HAVS #2: Cross-Training with Alex Howes

HAVS #2: Cross-Training with Alex Howes

Cross-Training refers to an athlete practicing and/or engaging in various sports, practices, ideologies, methodologies and exercises (be they physical, mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual or conceptual) other than the one the athlete competes in professionally.


Cross-Training refers to an athlete practicing and/or engaging in various sports, practices, ideologies, methodologies and exercises (be they physical, mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual or conceptual) other than the one the athlete competes in professionally—with the goal of improving overall performance in the sport they do compete in professionally. Cross-Training takes advantage of a particular training method/technique/modality’s effectiveness, while simultaneously negating it’s shortcomings by combining it with complementary methods/techniques/modalities. Below, Alex Howes and Manual for Speed walk you through fifteen proven cross-training techniques for improving your cycling.

IIWater-Based Exercise
Alex Howes in the shallow end of the North Boulder Recreation Center (NBRC) swimming pool.

The benefits of Water-Based Exercise (W-BE) are numerous, significant, and undeniable. W-BEs can be beneficial to people across a broad range of ages and abilities: the very young to the very old, the very slow to the very fast, those with injuries or degenerative conditions, pregnant women, beginners to serious athletes and fitness buffs. W-BE positively affects many aspects of life including physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s no wonder that physicians, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, and fitness coaches alike laud W-BE as one of the best ways to stay in shape.


Water-Based Exercise is the ultimate all-in-one fitness package, working most muscles in the body in a variety of ways with every stroke. When strokes are performed correctly, the muscles lengthen and increase in flexibility. The significant repetition of strokes improves muscle endurance, and because water creates more resistance against the body than air does in land-based exercise, the muscles are strengthened and toned. W-BE also significantly enhances core strength, which is important to overall health and stability in everyday life. The hip, back, and abdominal muscles are crucial to moving through the water effectively and efficiently. Water-based exercise builds these core muscles better than any abs video or gadget advertised on television. Finally, a properly structured swim workout provides incredible improvements to the cardiovascular system. The nature of breathing in water-based exercise—with breath being somewhat limited in volume and frequency—promotes greater lung capacity and a consistent intake of oxygen. Both aerobic and anaerobic gains can be made in the same workout.


Use Water-Based Exercises for mental, emotional and physical well-being, core strength, increased flexibility and the promotion of greater lung capacity.

Alex Howes works-out in the corner of the NBRC gym, in front of a mirror, next to a door.

Proper Exercise Technique (PET) is important for both the safety and effectiveness of your workouts. To achieve PET you need to know how an exercise is supposed to be performed and your body needs to be “tuned” to execute the exercise according to those techniques. This may not sound too challenging, but if you are performing a new exercise or even a variation on an old exercise, your body may not do exactly what you want it to. There are two solutions: hire a qualified personal trainer or watch yourself in the mirror. When exercising, or performing any movement for that matter, your body receives feedback about the movement from numerous sources, including what you see (visual information) and what you feel (tactile information). Your body also gets feedback from your perceptions of the movement and your spatial orientation, which is called proprioception. When you watch yourself performing an exercise or movement, your brain receives more accurate proprioceptive feedback, since it is able to combine your perceptions of movement with the visual feedback. As a result, your brain is able to send more accurate signals to your muscles and joints telling them how to move, which also serves to recalibrate and improve your overall proprioception. This is important, because the better your proprioception, the better your form.


Use Proprioception to improve your form.

Alex Howes squats in the NBRC gym.

