Winter can be a rough time for cyclists who just want to ride, but it’s also an opportune time to shake up your training. While it may be tempting to ride your bike year-round, it is still important to take advantage of the benefits of cross-training in the off-season, and, ideally, throughout the year. Cross-training is necessary because it works new muscles as well as boosts your cardiovascular fitness, mental stamina, overall athleticism and strength.
Here are five benefits of cross-training and why it’s essential to improving cycling performance.
Some of the best sports for boosting cycling fitness are snow sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, which is why they are among the most popular cross-training activities for cyclists in snowy regions. Since they involve your entire body — including your heart and lungs — you’ll feel the benefit of a stronger cardiovascular system once you get back on the bike.
Training at altitude also boosts your ability to get blood and oxygen to your working muscles. This overload is something that helps avoid performance plateaus on the bike. If you aren’t in a wintery region, you can look into roller skis, pole running, ski-ergs and even rowing to get similar benefits.
Options such as yoga and Pilates also give you a great chance to become more aware of your breathing and mental focus. Doing breathwork on a regular basis will help you cope with hard race efforts that push your breathing mechanics — and your mental focus — to their limits.
Also, if you struggle with injury or are generally ultra-competitive, it’s worth exploring these activities. The mental side of moving slowly and purposefully, while controlling your breathing, will help you stay calm and save energy during important competitions. Yoga and Pilates also build balance, range of motion and strength, especially in underused noncycling muscles.
Full-body exertion is also a very potent stimulus for heart and lungs. Since more muscles are calling for blood and oxygen, your cardiovascular system has to work extra hard.
Swimming is an activity that forces you to focus on breathing and moving through more range of motion. It builds cardiovascular strength and enables cyclists to move in a different manner, do upper-body work and spend time thinking about breathing. Plus, it’s something that’s easily done year-round.
Learning to move well keeps you healthy and boosts your ability to learn new skills and adapt to new environments quickly. Running is the most obvious cross-training sport for cyclists, and it’s one of the most flexible and portable sports. Also, activities like uphill running intervals force you use more muscle mass and exert yourself at a high level without worrying about keeping your bike upright.
However, running has a high injury rate, especially among fit and energetic cyclists. Because of this, add running to your routine slowly and carefully. A few 10–20 minute run-walk sessions, where you alternate 1 minute of running and 1 minute of walking, is a good starting point.
The last but non-negotiable inclusion in your cross-training regimen is strength training. As cyclists, we constantly train the cardiovascular system, but our muscles and especially our bones are neglected with the lack of weight-bearing and loading on the joints. Start doing calisthenics, such as pushups, squats, lunges, body-rows and pullups at home or in a local park. Keep it simple, and gradually add reps and loads as you get stronger. Maintain this year-round, but use the off-season to make gains and put a focus on the gym movement to build power, strength and speed that will make you a better athlete and help you avoid injury.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE