Athletes Doing Four Different Off Season Sports That Will Improve Their Performance

4 Off-Season Sports That Will Make You a Better Athlete

BY Gale Bernhardt

Try one of these four sports to improve your strength and refresh your body ahead of next year’s racing season.

After the race season is over, some endurance athletes are fearful of doing other sports. They continue full-steam ahead, not giving up the summer’s sport routine and intensity. The fear of losing fitness in their primary sport, injuring themselves, and not knowing how to fit other sports into a training plan keeps athletes from having fun — and, in some cases, inhibits performance improvements in their primary sport.

Let’s take a look at four sports you should consider doing in the off-season, how those sports might help you be a better racer next season, and how to fit them (and others) into your training plan.

1. Rock Climbing

Climbing is mostly a strength, flexibility, coordination, and problem-solving sport. All of these benefits are useful for endurance athletes. Additionally, climbing strengthens muscles that are not in the primary plane of travel for triathletes and cyclists.

Benefits for Endurance Athletes

During rock climbing, you are moving laterally, up and down in the vertical plane. The legs of cyclists and triathletes move in a forward, limited direction. For triathletes, the motion of pulling yourself up the wall is an outstanding compliment to the swimming motion. Your lower body stands to gain hip strength and flexibility moving side to side, and up and down.

How to Fit Climbing Into Your Off-Season Training Plan

A great option is to substitute climbing for one or two of your weekly strength training sessions. Many gyms offer rental equipment to make it easy to try the sport.

2. Cyclocross

According to the website Cyclova, it is believed that cyclocross originated in the autumn, in the French countryside. Racers riding from one town to another would take shortcuts through farmer’s fields, jumping over fences with an eye on the church steeple marking the next town. The sport was originally called “steeple chasing.”

Why Do CX?

Long accepted as a way for road racers to stay fit in the off-season, cyclocross isn’t much of a cross-training stretch for road racers. More recently, mountain bikers and triathletes can be found toeing the start line at a “cross” race.

The sport offers the challenge of riding a bike in mud, sand and grass. Combine that with obstacles and steep uphill sections that require bike carrying, this multi-lap sport is fun for racers and spectators alike.

Most races are some 30 to 60 minutes long, with the leg-searing intensity many racers savor. Fun, variety, challenge, and bad weather conditions draw endurance junkies who don’t want to give up intensity in the off-season.

How to Fit Cyclocross Into Your Off-Season Training Plan

When participating in cross, it is best to leave any heavy weight training until after the season is over. Cut down the long rides that you’ve been doing all season and include these short, fast races instead.

3. Alpine Skiing

Athletes who live close to the mountains can take advantage of ski area passes to make this sport more affordable. For those that travel for a week-long ski vacation (or two) each season, this sport can be done with family members.

Benefits of Alpine Skiing for Endurance Athletes

Skiing is a great way to enjoy winter with family members. Playing in the snow is a complete diversion from summer sports. Selecting the best path down the mountain is similar to selecting the best line on the mountain bike or the optimal way through the peloton.

Skiing builds strength, balance, and coordination and works on muscles that support lateral movements. Strengthening these supporting muscles can help your primary sport.

How to Fit Skiing Into Your Off-Season Training Plan

If you take a week-long ski vacation and you plan to ski some four to six hours each day, don’t worry about trying to squeeze in swimming, cycling and running. Take a break from your primary sport and enjoy skiing. If you live close to the mountains and plan to ski often, replace your long run or ride with a ski day.

4. Basketball

This team sport includes powerful bursts of speed, hand-eye coordination, endurance, and teamwork.

How Playing Basketball Benefits Endurance Athletes

Bad weather and darkness won’t affect your basketball game if you’re playing indoors. Explosive intervals on the basketball court are more fun than doing power-building plyometrics on your own and, similar to cyclocross, there is plenty of intensity to keep your endorphins fired up.

How to Fit Basketball Into Your Off-Season Training Plan

Playing basketball once or twice per week can be done in place of strength training sessions. Because of the intensity of basketball, count it as one of your two intensity days each week.

Other Considerations

There are many other sports that you can include in your off-season training. In all cases, be sure to begin slowly because fitness in your primary sport does not always easily transfer over to another sport.

A prime example is cyclists who take up running. Just because you can ride a bike for two hours does not mean you can run for two hours, especially within a week of ending your cycling season.

Look for these features in your off-season sport:

  • Fun
  • Family or team-oriented
  • Less weekly intensity than during the race season
  • Body movements that build strength in directions different than your primary sport
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Explosive moves for power and bone strength

Take this time to enjoy your off-season by trying out a new sport. You’ll build a new skill set, improve your strength, and you’ll be refreshed when it’s time to start ramping up again in the spring.

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About Gale Bernhardt

Gale Bernhardt has coached Olympic road racers, triathletes, World Cup mountain bike riders and Leadville 100 racers. Some want to go faster, some want to cross the finish line and others want endurance sport as a lifestyle. TrainingPeaks hosts many of Gale’s ready-to-use, easy-to-follow training plans for cycling and triathlon.

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