We are all have many interests. Even if you label yourself as a cyclist through and through, chances are that you enjoy many outdoor activities. Do you enjoy skiing, running, swimming, hiking, cross fit, rock climbing, or any other team or ball sports? Me too! I grew up playing soccer. I competed in gymnastics. I played basketball. I was a triathlete for over a decade and I ran cross country in college. It can be so fun to mix and match your training and sports, but when is it helpful and when are your efforts counter-active?
As a coach, I think the best part of cross-training is the mental benefit that it gives athletes. Most people feel a breath of fresh air when they get to do something ‘different’ because anything ‘different’ is exciting. If you train on your bike every single day, then overtime you will develop certain expectations for yourself. When you introduce a new sport or a sport you do less frequently, you are often able to remove those expectations and enjoy a mental refresh. Cross-training is a great way to do this.
The other benefits of cross training come with what sport you choose. If you are on your feet like running or hiking or weight lifting, then you may enjoy some benefits associated with bone density. If you are doing a traditional team sport like basketball then you will encounter more lateral movement and may work muscles you don’t typically work, thus helping with some injury prevention.
If you pick a sport with a high cardiovascular load then there is certainly some cross over between the two sports. Many cyclists will train on Nordic skis in the winter since the cardiovascular demand is so high. This is a great benefit to cross training.
All of this said, there really is nothing better for your goals then practicing sport-specificity.
The biggest con to cross training is the fact that it is not sport specific. That means you aren’t going to find something that works your body, muscles, heart, and coordination exactly the way that cycling will. You can get close, but at the end of the day, it just isn’t the same. If you want to get fast on the bike, then you need to ride your bike.
This means that other sports should not replace your cycling training. The danger of this though, is that it also shouldn’t just be added on top of your cycling training either. If you simply add cross-training to your every day cycling training then you risk over-training or under-recovering. At the very minimum, at some point something will have to give. If you go for a run before or after your cycling workout then you are taking away energy that could be devoted to your cycling workout later that day. Energy can be viewed as a limited resource so we have to be very careful as to what we give our energy to. This is why we need to really focus on the sport that we have the biggest goals in. That said, to be clear, I’m not saying to cross-train, I’m saying we should be a little more calculated about it.
When to Cross-Train?
Cross-training is best done in the off-season. This is usually the base or endurance phase. This is the time of year when you are training, but you aren’t yet competing. This means that you are really working on overall fitness increase and less on sport specificity. During this time of year, depending on the sport, feel free to cross-train as much as you see fit.
As the races get closer and closer though, the cross-training should get fewer and further between. At the beginning of the off-season you may find yourself cross-training 5x a week, but toward the end you may want to whittle that down to 2x. When the races re-enter the picture, consider using cross-training as an active recovery day. That means you will need to keep your cross-training on the easier side (inside of a 15 mile hike, consider just 5 miles) but it still allows you to get out and do the things that you love, giving you a mental break and keeping you a well-rounded person/athlete.
Enjoy What You Do:
At the end of the day we all do the activities that bring us the most joy. If you are always itching to cross-train then try examining why. Are you more interested in another sport? Do you just simply enjoy variety? Maybe your desire to diversify is bigger than your desire to chase specific goals in one sport. All of these things are ok! The sooner you learn what activities bring you the most joy, the sooner you can start chasing those desires. I hope though, that you’ll always be led back to the bike. J