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Cross it up

I’m sure some of you out there saw the title and assumed that this would be an article about ‘cross, as in cyclocross. Nope, sorry. The sort of cross I want to talk about here is something along the lines of X-fit… or Crossfit.

Anyone who’s known me long enough knows that for some time now I’ve battled with lower back issues; well, it was thought to be solely lower back but some more recent investigations (sparked by a comment from a personal trainer some time back) revealed that part of the issue had to do with tight calves that place an imbalance on the leg and lower back. Regardless, moving heavy things, sleeping the wrong way, and (annoyingly) riding could, and often did, blow the back out to the point that little yellow pills were the best and only way to calm the issue down.

About two months ago I came back from a short business trip down south, where I had the opportunity to ride some good old trails as well as some new ones. This, ashamedly, was the first time on dirt for some time and when I came back to Sydney, my drive for the 4.30 starts in the dark and cold to ride the black stuff seemed to have fizzled; smartly (for once) I decided to have some guilt free time off. After a few weeks however I needed to do something, and after some digging around an idea to take up a simple home based X-Fit program came to mind.

The idea was simple – I wanted something I could do with no equipment to start, took no more than half an hour and did the whole body. I’d been hearing and seeing X-Fit type things for a while and the idea got me thinking that this could be an interesting avenue. With Uncle Google coming to the rescue, after a bit of searching I found a good routine to use as a starting point; up until now I could ‘design’ decent workouts in gyms but with no equipment, using only body weight and incorporating dynamic moves was something a little left field for me.

The routine I selected to start involved 12 seemingly simple movements, from things as simple as star jumps and push ups, to more involved yoga based moves like what’s called a ‘Hindu pushup’. The 12 moves are designed to run into one another with as little rest as possible and are to be done in sets of 15-20 or 45 seconds, depending if the move in anaerobic or aerobic.

I opted to do the routine 3 days a week and keep at it for a 6 week period before I changed anything. What I found over that time amazed me. The first time I did the routine I nearly died! Sure I could get up and punch out a 60k pre breakfast ride no problems but doing this 30 minute routine nailed me flat, both from a strength point of view and an aerobic.

As the weeks went by the improvement was very noticeable, as strength increased at every level. But more interestingly as the strength developed, the more intense the workout began. Towards the end of the six week period I strapped on the heart rate monitor to actually track and benchmark it against a typical morning ride. At the end of the session, the numbers were surprising to say the least. For the given period, average heart rate and calories used equalled a feisty morning ride almost exactly. So while not as long in duration, the intensity and effort required equalled what the ride was producing.

Perhaps though the most interesting aspect revealed itself as we relocated our house. Where previously even a day’s work of heavy lifting could kill the back and lay me up for potentially days, I managed a full 6 days of hard lifting before the back got sore. This was something I had not been able to do for over 10 years! My only conclusion was that the routine, the type and depth of strength developed, plus the overall dynamic nature of the workout ‘system’, developed a level of core strength unable to achieved previously though targeted gym routines that I had used.

So yes, overall I am chuffed and I could even say a convert. More importantly, what are the leassons that can be learnt here?

As cyclists, ‘velo riders’, riders, whatever, we all generally rely too much on thinking that riding is just enough, yet what we all end up doing is developing a specific combination of strength and fitness, ones not overly useful to life off the bike. I have been in and out of gyms since I was 15, especially as once upon a time I used to climb a lot, but the minute I hit the bike seriously I have always foolishly ditched the gym work. Yet simple, non gym involving, strength routines can yield enormous benefits for your overall levels of fitness and strength that will only enhance your efforts on the bike, and more importantly, most all other aspects of life.

These routines can easily be tailored to work with your training on the bike as well and being body weight based, means you will not pack on the mass but still effectively strengthen most, if not all of the major muscles. Also, as most he movements are based on body weight as well as often being dynamic, you can create routines that are actually challenging and interesting to do, unlike pushing out endless reps in a gym. Perhaps best of all though, being simple and to the point, you can virtually do the routines anywhere, at any time, you do not need to head to the gym and/or involve complex equipment.

Worth a think?

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Additional:

– For mountain biker’s routines like this make all the difference between being a highly effective rider and being sloppy and loose; upper body and core fitness is essential to balance and bike control.

– Add interest to the routines as well as an opening up a whole different range of movements by introducing resistance bands to your routine. Resistance bands are cost effective, roll up into a small bag and can add the benefits of ‘weight’ training to any routine easily.

– ‘Seconds’ (http://www.secondsapp.com) is a great timer where you can program a routine and use it as an assistant to keep you moving.

– Fitstar (http://fitstar.com/) is an interesting approach to this sort of training with a virtual coach. Worth a look.

PS: Yes, this routine diminished any sign of a saggy midsection in a few weeks flat!

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