Rubber Side Down | Why Cyclists Need to Cross Train

We’ve all been there. You’ve just gotten on the bike and before you even hit the open road you can hardly bear the thought of turning the pedals over one more time, let alone for the 30 miles you had marked down on your training schedule.


Motivation running a little low? Time to mix in some cross training!

You’re burnt out.

And while your conscience won’t make it easy, what you need to do is give the bike a rest. That’s where cross training enters the picture. While in order to get some of your motivation back you should give your bike a rest, but that doesn’t mean you should just pack it in and take it easy too. By cross training, you’re giving your body—and your mind—a break from riding, but staying fit and even building a foundation to get you back on the bike even stronger than before.

But, this isn’t to say you should wait until you’ve reached the point of burnout to adopt a cross-training regimen. Starting in your off-season, work on developing a routine that you can continue throughout the year, scaling back as your cycling-specific training load increases.

In a nutshell, it’s beneficial for us cyclists to break down cross training into two categories: Strength and fitness. Where you’re at in your season will determine which of the two to prioritize, although any good cross training regimen will do a good job of incorporating both.

Building Strength

Strength Training Routines

Building strength is an important part of any cyclist’s offseason training, but can be an important tool during the season as well. Follow these simple exercises to keep you strong—and balanced—on the bike.

1_creative_core_workout_172d8hv-172d8jpA strong core is essential to producing consistent power on the bike, but unfortunately, riding simply doesn’t do the best job of developing your core. To supplement, it’s importnat to work on your core off of the bike as well. A great place to start is the tried-and-true plank. Working most of your major core muscle groups it’s a time-efficient way to strengthen up your trunk.

However, the plank isn’t the only path to proper core strength. In fact, Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Peter Sagan prefers a good ol’ fashioned crunch.

It’s worth noting though, that a cyclist with a strong core is still only as strong as his weakest link, and a strong back is necessary to reap the benefits of a strong core. For this, deadman lifts are just the ticket. Reach down, taking care to keep your back straight, take an unloaded 20-kilogram barbell in an overhand grip and, bending at the hips, slowly raise the bar, making sure to keep your back square.

Lower Body
300-hamstring-curl-lying-vkGl7O-23012012While cycling is certainly great at working out your lower body, that’s not to say it can’t benefit from some other attention as well. Often, cyclists have underdeveloped hamstrings in proportion to their quadriceps, something that weight training can help balance out, making for a noticeable power increase on the bike. In fact, two-time Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso agreees. “Preparing your legs in the gym is so important—it makes the biggest difference on the bike.” While he prefers TRX for total body training, he turns to leg curls when he’s focusing on beefing up the ol’ moneymakers since it they have the added beneift of strengthening the lower back as well.

Laying prone on an angled leg curl machine, Basso does three sets of 20 curls at 60-70 percent of his maximum weight, holding each repetition for one second.

American cyclist Ted King turns to the reverse lunge to strengthen his hamstrings and glutes, adding in a set of free weights (about 15-20 percent of your body weight) to increase the resistance. SStanding with your feet shoulder-width apart, step backwards into a lunge, keeping your back straight and shoulders level. Stepping backwards into the lunge reduces strain on the knee—a joint that already sees plenty of use on the bike.

Yoga can be an extremely valuable tool for cyclists. Stuck in the same position, often for hours at a time, riding can lead to extreme tightness which can eventually rob you of your hard-earned power. Yoga can get you loose in a hurry, and is a great cross-training routine to work into your regimen.

Outside Magazine recommends these four poses as being particularly beneficial for cyclists:

Building (or maintaining) Fitness

The name of the game here is simply to find a way to keep active in order to maintain you aerobic capacity while you give your legs a beneficial break from the bike.

Running can be a great way to mix things up while still keeping your aerobic fitness up. Easy running can be a great way to clear the mind and keep the legs moving off of the bike. Once you build up your running fitness, it can even be a great way to increase your fitness on the bike, not just maintain it.

Running also provides cyclists with much-needed impact. While cycling is often heralded for it’s non-impact nature, this can actually become a problem for serious cyclists. Impact, which is largely absent from cycling, cues the body to regenerate bones, and the more a cyclist rides, the more susceptible he or she is to losing bone density. Calcium loss though sweating only serves to compound the issue. Adding a bit of impact into your routine can greatly help reverse this loss of bone density.

Nordic Skiing
Many cyclists turn to Nordic skiing in the offseason. Not only is it one of the only choices for those in colder climes, it’s a great cardiovascular workout—heres a reason the highest recorded VO2 max was by a nordic skier. It also helps that nordic skiiing, especially skate skiing can help build leg strength as well.

Last, but certainly not least, the most important thing to remember about cross training is to BE SMART! As cyclists, we’re pretty fit individuals. While normally, that’s a good thing, when it comes to cross training it can actually put us in danger of injuring ourselves. Sure, we’ve got the aerobic capacity to go out and run a pretty quick 10K, but by no stretch of the imagination does that mean we should jsut go out and do it. With the lack of impact in cycling, as well as the lack of support muscles needed for running, our cyclist’s bodies, while aerobically capable, are ill-prepared for the different muscular and skeletal demands placed on it by running.

Easy does it when it comes to starting any new workout routine and cross training is no exception. Moderation is the key to success! Now, with that being said, get out there and have some fun trying something new!