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What other sports will help my cycling?

Deadlift - 2
Michael Donlevy
10 Nov 2021

Add all-round fitness and iron out muscle imbalances by trying new sports as part of your cycle training

The expert Simon Ward is an award-winning high-performance coach. He now works mostly as a health and life coach for triathletes, and his podcast The High Performance Human is out every Wednesday. Visit simonward.co.uk for info.

I’ve always been a big believer in cross training, or using other activities to help boost performance in your number one activity. Some may ask, ‘If I want to be a better cyclist, don’t I just need to cycle more?’ Unless your livelihood depends upon riding a bike and racing, however, it’s important to put things in perspective.

Activities that enhance human performance first and athletic performance second have a lot of value. If all you do is ride a bike you’ll only be training the muscles and shaping the skills required to do just that, which then creates imbalances elsewhere.

If you insist on just riding your bike, try to be creative and take on different types of riding. For example, mountain biking and gravel riding develop bike-handling skills you don’t get from road riding.

You’ll also find that after a day on the trails you’ll have aching muscles in places you didn’t even know had muscles. Add in some bags on your bike such as panniers or the latest bikepacking kit and you’ll be able to develop a bit of strength due to the additional weight.

If you’re after a little variety there are a couple of other sports that will develop your aerobic fitness, namely swimming and running. Swimming targets the upper body and, because it’s low impact, it’s easy on the body and perfect to do on a recovery day after a hard ride. That said, swimming can seem like torture if you don’t have a certain level of skill and confidence in the water, so running is another valid option.

Running will be far more familiar and can be a great complement to cycling, especially if you’re a cyclocross racer in the winter (or would like to be). It does develop different muscles so will therefore help iron out any imbalances, but it is high impact and carries more injury risk, especially in the lower leg. It might simply not be an option for some, especially older riders.

Swimming and running both create forward motion, so what about those muscles that help us move laterally and in rotation? If you want lateral motion, football, tennis, squash and badminton are good options. As with running there may be a slightly higher injury risk so start gently (one day per week) and build your exposure as your body adapts.

For rotational activities you have to get even more creative, and I’m thinking kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding here. These require equipment (although you can try them out at specialist centres) and the learning of some new skills, but they can be very rewarding and will take you to places you might not have been before.

They aren’t highly aerobic, but you’ll be getting enough of that sort of work on the bike. This is about targeting areas of your body that don’t typically get much focus.

Finally, there’s strength training. I know that technically it’s not a sport, but it’s something I would recommend year round. What is a sport, though, is CrossFit. You can find CrossFit gyms in just about every town and these workouts help develop strength, power, explosiveness, co-ordination and much more. If you have a competitive streak you’ll love it, and as well as building a bit of muscle you’ll probably shed some body fat.

All of these options have benefits that stretch beyond just cycling, and as you get into your forties, fifties and beyond you might find any or all of these will help you to carry on riding at a high level. Remember we’re humans first and then we’re athletes, so have fun.

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