Eight inches of snow and it’s still coming down! Am I depressed because I can’t ride? No — I get to play! And I don’t mean building a snowman. In season I train, each week I ride a planed mix of endurance, tempo, intensity and recovery rides. My riding has structure and I pay attention to my heart rate. In the winter I ignore the structure and numbers and just do activities I enjoy. The goal is to maintain my aerobic endurance. As long as I can talk I’m not going too hard. I also enjoy outdoor activities with family members who don’t cycle.
Here are ten aerobic activities that you can do as alternatives to cycling. They all provide a refreshing mental change from time on the bike. My eArticle Year-Round Cycling has many helpful tips on clothing and nutrition that apply to many of these activities.
For the first four activities traction in snowy or icy conditions may be a problem. If this is an issue for you, invest in a pair of Yaktrax. These simple devices slide over running shoes or boots and have rough cables that run across the soles to provide traction.
Walk briskly with your significant other before or after dinner. Notice things around your neighborhood that you don’t see when pedaling by. Pressed for time? Three 10-minute brisk walks a day provide almost as much benefit as a 30-minute walk. I have a client who commutes by subway to Manhattan. He gets off the train a few stops early and walks to the office. He does the same going home for a total of 30 minutes a day. Walking the dog, while relaxing and fun, generally isn’t good aerobic exercise because it is so intermittent.
Put extra clothes, lunch and some water into a pack and take the family for a hike. Hike briskly enough to elevate your heart rate but you should still be able to talk. To increase the work on your heart, muscles and bones, toss in some canned goods to make the pack heavier Dress in layers, just as you would when riding, so that you can adjust your clothing to avoid getting sweaty, which will chill you.
First, invest in good shoes. Then if you aren’t used to running, start gently. Walk briskly for three or four minutes and then jog for a minute or two. Repeat this pattern several times and finish by walking. Once you can do this for 30 minutes, increase the jogging by a few minutes and reduce the walking every three or four outings. Keep building slowly until you can jog continuously for 30 minutes.
If you’ve been running without any joint issues, then try trail running, which has less impact on the joints than running on pavement. Go running with a friend and enjoy talking—you are running at that conversational pace.
All of the above can be done on a treadmill. To make a treadmill workout more challenging I warm up at 2 mph. Then every minute I either increase the pace or increase the inclination. After 10 or 15 minutes I’ve peaked and I reverse the process.
Using an elliptical is a great indoor workout. Because each pedal goes down as you exert pressure on it an elliptical is low impact like riding a bike. Because you are also using your arms you can get a harder workout and burn more calories.
Snowshoeing is simply winter hiking, one of my favorite ways to play! Snowshoeing provides more of a workout than hiking because you lift the snowshoes with every step. Because of the wide stance it also stresses your muscles differently, so start with short outings to avoid getting sore. Like other activities, dress in layers so that you can adjust your clothing. Unless you are just going snowshoeing in the local park, carry a pack with extra clothes, lunch and water or a thermos with a hot drink.
XC skiing engages the same muscles, particularly the gluteals, that you use riding. Many excellent bike racers also cross-country ski in the winter. In general, skiing with the classic kick and glide is better for building your endurance because you can ski at a conversational pace and keep your heart rate from spiking. Classic skiing is also easier to learn because it involves less technique initially. However, if you are a proficient skate skier, then you can skate ski on flat to gently rolling terrain and still carry on a conversation.
Many clubs have rowing machines (ergometers). When rowing most of your power should come from your legs using the same muscles that you use cycling, supplemented by your back, shoulder and arm muscles. Concept II makes ergometers and organizes indoor races over the standard Olympic distance of 2,000 meters.
Swimming provides an excellent aerobic workout; however, without good technique you risk an injury, so invest in a few lessons. Swimming doesn’t use your cycling muscles, so you should complement it with other activities that use the primary cycling muscles in the legs.
Remember that you are cross-training for aerobic endurance and you will get more benefit if you go longer at a lower intensity than if you go harder for less time.
All of these activities except swimming use the same muscles as cycling; however, they don’t use the muscles in the same way as pedaling. Cross-training a couple of days a week is a great way to maintain and build endurance, but you should also cycle three days a week, indoors if necessary, to maintain your muscle memory.
13 Trainer Workouts with Maximum Value explains how to use the trainer to complement cross-training.
My eArticle Productive Off-Season Training for Health and Recreational Riders explains in detail what you can do to become a better rider this winter. The article has three progressive four-week blocks of exercises, which are included in:
- A 12-week off-season exercise program to keep you healthy during the winter months.
- A 12-week more intensive off-season program to build your endurance, power and speed, preparing for base training.
The 28-page Productive Off-Season is just $4.99.
My Off-Season Bundle includes Productive Off-Season Training and two other articles, which show you how to make the best use of your available time this winter. The Off-Season Bundle totaling 60 pages is just $13.50 (Only $11.48 for our Premium Members with your 15% discount.)
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.