6 Off-Season Cross-Training Sports for Cyclists

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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6 Off-Season Cross-Training Sports for Cyclists

While you won’t want to rule out cycling completely during the off-season, you might not get on the bike as often as you’d like. The good news is that cross-training during the winter can help you build aerobic fitness, improve strength and provide a mental break from the saddle.

Take advantage of the opportunity to diversify your workout and become a stronger, happier cyclist this off-season with these six cross-training activities.


Why you should do it: Running is the obvious cross-training counterpart to cycling, and it’s a great way to boost aerobic fitness in a limited amount of time. A 30-minute run can provide the same aerobic benefits as an hour on the bike — and it’ll be much easier to stay warm and be safe in extreme weather. You’ll also need very little gear other than a good pair of running shoes.

How to get started: If you aren’t an experienced runner, you’ll need to be careful not to overdo it. A good rule of thumb is to begin with a light jog of 2–5 minutes, alternating with walking for 2–5 minutes. Aim for a total run/walk time of around 20–30 minutes. Increase the length of your runs each week until you can comfortably run for 20 minutes. To avoid overuse injuries, be sure not to increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10% each week.


Why you should do it: Hiking can be very challenging, depending on how you approach it. It also helps build strength in muscle groups commonly neglected by cycling, such as the hips and core. From a mental perspective, hitting the trail can be similar to mountain biking and a nice change of scenery from the road. It will allow you to forget about power metrics for a few hours and conquer a new kind of challenge.

How to get started: Other than hiking boots, you probably already own everything you need to get started. A hydration pack, GPS or trail maps may be necessary if you tackle trails that are unfamiliar or unmarked. Check weather forecasts, and always make sure others know exactly where you’re headed and for how long. If you’re a novice, teaming up with a hiking club or an experienced partner could be a good place to start.


Why you should do it: Aquatic centers are indoors and have heated pools (and usually hot tubs for post-swim). This makes swimming a good choice for endurance athletes looking to improve their aerobic capacity and escape the cold weather. Importantly, both sports are great cardio; however, while cycling is a leg-centric activity, swimming is the opposite. You’ll build strength in your core, shoulders, arms and back, which will help to balance your upper- and lower-body fitness.

How to get started: If you don’t have good technique, swimming for fitness can be a challenge. While it might be a good idea to sign up for classes, it isn’t necessary for a good workout. Aqua-joggers, pull buoys, and kickboards are all devices you can use to keep you afloat while you practice your technique and work your fitness.


Why you should do it: Yoga builds flexibility and a strong core, which will make you a faster cyclist. Also, improved flexibility and balance can help you achieve a more aggressive riding position and boost your bike handling.

How to get started: Yoga classes are an easy way to introduce you to the basics. Before you head into class, here are a few good poses for cyclists to know:

  • Bridge pose: Strengthens the glutes, hamstrings and lower back.
  • Downward dog: Stretches and strengthens the hamstrings, lower back and helps to open up the hips.
  • Bow pose: Stretches the hips, abs, chest and abdomen, which are commonly in the contracted position during cycling.
  • Planks: Build strength and endurance in the back, core and abdominals.


Why you should do it: Building strength should be a part of every cyclist’s plan. Getting stronger will help you to improve your speed and endurance on the bike and will also help you prevent common cycling injuries that can ruin your season.

How to get started: While a gym membership would be ideal, there are a lot of body-weight exercises you can do at home, including:


Why you should do it: If you live somewhere with heavy annual snowfall, you won’t find a better activity to improve your aerobic capacity and strength than cross-country skiing. In fact, Olympic cross-country skiers are known to have some of the lowest resting heart rates of all endurance athletes.

How to get started: While you will need to rent or buy skis and poles, your winter cycling clothing can be used for skiing, too. Like running, you’ll want to start out slow to avoid injury. If you’d rather not spend the time and money required, snowshoeing is a suitable alternative.


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About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.


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