There are a lot of cross-something or others zipping around these days: cross, cx, CrossFit, cross-training, and plenty o’ others.
So what is “cross-training” and why should you care?
Cross-training is simply working out your body in the same manner as your main sport does, but without doing your main sport.
The goal of cross-training is balancing out your muscles (and body) to improve your fitness in your main sport. It also helps to prevent repetitive use injury.
Repetitive use injuries happen when we constantly do the same motion over and over again. Think “tennis elbow,” swinging a golf club, or one near and dear to my heart: Cycling. Think of the number of revolutions your knees have gone through. Hundreds? Thousands? Millions of times? Yeah. That’s a lot of the same movement pattern which will lead to plenty of other issues if you always do the same thing.
Muscle imbalances are generated from well, a ton of things, but the problem with imbalances is that some muscles start to work harder than others which can lead to a host of other issues (hello knee pain, back pain, shoulder pain).
Cross-training, whether you’re a racer or simply enjoy riding your bike, benefits everyone. Here are some things you can do to balance out your body while also strengthening it:
1. Cross-Training: Weights
Cycling is a low impact sport and giving a quick glance to the men in The Tour it’s obvious. The men have large legs, sure, but they look a bit like Skeletor on their upper half. It’s because they don’t weight train. There’s still this faux pas of weight training in cycling because of the whole “power to weight ratio.” Cyclists, stereotypically, want everything (including their bodies) to be light as possible but to be able to generate hundreds, if not thousands, watts of power.
The problem is that you can only gain so much muscle solely biking and that’s where weights come in, especially core. If you have a weak core, you’re going at a snail’s pace compared to the person who can hold a plank for five minutes.
If you think about the mechanics of cycling, you’re balancing on the bike. Your arms hold you up, your core keeps you balanced, and your legs propel you forward. If those muscles are weak, how do you think you’ll fare in a group ride, an organized ride, a gran fondo, or in a sprint finish?
Bottom line: weights make you a stronger cyclist.
2. Cross-Training: Yoga, stretching, and foam rolling
Let’s go back to those muscles who work harder than the freeloading muscles. How do you get that all balanced out and make those freeloaders start pulling their weight (pun intended)?
You find out which muscles are overactive (the ones working harder) and then identifying the underactive (freeloaders) muscles. Once those are identified, you want to start stretching and foam rolling the overactive muscles and work the underactive muscles. Meanwhile, doing a complete yoga routine will increase your overall flexibility, which again, will make you stronger on the bike.
I’m looking at you, desk workers. We’re the worst. Not only do we hold a sitting position while we bike, but our 9-5 jobs has us sitting for hours on end. Say hi to tight hip flexors.
You can google/YouTube “yoga for cyclists” and find loads of videos anywhere from 8 minutes and longer.
Incorporating yoga, stretching, and foam rolling into your routine won’t just calm your mind but calm those angry, knotty muscles.
3. Cross-Training: Running
Yeah, yeah. I know. I say the same thing: “Why run when you have a bike?” I always think of The Walking Dead and if that were to happen to me, I’d run. I don’t have to be the fastest runner; I just have to be able to outrun the rest of my group.
Running actually provides some pretty decent benefits too.
First of all, it strengthens your lungs. The cool thing about that is when you’re on the bike, with running in your back pocket, you’ll have a higher lung capacity. Strong lungs means you’re kicking the pants off the other racers who aren’t running.
Running seems to burn more calories than cycling. Granted, it all depends on the kind of running and cycling you’re doing, but overall, it burns more calories. So if you’re goal is to increase your power-to-weight ratio or just drop a couple pounds, then this may be something to put on your training docket. But while you may be able to outrun zombies, you can’t outrun a bad diet.
Equally important if not more so than the previous reasons to take up running, is that running is a high impact activity, which means, it puts a lot of pressure on your body in general. Yeah, sure, your buddy’s knees hurt after they run. Well, it’s probably because they need better shoes or need to get their running form analyzed. Cycling, on the other hand, is low impact, which means there isn’t much pressure placed on our joints – minus maybe, our rears.
In all seriousness, cyclists can lose bone density if all they ever do is bike. Look at our buddy Chris Froome. He may be winning The Tour de France, but he’s losing bone density. Your bones need to be strong to keep your body up.
Weak bones means you don’t have that structure in place to hold you up from falling down.
4. Cross-Training: Having Fun
It’s not a real training regimen or workout, but seriously, let’s get less serious. While road and mountain bike racing have officially hit “off-season,” cross has only just begun. If you participate in all these disciplines, then you don’t have much a break – mental or physical. For those of us who like to ride for fun or participate in organized rides during the summer, maybe you don’t need to totally lay off the bike, but definitely change up the routine and try something you’ve never done before. Rock climbing? Sure! Snowboarding? Bring it on! How about a hike or simply taking a day off to relax.
Taking time off the bike and focusing your attention on other endeavors will make you that much more stronger (mentally and hopefully physically) when you jump back on the saddle.