Some use the winter months to move their cycling indoors – to improve weaknesses and to utilize the technology of power-based workouts. And some continue to ride outdoors in any kind of weather. But maybe you need a break?
Our resident fitness guru, Joy Sherrick, says that for physical, emotional and mental reasons, athletes need to give themselves time off and time away from their sport. The more sports become year-round (How many cyclists are using cyclocross to fill their winter months?), the more true this becomes. The incidence of injury increases when the body performs the same repetitive movements.
This past fall, Bicycling.com printed an article suggesting that cyclists give themselves a break from the bike – not to get lazy but to make them better cyclists. The Bicycling.com article begins:
With shorter, colder days approaching, there will be days when you can’t ride your bike. And honestly, you shouldn’t. Your body needs breaks from the bike to straighten up and stretch out. In the end, that off-bike time will make you a better rider, says cyclist and orthopedic surgeon Kevin Stone, M.D., of the Stone Clinic in San Francisco.
“Cycling is great for your legs, but it does nothing for your core or upper body,” says Stone. Strengthening non-cycling muscles with cross-training will help you avoid being sidelined by back, neck or shoulder pain, all common in avid cyclists. You’ll also ride stronger because you’ll have improved stability and a greater, more-comfortable range of motion to turn the pedals and maneuver the bike, both in and out of the saddle.
The Bicycling.com article goes on to include cross-training suggestions for cyclists. Because many of those cross-training options are not winter-friendly, Joy has suggestions for activities that are appropriate for winter training in the Chicagoland area.
Winter Cross-Training Activities for Cyclists
We know that strength training can help your cycling by working your body as you use it and also by working the muscles cycling doesn’t use to correct imbalances and prevent injuries. In the same way, you can use other sports and activities to cross-train for cycling.
The activities mentioned in the Bicycling.com article are great ways to cross-train for the reasons given. However, Lake Michigan is starting to freeze over, removing lake kayaking from the list and limiting open water swimming to, well, a Polar Plunge. Here are some activities for those of us in the Midwest to think about trying this winter:
Swimming is definitely a great way to cross-train for the reasons stated in the article including working on your lung capacity, lengthening and core-work. Swimming is a gentle way to strengthen the muscles of the body. It can also be a way to relax and lengthen muscles that are usually tightened from cycling. While in the water, focus on “swimming tall” (i.e. lengthening). If you don’t already have access to an indoor pool, check out Big Blue‘s Adult Open Swim, Monday – Thursday mornings 7:45am-8:45am. Other facilities in the area include The McGaw YMCA and NU’s Norris Aquatic Center, both in Evanston, and Equinox Fitness Club in Highland Park.
Strength Training is important for all athletes. Weight-bearing exercise, unlike cycling, helps maintain and can even improve bone density. While cycling, we’re limiting motion to the sagital plane but we use our bodies in all three planes – so in the gym, it’s important to do exercises where we move laterally or that involve rotation. We can use strength training to work muscles that are underutilized in cycling and we can perform exercises that will directly apply to cycling. One point of contention with the Bicycling.com article: strength does not necessarily transform into speed. But it can, if speed is an element of strength training. To make sure you’re making the most of your training, consider hiring a personal trainer who can make sure you’re doing exercises that are appropriate to you and your sport. Locally, check out Precision Multisport where J.P or our own Joy can guide you.
Running is often a four-letter word for cyclists but running can be a great addition to or escape from your cycling. The convenience of running is never more evident than when you’re traveling. There’s no worrying over shipping or renting a bike. All you need are your running shoes! But don’t limit yourself to the trails. All running is weight-bearing exercise. While being a strong runner doesn’t make you a great cyclist or vice versa, the two sports use the same muscle groups in the legs. When running, think high cadence. Those fast footsteps should remind you of your high cadence on the bike, 90+ steps (or rotations on the bike) per minute. Consider signing up for a 5k this Spring and building up to the 3.1 miles gradually. Look for fun group runs. In Evanston, both Lululemon and The North Face offer them. Precision Multisport offers a four-month progressive run program that includes endurance, tempo and hill runs to make you run stronger, faster and more efficiently.
Rowing Machines in the gym offer a great cardio workout as well as focusing on the muscles of the lower body. Unlike cycling which forces your shoulders forward, rowing encourages you to open up your chest and work those often neglected back muscles, particularly the rhomboids. The real effort in rowing, however, comes from your legs and your ability to coordinate the movement from your lower body on up. Note, this is different than kayaking which involves much more upper body work. Rowing is difficult to the uninitiated. Begin by focusing on form and build up to working on speed. Challenge yourself to a 500m test every four weeks. Watch your seconds per meter drop as you become more fit.
Paddle Tennis (outdoor) or Racquetball (indoor) are both high intensity sports that work your mind as much as they do your body. (Though, it’s more likely your body will be sore from these.) Paddle tennis was created to give tennis players a way to stay fit during the winter months in the same way cyclocross keeps cyclists riding outdoors in the winter. Unlike cycling, however, paddle tennis and racquetball both involve movement in all three planes. They also encourage quick foot work that can help with your cadence on the bike. There are several private clubs offering paddle tennis throughout the north shore – including Wilmette, Winnetka, Highland Park and Lake Forest.
Speed Skating is an amazing way to stay “bicycle fit” over the winter months. It’s not coincidence that there have been more than one Olympic medalist who has competed in both sports. Speed skating uses a lot of the same muscles as cycling, requires flexibility that’s needed for cycling and it gratifies a cyclists’ need for speed during the otherwise grueling winter months. There are local speed skating clubs that welcome newcomers. Check out Evanston Speed Skating Club, ESSC, Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Robert Crown Center. Does the name Shani Davis ring a bell? He started his speed skating career in Evanston. Northbrook Speed Skating Club welcomes newcomers to its Tuesday and Thursday evening practices. Both clubs have demo skates available.