Being fit for the start of a cycle-tour is one of the most important things to do for preparation. It means you can hit the ground rolling and you won’t spend the first few days soaked in sweat or seeing black spots in your vision. It also helps with mental preparation because if you have experienced hard training then you know you will be capable with anything your adventure has to throw at you. So in essence if you are well-trained you will be well prepared.
To be truthful on my previous two big cycle-tours I didn’t have time to properly prepare. Both occasions I had never cycled with my bike fully laden until day 1 of each trip. Looking back this was a major mistake, if I could change it I would. It is definitely possible to do cycle-tours with no training; however I think training gives you that peace of mind that you can cope. It will also mean you can enjoy the scenery and the cycling. I think if I could give one piece of advice to someone heading out on a big cycle-tour it would be put the miles in beforehand on your touring bike, when it is fully laden. I really wish I had. Before my Europe cycle I had done training, however none with panniers. I had been solely putting in fast miles over shorter distances. Whilst this was better than nothing, it wasn’t the best. It also, looking back, was more of a last resort push to get fitter. I have since realised the best way to train for a long cycling expedition is to train all year round, in all conditions, doing a variety of different training. This will help condition muscles, preparing your body really well for what it will go through. Training all year round isn’t always fun. You will definitely have good days and bad days. However what I have found useful is to focus on what you want to achieve with your training. Focus on your future expedition; visualisation is key.
After returning from Europe I knew what I had to do so that I would be ready for next summer. I set about changing my regime, upping it; focusing more. I now regularly do a wide range of exercises which I have found work well and my cycling has improved loads. As many of you will know cycling isn’t my main sport, rowing is. However I would describe cycling as my main hobby because I don’t do it competitively. Rowing, because I do so much of it, gives me a great base fitness. It also works the same leg groups as cycling and despite what you may have seen down at the gym is more of a push with the legs, than a pull with the arms. So it works my legs well, this is why I think it is a great tool for cross-training. Cycling supports my rowing and rowing supports my cycling. They both offer relief from the other; allow you to train hard at a different discipline whilst getting better at the other one. Cross-training is particularly a good tool over the winter months. This is because snow and adverse weather may prevent you from wanting to get on the bike and training. Therefore there is no better time to cross-train.
I cross-train in several ways to complement my cycling:
Rowing: This I do at a national level and at least 5 times a week. I train both on the water and off (on the machine). I find it gives me a break from cycling whilst still working the same muscle groups. It is definitely a lot more gruelling than cycling. However if you are fed up of cycle-trainers and spinning classes the rowing machine may be your answer. Some shorter interval work e.g. 40secs on/ 20secs off for 30 minutes will be good. You want to be near your anaerobic threshold for this type of training.
Alternatively 3×20 minutes at a steady pace with 2-3 minutes in between each one will provide a better endurance work out and burn more fat.
Weights: I have started these this year and have found they have benefitted my cycle-climbing ability a lot. They let me push higher gears for longer and make me feel stronger on the bike. I highly recommend bringing in weights to your training, even if only 1 or 2 times a week. Make sure you do them regularly though otherwise you may find you lose your strength between longer gaps. The weights set I normally do is:
Lunges (holding dumbbells)
Lateral Pull Down
One arm row
Squat jumps (for height)
Rowing Machine (low drag)
10 (each side)
The infamous 10 10’s set, repeat this 3-5 times. Each exercise of 10 reps should take around 1min30.
Micro-Adventures: These I wrote about recently. They are great. Not just for training but for having fun. They help remind you what your goal is. They allow you to test out equipment and if you want you can ride with a fully laden bike. These are super and I think everyone should go on them more often. I am planning one for this Monday/Tuesday, weather permitting.
Everyone will have different regimes that work for them. At the moment I am fitter than I have ever been and am feeling ready for what I have planned over the summer. Combinations of the above have complemented and enhanced my cycling, so I feel more prepared for future expeditions. However don’t forget that although cross-training is great, and highly beneficial, it’s miles on the bike that really count. You get out what you put in.