Every cyclist stands to benefit from some form of cross-training. Cross-training can address performance limiters, guard against injury, and make you a more well-rounded and skillful cyclist.

The Limitations of Cycling Training

A lot of great things happen when you ride your bike often. Cycling on a regular basis strengthens your cardiovascular system, grows muscular strength, builds aerobic endurance, and promotes general health and wellbeing. Over time, it can even offer benefits to your mental health by reducing stress levels and boosting positive feelings. Like any activity, cycling has its limitations, though. 

As a low-impact exercise that emphasizes the development of very specific muscle groups, cycling doesn’t do much to improve functional core and upper body strength, general mobility, or bone density. While these might not sound like abilities essential to cycling, they can have a significant impact on cycling performance. In some cases, neglecting these areas can even lead to injuries. Fortunately, anything that cycling training doesn’t achieve can be addressed when you increase the variability of your training stimulus with cross-training. Cross-training uses the training benefits of another sport or activity, to round out and grow your capabilities in your primary sport.

The Benefits of Cross-Training for Cyclists

As a cyclist, the actual benefits you yield from cross-training will vary depending on the activity you choose. In general, you’ll benefit the most from activities that touch on the key physical abilities that cycling doesn’t. For example, one of the best things you can do for your cycling is to grow your core strength. The stability of a strong torso makes you more efficient, more powerful, and more resistant to injury. Cycling itself isn’t an adequate way to strengthen it, though. You can effectively build core strength for more control on the bike with activities that stress the core, like strength training, yoga, and cross-country skiing.

Growing functional strength in under-utilized muscles is also an effective way to address the muscle imbalances onset by cycling. Unsurprisingly, cycling does very little to build functional strength in your back, core, and upper body. There are also a number of muscles in the legs that go untouched by the uniform motion of pushing the pedals. When some muscles are weak, some are tight, and some are strong, it creates imbalances that can lead to discomfort, pain, and injury.

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Muscle imbalances only grow more pronounced the stronger you become. As you increase your cycling abilities, your system becomes better at utilizing the muscles it needs and turning off the muscles that it doesn’t. While this is excellent for increasing your cycling economy, the growing disproportion between strong and weak muscles can have negative side effects. By engaging in another type of exercise that stresses, stretches, and ultimately strengthens the muscle groups unused by cycling, you can build comprehensive strength for more control, comfort, and stability on the bike. 

In addition to addressing strength and mobility, certain cross-training activities have the added benefit of building bone density. For many athletes, the low-impact nature of cycling is a plus. High-impact activities tend to put a lot of stress on the joints, making them challenging forms of exercise for athletes who struggle with joint-based injuries. If, however, you never complete any impact-based exercises, your bones will not fortify themselves. Over time this can put you at risk of serious injuries, particularly in the event of a crash. Even if you can only complete an impact-based activity in moderation, some form of impact will aid the fortification of your bones to guard against more serious injuries. Lifting weights, running, and hiking are all excellent ways to build bone density outside of cycling. 

Cross-Training for Cyclists

When it comes to reaching these goals, strength training is one of the best all-around exercises for cyclists. Strength training will help build functional core and upper body strength, increase power, address muscle imbalances and build bone density. It’s the perfect complimentary activity to cycling. With so many benefits for cyclists, there’s also a rich amount of resources for getting started and integrating it into your training routine. If you’re interested in strength training, you can jump-start your cross-training with the resources below. 

While strength training is a great all-around activity for cyclists, it’s not your only option! Any activity that touches on at least one of cycling training’s training limitations is a solid choice. Running, hiking, yoga, cross-country skiing, swimming, and pilates are all great cross-training activities for cyclists. With that said, it’s important to remember that some of these exercises don’t cover all the bases. For example, swimming is a great way to develop functional core and upper body strength but won’t help to build bone density. With that being said, any form of cross-training is better than no cross-training, and cross-training you can maintain is much better than cross-training you can’t. Much like you have to be consistent with your cycling training to see results, you need to be consistent with your cross-training to see benefits. If you cross-train intermittently without progression, you’re probably going to experience a lot more soreness than progress.

When to Cross-Train 

The best time to cross-train is between cycling seasons. During the off-season, you’re already taking time away from cycling to rest from your season, giving you plenty of time and energy to take on a new form of training stress, recover properly in between workouts, and improve your technique and abilities in your sport of choice. Over the span of a few months, you can make drastic improvements to your performance limitations and reap many of the benefits that cross-training has to offer.

Cross-Training During the Cycling Season

A comprehensive approach to cross-training in the off-season can also put you in a position to complete some maintenance activities during the cycling season. During the cycling season, you don’t have as much freedom to add cross-training activities to your schedule. When you are following a cycling training plan, you don’t want to add on training stress that might prevent you from completing your cycling workouts. If you cross-train in the off-season though, you might be in a position to maintain some of the benefits of cross-training during the cycling season.

For example, you can maintain the benefits of strength training during the cycling season with a basic maintenance routine. If you haven’t built the physical and technical abilities necessary to maintain a low- maintenance routine you likely won’t be able to follow a strength training routine without interference with your cycling training. By getting started with strength training in the off-season you can build up your skills and abilities beforehand so that you are in a position to complete some basic strength training maintenance activities during the cycling season.

In general, if you have the time and bandwidth to cross-train during the cycling season, try to stick to moderate forms of exercise. Yoga, walking, and maintenance strength training are all great ways to extend the benefits of cross-training into your cycling season without disrupting the progression or purpose of your cycling training plan.