Cross training (also known as conditioning), simply means participating in a variety of different physical activities in order to benefit your cycling. Aerobic sports such as running and swimming help to develop general fitness by improving the efficiency of the heart, lungs and circulation of blood to the muscles.
Cross training is useful for both novice and experienced cyclists and is done for several different reasons. For those new to mountain biking, cross training helps us to gain a good basic level of fitness without overloading the body with one repetitive exercise when our body is de-conditioned and not used to cycling. It therefore helps to prevent injury.
Alternative sports also help to develop strength in other muscle groups, for example swimming helps to develop strength and stability in the trunk and shoulders. This can be beneficial to mountain biking as it is such as an all round physical sport. We need a strong back and good abdominal muscles when hill climbing and strength in the arms and shoulders when carrying the bike.
More experienced cyclists benefit from cross training because it adds interest and prevents boredom when you are perhaps doing up to 5 workouts a week. Cross training workouts provide “active rest” as they still use the cycling muscles but in a different way. An example of such a recovery session would be an easy 20 minute run on the day after a long ride. Cross training sessions should therefore be done in minutes rather than hours, as their role is to supplement rather than substitute the MTB training.
Cross training also provides a great alternative for exercise if the weather is just too grim to head for the trails. A session in the gym, an aerobics class or a quick run can be done instead - it will make you feel way better than if you did nothing at all!
It is worth remembering though, that fitness is specific to training. Other activities can add to strength, reduce injury risk and improve general fitness but if you want to be a faster mountain biker, the best training is to get out there and ride!