Pros & cons of most popular non-bike training methods for the off season

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During the long months of winter time in Ireland,apart from cyclocross there won’t be much happening to keep sportive and racing cyclists occupied and motivated. Going out in the evenings in the dark is difficult, dangerous and demoralising.

Is there another way? Is there something cyclists can be doing off the bike that can contribute to their fitness for next season?


It is important to have a bit of a break at the end of the season whether you are a racer or a sportive rider. The busier and more intense your season has been the greater the importance of the break before you commence your build up to the new season.

Doing non bike activity:

  • Can give you a psychological break from the sport
  • Allows you to work muscles and joints in ranges that are neglected due the restrictive movement of cycling
  • If you do weight bearing activity it helps maintain bone density which is neglected by cycling
  • Allows you to strengthen weak areas, correct muscular imbalances and helps prevent injuries during the season

The non bike activities you choose should be something you enjoy, something which will help strengthen your weaknesses and something which will stimulate areas of the body not emphasised by cycling. Below is a list of different activities and their pros and cons for bike riders.


Weight Training

This is the most efficient way to improve strength. Serious track sprinters spend a lot of time in the weights room building big muscles which can produce a big burst of power.

If you are a road rider, improving your strength with weights will give you a more explosive jump. For road racing and sportive riders a schedule biased towards endurance using high reps and set up in a circuit is likely to be the most valuable.


  • Improves explosive power
  • Improves power/weight ratio
  • Strengthens muscles/ joints
  • Free weights improve coordination and work other stabilising muscles


  • Risk of injury
  • Need for expert supervision
  • Possibility of upper body muscle gain which may not be desirable for some road racers


Circuit Training

This is a series of exercises which are set out in a circuit. The participants do a fixed number or fixed time on each exercise and then move on to the next exercise. Each exercise works a different muscle group in the body. This means you can work hard on push ups to strengthen the chest, shoulders and triceps and then go on to step-ups to strengthen the quads and glutei’s. The upper body muscles will be getting a rest while the legs are working hard but all the time the heart will have to work to supply the various muscle groups. This means that you get both endurance and a strength work out in the same session.


  • As mentioned above both strength and endurance can benefit through circuit training
  • It is possible to do circuit training at home with no specialist equipment
  • Circuit Training can be adapted to emphasise strength or endurance
  • It can work muscle groups neglected during the cycling season
  • Training load can be manipulated depending on interval time or exercise selection
  • Training can be made specific to individual through exercise selection


  • Circuit training is not as effective as weight training for improving strength and not as effective as some other forms of training for endurance.
  • It requires some expertise in the design of the circuit to get maximum training value for time



Soccer, Gaelic and other team ball games are like interval training. You will make bursts of effort then be moving slowly or stopped.  For underage riders it is a recommended activity as it is weight bearing exercise. This helps build bone density


  • The stop start nature of most team sports is like interval training and helps build endurance.
  • Coordination and agility, important to the all-round development of young cyclist, are improved by these activities
  • Because participation means running and jumping forcefully bone density is enhanced.


  • There is a very high injury risk to knees and ankles from the twisting and turning movements and from collisions.
  • The main muscles groups worked are similar to cycling with little emphasis on the upper body and core.



A number of racing cyclists practice Yoga throughout the year. Many of the exercises can help stimulate joints and muscles which have been neglected by cycling.


  • Yoga can improve the flexibility of muscle groups which have been shortened by the restrictive nature of cycling thus helping to avoid injury
  • Yoga can help achieve mental relaxation.


  • It is important to have an experienced instructor who understands the posture implications of cycling
  • There is a risk of injury from some exercises
  • There is little endurance or strength benefit to Yoga



Traditionally cyclists took to running during the winter. Bike clothing wasn’t very good in those days and riding in the rain inevitably meant that you arrived home freezing. But running made you generate enough heat and not much cooling air flow so you could keep warm on the worst Irish winter’s day.


  • Running is a great endurance builder. It works cardiovascular system very well as you can’t freewheel!
  • No specialised facilities are necessary.
  • Very efficient use of time
  • Training load can be manipulated with intervals
  • More pleasant than the bike in bad weather
  • Helps build bone density


  • No strength improvement or involvement of upper body and core
  • Risk of injury



Swimming is a good all round exercise in that it works many muscle groups at the same time and therefore causes demand on the cardiovascular system. Training sessions can be manipulated with intervals etc to adjust the load of the session. It’s also a good activity for those returning form leg injury as the body weight is supported by the water.


  • Swimming can provide a good endurance work out.
  • Can stimulate many of the muscle groups neglected by cycling
  • Is very low injury risk and can be used as rehab from injury in some cases
  • Can help strengthen the breathing muscles


  • Swimming does not provide much strength work for the leg muscles
  • Special facilities are required
  • Has minimal positive effect on bone density



The position we adopt on our bikes means that we don’t really strengthen the core muscles in relation to the hip and leg muscles. This strength imbalance can lead to postural problems which in turn cause injury and pain. Pilates emphasises core strength and spinal alignment.


  • Pilates strengthens the muscles which stabilise the pelvic region when delivering power to the pedals
  • Will help rectify strength imbalances built up over the season
  • Can help reduce or even eliminate low back pain due to cycling
  • Pilates can help prevent injuries due to poor posture


  • There is virtually no endurance benefit from Pilates as it works relatively small muscle groups and therefore doesn’t place much demand on the cardiovascular system
  • It is important to follow the instructions of an experienced trainer

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