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Want to Up Your Output On the Bike? Here’s Why You Should Try Cross Training

Incorporating other types of workouts into your routine can help improve your performance.

By Emily LaurenceUpdated January 11, 2024

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There’s no doubt that cycling is a fun way to get your heart racing. Whether you like to ride out in nature and feel the wind on your face or prefer to do it indoors with upbeat music to bolster you, you’re sure to finish your ride sweaty and proud. It’s so fun, in fact, that if cycling is your go-to workout, you may wonder why you’d want to do any other type of exercise at all.

While it’s certainly important to engage in workouts that you actually like, incorporating cross training into your routine can help you become an even better cyclist—and protect your body from injury. Cross training is defined as combining different types of exercise activities with the goal of enhancing your performance in one particular sport.

Explained here is everything cyclists should know about cross training including why it’s important, how it can help you increase your output, and the best types of cross training specifically for cyclists. 

What Is Cross Training?

“Cross training is an exercise protocol that utilizes different types of training,” says Peloton VP of Fitness Programming and Head Instructor Robin Arzón. “Oftentimes, it refers to someone who might have a main sport, or primary sport, or be in season for something like cycling or running and then the cross-training is developing different types of fitness in different modalities,” she says.

For example, Peloton instructor Alex Toussaint likes to play basketball as a form of cross training for cycling. Cycling is his primary form of fitness, and sprinting up and down the basketball court on the days he isn’t riding is another form of exercise that complements it.

Robin explains that many athletes focus on cross training in the off-season of their primary sport when the bulk of their time does not have to be dedicated to their sport. “Another great reason for implementing cross training is due to weather changes where you live,” she says. For example, if your go-to form of fitness is playing soccer or baseball with a local meetup group, winter can be a great time to prioritize another form of fitness, when playing sports outside may not be as possible (or fun). 

It’s not just professional athletes who can benefit from cross training; anyone can. One scientific study of 620 women found that those who cross trained had more muscular endurance and better aerobic endurance than women who did not cross-train. Scientific research has also shown that cross training that involves a mix of aerobic exercise and strength training can reduce the risk of dying from chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes by as much as 40%. 

But you might be wondering how exactly cross training can benefit cyclists specifically, as well as what the best forms of cross training for cyclists actually are. Keep reading to find out.  

Benefits of Cross Training for Cyclists 

“For a cyclist, diversifying movement is a great way to not only keep things interesting, but keep your body bike-ready,” Robin says. She explains that cross training can make the body stronger, fitter, and less prone to injury. 

While cycling regularly has many benefits—including being good for your heart and a way to stay active without putting pressure on your joints—Robin points out that it isn’t that great for bone density. This is why it’s important for cyclists to cross-train with strength training, which has been scientifically shown to increase bone density.

If you cycle regularly, you know that cycling requires a lot of core work. For this reason, it can be beneficial for cyclists to do a form of cross training that strengthens the abdominal muscles, according to Robin. 

Robin explains that cross training can not only fill in the gaps and benefit the body in ways cycling can’t, it’s also an opportunity to use parts of the body that cycling requires in more targeted and different ways so that your cycling game becomes even stronger.

Cross Training Workouts for Cyclists

As a cyclist, the exact ways that you will benefit from cross training will depend on the type of activity you cross-train with. Explained below are the types of cross training workouts that Robin recommends the most for cyclists as well as what you can expect to gain from doing it. 

Strength Training  

“Strength-training is the number one cross training tool I recommend to every athlete, but especially cyclists,” Robin says. As she previously explained, cycling is great for many reasons but keeping bones strong isn’t one of them. Maintaining strong bones requires weight-bearing exercises, which is exactly what strength training is. This becomes increasingly important as we age, as bone loss tends to accelerate after age 50. For most people, strength training two to three times a week is enough. Or, you can do it more often as long as you’re working different muscle groups on different days.

Why strength training helps cyclists 

Strength training can make you a better cyclist too. This is because it helps build muscle, which increases the amount of force you can push as you pedal. Stronger muscles means increased output. One small study of female cyclists found that cyclists who strength trained performed better than cyclists who didn’t.

How to get started with a strength training workout

There are many strength training workouts on the Peloton app, including workouts that focus specifically on arms and shoulders or glutes and legs. Using free weights at your local gym is another way to start strength training.  

Swimming

Robin recommends swimming as a way for cyclists to cross-train because it helps build core strength, lengthens hip flexors, increases one’s range of motion, and incorporates breathwork—all at the same time. “It’s a huge cardiovascular burn and is easy on the body,” she adds.

Why swimming helps cyclists 

Swimming requires abdominal muscle engagement the whole time and you will reap the benefits of this next time you hop on your Peloton Bike. A strong core will help you sway less as you pedal, helping to maintain stability. As for the benefit of lengthening hip flexors (which prevents them from getting too tight), this is going to help you out too. Poor hip mobility is linked to pain and can limit your range of motion—both of which can hinder cycling performance. The breathwork required to swim can also make you a better cyclist. This is because breathwork is linked to increased endurance.   

Running

Can running and cycling complement each other? Absolutely. Running is a great form of cross-training for cyclists. “Running is a great way to get a workout in if you don’t have time for a long ride. It’s a much more efficient workout than a long cycling class or outdoor session and you don’t need to travel with your bike or have access to the Peloton Bike,” she says.

Why running helps cyclists 

The reason why running can be an effective way for cyclists to cross-train is because it’s a way to maintain aerobic activity, according to Robin. Cycling and running are both cardio exercises that use the major muscles in your legs.

How to get started with a running workout

Whether you only have 10 minutes to run or want to go for a full hour, Peloton has on-demand running workouts that runners of every level can benefit from. Or, simply lace up your sneakers, head outside, and start jogging at your own pace.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

“HIIT workouts are a really great way to amp up your VO2 max and cardiovascular capabilities,” Robin says of why she loves this form of cross training. You can do a HIIT workout on a treadmill or the floor—either way your body will benefit from the short, intense bursts of cardio. Doing HIIT workouts regularly has been scientifically shown to support heart health as well as healthy weight loss. 

Why HIIT helps cyclists

Since HIIT involves short bursts of intense cardio, this can help improve one’s VO2 max, which is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption the body is able to use during physical exertion, according to Robin. This is immensely beneficial for cyclists because it’s how the body generates power to pedal. An improved VO2 max means you’ll be able to pedal faster and longer.

How to get started with a HIIT workout

Cycling may always be your ride or die, so to speak, but incorporating cross training into your workout routine will not only enhance how well you perform on the Bike, but also benefit your body in ways that cycling can’t. Science has shown that a well-rounded workout routine is the way to go. You’ll feel and see a difference.

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