Cross training can provide many benefits; from building bone density, to targeting muscles not often used in cycling, to simple mental stimulation. For some it is a welcome break from the norm and for others it’s a thankless task. This guide should help shed some light on cross-training, specific to what you end goal is.
First, let’s discuss timing. Off-season, or the point you first start training again after an end of season break, tends to be the best time to start a new regime. In almost all cases, it is best to have a slow introduction into all sports, new or familiar. You might consider talking to your doctor before starting anything new and you should definitely talk to a professional who can ensure you are performing the moves/sport correctly!
Once you’ve given yourself time to prep your body for more work, typically I recommend about two weeks for every one week you take as complete rest at the end of your previous season (you can max this out at four weeks’ prep phase), your body should be suitably adapted to be able to start full sessions in your new chosen sport.
It goes without saying that, when training for a cycling goal, you should prioritise your cycling training. Anchor your key cycling sessions each week and work your cross-training in around it. Not all your bike sessions might take priority, but, you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where your bike performance suffers.
Periodising your cross-training to line up with your on-the-bike work, is a great way to see some significant improvements. This might look like timing strength building sessions with your bike strength work, then moving to power building work when you’re building bike power. Providing you are able to recover well enough, or rather leave enough recovery time in between sessions. Planning ahead is great for to work out where you might have problems. Use previous data and be objective about how much training you are likely to be able to complete (both from a physical capability and time availability point of view).
As you get closer to your goals your cross-training might take up less of your time or switch more to maintenance. This is especially important if you are in a class of people who tend to ‘lose it if they don’t use it’ quicker than others, this might be more towards those 50 years and older. Again, you don’t want cross-training to interfere with bike work, especially as bike work might be getting crucial and specific to your goals, however, it is wise to keep maintaining something, so you are not starting from scratch if you repeat this process again.
Here’s some problems you might be looking to overcome and what I feel are great sports to achieve this:
Cycling doesn’t place much weight on your bones, certainly not enough to force an adaptation where your bones grow stronger. While this might not be an issue for you at a younger age, as you get older you might consider adding some of this in. There are also certain health conditions that might dictate you do this.
There are quite a few sports that will work, but, my favourite would be plyometrics. Simply put, plyometrics is maximum force exercises exerted in a short period of time, it used to be called jump training, this gives you an idea of what it involves. A couple of example moves would be a box jumpor a squat jump. A class setting might be best to get the most from this and not only will you build bone density, but, you’ll also build explosive power and give yourself a good anaerobic workout too.
I’m not going to tell you anything other than what you probably know here. My favourite way to build muscular strength is with heavy weights. However, you might be surprised to know that you don’t need a gym membership or even a home gym setup, although it is an advantage.
Grab anything heavy and perform the exercises. Being harder to hold might actually be an advantage as you’ll be stimulating more muscles, just be warned that you should progress the weight as you go.
We all know just how good cycling is for mental health, but, some people can find it a bit repetitive, especially if you struggle to find new routes. Any exercise should improve brain health, increasing heart rate and supplying more oxygen to your brain, so you could simply use one of the examples from the other categories, or you could try something completely different.
My favourite for this is Crossfit. Crossfit is a combination of elements from different sports performed at a high intensity. As you’re not often doing the same moves over and over it should keep your interest and attention, plus you know you will get a great workout every time you take a Crossfit class.
If you wanted to stimulate or maintain some of your anaerobic threshold, without cycling, then there are a number of different ways you could do this. Consider first that you might want to conduct this in a class setting. Third party motivation, having an audience, is a great way to ensure that you try hard. Not saying you won’t individually, but, knowing that most cyclists are competitive beasts, you will almost certainly get more in front of others.
Taking a circuit class is amazing for anaerobic training and you’ll no doubt get some other great benefits too. There’s lots of variation in this so my advice is to ask around at what the classes are like and make a decision based on your needs. Not into classes? Why not try rowing, you don’t need to be outside many gyms have rowing machines or they can be picked up cheaply second hand.
When you need something to do, but, you also want to promote recovery; swimming is a great sport you can do. It can be performed upper body only, to allow your legs the day off and if you pick a good pool, you might have access to a sauna too…