Bikes are good company
In last week’s blog (Cycle Ready) we outlined many benefits of cycling. We also suggested engaging in a targeted and regular training regime to help you become a stronger, more confident, life-long cyclist. Today, we consider a structured exercise program specific to cycling — especially for beginners or those who have taken a hiatus from past cycling activity.
A structured training regime includes both cycling as well as strengthening and stretching exercises. While challenging you to improve, a program can help prevent injuries and keep you motivated.
Remember small achievable steps will allow your body time to adapt to the increased physical demands and keep you engaged. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to SIGN UP to learn about six steps that help you maintain a consistent exercise habit.
Begin with a single pedal stroke
Below are some steps to start your cycling program:
1. Commit to a sustainable routine that you enjoy
In the first 2-3 weeks, aim to establish a routine, by moving outdoors and cycling for about 30 minutes. Enjoy riding, the scenery, turning your legs and getting accustomed to the seat, the handlebars and body position on the bike. Create the habit of bicycling on a regular basis, aiming for two sessions per week.
Don’t allow equipment issues to be your barrier. You may be surprised (or not!) that issues relevant to bicycle equipment problems and lack of repair knowledge impedes many people from cycling. Several of my friends avoided cycling for many months (even years) because they had issues with a bicycle tyre (punctured tube or merely low-pressure inflation).
If you experience this form of ‘paralysis’, ask a knowledgeable friend for assistance. Many cyclists are eager to perform simple repairs or can accompany you to a bike shop. Don’t let this stop you from cycling.
2. Develop a cycling program
Once accustomed to your bike, continue a weekly routine of cycling, optimally three times per week. Vary the intensity and route of your activity. The following is a sample of three types of sessions you can try within the week. Keep at least one rest day between each session.
Tempo ride. Cycle at a comfortable pace that challenges you slightly. In the first sessions, after about 5 minutes of easy riding, reach a pace you can maintain for 8-10 minutes. When your legs fatigue, you may need to pedal at an easy pace for several minutes before trying another 8-10 minutes. Build the duration as you improve over the weeks to ~30 minutes, with ~5 minutes of warm up and down of easy cycling.
Intervals (Flat or hills). To increase leg speed, strength and power, try an interval session with repeats of harder than normal cycling with recovery between each interval. For example, choose a hill or a flat area of road and cycle as hard as you are able for ~1-2 minutes followed by a recovery of easy cycling for 2-3 minutes. Repeat this so you perform only 3 repetitions on your first session. By the third interval, your legs will be really feeling the very strong effort, your heart rate will be quite elevated, and you will be breathing hard.
In the following weeks build to 4 intervals. As you progress, keep the rest period at 1-2 minutes but increase the number of intervals to about 6 and then the time of each interval to about 2-4 minutes. Adjust as needed without overreaching. These types of intervals are very effective in improving your leg power and speed.
Long duration ride. Each week try a slightly longer ride than 30-40 minutes and increase the duration of your ride over the weeks to an hour or more. This will help you build endurance in your leg muscles. Often, it is more convenient to schedule a longer ride on weekends, particularly with a friend! Program your ride for a break at a coffee shop in the middle or at the end of your ride!
3. Strengthen and stretch
Supplement your cycling activity with strengthening and stretching exercises 2-3 times a week during your rest days. Such a session could include air squats, bridges, lunges, planks and sit ups as well as a host of stretching of the quadriceps, buttocks, hamstrings, neck, and lower back. Choose from several of our previous Challenges (Challenge1, Challenge 2, Challenge 5 or Challenge 7) on how to execute these exercises. Even 10-15 minutes a day of strengthening can be very effective in supplementing your cycling regime.
4. Cycle with a friend
There can be many barriers to cycling including weather, time and the equipment! Your motivation to get out and cycle will vary between days and weeks. Having the company of a friend with whom to cycle can help you stay accountable, motivated and on track. I strongly suggest that in the first few weeks of your cycling program, invite a friend on one of your rides.
5. Listen to your body and recover between sessions
Your muscles will adapt with targeted training sessions. Rest and recovery between sessions are critical to assist muscle adaptation to improve performance. This includes adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration. Poor recovery times can often lead to a reduction in performance. Listen to what your body needs and adapt your sessions accordingly.
“Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride” – Eddy Merckx