Much like Professional Road Cyclists (PRCs) in today’s world, Tyrannosaurus Rex had one of the smallest arm-to-body-mass ratios in the prehistoric world.  In fact for decades now, paleontologist and biologists have debated how T. Rex used its arms, and whether a further 10 million or so years of evolution (assuming the K/T Extinction hadn’t happened) might have caused their arms to disappear entirely. However, because the rest of T. Rex was so huge—adult specimens of this dinosaur measured about 40 feet from head to tail and weighed anywhere from 7 to 10 tons—its arms only “seemed” small in proportion to the rest of its body, and were still pretty impressive in their own right. In fact, T. Rex’s arms were over three feet in length, and recent analysis has shown that they may have been capable of bench-pressing over 400 pounds each. Similarly, because of potentially disastrous fatigue caused by a racer’s stretched-out position on the bike, which places unique stresses on the muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back, weightlifting is invaluable form of Cross-Training for PRCs. Weightlifting (strength training):


  1. Increases your physical work capacity and improves your ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs).
  2. Improves bone density.
  3. Counteracts sarcopenia—decreased muscle mass resulting from increased age.
  4. Increases the strength of connective tissue, muscles, and tendons. Which leads to improved motor performance and decreased injury risk.
  5. Improves body confidence. Which helps you in nearly every aspect of your life, both public and private. ;-)


Use weightlifting to increase your work capacity for ADLs, bone density, connective tissue strength, body confidence and to counteract sarcopenia.


VElliptical Trainers
Alex Howes ellipticals at level 4 in the NBRC gym.

The Elliptical Trainer, invented by Precor Incorporated, or Cross-Trainer (also called an X-Trainer) is a stationary exercise machine used to simulate stair climbing, walking or running without causing excessive pressure to the joints, hence decreasing the risk of impact injuries, e.g., Elliptical Trainers offer a non-impact cardiovascular climbing/walking/running-type workout that can vary from light to high intensity based on the speed of the exercise and the resistance preference set by the user, which means Elliptical Trainers are essentially Cross-Training Incarnate.


Use Elliptical Trainers for non-impact cardiovascular climbing/walking/running-type workouts.

VIEye/Hand & Eye/Foot Coordination
Alex Howes, in the NBRC racquetball arena, readies his racquet "Jesse James" for action.

Eye-hand and eye-foot coordination refer to how quickly and accurately an athlete’s muscles and limbs react to the input of visual messages gathered by the eyes. Eye-hand coordination is the athlete’s ability to synchronize finger, hand and arm movements with constantly changing visual information from a dynamic sporting environment. Visual coordination affects timing, reaction speed, body control and balance. Numerous studies across various sports have shown that eye-hand coordination speed is faster among athletes when compared to non-athletes. In addition, studies have shown it to be a characteristic which distinguishes expertise levels among athletes. Athletes can improve their eye-hand coordination skills with deliberate vision training exercises that require the synchronization of motor movements with visual input. Effective exercises may vary from simple visual-response tasks that require minimal brain processing, such as online computerized reaction speed tests, to more complex visual-response tasks that require greater analysis of visual information, such as juggling, soft toss, computerized target shooting games and racquetball.


Use racquetball and juggling to improve your eye-hand and eye-foot coordination.

Alex Howes meditates in a sauna.

“The opportunity to be in the moment. In sports, what gets people’s attention is this idea of being in the zone, or playing in the zone. When they are playing their best, they can do no wrong, and no matter what happens they are always a step quicker, a step ahead. That happens when we are in the moment, when we are mindful of what is going on. There’s a lack of self-consciousness, there’s a relaxed concentration, and there’s this sense of effortlessness, of being in the flow…. When we are in the moment and absorbed with the activity, we play our best. That happens once and awhile, but it happens more often if we learn how to be more mindful. By mindful, I mean being aware, being engaged with the present moment. Mindfulness is useful because it is through this that we can see what is going on. It means knowing what needs to happen and doing it.”—George Mumford


Use meditation for mindfulness and to get in “The Zone.”

Alex Howes using a regulation water fountain in the NBRC hallway.

Sometimes drinking plain “street water” (also known as public water), is an acceptable maneuver for proper hydration techniques (PHDs).


Use water, if you have to, to stay hydrated.

Alex Howes in the blocks at the Boulder High School track.

