Triathletes are kind of like hamsters on wheels. We finish a season of training and racing, then realize that we don’t really know how to do much more than stare at the bottom of a pool, spend hours in a bike saddle, or pound the pavement in our running shoes. We become accustomed and addicted to the wheels of swimming, cycling and running, and whenever physical activity beckons we begin turning those wheels.
And so, from October through March, many triathletes in cold climates
spend the majority of their training time staring at the underwater lane
lines, hunched over the aerobars of an indoor training bike, and wearing
away the surface of a treadmill belt. On the other hand, triathletes in warm
climates just keep on swimming, cycling and running outdoors. The result
is often a feeling of being stuck in an exercise rut, and being mentally and
physically burnt out when the next race season finally arrives.
Although it may not seem like it, there is a wide world of sports just outside your front door – and many of these sports are not only entertaining and a fresh mental break from triathlon training, but also a perfect way to address cardiovascular fitness deficiencies, train weak muscles, stimulate and grow the mind and expand social circles. This article will give you a variety of off-season
sports to choose as an ideal cross-training strategy, and give you tips
for becoming involved in these sports – for both cold weather and warm
Cross country skiing or skate skiing:
Your first clue that these snow sports have an incredible cardiovascular
effect should be the fact that cross country skiers have a higher oxygen
utilization capacity than any other athlete on the face of the planet. If
you’ve seen the winter Olympics, then you may have witnessed the
incredible pumping action required by both arms and legs during either
sport. While cross-country skiing will strengthen hip flexors and hip
extensors, the skate skiing motion shifts more force to the adductors and
outer hip rotators, while requiring a high degree of single leg balance.
Interestingly, all of these muscles and movements are chronically weak in
many distance runners, and also necessary for enhancing cycling power.
Both activities require a push-off arm motion that involves many of the
same muscles as the pull phase of the swim stroke.
Triathletes who want to reduce risk of running injuries, improve tolerance
to lactic acid, and enhance cycling power will benefit from these cross
country or skate skiing. If you begin these sports, expect to experience
not just flats and hills (there are no chair lifts in this sport), but also faster
downhill stretches. While ski equipment is certainly expensive, many
bargains can be found at used sporting goods stores and ski swaps – you
can easily start skiing with a $200 investment.
Summary: Train weak running and shoulder muscles, and improve
Downhill skiing or snowboarding:
I’ve put these two sports in a different category because from a
physiological standpoint, they are completely different beasts. While cross
country and skate skiing fall into the category of muscular endurance,
downhill skiing and snowboarding fall into the category of power
endurance. Power endurance fitness requires the ability to move slowly for
long periods of time, interspersed by brief efforts of high intensity exercise.
While this may seem counter-productive to triathlon, research has shown
that high intensity interval training with hard work periods followed by
long rest periods can produce a highly beneficial aerobic training effect.
In addition, explosive or dangerous efforts can stimulate a hormonal
response that enhances testosterone product and lean muscle tissue
In these higher speed snow sports, the rotational hip power and the
required ability of the core to respond to quick changes in direction results
in torso stability and strength, which is perfect for both swimmers and
If you begin either of these sports, plan on working hard for 5-10 minutes,
and then getting a long rest on the chairlift after each hard effort. If you do
not plan on cross-training with this sport enough to justify a spendy season
ticket, simply purchase a 5-10 visit punch-card at the beginning of the
Summary: Improve power, hip rotation, and lower body lean muscle.
Check out Part Two here.
Ben Greenfield is YoungTri’s official coach and nutritionist.
Ben’s YouTube channel:
- Ben Greenfield Fitness:
Nutritional supplements, training plans and more