Training and racing our bikes is what makes us tick, but can we get too much of a good thing? Spending hours in the saddle year-round can eventually get a bit stale, and fatigue and over-use injuries have a way of creeping up and taking us by surprise. Even if you don't have a designated "off-season", having some time off the bike can be a good thing.
However, this is not a free pass to lie on the couch and become a video game pro: there are countless ways to maintain general fitness that will often translate directly over to the bike, making you a faster, fitter, stronger, more resilient rider.
1. Hit the hills
No, not hill repeats on the bike! Hill sprints - running, that is - will raise your heart rate, work your upper body and core, develop proprioception and general motor skills, provide some impact for improved bone density, help assist with a more upright posture, and develop explosive power in your legs to help with cycling. Try between 5 and 10 sprints that last for about 30 seconds each, walking back down to your start line each time. If you haven't done any running for a while, take it easy to begin with, as running delivers far more impact to your body than cycling does and you'll need to acclimatize.
2. Hit the gym
There is an inherent fear that many cyclists have - that lifting heavy weights will load them down with enormous muscles and slow them down. Not true. Hitting the gym and lifting heavy in your off-season is a great way to improve your peak power, sustained power, leg strength, balance, and lung capacity. Wait - lung capacity? Yep, several recent studies have shown that heavy compound exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, can significantly improve oxygen efficiency, which in turn means a longer time to exhaustion. So get down to your local gym and hit the weights. Include exercises such as squats, deadlifts, upper body presses and pulls, and core work, as well as explosive efforts like single-leg jumps and box jumps. If you are at all unsure, chat to a trainer before you begin.
3. Hit the ice
Ice skating or inline skating are great choices for cyclists as a cross-training exercise because the striding motion used in skating closely mimics the smooth up-and-down motion of the cyclist's pedals. That means you'll be working the some of the same major muscle groups but with variations that will strengthen some associated muscle groups. Skating in particular works your quadriceps (thigh muscles) and gluteals (buttocks) which are major sources of power in your legs, and it offers many of the same benefits as running without the impact that running can put on knees, ankles, and hips.
4. Hit the pool
Swimming is an excellent overall workout and especially as a cross-training exercise for the cardio-vascular fitness it develops. This means it is good for helping your strengthen your body's ability to process oxygen through the lungs and move blood to muscles to give them fuel and air by making the heart pump stronger. In swimming, much of the work is done by your upper body, and while your legs do work in conjunction with them, kicking to help propel you through the water, they just don't get pushed as hard as when you run or skate. However, this makes it a good exercise to work your whole body, and the fact that it is a low-impact exercise makes it an especially good choice for your "off days", or for when you're tired or sore from previous training sessions.
5. Hit the trails (or the road)
Simply can't stay off your bike? At the very least, then, you can introduce some variety into your riding by doing something different. If you're a dedicated roadie, try mountain biking for a month or two. If you regularly hit the trails on your MTB, maybe get involved in some group road rides for a change of scene, or go along to your local velodrome for a "come and try" track day - anything to mix things up, engage some different energy systems, and avoid over-use injuries. And who knows, you might just discover a whole new discipline of cycling you never knew about!