Cyclocross training: A successful season begins now
By Matt Shriver
Editor’s Note: The following column was written by Matt Shriver, an Exercise Specialist and Senior Level Coach with Colorado Premier Training. He also is a professional cyclist currently racing with the Jittery Joe’s Pro Cycling team.
The dog days of summer are over, the days are getting much shorter and the road and mountain bike racing events are few and far between. For some cyclists this symbolizes the conclusion of a long road or mountain bike season that began sometime early this year and now the light at the end of the tunnel shines bright. Sitting on the couch on the weekend watching football with that bag of chips and frosty beverage is a needed respite from your demanding season.
Yes, it is important to take a break from structured training and racing, but rather than completely racking your bike for the fall months and watching college football, hang on to some of that fitness and avoid losing what you have gained. The fall air and shorter days mark the commencement of another cyclocross season. Become part of the fastest growing division of cycling and have fun on your bike year round!
Whether you plan on competing in multiple back to back ‘cross racing weekends or just want to attend some fun group rides and maintain fitness, focusing on some key elements will help you get the most out of your cyclocross season and prepare you for your upcoming road or mountain bike endeavors.
A transition from the road is needed
Cyclocross is a very intense form of racing both physically and mentally. Although the races tend to be 60 minutes or less, the races are very intense and require mental focus and every muscle fiber in you to produce power. Many riders attempt to go straight from a long road or mountain bike season that began in the spring months and jump head on into cyclocross. This is a set up for a short cyclocross season and possibly injury.
Before beginning another season it is important to prescribe yourself a good rest block. Allow your body and mind to recover from the multiple weekends of racing and the long hours of training that have been completed over the past 6-8 months. Depending on the demands of the season, a good two weeks of rest and alternative training is ideal.
I usually recommend at least one week off the bike with the sole focus of rest and if you can take up to two weeks off. During this time away from the bike it is important to get as much rest as you can. Sleeping at least eight hours a night and sneaking in a cat nap here and there helps facilitate recovery. Although you will lose a little bit of your top end fitness and some muscle memory, resetting with this rest block will allow you to successfully make it through an intense cyclocross season.
When you put the bike away for your rest, take the time to sit down and plan out your cyclocross season. Just like planning for your road or mountain bike season you need to have specific goals related to your cyclocross season. Outline your main objective for the season. What do you want to focus on during the cross season? Is your goal to be competitive in your racing category at nationals in December or to just stay fit with a few low priority races during the fall and winter months? Examine your past cyclocross seasons and determine your strengths and weaknesses. Do you have a hard time in technical riding sections? Are you losing ground on your competitors through barrier sections or run ups? Maybe you have a hard time starting fast and that first 600 meters of racing is the most difficult?
Recognizing these weaknesses and planning your training objectives is an important step in achieving the goals that you have outlined. If you have a coach this is also the best time to organize your training and they should help you outline your training and plan of attack to help you work on your weaknesses and attain your goals.
Once you feel rested and have had that cabin fever like itch or desire to get back on the bike, it is time to begin your cyclocross specific training. This is a transition period back into a structured training regime and it is important to ease back into it. Start with some base building rides to regain some of your endurance and bring your base level fitness back up. This is a good time to bring out the cross bike and explore some dirt roads and trails to become familiar with the way your cross bike handles. Mix it up on your rides with a little of everything as this is what cyclocross riding is all about.
Running, a necessary evil?
Now is the time to begin the sometimes dreaded part of cyclocross, the running portion. I have found that starting with short 20-minute trail runs is usually best and walking the downhill sections. This will limit the soreness the next day and allow you to run two or three times in your first week. You will find that during races you will not win races in the running sections, but you can definitely lose races here. Having some solid base level running fitness will allow you to make it through the running portion and recover quickly for the next riding section.
Another key component to being fit and ready for a successful cyclocross season is to have a sound core strengthening program. This should be a significant part of your cyclocross training each week throughout the season. What becomes an issue with many cyclists is how to fit all these aspects into the small amount of time available each week for training.
How do you fit it all in?
On top of work and family commitments where do you find the time to fit it all in? I recommend working with a cycling coach or personal trainer to outline a core routine that will address the specific demands of cyclocross. Aim to complete this routine two to three times per week and more if you can. Adding this on top of your ride or running sessions is often easier. Your routine should at minimum address your back muscles, your lower abdomen, internal oblique’s, hip flexors, and your upper body as well.
I have found that a great short program incorporating Pilates and some plyometrics works best. This approach increases overall core fitness while also focusing on ankle stability and balance which is vital for cyclocross. If the time permits and you can combine a weights routine with your core workout, work with your coach to design a specific program. I usually include some squats, lunges, hamstring curls and lat pull downs into most routines.
Once you get your routine down, this portion of your workout will only take you roughly 60 minutes. Adding the weights portion will require more time to complete the workout session as well as proper weights phases, beginning with the Anatomical Adaptation phase and progressing from there. The weights will not only help your cyclocross performance but also help you for the following road or mountain bike season. Once again, working with a coach or personal trainer to help you outline the proper lifting techniques and phases is recommended and lifting no more than 2-3 times per week. Since cycling is a rather low impact sport with mot much weight bearing, incorporating weights to a program for the older cyclists should be part of any cycling program as it helps maintain strength and bone density.
Clinics and camps are key
Attend your local cyclocross clinic or training camp. Many coaching companies or cycling clubs now offer specific cyclocross clinics for all levels and abilities in your region and maybe even where you reside. If you are a beginning cyclocross rider you will benefit greatly from attending a clinics or camps. The clinics will help you address specific skills and technique needed to be smooth and efficient during your cross endeavors. Most clinics are a couple hours that are hands on and with groups of similar abilities. You will learn from an experienced professional and practice dismounting and remounting, barrier sections, running sections and other specific skills related to cross.
Learning the correct technique from the beginning will make your cyclocross experience much more enjoyable. The cyclocross camps are usually much more in depth covering these same skills but focusing on more advanced technique and refinement throughout the camp with individual one on one attention.
Cyclocross is a unique part of the cycling culture that is short and sweet. With cyclocross season fast approaching, sit down and make yourself a plan to attend some group rides or events in your area. Take the time to incorporate theses key elements into your fitness plan for your off season to maintain some fitness. Take pleasure in the sloppy mud, long run ups, double sets of barriers, and the crisp fall days with the rest of the cyclocross crowd.