By Gabriel Johnson
KMS student-athlete (Freestyle, Downhill MTB)
Most people know that cycling can be good for your health, but did you know that it can also make you a more well-rounded and better athlete overall? Whether it be downhill mountain bike racing, free riding on local trails, road biking, cross country cycling or even BMX/Dirt jumping, there is a style of biking for everybody. Kip Spangler, the High Performance director at Killington Mountain School (KMS), a local alpine/freestyle/snowboard/cycling academy, notes, “Most KMS athletes tend to ride some sort of road bike or mountain bike to keep them in shape throughout the season.”
Cycling is an integral part of the athletic programming at athletic academies like KMS.
Cycling can provide a variety of benefits to a well-rounded athlete, from physical conditioning to enhancing one’s mental focus. Anthony Accurso, the owner of Alpine Bike Works, a popular bike shop in Killington, VT, points out the different benefits that come from different types of cycling. “Road riding and gravel, versus mountain biking provide different athletic benefits. Road and gravel riding keep your heart rate up for longer periods of time, where mountain biking brings your heart rate up for shorter sprints of time.” An athlete who wants to focus on developing a well-rounded cardiovascular system can do so by pursuing several different types of cycling. From a conditioning perspective, cycling can provide cardiovascular exercise, strengthen muscles that may not get used in one’s regular sport very often, and increase physical dexterity.
Additionally, cycling can provide valuable mental benefits, giving athletes both mental stimulation and release. There are a few cycling styles that can improve one’s mental focus, one of the key ones being downhill mountain biking. Frank Marinella, a local ski club coach and avid mountain biker says, “The biggest benefit of downhill biking for other sports is the mental aspect. Given that you cannot lose focus on a downhill run, you have to be 100 percent focused on your run and that mental focus that transfers into other sports is really helpful.” Marinella adds that downhill bikers' reactions and mental sharpness have to be very good. Over time, a regular downhill rider can develop fast reaction times and extremely sharp focus, both of which can help in a variety of sports.
Repetition is not always an athlete's friend. In fact, an excessive amount of doing one sport can lead to burnout, repetitive use injuries, and increased stress. Biking can help with burnout by offering a low impact, alternative sport to help athletes prevent burnout or boredom. As Jason DiDomenico, Downhill Mountain Bike Coach at Killington Mountain School says, “After such an intense competition season, it is nice to have a change. Downhill biking and a lot of the other action sports parallel each other and can help with balance, coordination and air awareness.”
In most sports, a select few joints take a beating. By mixing it up and doing another sport such as biking, athletes can use their bodies in different ways, preventing overuse injuries in the long run. There is a great deal of research that points to the negative impact of early sport specialization in young athletes. In his article, “Why Things Hurt”, Brent Stevenson shares, “When you get your body so finely tuned to do one thing it can make other things like work, harder and even painful.” Pursuing other sports throughout the year can help athletes avoid overuse injuries that can ultimately shorten their careers.
Above all, cycling is fun. It can be a great way to get outside, spend time with friends or even one’s regular teammates on another sports team, and it can be a pleasant distraction from one’s normal routine. There are plenty of trails around most neighborhoods, and most local parks and recreation services have great information about their trails posted online.
Biking with one’s regular season team, especially when it comes to individual sports like ski racing, can be a great way to connect and can provide a fun source of team bonding, resulting in a more stable foundation on the field, mountain, or wherever the group may compete during the regular season. KMS Freestyle Mogul Program Director/Head Coach Kris Pepe talks about the benefits of biking together as a team, noting that, “it can add a competitive dynamic” to the group, where athletes can push one another. Especially in today's world with Covid-19, cycling provides a safe way for teammates and friends to be together outdoors in the fresh air.
Cycling is a great way to keep active and outdoors over the off-season. Whether it’s done for fun or competitively, it adds great variety to any athlete’s routine, brings a mental break, and connection with friends, all of which lays the foundation for a great season to come.