By breaking sprinting technique into its component parts you can focus on and improve specific phases of the action. Good sprinting technique has some of the following characteristics:


  1. Start Phase: bodyweight should be evenly distributed over four contact points in the start position (i.e. hands and feet); front knee angle at 90 degrees; rear knee angle at 100-130 degrees. An explosive push off with both legs, arms swing opposite to legs engages the sprint.
  2. Acceleration Phase: after the first two strides, the lead foot touches down in front of center of gravity. Forward body lean decreases until normal sprinting position is reached after about 22 yards (20 meters). Head is relaxed, eyes focused straight ahead.
  3. Maximum Speed Phase: trunk is almost erect with 5 degree forward lean. In midflight, push-off leg folds tightly towards buttocks in a relaxed heeling motion. Front leg thrusts forward and upward at maximum speed. Bodyweight is balanced so that only the ball of the foot touches the ground.  Shoulders remain steady, elbows flexed at 90 degrees, hands swing forward and up above shoulder height, down and past hips. Arms and hands should have an aggressive hammering action. Head aligns naturally with trunk and shoulders and facial/neck muscles are relaxed by keeping the mouth slightly open.


Use high school tracks for sprinting because it’s scientifically proven that sprinting put you in a good mood. 

XGetting Pumped
Alex Howes executes a game face.

Athletes are constantly under severe levels of stress and anxiety to perform well. They fight for every inch and often put their bodies through excruciating pain to secure a win. As they progress from the amateur level to the professional level, it gets continually more difficult to beat the opposition with raw physical talent and strength alone. The higher one gets, the more even the playing field becomes. Consequentially, winning is contingent upon mental preparation and psychological strength. Which means that as physical preparation for upcoming competitions begins, so should mental preparation. This includes a commitment to setting clear short-term goals, building confidence by entertaining positive thoughts, concentrating on using self affirmations and imagery, visualization, maintaining control through negative thought stopping, etc. All of which, when combined, is called Getting Pumped!


Ten Motivational & Inspirational Quotes From Ten Different Non-Cycling Athletes— to Pump You Up!


  1. “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.”—Jack Dempsey
  2. “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do”—Pele
  3. “No one has ever drowned in sweat.”—Lou Holtz
  4. “I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.”—Michael Jordan
  5. “I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”—Muhammad Ali
  6. “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”—Vince Lombardi
  7. “To be a champion you have to believe in yourself when no one else will.”—Sugar Ray Robinson
  8. “Your mind is what makes everything else work.”—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  9. “I believe in the impossible because no one else does.”—Florence Griffith Joyner
  10. “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”—William A. Ward
  11. “You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!”—Mickey Goldmill

Use mental preparation, solid jams, inspirational/motivational quotes & speeches and your best Game Face to Get Pumped.

XITree Climbing
Alex Howes scales a tree in North Boulder Park.

Recreational (“technical”) tree climbing has a number of distinct advantages for Cross-Training purposes.


  1. Tree climbing is not only fun, but also an excellent workout. Though it’s not nearly as demanding as it appears, tree climbing is great exercise for the arms and legs. Climbers work many muscle groups they often don’t use elsewhere, and climbing is also great for the spine. The extra bonus to this exercise is that it is stimulating and never boring.
  2. Tree climbing is very safe. When climbers carefully follow the basic “do and don’t” rules, they are virtually assured of a safe climbing experience.
  3. Trees are everywhere! You don’t have to look far to find a good climbing tree, especially if you’re in a natural area. Even in an urbanized setting you can usually find a tree worth climbing.
  4. Trees are alive and natural. There is something very wonderful about getting outdoors where human athletes can find peace and relaxation in the branches of a tree.
  5. All your senses come alive! Trees represent an entire universe of smells, tactical sensations, tastes, movement, sounds, animal life, etc.
  6. Tree climbing is cost-effective. Once you’ve made your initial layout for your basic gear, there are very few further expenses. You won’t have to travel too far to find a tree, and you can climb most trees for free!
  7. You don’t have to build an expensive structure. Rope courses, climbing walls, and alpine towers are expensive to build and maintain. They have to be continually inspected for defects because the structures are man-made. While trees need to be inspected every so often, there’s no other work to do before you have a perfect climbing structure!
  8. Tree climbing is a year-round sport. During the hot months, you have the canopy to provide an awning for shade. In winter, the awning is taken down and there’s no barrier to the warm sunlight.


