Cyclocross training is just a bit different than more traditional cycling training. The short duration, intensity, and skills unique to the discipline call for a few changes in how you prepare; here’s a look at a few workouts to fold into your ‘cross preparation.
We love cyclocross. One of the many reasons we enjoy this particular style of racing is that it’s accessible for even the busiest athletes.
First, with races an hour or less, events are accessible for people with a limited amount of time to train. Three, four, five-hour gravel grinders are fun, but the earliest selection points of those races aren’t some climb on the course, but the number of people who can include that level of volume in their training. For parents or people with a busy schedule, being fit for sixty minutes is something we can all accomplish, no matter what our time budget.
Second, the bike handling skills that are so important to cyclocross are a great equalizer. By being able to corner, bunny-hop, ride sand pits, and do the little things, even less-gifted athletes can hang with riders who might otherwise have the horsepower to simply ride away.
Fitness and skills are the whole game, so adapt your training to be ready the next time you duck between the tape to race cyclocross.
The first workout we use is built around developing the threshold power required of a 45-60 minute race. Cyclocross is intense, but steady. While a power analysis of a cyclocross race might have loads of spikes and troughs, a heart rate reading is essentially a flat line, usually at the upper level of your Zone 4 range, with a few nudges into the read.
To mimic these efforts, try out the workout below 1-3 times per week. If you have an event over the weekend, do this only once or twice early in the week to give yourself plenty of time to recover.
- Warm-up for 10-20 minutes.
- Ride for 10 minutes at Zone 4, adding in 10-second sprints for the final 10 seconds of every minute. Alternate sitting and standing for those 10-second bursts.
- Recover for 5 minutes in between sets. Repeat 3 times.
- Cool down for 10-20 minutes
This workout is best on gravel or paved roads, and try to avoid intersections so you can finish the set uninterrupted.
Another simple but effective cyclocross workout relies on a pal. To mimic the spikes and unpredictable efforts of a race, this is a fun and competitive way to squeeze in some race simulations in a controlled way.
- Warm-up for 10-20 minutes.
- Ride for a total of 60 minutes. The effort starts at the end of your warm-up. For 10 minutes, race; attack, sprint, and hold a gap until the end of the 10 minute round. At the end of 10 minutes, regroup and ride at Zone 1 or Zone 2 for 10 minutes. Complete these sessions until you hit the hour mark, then cool down for a further 10 minutes.
- Do this workout once a week with a friend or group that is of a similar fitness level. If one or more riders is a bit stronger, work in handicaps like forcing them to the front for the first three minutes of the 10-minute block.
- This workout is best on a road or very wide trail, but you can do it on a cyclocross course if you have a local circuit available.
Many clubs offer cyclocross clinics in August or September to help introduce riders to the sport and to brush up on skills. If you don’t currently have one in your area, let us know.
There are a number of skills and drills to work on, but we’ve found two to be the most effective. These focus on the two most notable elements of cyclocross you don’t find in mountain biking or road racing, which are hopping barriers and running stairs.
How to Bunny-Hop
Maybe the biggest thing we’ve learned is to practice your skills, especially bunny-hopping, a bit tired. At the end or a ride or workout, add in ten minutes of practice on barriers. Consider setting up one or two sets of barriers in your yard in such a way that you can hit the barriers one way, to a loop around the house, and hit them in the direction the other way. Practicing when tired helps to reinforce muscle memory that you’ll rely on in the heat of competition.
On The Run
In normal conditions, running is only a tiny fraction of a normal cyclocross race. In good conditions, you may run for a minute or less out of a full 60-minute race. Still, those can be vital seconds and cause gaps. In muddy, wet conditions, you might run considerably more, even large sections of a course if it’s unrideable.
Work on running by doing a 20-30 minute run twice a week. Build up slowly if running is new to your fitness regimen, and mimic cyclocross on those runs, too. Opt for trails, grass, and sand where possible, and find short hills that offer a chance to recreate the steep pitches of a ‘cross course.
Along those same lines, it’s important to remember that no matter how fast you run, you’ll always have to dismount and remount. Working on this skill should be a priority. Work in dismounts and remounts to your rides and workouts, especially if you’re training on trails or the local cyclocross course.
Just as you train for cyclocross, you’ll want to have the right gear, too. For more efficient cyclocross training, pick up a set of Portable Barriers or make your own fixed course with our Flanderien Barriers. We have a slew of ‘cross products that are designed to up your game and make every race more fun, too.