It’s hard to draw a parallel between motorsports athletes and traditional stick and ball sports athletes. Most traditional sports post statistics on their athletes to represent their skills. For instance, baseball has ERAs, batting averages or on-base percentage. Football even has the combine that systematically evaluates and breaks down the make-up of each athlete. The NFL combine has tests that include the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap and other measurements that dissect the players inch-by-inch.
In supercross, analysts don’t comment about how high series champion Chad Reed can jump or how quick he navigates a left-hand turn. At first glance, the perception of supercross racers is daredevil-esque and the most energy being exerted would be simply the twisting of the throttle. Does the bike do all of the work?
Today, in the Google-everything era, the sport of supercross/motocross is the first result yielded when searching: “What is the world’s most physically demanding sport?” The contents of the story go on to say how supercross/motocross is the world’s second-most physically demanding sport behind soccer, however many involved with the sport of supercross would dispute this claim, believing it is the most physically demanding sport in the world.
While there may not be as many detailed statistics about a racer’s strengths and weaknesses, the misconception that these guys are not fit needs to be erased. Deciding who are the most-fit or toughest athletes in the world or what sport is the most physically demanding are arguments that could be debated for years. Bo Jackson played baseball with a metal hip, Michael Jordan has more rings than fingers, Michael Phelps has won more medals, etc. There really is no right answer.
Dr. Steve Augustine, of Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute and the Action Sports Medicine Foundation in Jacksonville, Fla., and his colleagues undertook a research study where they placed heart-rate monitors on the riders and monitored them throughout the races to see where supercross athletes compared to other athletes in terms of fitness.
The results showed that the bottom line is that these supercross athletes are in incredible shape. Heart rate is a measurement of the exercises intensity of an activity. The higher the heart rate, the higher the intensity and when he looked at the supercross racers, they were running their hearts at an average of 179-180 beats per minute. During a supercross race, the riders’ heart-rate level is at 92% of their maximum heart rate.
As soon as the race starts, their heart rate runs up to that 92% from start to finish, which is approximately 20 minutes duration. This is put into perspective when compared to other sports. Most other sports gauge their competitors’ heart rates at an average of 80% during an event. Supercross racers are actually running at higher heart rates than most sports, and the most impressive difference is that they are doing it at 20-minute intervals. Hockey teams may be on the ice for a minute, football players exert themselves in short bursts that last only a few seconds.
“I wanted to give everyone the sound medical data to support that argument in our favor,” said Augustine. “Anyone that is involved with the sport or who has ever raced knows how physically demanding it is, yet the average sports fan still believes that the motorcycle does all the work. This wide spread misconception is definitely not the case, as the results speak for themselves. This type of research validates our sport on a scientific level. It gives our sport the respect it deserves in terms of exercise intensity and the fitness demands required to compete in this sport.”