Use trees for climbing.

Alex Howes uses the pendulum microgravity simulators at North Boulder Park.

If you train hard you get fast, if you get fast you start flying, if you fly too fast you start floating—in microgravity. Microgravity comes about whenever an object is in free fall. Once fired, a cannonball falls to Earth. The greater the speed, the farther it will travel before landing. If fired with the proper speed, the cannonball will achieve a state of continuous free-fall around Earth, which we call orbit. The same principle applies to the space shuttle or space station. While objects inside them appear to be floating and motionless, they are actually traveling at the same orbital speed as their spacecraft: 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 km per hour)! Objects in a state of free fall or orbit are said to be weightless. The object’s mass is the same, but would register “0 lb” on a scale. Weight varies depending on whether you are on Earth, the moon, in orbit etc. But your mass stays the same, unless you go on a diet! The problem is microgravity can have an impact; space sickness, disorientation, migration of organic fluids to the upper body, bone deterioration, muscular atrophy, lengthening of the spine, backaches, etc., can all occur to an astronaut or cyclist’s body while in space or when cornering/climbing, respectively. Space Research has given us a better understanding of the physical and chemical properties of matter. This broad field of research is known as “microgravity science.” The effects of gravity on our bodies and the biological mechanisms involved in adapting to weightlessness are studied under real microgravity conditions, e.g., an aircraft flying in parabolic arcs to create microgravity for tests and simulations that last 20-25 seconds (like the C-9 Low-G Flight Research aircraft also known as the “Vomit Comet” at NASA’s Johnson Space Center), any one of the many rides at Zero Gravity (Extreme Rides for Extreme Family) in Dallas, Texas, or a common playground swingset if tuned-up for optimum performance and when operated properly, etc.


Use microgravity training to counteract the negative health benefits of weightlessness when flying too high and too fast.

Alex Howes uses the North Boulder Park Slide Tunnel for Aerodynamic Analysis Training.

Aerodynamics is a branch of dynamics concerned with studying the motion of air, particularly when it interacts with a solid object such as an airplane wing or PRC forehead. Formal aerodynamics study in the modern sense began in the eighteenth century, although observations of fundamental concepts such as aerodynamic drag have been recorded much earlier. Most of the early efforts in aerodynamics worked towards achieving heavier-than-air-flight, which was first demonstrated by Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903. Since then, the use of aerodynamics through mathematical analysis, empirical approximations, wind tunnel & slide tunnel experimentation and computer simulations, has formed the scientific basis for ongoing developments in heavier-than-air flight and a number of other technologies. Recent work in aerodynamics has focused on issues related to compressible flow, turbulence, and boundary layers, and has become increasingly computational in nature.


Use whatever you can find and/or afford to practice on for issues related to compressible flow, turbulence and boundary layers.

Alex Howes finishes a two-handed dunk at North Boulder Park.

A vertical jump or vertical leap is the act of raising one’s center of gravity higher in the vertical plane solely with the use of one’s own muscles; it is a measure of how high an individual or human athlete can elevate off the ground (jump) from a standstill. Vertical jump measurements are used primarily in athletic circles both to measure performance and as something athletes brag about amongst themselves. The most common sports in which one’s vertical jump is measured are track and field, basketball, football and volleyball, but many sports measure their players’ vertical jumping ability during physical examinations. In addition, single and multiple vertical jumps are occasionally used to assess muscular strength and anaerobic power in athletes. Vertical jumps are used to both train and test for power output in athletes. Plyometrics are particularly effective in training for power output, and include vertical jumps of different types in their protocol. In one recent study, training with plyometrics (which included continuous vertical jumps) was shown to increase vertical jump performance. Research into plyometric jumps found vertical jumps to be among the highest in terms of muscle recruitment (as measured by electromyography), power output, and ground reaction force produced.


