It might be the middle of winter, but many cyclists might argue that it is time to start training for the spring and summer. You will see some of those people out and about on their bikes--even here in Salt Lake City where today the temperature will hit 7°F. I am NOT one of those people. The only time I'm going outside is to make a beeline to or from my car. MAYBE I'll bundle up and go do some snowshoe hikes or snowboarding... but it will take a serious pep talk.
But bravo to those of you who ARE out on your bikes this time of year. You guys are NUTS, but you are committed, and I approve. For the rest of us though, here are some ideas for staying in top condition in the off season without even leaving your home.
Push ups? Wait, I thought we were talking about bicycle training! We are--just stick with me for a bit. If you have been riding for a long time, you already know this, but if you are fairly new to bicycle touring, or biking in general, you might be surprised after your first 75 mile ride at how sore you are ALL OVER. While pedaling, obviously you are working pretty much every muscle below the waist, but think about what is going on ABOVE the waist. You are holding onto the handlebars for stability and steering, but you'll often find that you shift a lot of your weight to your arms at times, essentially holding yourself up. And why do you do that? Well, your core gets tired from holding up that weight and balancing too. Your upper body is constantly shifting its weight around just so to keep everything balanced just right so that the bike goes in the direction you want and doesn't just tip over.
The bottom line is that your core is important in biking. Also, do you really want to end up with massive muscular biker legs and flimsy little arms/shoulders/chest/back/abs? No. You don't. Thus push ups. I'd aim for doing at least 3 sets of 15 repetitions twice a week, and more if you have time. Strengthening your upper body and core will really help you avoid fatigue on long rides.
Squats and Lunges
Squats, such as Dumbbell Squats, can be really good to strengthen and loosen your hip and lower back muscles. That added mobility will help generate more power in the pedal for you on the road. Lateral lunges can help loosen up your inner thigh muscles which allows your body to work a lot more naturally with the bike and sit in the proper position on the saddle. You'll generate more power, more easily, and it will feel more natural.
Bicycle Trainer Stand
If you don't already have something like this and you generally keep your bike inside anyway, I would recommend looking into getting one. There are lots of different styles and makes, but the essence is still the same--use your bike as a stationary bike. You hook the stand up to your back wheel, adjust the tension, and away you go! ...well, I guess not AWAY, but you know what I mean. Pop on your favorite TV show, read, mess around on your iPad or whatever as you get in some good living room miles. The only downside is that you have to have room for this set up in your house, garage, apartment, or whatever particular abode in which you happen to reside.
Sometimes it can be hard to stick to a workout regimen if you don't have structure, or a plan. Workout DVD's and books can be a great motivator. For those of you who want to be super hard-core, P90X is pretty hard to beat. It is also really hard to actually commit to for many people. If you haven't already seen ten bazillion late night TV promos for P90X, let me summarize: Pop it in your DVD player, do what the guy on the screen says. Pass out on the floor in a sweaty wheezing heap. Repeat every day. 90 days later, you will be rocking the superhero muscles look. If you are looking for something to really get you to the top of your game, and you are super competitive and want to have the bragging rights and the body to match, P90X is probably for you. I don't think you can do it though. I think you are just going to punk out. Prove me wrong, and tell me all about it in the comments! Buy it new or used on Amazon.
EA Sports Active 2
Maybe you don't want to burn yourself out so quick with the intense experience of P90X, or maybe you just want to work up to it. My choice is EA Sports Active 2. I bought this thinking it would be a fun little way to work out and keep track of my heart rate, weight, and other stats over time--and it was--but I found myself thinking "Oh crap... the is a real workout, not a little game!" Here is what you get in the most common bundle: The "game" disk, a strap on leg motion sensor, and two strap on arm motion sensors with a heart rate sensor built into the left arm strap, and an elastic resistance band. What makes this VERY different from any DVD workout series you could choose is that the motion sensors you place on your arms and left leg allows the "game" to give you live feedback on whether you are doing the exercises properly. If you are half-assing it, the virtual trainer will stop, and make you do it again until you do it right, and you also must complete the full set. You can't just sit it out and watch the trainer exercises for you. Technically, you can choose to skip an exercise if you really can't do it or are just too darn pooped, but usually I find that the game does a good job of encouraging you to push harder to complete the set. Meanwhile, up in the corner of the TV is an always-on live view of your heart rate. The game does a great job of using that info to string together exercises that keep you in your target zone. The game offers a "Cardio Kickstart" program that is 2 weeks, and then the main feature is a 9 week program. Both programs do a great job of being balanced, giving certain focus to cardio some days, muscle building on others, flexibility, etc. The specific exercises change too, utilizing "muscle confusion" as P90X calls it. There are other work out "games" out there too, but I prefer this one because you don't have to hold a motion controller, or deal with weird glitches on Kinnect. The strap on sensors do a great job as long as you have put them on correctly. Either way, it is fun, about the same cost as a one month subscription to your local 24 hour gym, you get a great workout, and you can do it in the nude in the comfort of your own living room. Bonus points. Really, if you put the difficulty on hard, I'd bet that you get the same results using this as you would doing P90X. Click here to see the price on Amazon.
These are just some of the basic ideas on how to train in the off season. If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment below!