Cross Training for a Stronger Season

Thursday, February 8, 2018

by Elizabeth Ginexi

Why not maximize your fitness as a recreational endurance sport enthusiast by taking part in cross-training in the off season when cycling and running may be more challenging because of weather or road conditions? Cross-training means doing other activities and exercises besides cycling to enhance aspects of your physiology that your main sport doesn’t hit. Cross-training offers a number of potential benefits including injury prevention, burning calories, increasing endurance, and rejuvenation.  

Strength training, in particular, offers many pluses including helping you to be a better, faster, and more durable cyclist. Riding a bicycle mainly works the lower half of your body, and the muscle groups involved are developed only in specific ways. Your overall fitness and health can benefit from working those muscles in a more comprehensive way. Let’s break this down.

First, in addition to the obvious benefit of building lean muscle tissue, strength training also helps you build stronger bones and strengthens your ligaments and tendons. Weight bearing exercise (and cycling by the way is NOT a weight bearing exercise) helps your body build the framework that holds your body together. In the short-term, that will help avoid bone breaks in the event of a crash on your bicycle, and in the long term it helps fight off osteoporosis and other aging related ailments.

Researchers who study endurance athletes have found that some non-weightbearing sports may cause irreversible damage to bones. For instance, among competitive cyclists the combination of extreme distances and restricting caloric intake to reduce weight can decrease bone density to levels that puts athletes at greater risk for serious fractures and, in the long term, developing osteoporosis.

By contrast, exercise that puts greater strain on the bones, like running and strength training, may improve long-term bone health. Exercise physiology researchers have found that weight-lifting and jumping exercise workouts, when done regularly for at least six months, can improve bone density in active, healthy, middle-aged adults with low bone mass.

Second, strength training helps avoid overuse injury. If cycling is your only form of exercise you are creating a lot of repetitive motion stress and working the same leg muscles in the same exact ways repeatedly. You’re not giving them any rest or variation. This is also true for the heart. If all you ever do is extreme cardio, it may be time to reevaluate your regimen.

When there isn't enough sunlight to get out for a ride or the weather isn't conducive, that's the perfect time to focus on strength training for the entire body: legs, arms, and of course, your core. Many recreational cyclists and runners are notorious for having a weak core. That’s why you often hear complaints about sore backs after a long ride or run. The core gives your body the leverage to drive the power in your thighs, hips and glutes. Strengthening your abs and back muscles will help promote physical longevity for your body and help you prepare for spring cycling.

Third, another final benefit of incorporating strength training into your life is the sheer psychological factor that comes from knowing you’re stronger. Perhaps this will lead to a greater motivation to conquer new routes and hills with your new-found strength!

A Thank You to Our Sponsors!