Workout of the Week: Cyclocross Skills Tune-Up

To earn those high-fives and mud-streaked grins, let's engage in a workout to tune up your skills.

Two athletes ride along a grassy cyclocross course.

Fall is in the air, and your usual road, gravel, or mountain bike racing season is coming to an end. It’s time to consider spending moments with loved ones. But what if you still crave the thrill of a race? Enter: Cyclocross.

This week’s workout is going to focus on two important aspects of a cyclocross race: off-bike skills and maintaining momentum. It can be done solo, but is always more fun with friends.

Perfecting off-bike skills with the Box Drill

The Box Drill is a fun activity that quickly improves your comfort with mounts and carrying your bike. To begin, set up a square course using cones, backpacks, or discarded clothing with sides that are approximately 25 meters long (exact length doesn’t really matter). For each segment of the square, you are going to do a different movement; I typically alternate between running and riding.

An example square might look like:

  • Side 1: Ride
  • Side 2: Dismount and run straight
  • Side 3: Remount and ride
  • Side 4: Dismount and run backward.

Run backward you say? Yes! The purpose of this drill is make you comfortable moving with your bike and silly, awkward movements are great. Feel free to hop, skip, spin in circles, or do any movement you can think of—as long as it’s planned ahead so you can smoothly transition. With a group it’s nice to have someone call out the movements so that everyone is on the same page. Watch out, because chaos and laughter will quickly ensue—but that’s the mark of a good CX race.

Maintaining momentum with the “Pedal Everything” Drill

Believe it or not, the key to cyclocross success is NOT sprinting out of every corner. Think that sounds slower? It doesn’t have to be if you’re able to carry your speed through the corner and minimize the energy you put into accelerating up to speed again.

This Pedal Everything Drill can help you do that on the CX course, but also help maintain speed and traction on slippery gravel surfaces as well. The goal of this skill session is to navigate a twisty course while constantly pedaling at a low to moderate effort. At first glance I’m sure that looks easy, but as your start your first lap it’s going to feel impossible!

Some keys to success are slowing down your corner entry to match your exit speed, maintaining constant and smooth pressure on the pedals, taking a wide line into corners before cutting to the apex and exiting wide again, looking through the corners, and feathering the brakes as you pedal to fine-tune speed while maintaining traction. Before you know it, you’ll be riding similar lap times as before, but with half the effort and energy!

Workout of the Week: Cyclocross Skills Tune-Up


10-15 min. riding together at moderate speed

Box Drill

  1. Set your course: Find a grassy field and use markers to create a four-sided course approximately 25m long on each side.
  2. Decide on a sequence of movements that alternate riding, running, and unique carries.
  3. Complete 3-5 min. at a moderate pace, focusing on movement efficiency.
  4. Laugh, rinse, and repeat with another set of movements.

Pedal Everything Drill

  1. Set a relatively flat course with many turns that takes 3-5 minutes to complete.
  2. Complete 3 laps at a slow speed while pedaling constantly.
  3. Inspect and practice corners that gave you trouble.
  4. Complete 3 more laps at a faster pace.


            High-five your friends!