Winter time provides us with many good cross training activities to keep us in good shape. The common outdoor sports we can do to keep fit are snow-shoeing, skating, cross country skiing (both classic and also skate skiing) hockey and to a lesser extent downhill skiing. What I look for in these sports are what muscle groups are being used, and are these muscles the same as we use in cycling. All sports have a “specificity” to them, which means for that particular sport, the body will move in a certain way, hence, certain muscles will be primary movers (the main muscles responsible for movement, and secondary, which are being utilized, but to a lesser extent). In addition to the muscles being used, there is how the cardiovascular system is challenged. In this instance I look at what kind of exertion is being placed on the heart and lungs, is it constant, is it periodic in nature or is it a combination of the two. It is from looking at both what muscles are used and how the bodies system is challenged aerobically, which helps me to determine which is the closest activity to cycling. Having said that, all of the above outdoor winter sports will help to keep us in shape, but some of the sports have a more “direct carry over effect into your cycling. Below is a list in order of what is the most “cycling specific” sports to the least cycling specific.
- Fat (snow) biking – with this sport you have a direct correlation to road riding, as you are on a bike and using all the same muscles. With fat tire snow riding, the bikes are much heavier than most road bikes, so this will help develop some leg strength come the spring when you get onto the road. I don’t fat tire ride personally, but I have a cross-bike that I ride in the early season before the roads are totally clear of snow, salt and ice, and this bike is heavier than my summer road bike, and I notice a big difference in my leg strength after riding this bike for 2-3 months. Fat tire cycling, can be done on flat land, or hilly terrain, therefore, both steady aerobic conditioning as well as aerobic capacity and anerobic threshold training elements of training effect can be applied.
- Track cycling – If you are lucky enough to live close by a Velodrome, indoor track cycling provides the next best thing to road cycling. There obviously are some differences to this sport, as the bikes are special bikes with a fixed gear and no brakes. However, despite the differences in the bike, you are still pedalling and using the same muscles you do on a road bike. Because of the nature of track cycling, and no climbing, the quadricep’s (thigh muscles) get a lot of utilization, and not quite as much glute maximum activation (the butt muscle) as you would when climbing a hill or mountain on your road bike. Track cycling mostly is short and intense bouts of cycling, so the aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold systems of the body’s cardiovascular system are being trained, and not as much steady state aerobic training like road cycling provides.
- Cross-country skate skiing – This style of cross-country skiing is much faster than classic cross-country skiing, as well the glute muscles, quadriceps and hips are all used as the primary muscles like in road cycling. In addition to utilizing the same muscles of the lower body, skate skiing works the bodies core muscles as well, as the body works to maintain balance. The nature of this form of skiing is fast paced and not steady stare in nature. Most skate skiing trails are a mix of hills and undulating hills. This would mimic closely the terrain of an outdoor road riding terrain, so both the aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold aspects of conditioning would be implemented.
- Classic cross-country skiing – Classic or track set cross-country skiing, is almost as good as skate skiing, but this form of skiing will not utilize the glutes (both the lateral glutes) and the maximus glute (butt) muscles quite as much as skate skiing. The core muscles are still engaged in the classic form of skiing as the body works to maintain balance as well. This form of skiing can be done in a very steady state maintaining a moderate heart rate, which is excellent to build the bodies aerobic conditioning base over the winter. In addition, brief short burst of 30 seconds to 3 minutes can be added into the ski workout to provide some interval training effects for aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold training.
- Skating – Skating is much like skate skiing, but on ice and on flat ground. So, the muscles that are activated are again are primarily quadriceps, lateral glues, and hips. Because skating is done on a flat surface, then the glute maximus (butt) is not activated as much as it is in road cycling. The nature of skating on the cardiovascular system is directly proportional to how the system would be challenged in road cycling. When skating, one could keep a steady pace and maintain a steady heart rate, but at the same time, the pace can be increased to raise the heart rate rapidly and then brought down, in an interval type format, all helping to provide some aerobic capacity and anerobic threshold training effects.
- Hockey – As above, the muscles are the same as plain skating, but the cardiovascular system is challenged in a much different manner. Instead of a steady state where the heart rate stays at a constant level, hockey requires brief hard burst of movement, causing the heart rate to rise rapidly and then fall back down after the sprint is finished. This type of demand on the cardiovascular system is beneficial to cycling,, for when we are climbing a steep short hill or pitch the heart rate will jump rapidly then fall once, we descend on the other side. In essence,, the short brief hard bouts of a hockey shift is similar to cycling interval, which is an excellent way to build the bodies aerobic and anaerobic capacity.
- Snow-shoeing – the muscles used in snow shoeing are predominantly quadriceps (thighs) , the inner and outer thighs (adductors and abductors) These muscles are activated when road cycling, so this sport is a good alternative. However, the glute Medius (side) and maximus (butt) muscles don’t have as much activation. The cardiovascular system can be trained with snow shoeing, by either long steady heart rate producing workouts, as well as hill repeats, walking hard up hill, and easy to recover coming down. In fact, doing the hill repeats in snow shoes, this will help to activate the glute maximus (butt) more than just snow shoeing on flat ground, so incorporating some hill work in your shoe shows will help get you a direct impact on your cycling muscles.