Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas

In order to excel in a sport or activity, it’s necessary to train specifically for that activity. The term “cross-training” refers to a routine that involves different forms of exercise. The idea behind it is to permit recovery of the primary muscles used in the primary activity, while maintaining a high level of fitness.  Cross-training is thought to limit stress on a given muscle group because different activities use the same muscles in slightly different ways.

Foster et al (1995) tested the cross-training hypothesis that athletes can improve performance in one mode of exercise by training in another, despite the principle of training specificity.  It was found that muscularly non-similar cross-training does contribute to improved performance.  A runner, for example, could use cycling to enhance muscle strength and reduce the chance of an overuse injury, while improving or maintaining aerobic capacity.

Current cross-training methods offer recovery for the primary muscles only by using them differently (e.g., substituting cycling for running).  As a result, finding a cross-training activity for the indoor cyclist that permits complete rest of the primary muscles has been difficult, unless the athlete enjoys swimming — and that uses the legs, too.  Besides, this approach won’t help in cases of leg injury.

Many resources recommend indoor rowing.  Rowing is a fantastic cardiovascular exercise, but people misinterpret it as upper-body training.  As rowing technique literature will confirm, however, rowing uses the legs predominantly.  So, once again, we’re using the same muscles, just in a different way.

Non-cardio activities, such as Pilates, have also been recommended for cross-training.  Yes, alternative activities can improve some aspects of fitness and provide a different perspective.  But what happens to cardio in the meantime?  How long can you cross-train without losing cardio fitness?  In the case of an injury, time away from the activity could be long.  Also, for the enthusiast with little time to experiment, alternatives may feel like a distraction from the preferred activity.

So the dilemma remains:  What’s the best form of cross-training for the indoor-cycling enthusiast?

The UBE (upper-body ergometer) has been a long-standing option, but it doesn’t typically generate sufficient intensity to maintain fitness for the primary endeavor.  Besides, it isn’t fun.  Yet there’s a solution somewhere in there.

Pogliaghi et al (2006) studied the effects of cycling and arm-cranking on peak oxygen consumption (VO2 max) and ventilatory threshold to determine the cross-training benefit of each modality.  Results showed cross-training benefit, due to central (i.e., cardiopulmonary) adaptations.  Even though the muscles used in arm-cranking were not those used in cycling, the cardio stress to the heart and lungs was significant enough to register a true cross-training benefit.

Arm cranking is the perfect cross-training activity for the indoor cyclist.  It’s the most effective form of exercise for maintaining cardio fitness while completely resting the legs.  It can be used for general recovery or during periods of injury, and provides enough stress to maintain central cardiovascular fitness.  But what about the fact that the UBE is boring?

The KRANKcycle® by Matrix Fitness, introduced fairly recently, fills the need perfectly.  It’s easy to learn, and can then be used to generate serious, high-intensity training.  Because of the short crank-arms and narrow crank axis, the intensity can be much higher than with a UBE.  It can be used in a group setting, namely the cycling studio.  The movements easily parallel those of indoor cycling.  Finally, unlike using a UBE, Kranking’s a lot of fun.

On a day following an intense cycling class, you could take it easy on the bike — or you could rest your legs and Krank.  Hard.  The muscles need the rest, not the heart.

If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a KRANKcycle, bring one or two into your cycling space for the cross-training benefits Kranking can offer your students.  If you don’t have access now, you might want to look into it.  It’s the only true cross-training for cycling you can find, and offers other fitness benefits, as well.  There’s nothing out there quite like it.

Originally posted 2012-04-23 16:42:45.

Jim Karanas
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