Why You Should Be Cross-Training This Winter

By Jesse Kropelnicki | Jan. 30, 2018, 4:16 p.m. (ET)


At the end of a long season of training and racing, athletes need a break away from their sport. Some will gladly accept a bit of downtime. Others will fight you tooth and nail. Either way, this is a time when athletes need to focus on recharging their batteries for the upcoming season and work on any known limiters. So, to this end, while the end of the season may not, necessarily, represent off-time, any downtime should be used expeditiously, honing strength and skills for what’s to come.

We all know that triathletes can be a little compulsive, to say the least. It’s what drives them throughout the season, to wake up at those early hours, and commit so much of their lives to the sport. The offseason is an excellent time to apply this compulsion to other things. Things that further their next season’s endeavors, yet nothing like swimming, biking or running. Enter into the discussion, cross-training.

Most offseasons are taken during the fall and winter months, when the leaves have fallen, the temperatures have dropped, and, in many places, snow is on the ground. This change in conditions often elicits a desire to do new and different things. During the fall months, many athletes turn to the serenity of hiking up mountains, and through the woods. As the snow falls, many take family vacations to the mountains, to carve their ways down the side of a mountain.

While it is not necessary to account for every minute spent on the trails, or flowing through the powdery white, many athletes will have their minds put to ease knowing that they are, in some way, working toward their next season’s goals. For this reason, we use the following conversion factors, to help athletes quantify some of their offseason activities, relative to their in-season training commitments.

Hiking: Containing both cycling and running components, equally, we can apply 40 percent of hiking volume to, each, cycling and running. For example, if an athlete goes out onto a strenuous 100-minute hike, then this is the aerobic equivalent of a 40-minute ride and a 40-minute run, totaling 80 minutes of strenuous activity. The remaining 20 minutes can be applied to strength work, due to the obvious strength component of hiking.

Classic cross-country skiing: This most closely mimics running, therefore the weight of the sport-specific credit is awarded there. With this 55 percent of any classic cross-country ski volume can be counted toward running, and 35 percent toward cycling. The balance of 10 percent is unaccounted.

Skate cross-country skiing: This is most well-aligned with cycling, and we therefore reverse the above allotment, awarding 55 percent of the workout’s volume to cycling, 35 percent to running, with the remaining  10 percent being lost.

Downhill skiing: This one is easy! No math involved here. Downhill skiing can count toward an hour of strength work.

The above speaks to the kinds of offseason activities that will keep athletes active, but away from their typical day-to-day mundane swimming, biking and running. These activities serve to freshen the mind, and set athletes up to be able to, once again, approach their upcoming season at full bore. As they begin to re-enter the typical training modalities, this becomes a great time to target sport-specific limiters such as strength, technique across all disciplines, and focus on core and stability routines. Being so far removed from the race season, this is the time to set aside toward these aspects of training. Really, it is the one point in the season when this can be done most effectively, without taking away from, nor being distracted by day-to-day training.

Lastly, and likely most importantly, the offseason is a great time to put on a little bit of weight. After a long, long season of cutting it close, and being cognizant of each and every calorie that went into the athlete’s body, this is the time to let loose, a bit, and take the reigns off. For the typical triathlete, who is riding the fine line of just being too lean, a bit of body weight can help to reset an extremely taxed hormonal system. As a general guide, allowing for about 3.5 to 4 percent of body weight gain (about 5 pounds for a 130 pound athlete), will help the athlete to enter the next season hormonally reset, and in a good spot. Additionally, the extra weight is perfect for the athlete who needs a little more durability in the upcoming season, as it helps to increase strength and aids in injury resistance. As an athlete resumes normal activities, doing so with the additional weight gain is the equivalent of running with a weighted vest on. This builds strength, durability and the slowed paces help to ease the body into the resumption of true-to-life paces, all of which may hinder initial progress, but pay off greatly throughout the season.

In closing, the end of a season should bring with it changes and a look toward the upcoming season. Creating variety in what an athlete does, during this offseason, can go a long way in making the next season seemingly brand new, while building off of the successes of the past.

Jesse Kropelnicki is an elite/pro level triathlon coach who founded the QT2 Systems brand of endurance preparation businesses, including The Core Diet. He is the triathlon coach for many professional athletes including TJ Tollakson, Linsey Corbin, Angela Naeth and Pedro Gomes, among others. His interests are in coaching professional triathletes using quantitative training and nutrition protocols. He is a USA Triathlon Level III Certified Coach and author of the book “The Endurance Training Diet & Cookbook: The How, When, and What for Fueling Runners and Triathletes to Improve Performance.”

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.