Cyclocross has the reputation for being a painful sport: Racers must repeatedly accelerate out of corners, run up staircases, and dismount and remount over barriers. But cyclocross also has the potential to be the most fun, turning adults of all ages into big kids—romping around in the mud and grass, smiling all the while.
Another hallmark of cyclocross is that riders must intently focus on the technical aspects of cornering, dismounting, remounting, or descending while at their physical limits. Have you ever tried to gracefully leap onto your bicycle at full stride when you are cross-eyed and tasting blood? That’s cyclocross.
Fortunately, cyclocross training can be a lot of fun. In fact, some of the most effective ways to improve your capacity for repeated anaerobic efforts are with “games.” These playful workouts simultaneously help build fitness and improve technical skill, while distracting you from the pain.
Within a 2-minute VO2max effort, for example, you will simultaneously concentrate on driving your bike while your heart rate spikes, focus on going smoothly through a corner, then accelerate in a sprint until you must nail a chicane while carrying speed.
There’s a lot to take in, and a lot to master. But the gamification makes it such that you improve both physiologically and technically while concentrating on neither. You’re just playing a game.
The pursuit is one of the most fun and effective games to play. Create a small course—it could be as simple as a square of cones in a grassy field, or a technical section of trail or sandy area. With one or more friends or teammates, start on different sides of the course. When the race begins, try to catch the rider in front of you. If you catch someone, they are eliminated. If you’re caught, you’re eliminated. Do this for two minutes.
Switch up the order of riders and the design of the course to suit different skills and fitness abilities, and try it several ways. There are several benefits to this game:
- The repeated accelerations out of corners mimics ’cross races.
- You can focus on getting smoother on the technical sections or faster out of corners and on the straights, or you can work your way up to improving both.
- Hitting the same corner again and again in quick succession gives you an opportunity to become smoother and faster.
- If a faster rider starts in front of you, observe how they ride a certain line, even if you aren’t able to catch them.
- If a faster rider starts behind you, concentrate on remaining smooth even though you’re under pressure of being caught. The feeling of someone closing in on you often forces you to make mistakes. Try not to let that happen.
Cyclocross whistle sprints
Whistle sprints are another easy game to play. As a group, ideally on a slightly longer course, ride at a tempo pace. Over a five- to 10-minute mock race, when the whistle blows—by a coach or someone who has decided to sit out an effort—it’s an all-out sprint. The race is on. But it won’t last long. When the whistle blows again, you regroup.
This one workout format can be used to work on a host of attributes: five-minute power, 30-second power, or sprint power. Pick the attribute you want to work on and home in on that type of effort throughout the game. The person with the whistle dictates how long the efforts last.
Solo cyclocross training
If you don’t have teammates to join you for a workout, or you prefer to train alone, there’s another variation of cyclocross games that can be done solo, on a small course or stretch of grass or dirt. The goal is to do an all-out, two-minute effort, where the first minute will be on the bike. Position a staircase or set of barriers at the one-minute mark, and run up the stairs or over the barriers and across the grass during the second minute.
It’s all about improving skills at speed. You get bonus points for working on your running, particularly while shouldering your bike, which often gets neglected before cyclocross season.
Whichever game you pick, make it interactive and make it fun. The time will fly by, but the productivity of the workout will be sky high.
Workout of the Week: Cyclocross Games
- Gather your friends
- Create a small course
- Pick your game (pursuit, whistle sprints, or solo)
- Repeat, adjusting the order or selecting another game after the first one is done
Follow Chris Case on Instagram @chrisjustincase