Use Vertical Jumping (plyometrics) to increase speed and power.

Alex Howes performs an axle stall at the Boulder Skate Park at Scott Carpenter Park.

Skateboarding is an action sport which involves riding and performing tricks using a skateboard. Skateboarding can also be considered a recreational activity, an art form, a job, a method of transportation, and a form of Cross-Training. On average skateboarding burns about 350 calories per hour, as opposed to brisk walking which burns 258 calories per hour. While many sports focus on a finite outcome or score, excellence in skateboarding is multifaceted. Competitive skateboarding is judged on:

  1. Aggressive execution of maneuvers
  2. Content, the number, difficulty, originality and variety of tricks successfully performed.
  3. Style, the fluid linking of individual tricks.
  4. The use of the course and course obstacles, such as ramps, boxes, handrails, etc.

An Axle Stall is a stall on both trucks of a skateboard. It is used commonly to regain composure before performing another trick or “dropping in” on a ramp. How to Properly Perform an Axle Stall:

  1. To start, you want to be facing the ramp with your back foot across the tail of your skateboard, and your front foot on or slightly behind your front trucks.
  2. Give yourself some good pushes and get up to speed, heading directly at the ramp. This is the tricky part—you want just enough speed to get to the top edge (or coping) of the ramp. Getting to just that perfect speed will take some practice.
  3. You need to go totally straight up the ramp, and push on your tail to raise the nose, so that the nose clears the coping.
  4. Once your front trucks pass the coping, do a quick kick turn heading back down the ramp. This will naturally put your trucks where they need to be.
  5. If you are having a hard time figuring this out, you can do some practice on a bigger ramp. Pick a spot on the ramp before you ride up it – like part of a sticker on the ramp. Just pick a spot. Now, ride up the ramp and practice kickturning right on that spot. Watch it as you ride up to it, and try and pivot on your back trucks right on that spot. Pick a few different spots, and try those. This will help you learn control. But, remember that on the actual coping, it will feel a little different.
  6. Now you are riding up the ramp, with just the right amount of speed. Keep an eye on that coping. Now, near the top of the ramp, you will want to do half a kickturn right before you hit the coping. Don’t make the turn too sharp, and it’s OK if your turn takes you to the side a little bit, in the direction you are skating. Your goal is to, with the turn, have your back trucks connect with the coping or edge of the ramp.
  7. When your back trucks touch the edge, put your front trucks on the edge/coping too. This will feel a little like a 50-50 grind, except totally different! Keep your torso vertical the whole time, unless you are pool riding—for you guys, you want to stay perpendicular to your skateboard. For for most skaters out there just riding on ramps, keep your body vertical. You will be in a precarious position, perched on the edge, defying gravity. This should only last a moment, then gravity will start pulling you down. Use that pull, do another half kickturn down the ramp, and ride straight down it.


Use a skateboard for skateboarding, use axle stalls to set up your next trick, use skateboarding for a job and to Cross-Train.

XVIAnimal Companionship
Alex Howes interfaces with a dog.

There are exactly five positive health benefits associated with Cross-Training with Mammals, all of which offer substantive benefits to anyone’s athletic (and personal) program. They are as follows:


  1. Taking a dog for a walk, riding a horse, or simply chasing a kitten around are fun ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners, for example, are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements than non-owners.
  2. Providing companionship. Isolation and loneliness can make disorders such as depression even worse. Caring for a living animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most pet owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or purring cat.
  3. Helping meet new people. Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks or in a dog park. Pet owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.
  4. Reducing anxiety. The companionship of an animal such as a dog can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world and/or racing their bicycles.
  5. Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—you’ll always have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for your pet.
  6. Providing sensory stress relief. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. This could involve petting a cat, taking a dog for a walk, or riding a horse.


Use mammals for sensory stress relief, reduced anxiety, dating “game”, companionship and to meet your exercise requirements.

XVIIBonus: Alex Howes Rider Cards!
(No Longer Available)
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