because of the critical competitive advantage of taking the lead position as quickly as possible. Later in the race, pedaling power plays a less important role, especially on more difficult tracks. "Therefore, as the track difficulty increases, it seems the best athletes should pay special attention to the use of these upper limb and momentum without pedaling techniques," Mateo and coauthors conclude.

The researchers outline practical guidelines for making "training prescriptions," based on the individual rider's maximum power and the competitive level of the track. Especially when preparing for races at the highest levels of competition, they believe BMX racers should pay special attention to upper body and momentum techniques, without pedaling.

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About The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
The editorial mission of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) is to advance the knowledge about strength and conditioning through research. A unique aspect of this journal is that it includes recommendations for the practical use of research findings. While the journal name identifies strength and conditioning as separate entities, strength is considered a part of conditioning. The journal wishes to promote the publication of peer-reviewed manuscripts which add to our understanding of conditioning and sport through applied exercise science. The JSCR is the official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

About the National Strength and Conditioning Association
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is an international nonprofit educational association founded in 1978. The NSCA develops and presents the most advanced information regarding strength training and conditioning practices and injury prevention. Central to its mission, the NSCA bridges the gap between the scientist in the laboratory and the practitioner in the field. By working to find practical applications for new research findings in the strength and conditioning field, the Association fosters the development of strength training and conditioning as a discipline and as a profession

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