Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The myth of cross training

There is only one thing you have to do when you want to become a great cyclist: you have to ride your bike and you have to ride often. The same is true for anything else you want to do. To get good at something you have to practice it and you have to practice a lot. If you want to become a star swimmer you have to swim a lot; similarly if you want to become a world class guitar player, you need to practice playing the guitar.

Sure you can do other things in your life, but if you think these other things are going to help you get better at what you want to get better at, think again. You won't become a great guitar player by blowing the trumpet or playing ice hockey. Similarly you won't become a great biker by bouldering or learning to cook Thai food. And you won't become a great Thai cook by riding your bike in Thailand either.

Furthermore, if you think you need to practice in a special way or follow a special plan, think again. Although the magazines and books are full of secrets and secret recipes, the truth is there are no secrets. All you do is practice, practice, practice. That's the real secret.

Let me rephrase it a bit. To become good at cycling you need to ride your bike a lot. You need to ride a lot,  ride hard on a regular basis, and ride very hard from time to time. That's it. That is the whole plan. And the same applies to all other sports (except that you have to replace cycling by your favorite sport).

This rule is so simple that many people find it difficult to grasp. They become annoyed or suspicious. Surely, they think, there must be a catch. You can't simply become great by doing something over and over again? There has to be something we are overlooking? Some secret sauce? What do the pros do?

Let me state another obvious truth. Mimicking you favorite pro rider is not always a good thing to do. Pro riders get paid to ride. That is their job. They have plenty of time on their hands and while they ride a lot, there are many hours left during the day. And so, to keep these guys off the street, the coaches have to keep them busy in a non-harmful way.

Coaching, for those of you who don't remember is all about making training entertaining and less boring for athletes.

Non-harmful activities include anything that maintains cardiovascular fitness and does not build unnecessary muscle in other places. Unnecessary muscle is very harmful to endurance athletes because muscle is very heavy. Muscle is heavier than fat in case you did not know. So, no matter how you look at it, fabulous deltoids or pecs are not helpful in cycling. Not unless you ride a hand cycle that is.

What are we doing here?

Non-harmful activities also includes anything that is soothing, relaxing, and rest-inducing. Hence massage, yoga, meditation, etc.

Further beneficial activities include anything that fosters team building and working together. Once again these are good things to entertain people who have excess time. They are not going to make anyone a better practitioner of your favorite sport. Granted you may learn something that proves beneficial -you always do- but that is not the point here.

It does not make sense for amateurs or people who are aspiring to be pros but have limited time, to start mimicking these non-harmful pro activities in order to get better. Sure your favorite star may devote one day a week to yoga, pilates, or core workouts, but you as a time-constrained amateur should not waste your time here. You should ride and you should ride as often as you can. That is the only recipe for success.

Once someone offers you a pro contract, you can (and will have to) indulge in these activities in any case. So don't get impatient and stay focused on what really matters.

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