This is a question I received from an athlete (be sure to ask us if you have any questions pertaining to cycling also!):
Dear Shayne –
I am getting ready for my first cyclocross race in late September. How much running should I be doing (if any) to get ready? I have heard and read many opinions on the topic, but I wanted to get yours also.
Short answer, yes, you need to perform running specific workouts for cross, but with a caveat of keeping them skilled and/or explosive based.
Since cross involves jumping off and back onto your bike multiple times per lap, steep climbs that are un-rideable, muddy terrain or sand that is impassable by bike, and getting caught behind riders who go down, it is important to be able to quickly transition from riding to running to riding again. So, the primary component to a cross running skill workout should be the dismount and remount…
Dismounts / Remounts
Workout: Evil 20’s
This workout is VERY intense and needs to be done when well rested to get the most out of it (i.e. do it early in the week).
- Go ALL OUT for 20 seconds.
- Recover for 20 seconds spinning easy.
- Dismount and run alongside the bike up a steep incline or carry the bike on your shoulder up a set of stairs, again going ALL OUT.
- Remount and spin easy for 20 seconds.
- Repeat starting at step 1 again.
Start off with 2-3 sets based on current fitness level and work up to 8-10 sets. Focus on keeping the dismounts and remounts as smooth as possible, especially when you become fatigued from the efforts.
Barriers, logs, a stray dog on course, etc. all require dismounting, lifting the bike over the obstacle, and remounting again as quickly and efficiently as possible. Like many things in life, this takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master. So, the more you can practice and mimic the race conditions you are going to encounter, the better! Practice carrying your bike over barriers that are on flat ground, downhill, uphill, on sand, grass, gravel, mud, etc. Make it as diverse as possible.
Generating a lot of force quickly is paramount to pretty much every discipline in cycling. In cross, it happens to be more important than most due to the twisty and tight cornering found in a course and the need to be able to accelerate hard repeatedly out of those corners and after a remount. If I have an athlete that is struggling with generating power, I will recommend a short block of plyometrics before their cross season starts to help improve this.
Workout: Cross Specific Plyometrics
Be sure you are warmed up before performing these exercises and STOP if you have any joint / muscle pain – aside from muscle fatigue of course 🙂 Perform each of these for 30-90 seconds (based on fitness) and rest for equal time between exercises. Run through the list 1-3 times each. Perform them 1-3 times per week. A Google image search will bring up each of these pictures.
- High Knees
- Butt Kicks
- Squat Jumps
- Forward Bounding
- Box Jumps
So, should you do running-specific workouts in prep for cross? Yes, BUT they should not involve lacing up your trainers and going out for a steady 5k run. Your training needs to become more specific the closer your event and race season gets; save the steady runs for your cross-training during the offseason. Include 1-3 days per week of intense training that involves lots of dismounts, remounts, and riding over varying terrain. Be sure to include some plyometric training as well if you are not as explosive as you would like to be.