I once knew a competitive cyclist who blamed a worse-than-usual performance on her poor attendance at the gym the previous winter. She knew that what happened inside the gym can really affect our energy, resilience, strength, and balance when we’re outside doing the sports we love.
Maybe you’re ambitious and plan a two-week holiday hiking the West Coast Trail or the Bruce Trail this summer. Or maybe you’re not an elite cyclist but you enjoy a Sunday afternoon cycle through the park. Either way, you’ll benefit from time spent in the gym. Muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance gained at the gym can help you do your outdoor sports with pleasure and without injury.
Both hiking and cycling, and most other outdoor sports, use the same major muscle groups in the thigh, calves, butt, chest, upper and lower arms, shoulders, and back. At the gym, exercise machines such as the leg press machine or the chest press machine are designed to train these specific muscle groups. Ask the gym attendant for directions on how to best use the equipment, or better yet, spend some time with the attendant to develop fitness goals that can be accomplished in the gym.
Alternate upper body exercises one day and lower body exercises the next. The hardest part is counting: you’ll need to do each exercise 12 times. Try for three sets of 12 repetitions three times a week to improve your strength and enhance your outdoor life.
Healthy Heart and Lungs
Hikers who have to stop every five minutes to snap a picture and cyclists who need to dismount and push at the slightest grade under the guise of adjusting their toeclips may need more cardiovascular training. Try the cardiovascular equipment at your local gym or community centre. Hop on the treadmill, elliptical machine, rowing machine, or stationary bicycle for 30 minutes and work strenuously. Don’t work too hard, though. You should still be able to talk at the peak of your workout.
For even more cardio training, be daring and try an aerobics class. Start with a standard step or hi-lo impact class. Then move on to a class that combines aerobics with drumming, African dance, or capoeira (Brazilian martial arts). You may even find sports-specific aerobics for golf and skiing.
Training for Balance
Cyclists also need balance in order to evade the ankle-snapping jaws of farm dogs, and hikers need to prepare for traversing cliffs and slippery logs with heavy packs on their shoulders. They can train for better balance at the gym. BOSU® (BOth Sides Up) training balls are hemispherical rubber balls about 50 cm in diameter that you stand on, do squats on, jump on, or, in my case, trip over. Most gyms also have a generous supply of 50- to 60-cm exercise balls and an array of balance boards. This equipment helps strengthen the core and, in the process, improves balance.
Begin training your balance by pushing yourself slightly off balance. Play catch while sitting on an exercise ball with your feet off the floor. Do squats on a BOSU® trainer. Do push-ups off balance on a balance board.
Improving your balance, muscular strength, and cardiovascular endurance can give you the edge against gravity in recreational hiking and cycling, but, remember, nothing in the gym can prepare you for dogs, horseflies, or bears.