As the year winds down and your season draws to a close, the oft-hyped end-of-year celebration known as transition rolls around. Transition is a time to rest, recuperate, and recharge your badly worn-down batteries after a long and hopefully successful season.
As a cyclist, you participate in an activity that's almost completely non-weight bearing. This is great for avoiding impact-related injuries, but an absence of load-bearing activities can lead to crippling skeletal maladies down the road. One study found Tour de France racers had bone-mass densities between 10 and 17 percent lower than those of age-matched counterparts.
Use Transition for Weight-Bearing Activity
A solution? Use transition to get off the bike and apply some weight-bearing force to your body—run, hike, jog or jump rope.
I know a pro cyclist who can't stand the idea of downtime, so he devotes October and November to running. He races numerous 5Ks before settling into the ardors of a hard winter. Don't stop at the end of transition though; maintaining bone density is an ongoing process.
Of course, just getting up and going for a run would be foolish; though I've done it on more than one occasion. The basic act of walking the next day became nearly impossible as a result. Incorporating running too quickly, into what has previously been a plan based entirely around cycling, will cause immense soreness and put you at risk for injury. Add it slowly into your program, and besides, who wants to do anything fast in October?
While enjoying your time off after that last race, go out for 15 minutes of foot-driven exercise: Walk five minutes, run five minutes, and finish with five as a pedestrian. The next day, add another 10 minutes, but make sure to finish the day walking.
Gradually increase the time running and decrease the time walking until you're enjoying a short run around the neighborhood without the crippling soreness or injuries you'd encounter after an impromptu five-mile run.
Once you move out of transition, running will begin to play a smaller role—or perhaps stop—but there's still hope for your bones. Weight training is another great way to maintain bone density, but like running, it should be implemented slowly and steadily to avoid injury.
Incorporate weight-bearing activity throughout the season; try to do on a daily basis. Some coaches have their riders jump in place for a minute or two every day. Jumping rope is also a good choice; it can be done anywhere and all you need is a jump rope. Hiking is also an excellent weight-bearing activity and can be used as a recovery workout for the muscles. At bare minimum, take the stairs!
When talking about bones and bone density, I'd be remiss to neglect mentioning calcium intake. Try to get 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium from your diet. An eight-ounce glass of milk contains 290 milligrams of calcium, but there are plenty of other sources including cheese, yogurt and non-dairy sources such as beans, almonds, green leafy vegetables, fortified orange juice and salmon with bones.
If you're not getting enough, consider a supplement. You may not have to consume a supplement every day, perhaps only when you don't get the daily requirements in your diet. The superior supplement is calcium citrate malate, found in many juices. On average, people absorb 35 percent of the calcium in calcium citrate malate, compared to 30 percent of the calcium in other supplements.
The skeletal system isn't a priority on most people's list of concerns, so by taking some simple steps you can ensure it doesn't become one. This offseason, try a little off-the-bike time, lace up your running shoes and get out for some easy miles on foot. You'll enjoy the change and your bones will appreciate the stimulation.
When the running stops, there's plenty more—a little weight training, jumping rope, and a well-formulated supplement can all help you keep your bones strong for many years.
Jered Gruber is a cycling writer, USAC-licensed expert coach and former professional road racer. Visit JeredGruber.com to learn more about his coaching services and read his blog.