That Much Better

Ryan Dungey's Life Off the Dirt Bike is Critical to His Success On It

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Ryan Dungey has approached the rehab from his first major injury the way he does most things: "it's a process." Every day, he gets up and goes through his routine, laid out by his trainer and doctors. It's been three months since sustaining cracked vertebrae at the 2016 Thunder Valley MX. 

Ryan spent much of his summer in Belle Plaine, Minn., where his parents live, away from his dirt bikes and the race-centric scene in Florida where he resides. He's acknowledged that the injury may have been a blessing in disguise. Dirt bike racers at the highest level are always riding at less than 100-percent, with the long seasons taking their toll on the body and mind. Dungey, though forced, was finally able to rest and when his body was up for it, get to work focused solely on his conditioning. 

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And so, he's been running and riding. And fishing and going to dinner with family friends. And then getting up again to run or ride amongst the corn fields and the uncluttered highways around the family home, which is an hour outside Minneapolis. 

Now that he's got full clearance to resume all activities, he's logging miles and staying on top of his diet. The injury may have been a bit of a wake-up call for the three-time Motocross and three-time Supercross Champion. He's still amongst the top racers in the sport, but immortal he is not. So as long as he can contend, he's going to do all he can to keep his mind and body sharp. So every morning, rain or shine, he pulls on his kit, puts down a cup of coffee, walks out the front door and hits the road. The 2017 season awaits.

We met up with Ryan at his home after a morning ride to get a sense of how he's keeping fit and why it all matters for being the fastest man on a bike.

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Obviously a lot of your focus is work on the bike, but what sort of training do you do off the bike to make you better come race day?

Of course, the main thing is riding a dirt bike, but cross-training allows you to improve and fine-tune those different parts of the program that you want to gain on the dirt bike. You can do things on a dirt bike to make your stronger and work on form and things like that, but usually when you’re on a dirt bike it’s really high-end – your heart rate is high, you’re going for it, like you would be if you’re racing. That’s what you’re aiming to recreate. But a lot of the cross-training is good for some longer endurance work, like road biking. We can do 1, 2, 3 hours of low cardio work, build the cardiovascular system and work on the low end of our heart rates and build a good base. We do other stuff for cardio as well, running, for example – workouts where you can control and monitor your heart rate and breathing. We also do a lot of strength training, which is really big to really fine-tune those muscle groups that we engage when we’re on the bike. Becoming stronger is always the goal. After years of discipline and doing the things to make you better over and over, you start to see progress and then you realize it’s really working. On top of that, for me, it’s mentally cleansing.  It’s almost a hobby; I enjoy cycling, I enjoy running and being in the gym.

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How often are you running and biking?

Building up to the season, we’re doing 150-miles-plus a week. But with all that, we’re also riding dirt bikes that week, so there’s a bunch of training on top of that. At the lower end, we’re doing 70 to 100 miles, just depending on the weather, depending on if there’s other things going on during the week that we need to attend to, so it all tends to change a bit as we go.

Do you tend to do your runs and rides solo?

Working with Aldon (Baker), there’s a couple other riders he works with, so it ends up being a group ride. I’ve done both, group and solo, but I tend to get more out of it mentally when you’re talking and enjoying the ride, it’s nice to go with other guys at your speed and your caliber and push yourself. Sometimes it’s pretty brutal, and you have to step it up that day, doing hills or whatever, and you have to push it to keep up with the group. It’s not always shooting the breeze. 

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When you do ride alone, do you prefer to ride with music or just the sounds of the road?

Any time I’m in the gym, outside for a run or solo on bike rides, I’m listening to music. For me, it’s motivating to have a nice playlist and just tune out. I don't have a particular genre I lean towards, it’s just whatever is good. For me, that tends to be a mix of country and hip-hop, but it’s a variety.

How important are the numbers – heart rate, cadence, pace, etc. – to your training?

It’s huge. On the dirt bike, your body fat ratios come into play because you don't want to be carrying more weight than needed, but you also don't want to be so lean that you’re weak. When we’re training, we focus a lot on heart rate zones, miles per hour, power output, distance and pace. It all works into the bigger plan that Aldon sets out for us so that come race day we’re feeling as strong and confident as we should.

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