As the days get shorter and - oddly enough - nights get longer this time of year, we cyclists have a big dilemma: how do we stay sharp through the winter, without burning out?
The answer? Simple: Cross-training. For those of you who aren't familiar with cross-training, allow me to explain. Cross-training is defined as, "Performing an activity you really hate, in the hope that it will make you better at an activity you really like, even though you're pretty sure you'd become better at the activity you like by simply doing that activity."
What cross-training activities should you do, then? Well, that depends entirely upon what kind of biking skills you want to improve.
Here are some suggestions.
Want to be a faster, more competitive racer at the local velodrome next season? Then you need to cross-train with an eye toward the unique characteristics of your sport.
- Take up running, track style. Running can help you maintain your aerobic base, but if you're a track cyclist, you should absolutely not just strap on some shoes and hit the open road. No, if you do that you'll soon realize that it's a big, beautiful world out there with a lot to see and a lot of places to go. If you get a taste for going places, the track will lose its appeal forever. Instead, get a nice treadmill, and run on that. This has the two-fold appeal of making sure you get plenty of exercise without seeing anything, and punishing you severely (i.e., making you crash and look like a fool) if you coast for even a millisecond.
- Head out to the amusement park. Spend lots of time at the local carnival or amusement park. Focus on rides like the carousel, ferris wheel, and tilt-a-whirl/waltzer. If you ever want to be a competitive trackie, you need to build up an extreme tolerance for going round and round and round in a circle.
Cyclocross is a mixed discipline, combining elements of multiple sports. To maximize your suitability for this event, try the following as your cross training events:
- Learn to Riverdance. The hopping, skipping, high-kicking intensity of this style of dance is perfectly matched to the skills necessary to dismount your bike hit the ground running, jump over a barrier, and then remount.
- Change careers. To really get into the mindset of cyclocross, you need to be able to switch from riding to running to portaging to jumping and back to riding, over and over with no notice whatsoever. And you need to be able to do it often. To improve your ability to switch tasks like this, find a new job, working for an indecisive, neurotic micromanager. You'll find that the urgency of his orders combined with the incessant changing of those orders, feels exactly the same as cyclocross, except it goes on all day, five days per week. You'll have no problem finding a job working for a manager of this sort, since they always seem to have openings in their teams.
Endurance cyclists-- whether racing on the road or on dirt -- know that their discipline is more about their mental mindset than anything else. In order to withstand the rigours of this sport, you may want to check out the following cross training options:
- Get to work. One of the key differentiating abilities of successful endurance cyclists is the ability to switch your mind off and turn the cranks, forever. To train your mind to do this, get yourself a position in an assembly line, where you'll perform a single task, repeatedly and endlessly, for hours on end. You'll be amazed at how similar turning the cranks all day and trimming the bristles on toothbrushes all day is, mentally.
- Volunteer. Specifically, you might want to volunteer as a test subject for covert government torture techniques. Clearly, you love to suffer, so you may as well see how far you can take it.
The winning formula for downhill mountain biking is really very simple. You win by being less afraid of dying than any of the other racers. How can cross training help with that? By changing your perception of what's really truly dangerous. During the off season, try base jumping, NASCAR driving, shark-baiting, and slacklining across the Grand Canyon.
You should also condition yourself to the pain you'll occasionally suffer as a side effect of being a downhiller. You can cross train for this by asking a friend for a ride in his car. When he gets up to highway speed, simply open the door and step out.
Alternately, you could also take up Ultimate Fighting as a cross training option. Your choice.
The demands on the professional cyclist's mind and body are truly immense. So, as a professional cyclist, how do you cross train to refine your vital skills?
- Become a shepherd. Herding tightly-packed sheep along on a pre-determined route for days on end will give you a real feel for how the pro peloton works.
- Become a lawyer. Statistically, you're almost certain to be accused of doping. Save legal expenses by preparing your case now, and then represent yourself. Studies have shown that self-representation is equally effective as hiring a bigshot lawyer when cyclists fight doping charges (0% success either way).
- Become a mime. There's no possible way you're going to speak the same language as everyone on your team. The greater your non-verbal communications skills, the better.
How Not to Cross-Train
Unfortunately, many cyclists choose absolutely horrible activities for their cross-training. Things like running (so that you'll likely enter next season with a sprained ankle and two blown knees), swimming (have you ever stopped to consider what's in the pool besides water?) and weight-lifting (urrghpfht).
Never mind the sheer lousiness of these activities on their own merits. Put together, these mind-bendingly miserable activities put you in the embarrassing position of being misidentified as a triathlete.
Oh, the horror.