(this is an exerpt from the print version of this article…)
The off-season is so named for a reason: It’s time for you to at least occasionally get off the bike. Cyclists who pedal year-round might love their sport, but they’re not showing the same affection for their bodies-or their two-wheeled aspirations. "It’s physically and psychologically impossible to train on the bike at a high level year-round," says Neal Henderson, M.S., C.S.C.S., coordinator of sport science at Boulder Community Hospital in Colorado, who calls cross-training for cyclists a "crucial necessity. Without it, there’s a huge potential for burnout, as well as for injury."
Getting out of the saddle doesn’t necessarily consign you to soul-draining intervals on a treadmill, or to classic off-season sports such as cross-country skiing or speedskating, which almost directly mimic the muscular and aerobic demands of cycling. In fact, some pro riders believe the best cross-training sports are the ones that get you the furthest away from your cycling regimen while still delivering great fitness benefits. "I don’t stick to any routine in the off-season," says Dave Watson, a member of Kona’s Clump freeride team. "I like to surf, ride longboard skateboards and play floor hockey, basketball, racquetball and ice hockey." The bonus, he says, is that by spring, "I’m always hungry to get back on the bike."
To catch up with her mountain biking buddies over long, wet winters in Victoria, British Columbia, Melanie McQuaid hits the squash court. "It’s much more fun than just meeting for coffee," says the 2003 Xterra World Champion and seven-time member of the Canadian national mountain bike team. The self-taught McQuaid, who plays once or twice a week in the off-season, says she "is certainly not good, but I’m willing to hack away at it. The more I play, the better I get."
Regardless of her skill level, the 31-year-old says her mountain biking technique has benefited from the time she spends swatting a low-bounce ball around a small, white court. "Squash is a reaction sport, just like mountain biking," she says, "and when you ride tricky descents, you use your feet and require lateral strength. I build that up playing squash."
Calories Burned Per Hour: 1,080
Squash Works Your: Core muscles, leg muscles (especially fast-twitch), shoulder muscles; eye-hand coordination
Will Boost Your: Average speed. "Because squash conditions your total body, from quads to lungs, you’ll get on the bike feeling stronger and more capable," says Henderson.
Bonus: "Unlike other sports that use a large field or court, squash requires a focus that clearly improves your concentration," Henderson says.
Alternate Workout: To improve overall strength and power, try the dumbbell front squat-to-press. Stand holding dumbbells at shoulder height, with your elbows resting on your ribs, palms facing each other. Beginning the movement with your hips, squat back and down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Explode upward with your hips and quads, using momentum to drive the weights off your shoulders and overhead. (Keep your feet on the floor.) Lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders. Repeat 5-10 times.