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Cross Training to Enhance Your Cycling

Different Workouts Can Help You on the Bike

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Trail running
Jordan Siemens/Iconica/Getty Images

Riding a bike using proper techniques usually works just the lower half of your body. And even those muscle groups getting all the action are developed in some pretty specific ways. I love riding my bike; chances are that you love riding your bike, too, just by virtue of the fact that you’re reading this article. But the truth is, if you really want to help yourself and your body, cross-training is not only a good idea, it’s almost mandatory.

Cross-training means using other activities and exercises to enhance aspects of your physiology that your main workout doesn’t hit. Cross-training offers a number of benefits including injury prevention, burning calories, increasing endurance and simple rejuvenation from the joy you may experience in taking part in something new. To take advantage of the positives and maximize yourself as a cyclist, consider taking part in any or all of the following options:

Running

Running is a lower-body exercise that works many of the same muscle groups as cycling, so it is a great enhancement to existing leg strength. However, at the same time, running also develops to some degree the upper-body muscle groups that get ignored for the most part when you’re busy pushing pedals on the bike, such as the upper back, upper arm and shoulder muscle groups.

For me, running is a much more physically demanding exercise in terms of cardiovascular output. Because of this, you can use running to enhance your endurance and ability to keep your wind on the bike. Last year I ran a half-marathon in the spring and another in the fall. It was amazing to me how much stronger I became on the bike as my training mileage increased, and vice-versa.

Ice skating or inline skating

Ice skating or inline skating are good choices for cyclists as a cross-training exercise because the striding motion used in skating closely mimics the smooth up-and-down motion of the cyclist’s pedals. That means you’ll be working the some of the same major muscle groups but with variations that will strengthen some associated muscle groups.

Skating in particular works your quadriceps (thigh muscles) and gluteals (buttocks) which are major sources of power in your legs.

Plus, skating offers many of the same benefits as running without the impact that running can put on knees, ankles and hips.

Swimming

Swimming is good as an overall workout, and especially as a cross-training exercise for the cardio-vascular fitness it develops. This means it is good for helping your strengthen your body’s ability to process oxygen through the lungs and move blood to muscles to give them fuel and air by making the heart pump stronger.

In swimming, much of the work is done by your arms. And while your legs do work in conjunction with them, kicking to help propel you through the water, they just don’t get pushed as hard as when you run or skate. But this makes it a good exercise to work your whole body, and the fact that it is a low-impact exercise makes it an especially good choice if you can’t ride a bike due to injury or pregnancy.

Cross-country skiing or Elliptical Trainer

Close your eyes and picture a cross-country skier. Think of how the forward shuffling motion of the skis mimics the cycler’s circular pedaling motion. Same with an ellipical machine. That's why the two exercises are grouped in this discussion: they both work the same major muscle groups through similar motions and the level of cardio-vascular exertion they offer are about the same.

It’s also for this reason that I recommend you try cross-country skiing, if you’re in the right climate, or else head indoors to get on the elliptical trainer, which looks like a stair-climber machine with a more circular than up-and-down motion.

These exercises are good because your heart and lungs will get a workout, helping your endurance on the bike. You’ll also enhance strength in your hips, quads and abdomen -- the key sources of power you use to drive the pedals.

Rowing Machine/Ergometer

A rowing machine (also known as an ergometer) provides a great work-out to the major muscle groups in your thighs, hips, buttocks, lower and upper back and shoulders. It also can be a very vigorous exercise, good for increasing the capacity of your cardio-vascular system.

It’s worth talking to a fitness professional if you haven’t used an ergometer extensively before you just jump on and just start rowing. There are some specific techniques that you should be using to both maximize your workout on the machine and to avoid strain on your lower back.

Weightlifting

There are many exercises that can be done in the weight room that will be beneficial to you on your bike, making you stronger and faster.

Some that are particularly effective include:

Though created for competitive cyclists who want to develop their sprinting power, these weight routines are certainly applicable to riders of all ability and fitness levels.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Note that many of the exercises here are ideal for off-season/indoor workouts, when the weather is keeping you off the bike. This will allow you to maintain some semblance of your usual your muscle form and level of fitness, even when you’re not riding as much as normal.

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