Off-Season Cycling Training: Mix It Up

There are numerous ways to brighten up your fall training. So far this series has covered a number of novel approaches and training metrics including using Intensity Factor (IF), kilojoules (KJ) and perceived exertion (RPE). We’ve also looked at simply ignoring your power meter as an option. In this final post, let’s think outside the training sandbox a little bit farther.

Peter Sagan loves his MTB

Get A Mountain Bike
I bought a mountain bike recently. It is a big travel, go anywhere, all mountain set up and my first ride it felt awkward. The bars are too wide, the tires too big, the weight too much. Had I made a mistake? My second ride was a bit more “proper” mountain bike ride at nearby Soquel Demo Forrest. To get to the fun part you had to climb a 45 minutes of pavement and fire road, a roadies dream, except it wasn’t a fast threshold level ascent, more a slog on the big bike.

Then I hit the downhill. All of my hesitations about the bike dropped away as I wound my way down the single track that had gotten levels more challenging since my last ride here. Big gnarly rock drops, twisting trails and bumps galore had me quickly back in the flow state that can only be found off road.

It may be the best antidote to a long season of structured training I’ve yet found. Heart rate and watts didn’t cross my mind in those blissful few miles. Instead I tensed and grasped, clung and prayed, smiled and simply rode. Rolling around the middle of nowhere on dirt trails and steep hillsides is nothing like riding my road bike, and that’s the point.

Of course one of the biggest distractions to “regular” training comes from the simple mastery of the technique. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I bought it to tackle new challenges. I raced mountain bikes “back in the day” and even raced some expert downhill. I’m not terrible off road, but I haven’t ridden the new era of mountain bikes. The big travel, dropper posts and laid back front end geometry, all are unfamiliar to me, yet watching and listening to my friends who ride primarily MTB whet my appetite to give it a go!

That’s the point of fall riding, to get out and have fun, to try new things and challenge yourself in new ways.

André Greipel on his cross bike

Race Some ‘Cross
It’s the same for cyclocross – the classic ‘off season’ training undertaken by generations past and present to retain some physiological benefit over the long winter. I’ve dedicated multiple seasons to cross as the focal point of the race season in fact. I love the intensity, the technique, the brevity, of it all. I love the culture, the easy going attitude of most of my competitors and the simple thrill of surviving a particularly harrowing course.

Stepping back from the pure competitive nature of it, cross is also a great way to regularly kick your own butt and develop some serious cross-over skills in your road position, or pretty close to it. Scared of gravel in the corner of a descent? A few cross races and I guarantee you’ll see things differently. Crash in front of you in a crit? Hop the curb for an easy out and it’s all good!

Gym work for Tom Stamsnijder

Take Your Sandbox Indoors
Clearly we love riding. The physical combined with the outdoors. The exertion with the meditation, but there may well be a time when you want to simply step completely away from the bike for a bit. Such luck! Off the bike is as meaningful as on the bike – you know where I’m headed right? Off the bike work – aka strength and core work – the automatic answer!

But this year look at it differently. Don’t just follow the same rote program in the gym this year. Instead embrace something new. Have you tried a body weight only program? What about plyometrics? Better yet, jump into that mixed martial arts or combat class. Think you are strong, try a pilates reformer class! Ever tried lifting heavy, really heavy?

Unless you are taking on the top echelons of the sport you don’t have much worry “adding too much muscle mass” – trust me, you won’t really add much at all, especially if you are over 40! Besides, say you add a couple of pounds, isn’t absolute strength and power a better add-on than simply eating another pint of ice cream because it “the off season”?

Alexander Kristoff is maybe not a fan of the gym

Hopefully you had a great season! You rode lots, trained hard, set some new best and maybe took a good result or two. I hope you did all that, but I also hope you are a little bit burned out on structured training. I hope you are looking to reset your affection for the bike via new avenues and paths of discovery.

Sure, I love my bike and will undoubtedly ride it a bunch too, but with few specific training goals or expectations. It will fit in with the other stuff I’ve forgotten I like to do, or better yet, never done before. Things on my list of “todos” this winter include trying a little hockey, skate skiing for the first time in a decade, snowshoeing and maybe some rock climbing. What’s on yours?

About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. Matt is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. From training plans to amazing trips, Coach Matt helps athletes find new levels of success and build great memories. He is launching his 2019 schedule of events and programs in just a few days! Learn more by visiting him online at

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