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Michael Barry: Cross Training

While the WorldTour professionals ride day-after-day in southern Europe, and the American pro teams accumulate hours in California or Arizona, most cyclists are stuck in their basements logging hours on stationary bikes as snow builds outside. For some, including me, it’s torturous. We count down the minutes until the workout ends. To pass the time we stare at screens showing cyclists racing over cols or cobbles, we bop to music, and we dream of warmer days and clean roads. We hammer away, spinning like hamsters on a wheel, going nowhere but riding with gusto, hoping to not be lagging behind those who have been south on the first races and training rides of the season. There are umpteen software programs and videos designed to that have improved the indoor workout,but even with gamification, it will never compare to the feeling of bobbing and panting up a hill, pounding over a gravel road, or whirling around a velodrome. But, through the long Northern winter, we don’t need to rely on trainer workouts to keep in shape. Not only do other sports mimic the fun of being on the road, but they can also provide fitness gains that’ll improve your cycling and your health.

When I got my first proper coach as a teenager, he read over my training diaries to see what I had done in previous winters. Sarcastically, he asked if I was a hockey player, a Nordic skier, or a cyclist. Of course, I wanted to be a cyclist. To him, however, I had never really trained properly. I only rode my bike in the decent weather and did other sports through the winter. On many levels he was right. I wasn’t focused and rode without structure. But I got out with my friends, stayed active, and managed to get fit. It was play.

The coach turned things around: riding and lifting weights became the core of the winter training program. I abandoned all other sports for hours in the garage, pounding out intervals and staring at posters of Eddy Merckx and Laurent Fignon. Guns N’ Roses, the Beastie Boys, or whatever new cassette I’d just purchased, blasted in my ears and drove me on. Despite the musical stimulus, tedium set in after 45 minutes. But, over an hour-and-a-half later, with the effort done, I climbed off each night, thinking that I would be ready and fast by springtime.

But when spring came, I wasn’t as agile as I had been in previous years. I was heavier and slower. Hockey, skating, and skiing use nearly every muscle in the body, and they require one to move dynamically and explosively, which builds strength and endurance. Running kept me thin.

As the years passed, I rode the trainer less and spent more time outdoors — even if the weather was foul. When I wasn’t riding in the snow, I skied, hiked, and ran. Those sports are beneficial in ways that I’d never appreciated when I was younger. In addition to improving agility, they build core strength, balance musculature, increase bone density, and most importantly, are invigorating.

Integrating complementary sports is a good mental break. Too often, riders hammer away indoors all winter and are fed up with cycling mid-way through the summer. Likely, you’ll work harder for long periods while on the snow, trails, gymnasium, or ice because you’re having fun. Plus, the exercises will build the muscles that were neglected during the summer, while also building those that you’ll need on the bike.

Even if you can escape to a warmer place during the winter, combining trainer sessions with complementary sports over the rest of the season is beneficial in every way.