That may mean prolonging the mountain bike season in the mountains surrounding Flagstaff, Ariz. Or maybe you can cheat winter's onset in the rolling hills of Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. Another way to lengthen the season would be to show up for the last major fat-tire festival of the year in Moab during Halloween weekend, and then spend a few weeks at Arches National Park.
Of course there are grander ways: winter in Australia or New Zealand or experiencing fall in the mountains of southern Italy.
For most of us, though, we eventually have to turn to other pursuits when the snows and shorter days of winter force us hang up our bike. But the skinny skis and in-line skates are still the tools of the four-season cyclist. Whether on cross-country trails in northern Michigan or on the roads of Dallas, a sense of mountain biking pervades our winters.
If you live in the "snow belt," it is almost impossible to go for long trail rides from November to April. Snow-packed trails and short days do not lend themselves to long hours in the saddle. But you can still supplement your training with cross-country skiing, a great alternative that is becoming popular with many cyclists.
Cross-country skiing doesn't just work the muscles of the lower body, it also exercises the upper body, arms and lower back, areas that are used on the mountain bike. In addition to building the upper body and leg power, cross-country skiing is a great way for you to maintain a high level of aerobic conditioning.
Virtually all cyclists and enthusiasts who like to ski fast use the skating technique rather than the traditional diagonal stride. As the name implies, skate skiing emulates the motion used for ice skating you push off from the inside edges of your skis. Once you've learned the proper technique, you can travel at a rapid clip and get a great workout.
"Besides being a great cardiovascular conditioner, the technique used in skate skiing works the power muscles of mountain biking- the quadriceps, gluteals and lower back," says Mike Klosser, a former competitive cyclist from Vail, Colo., who now competes in Eco-Challenge ultra-events. "The power a cyclist gains from skate skiing carries over into steep climbs, chasing others down steep singletrack and sprinting."
Don't plan to use skiing as a complete replacement for your other conditioning routines. You still need to be on the bike and in the weight room.
Skip Hamilton, master's cyclist and an Aspen, Colo., native, has advice for those designing an off-season program on skis. He suggests skiing two days per week, with the rest of the time being devoted to training on the bike, whether indoors or out on the road. The skiing should include one endurance day, where heart rate is sustained at lactate threshold level or slightly higher for between 30 minutes and one hour.
So just how good of an exercise is in-line skating? In a recent study at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, the effects of an eight-week in-line skating program on a group of men ages 18 to 35 were examined. The results showed up to a 20 percent increase in aerobic capacity, which is comparable to the gains that you can get from cycling or running.
"Precision heart rate training is the key to improving your fitness with in-line skating," states Tom Schuler, manager for the Volvo-Cannondale mountain bike team. "Get scientific about your workout use a heart-rate monitor to ensure that you are getting your heart rate in the 70 percent to 80 percent target heart rate range to develop your cardiovascular system.
"Use a combination of steady state workouts to increase your aerobic capacity and to burn fat," he adds, "and higher-intensity hill workouts to push yourself to your anaerobic threshold to build strength and power."
A separate study completed by Dr. Carl Foster, coordinator of sports science for the U.S. speed skating team, measured how in-line skating compares as a form of exercise to running or cycling in terms of caloric expenditure, as well as aerobic and anaerobic benefits. Foster studied 11 subjects first in the laboratory during incremental running and cycling tests, during which oxygen uptake, heart rate and lactate were measured during 10-minute intervals.
Each subject was then studied during an incremental in-line skate workout, in which they skated one mile four times at progressively faster speeds, paced by a bicycle. Oxygen uptake, heart rate with a wireless heart-rate monitor and lactate was measured during each outdoor trial. The study found the following:
In-line skating at a steady, comfortable rate for 30 minutes produced a mean heart rate of 148 beats per minute and a caloric expenditure of 285 calories in 30 minutes, or 9.5 calories per minute. During interval skating, the caloric expenditure was 450 in 30 minutes, or 15 calories per minute.
In addition, skating places less impact on the musculoskeletal system than other off-season activities such as running, and may reduce the risk of injury to hip, knee and foot joints. The St. Cloud study found that in-line skating also develops the hip and knee extensor (thigh) muscles better than running.
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