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Finding balance in off season training with Canada Cup XCO champion Jenn Jackson

How taking a break from the bike can make you a faster rider next Spring

Jenn Jackson Cross Training

By Jenn Jackson

Horseshoe Canada Cup XCO 2018
Jenn Jackson racing the Horseshoe Canada Cup XCO round in the series leaders jersey. Image: Matt Stetson

With smart-trainers and virtual riding platforms becoming more accessible, and visuals of tropical riding getaways all over our news feeds, there seems to be a cultural shift and pressure to be on your bike year-round.

Riding inside is hard. Some people are more gifted at putting in time on the trainer than others, and there are even a rare few who genuinely enjoy it. There are certainly merits to being on your bike during the winter, the return for specific training is very high – but is it worth it… Do your goals and identity require it?Jenn Jackson

Truth is, even in my off-season build towards some big spring races, I’ll keep my trainer time to the minimum required. Once it’s clear to hit the roads and trails I’ll be there, but until then I’m cool with cross training. Being able to run, ski, snowshoe and do weights helps develop a wide base of functional fitness, and it reminds me how much I enjoy being an athlete, rather than just a cyclist.

This isn’t a knock on people who only ride (if it were feasible, I might do the same), but I think most cyclists would benefit immensely by diversifying activities and introducing new stimulus rather than fighting the diminishing returns of uni-disciplinary training. Like in economics, having a diverse portfolio increases security and consistency, and the diminishing returns on time put in by a single method (riding) are higher. The more you ride, the more you have to ride to keep getting better; and time can be hard to come by!

Time… it’s all about time.

Jenn Jackson Cross Training

Taking time off the bike and giving your body a complete break also lets things zero out, cleansing fatigue, bad posture, and habits, if you will. The benefits of a seasonal physical reset may only fall second to the benefits of well-timed mental breaks. Creating a degree of separation and allowing time away from your bike and working towards goals is essential to rekindling and maintaining motivation in the long run. As they say in love: absence makes the heart grow fonder. And we all love riding, no?

Now I don’t have any superhuman powers, especially for motivation and attention span (I might even lack in these areas), but I love riding and the process of becoming a better cyclist, so cultivating a lifestyle that allows me to constantly and consistently improve without physically or mentally burning out is essential. And perhaps it’s a little ironic that my way of becoming a better cyclist, and getting an edge, is doing non-bike things, but I enjoy and stand by it. Mountain biking is a dynamic sport, so being a multi-dimensional athlete does no harm, you just need to find the right balance.

Jenn Jackson is a mountain biker and cyclocross racer and former XC ski racer from Oro Medonte, Ont. In 2018 Jackson won Canada Cup XCO Women’s series overall title racing for AWI Racing. She then won a Silver medal at 2018 Canadian cyclocross national championships in Peterborough, Ont.