Words: Jenni King   Photo: Robert Conroy and iStock

Certainly it can be difficult to get out on the bike when it seemingly takes just as long to prepare as it does to actually get the ride done. Setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier so you have the time needed to simply get dressed (with legs warmers, arm warmers, thermals, booties, rain jacket etc) only to step outside the door and be greeted with sideways rain - that can definitely push the limits of dedication. It is hardly surprising that many riders choose to hang the bike up over winter and take a complete break.
While it is important, and recommended, to sometimes take time off from training, too long a break will result in a big drop in fitness and perhaps some unwanted weight gain. This will make pre-season training all the more difficult. Choosing the length of your training break depends mainly on how stressful your season was. If you are a top pro, you will probably need a full month to recover and allow fatigue to come back to normal levels. However, most of us are not at that level and will generally need just a couple of weeks to refresh both mentally and physically. After this period of complete rest, I would recommend easing back into training gradually. A great way to kick-start the training and keep motivation levels high during your off-season, is to include some more cross training in your weekly schedule.

During the off-season, it is not necessary to stick to highly specific training and in a lot of ways it is actually more beneficial to include activities that are not so specific to riding a bike. I generally find that those athletes who do include some form of cross training in their annual plan are more rounded athletes who tend to suffer fewer overuse injuries. I have outlined some of the most beneficial forms of cross training for cyclists below.

Gym / Off-bike Strength Training

In the last issue of AMB, I wrote about off-bike strength training for cyclists. Starting on a gym program will not only help increase strength, power and muscular endurance, but quite often will also highlight any imbalances you may have. If you are pedalling asymmetrically, power output and time to fatigue will be reduced and, most importantly, overuse injuries will be more likely. The off-season is a great time to work on rectifying any asymmetries by starting on a functional strength program.

Cross Country Skiing

If you live close enough to the snow to fit in a few ski trips over winter, cross country skiing is an excellent form of cross training for cyclists. It certainly does the Europeans no harm! The two sports use the same main muscle groups; glutes, quads, hamstrings, core etc. but in a slightly different way. Therefore, while helping to maintain strength and endurance within these muscle groups, cross country skiing will also help to strengthen any weakened areas that are not used as much in cycling. This will go a long way toward injury prevention once you start on more specific bike training.Rock-climbing

Anyone who has tried rock-climbing would know how challenging this sport is. Virtually all major muscle groups are used and the heart rate is certainly elevated! Both muscular power and muscular endurance will be enhanced, as well as flexibility and of course mental focus when choosing your next direction or move. This is also a great sport for conquering fears and therefore will help boost self-esteem.

 

Running & Hiking

Heading out the door for a quick 20-30 minute run is an excellent time-efficient way to keep cardiovascular fitness going over winter. Be wary, however. Muscle contraction is quite different in running compared to cycling – with greater eccentric contraction during landing and braking phase. This will place forces on muscles you may not be using much as a cyclist, so it is important to ease gradually into a run program if you plan to do this. Getting out for a brisk walk or a hike in the hills can be just as beneficial as a run and will place less force on the joints and muscles.

 

Boxing

If you have ever attended a boxing class, you will know first-hand how tough such sessions can be. I know I always leave a boxing gym having lost copious amounts of fluid through sweat and feeling ‘totally spent’. An hour of boxing will certainly burn a few calories and help keep the weight down over winter. Boxing is also great for co-ordination and focusing skills – both important aspects of mountain biking that are often over-looked.There are of course many other activities, other than those I have mentioned, that could be included during your off-season training phase. These are just some of the more common ones. I would recommend incorporating two or three cross-training sessions, along with two or three ride sessions into your weekly training schedule. I have given an example (shown right) of a well-balanced weekly structure that tends to work well during off-season training.

 

Example weekly program structure during the off season

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
REST DAY Indoor Trainer Session: High power focus Cross-Train session of your choice

 Indoor Trainer Session; 

Threshold Focus

Cross-train session of your choice

OR

Rest day if tired

Outdoor ride session; Endurance Strength or Skills Focus  Cross-Train session of your choice