It’s always a good idea to do a variety of activities in the winter to keep your mind fresh and develop supporting muscles that may have been ignored while the cycling season was in full swing. As a pro, I always did some cross-country skiing during winter. Recently, I have been taking up telemark skiing – so much to learn and such a great quad burn!! But, there’s nothing like ‘skinning’ up a field of virgin powder and making fresh tracks with only you and your buddies along for the ride.
I strongly support trying a new activity. Technical sports can be frustrating at first but the mental benefits of learning a new motor skill are worth it. However, if you want to keep improving as a cyclist, your cross-training needs to be at least somewhat complementary to the kinesthetic systems that keep your bike moving. I tend to avoid impact sports like squash, basketball or volleyball that are tough on knees and ankles. You don’t want to spend your off-season recovering from a strained ACL or torn Achilles tendon.
For cyclists, an ideal cross-training program should help you meet at least one of these three goals:
WORK CYCLING MUSCLES Any kind of skating motion will use many of the same muscles as cycling. Cross-country skate skiing, ice hockey and speed skating are great cross-training activities. If you don’t live close to snow or ice, try rollerblading or roller skiing.
MAINTAIN AEROBIC POWER It’s important to train aerobically during the winter to maintain your base power. Watch that your heart rate doesn’t spike very often over your Lactate Threshold into the anaerobic zone. Wear your heart rate monitor as long as you know where your Lactate Threshold (LT) heart rate is. If you don’t know your LT then get a VO2 test done so that you can train effectively. My general rule of thumb is to work out at a level where you can still carry on a covnersation. Classic and skate cross-country skiing are excellent aerobic activities, as is running—but be sure to build mileage slowly to prevent injuries.
IMPROVE STRENGTH AND FLEXIBILITY Rebalance your body by strengthening your core muscle groups, which aren’t developed by cycling but are key to generating power on the bike. Yoga or Pilates will build core strength, especially in your lower back and stomach. Also, stretch after your rides and cross-training workouts, concentrating on your calves, IT bands and hamstrings.