Training: Be a winter warrior, part 3 – Building power

How BMX tracks help build explosive power

If you want to rule the roost next summer, you need to build your power over winter. The good news is that building explosive power doesn’t mean lots of tough, nasty training rides – head off for a session at the local BMX track.


There’s nothing worse than watching the rider in front pulling away from you when you’re barely hanging in there to keep up. Especially when you’re on a sound bike and you ride lots – how can they possibly be that much faster?

The problem lies in your riding. You may well ride lots and have all your technique down, but the chances are you’re lacking in the explosive power that gives you the push when you need it most. Variety is what you need to be a better all-round rider, and sometimes the best way to get this is not by going for a full-on ride, but to concentrate on having fun on your bike. You’d be surprised how hard you ride when you’re having a really good time…

Why BMX stands for Build More X-factor

If you want to rule the roost next summer, you need to build your power over winter:
Russell Burton

If you’ve never watched a BMX race, go online and find some video clips. BMX racers ride at their limit for the entire race. It’s true power, but power that lasts, which is what you need to build on your acceleration and staying power in order to enjoy those ‘leaving people for dead’ moments.

If you’re not sure on how best to tackle the jumps on a BMX track (whether that be airborne or hugging the ground) check out the ‘jumping and landing’ video in our mountain biking pages for some demos on basic techniques to get you on your way.

Sprint training around a BMX track helps you build powerful legs and improves your recovery, which will allow you to go harder and for longer. By the time you get to spring, you’ll be itching to hit the trails with your mates and show them who’s boss.

Prepare yourself and your bike

Your local bmx track is a great place to work on building explosive power: your local bmx track is a great place to work on building explosive power
Russell Burton

You don’t need a special bike to ride a BMX track, although you’ll need to do a few things to your steed to help you get the best out of your bike. You should have a short stem, low saddle and tyres pumped up as hard as they can be.

Enjoy your first visit to your local track and just get a feel for how to ride it best, then learn to use it to your advantage. Once you’ve mastered sprinting, you can take it to the trails or the street for training on your commute, which leaves you to use your weekend ride for fun, rather than feeling like you’re only riding to keep fit.

Why you must try BMX track sprints

Gate starts are a great way to work on speed and power – most clubs have a regular mtb-friendly session:
Russell Burton

The first straight of a BMX track is often where a race is won, so sprinting here is a key factor. You’ll need speed to clear the jumps anyway, so that gives you a fun incentive.

Getting to know the track is helpful to your riding on a few fronts – it’s great for technique and skill, as well as the obvious fact that to jump everything on a track, you need to be riding flat-out for a fair time, which really helps build explosive power.

If you’re lucky enough to have a group of mates that you ride with, there’s a great game that you can play with them up the track – it’s called ‘Last out’.

  • Line up on the start ramp and race to the end of the track – the last rider to get there is out
  • The remaining riders race the track backwards and again, the last rider is out
  • Keep going until you have a winner – and then start all over again

Most tracks will have a regular gate start night too. Mountain bikes are normally more than welcome so find out the club details and get yourself down there.

Master the art of BMX track jumping

Hit jumps full-on to build speed and power, and more slowly to work on technique:
Russell Burton

There are lots of different jumps on BMX tracks, from small to huge, simple to technical.

When you’re comfortable clearing most of them, find a middle-sized jump and session it. Try riding at it as fast as you can and sucking it up, and then try the opposite – clearing the jump with the least run-up that you can. The effort you need to do this is monumental – but determination will have you sprinting like an animal and using every bit of muscle you have to clear the jump.

Clearing jumps at slower speeds on a BMX track is about technique and using your strength to manipulate the bike, so your upper body will get a full workout.

To keep things fun, look at different ways of hitting jumps – the final straights are usually rideable in several ways, including manualling, jumping to manual, doubling and even tripling things up. It takes a good eye, a lot of power and strength to manhandle the bike where you want it.

Take all this one step at a time, but rest assured that you’ll be addicted before long.

Pumping helps build power

Pumping bmx jumps is a great workout for your arms and upper body:
Russell Burton

Sprinting will build strength in your legs, but pumping and manualling jumps will work your lower back, core muscles, upper body and your forearms.

The best bit on a track to pump is the technical straight – which is usually the last straight. This will typically have a tabletop, and a series of whoops that can be doubled, tripled or manualled.

Working on pumping through them works your shoulders, triceps, forearms and back. To put the power down, your trunk needs to be as strong as your arms because they need something solid to work against.

When you’ve got the hang of pumping, you can have pumping competitions:

  • Line up on the start gate and see who can freewheel the track the fastest, or get furthest without pedalling.
  • It’s great fun and encourages you to use your whole body.
  • Once you have pumping down, you’ll be able to use this skill out on the trail on any small transition or backside of a root to build speed without pedalling.

Commuting as a training opportunity

Dark evenings don’t have to stop you getting out on your bike:
Russell Burton

You can train on a daily basis without interrupting your working day, by getting some training in on your commute to work. If your journey to work is too short, then make a small detour to create a loop – even a 10-minute ride before work can open up the lungs in the morning.

Use things like traffic lights as an excuse to get those pedals mashing.Treat them like the BMX track start gate, and imagine the cars are the racers you’re trying to beat.

Try to incorporate a small climb in to your journey as well, and sprint it flat-out. Once the climb is over, click up a gear, stay in the saddle and sprint, and look for the next area to put the power down.

If your journey has extended flat sections, use a pyramid training technique:

  • 10-second sprint, followed by 15-second recovery spin
  • 15-second sprint, 15-second recovery spin
  • 30-second sprint, 15-second recovery spin
  • Minute sprint, minute recovery spin
  • Repeat

It hurts at first, but the more resistant your body gets to the pain, the faster it’ll recover, and the fitter and stronger you’ll be.

Think of the cars as racers you’re trying to beat – buses to make this harder: think of the cars as racers you’re trying to beat – buses to make this harder
Russell Burton