Cross Training For Cyclists: Get Better at Riding by Not Riding
On my team, Levine Law Group Elite Women’s cycling, I am known for doing fitness challenges. Pushups, handstands… you name it... send it my way. Challenging my body in other ways than cycling keeps me fresh and motivated during the season. It has been especially helpful this past year, during the longest off-season ever. With the start of the 2020 race season being further and further delayed, (and eventually cancelled), cross training helped me keep up my fitness and stay motivated for an unknown start date that kept getting pushed farther into the future.
I incorporated running, hiking, kayaking, and ski touring into my weekly training. I took the opportunity to do the things that I don't have time for when I’m racing bikes and travelling every weekend. Perhaps the most memorable trip I had (away from the bike) was hiking the North Coast Trail on Vancouver Island. This multi-day hike went around the most Northern tip of Vancouver Island, through some of the most beautiful and remote terrain the West Coast has to offer. I came back physically tired (and sore in areas my body had forgotten) but mentally fresh and excited to get back on the bike.
Cross training is extremely beneficial to cycling. It can help your body in ways cycling can’t, by increasing bone density and strengthening underused muscle groups. Cyclists are notorious for having low bone density which can lead to early onset osteoporosis and other problems down the road. Cross training is so important when it comes to stabilizing and activating opposing muscles and joints through different ranges of movement. These are all key factors in preventing both acute and overuse injuries. Activities such as hiking helps build up your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, core, and hip muscles. It also strengthens bone density because it’s a weight-bearing exercise. Running helps with aerobic fitness, in addition to developing different muscles, and improves bone density.
Spending some time doing other activities is a great way to have a break from riding, while still keeping up with your fitness routine. This may result in you returning to your next training block with a clear and refreshed mind, and increased motivation. During the winter, my go-to activity is backcountry skiing. Spending time in the mountains and away from civilization fills my bucket. When I get back on the bike, I am more motivated to work harder than before. Let me repeat that: time away from the bike made me love it more.
I have implemented cross training not just to my off-season, but to my year-long training. During the winter, I do two days a week of cross training. Typically this looks like a 1-2hr run mid week, and a longer hike or ski tour on the weekend. During race season, I still run mid-week, and if I don’t have a race scheduled for that weekend, a longer hike or kayak (this often turns into an overnight trip). Since I began doing this, I have yet to experience the 'end of season burnout' so common among racers, nor have I had any overuse injuries.
I love encouraging my LLG teammates to share in these cross training activities, creating inter-team challenges to inspire others to get moving in different ways. It helps to keep us all fresh as we (finally) head towards some bike racing this year!