Off-Season Cross Training: The Science
It’s that time of year again when the mercury drops, the roads get wetter (or even snowier), and no matter how strong the will to get out the bike may be, the conditions for a productive workout are just not there. While seasoned cyclists have developed a number of coping techniques from rides on the trainer to creative swapping of workouts in hopes of better weather, we have all dabbled in cross training for cycling in one form or another. Done properly, cross training can be extremely beneficial for cyclists.
Recently, we’ve all seen the sport’s top stars going for runs, like when Mathieu van der Poel celebrated a recent cyclocross win with a 10k run immediately after the race, or when Tom Pidcock made waves by posting a run to Strava in which he supposedly ran a world class 13:25 5k in the middle of a 9km run. Mountain biker Nino Schurter, growing up in the snowy Swiss Alps, frequently dusts off the skis for a romp through the snow, and Movistar’s Carlos Verona recently caused a little social media shake up when he took a few swimming lessons from Olympic Gold Medalist in Triathlon, Jan Frodeno.
So, if the pros do it, it must be good, right? Well, probably, maybe… it depends.
What is for sure is that while cross training brings great benefits to keeping fitness high, there are also a few drawbacks when seen in the lens of improving on the bike fitness. Here are a few of the most popular cross training methods for cyclists and our take on the pros and cons of each.
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Running is one of the easiest forms of cross training for cycling. It’s based on a unilateral movement, just like cycling which can help maintain or even improve muscle economy and transfer of Vo2 Max adaptations. Additionally, as cyclists often miss out on the weight bearing aspect of training through cycling, running can help with bone density. However, running is not without its risks. The higher impact and introduction of concentric and eccentric muscle contractions can leave cyclists very sore or potentially injured. Any running training should be undertaken with caution, and those lacing up their trainers should resist the temptation to push too hard or overdo it on the miles.
Cyclists wishing to avoid the high impact risks of running often look to swimming as a means of maintaining and building cardiovascular fitness in the off-season. As a non impact activity, swimming is less likely to cause overuse injuries than running, and the whole body nature of can improve core and upper body strength which can translate to improved performance on the bike.
However, swimming is not as simple as lacing up your shoes and heading out the door. It is very location dependent and obviously requires a swimming pool nearby. The technical nature of swimming is challenging to those without much experience in the pool, so the risk of overuse injuries, particularly to the back and shoulders, is not nonexistent.
Yoga or Pilates
Cyclists are notorious for their inflexibility and there are few activities that can combine increased range of movement and strength like yoga or pilates. Additionally, the combination of slow, targeted movements benefits not only flexibility and strength, but also the mindfulness to undertake deliberate movements, a skill that can benefit some areas of cycling, particularly technical skills and preparing your mind for a big event.
Working on these areas of fitness that are often neglected by cyclists can be hugely beneficial, but often the costs for classes is quite high, and do not train the cardiovascular system in the same manner as other forms of cross training.
Cross country skiing is arguably one of the best off-season cross-training activities due to the high transferability of physiological adaptations including aerobic conditioning, core strength, coordination and balance and cognitive capacity. Additionally, it is very low impact and uses many of the same muscle groups as cycling without the repeated impact of running. Furthermore, it is a great full body workout improving core and upper body strength, and forcing your body to provide blood to many working muscles.
Though it is one of the best overall cross training activities, it is an relatively expensive activity. The cost of skis, boots, poles, and warm weather active wear can be quite high if you only plan to ski a few times a year. Furthermore, not everyone lives in an area that receives consistent snow needed, and the drive time to and from trails can be a bit time consuming. If you do want to give it a try, make sure to take lessons as the technique needed to enjoy your time on the snow is somewhat difficult.
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