Spring is in the air, which means it’s time to ensure you’re fit and ready to enjoy long bike rides in the sunshine.
Fit for what?
It’s a classic line most of us have said at some point: ‘I want to get fit’. But when someone says those words, the next logical question is, ‘fit for what’? If you have a serious challenge on the horizon that is going to test you mentally and physically, it’s an easy question to answer. If, however, you just want cycling to feel a little easier so you can go faster or further then the measure of success is harder to define.
Not everything in life needs to have a goal or be measured. With cycling, we think it is enough to measure your success in terms of how much fun you are having but, speaking from experience, it is easier to have fun when you feel fit and energetic.
A little bit of training, but not too much
How do we get fitter? It’s simple really, we put some stress on our body and our body adapts to meet the challenge. When you first start cycling, a 5-mile ride might feel a challenge, but after a year it’s no harder than popping to the shops. So, stressing your body, going out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself is part of getting fitter. The secret is doing enough, but not too much. Enough to help your body adapt, but not so much that you end up fatigued.
If you have a regular route, try to extend it by a few extra miles each week or change the route to include more hills. Hill climbing is an excellent way to improve your leg strength and cardiovascular fitness. Choose sections of your route where you feel safe to go as fast as you can for a few minutes and then recover. Doing something that makes you feel a bit of discomfort for a short period of time will ultimately make you a fitter rider.
Slow and steady versus hard and fast
A cycling fitness myth that keeps hanging around is that the only way to build your endurance is to do lots of long, slow miles. The theory being that, to get good at riding a long way, you need to build up to the distance and spend a long time riding your bike. More recent training advice suggests that you can improve your speed and your endurance with short, hard rides.
Sprint training benefits nearly every type of ride. Even if your goal is a 100-mile sportive and you’re very unlikely to ever find yourself sprinting for a finish line, there are still clear reasons why it would benefit your fitness. When you sprint, you recruit more of your muscle fibres to provide the maximum power to the pedals. During less intense efforts, not all of your muscle fibres need to be engaged.
If you’re short on time but still want to be able to ride long distances then doing short, but very hard, bike rides will help you. 30 seconds of all-out effort followed by 4.5 minutes of recovery has been shown to have similar benefits to endurance training.
Something is always better than nothing
If you have been reading cycling fitness advice, or trying to follow a demanding training plan, don’t be disheartened if you can’t always stick to the plan. We all have busy lives and doing something, pretty much anything, regularly is better than doing one really scientific, well-structured session only now and again.
As the weather warms up and spring arrives, it’s important to prepare yourself and your bike for optimal bike safety. Finding regular reasons to ride your bike, such as commuting to work, riding to the shops or choosing to cycle instead of driving, can help you build your fitness without cutting into your already busy day. Swapping your bike for other transport is better for the environment and road congestion as well as a benefit to your fitness – a win all round!
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