There are countless reasons to get into cycling, but one that is most common to us all is the fitness aspect. You can fully reap the benefits of fitness through cycling – whether you’re a beginner or a professional, regardless of experience, most of the same rules apply.
Once you start to see the improvements in your overall fitness you’ll enjoy your riding way more, you’ll see new places because you can go further, and you won’t be the last one up the hill, just to name a few.
WHAT IS FITNESS EXACTLY?
Before getting into it, ask yourself, “What is fitness?”, fitness is a broad term that means something different to each person, but it refers to your own optimal health and overall well-being. Being fit not only means physical health but emotional and mental health as well. It defines every aspect of your health.
- Energy to do what’s important to you and to be more productive
- Stamina and a positive outlook to handle the mental challenges and physical challenges of life.
- Reduced risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis
- Physical strength and endurance to accomplish physical challenges
FITNESS VS WEIGHT LOSS
Often people get confused with the terms fitness and weight loss. Losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re on your path to fitness.
Unless you’re severely overweight you must not be too concerned with weight loss. Instead, think of weight loss as a consequence of fitness. As you become fitter, you lose weight, as you gain weight you are likely less fit. However, you can be fit and be classified as overweight. In addition, you can have the appearance of being an appropriate weight and be unfit.
Fitness is described as having good health or physical condition secondary to exercise or nutrition. Optimal weight, however, does not mean you are in good health or in good physical condition; in fact, it is quite possible to be in poor health and poor physical condition even at an optimal weight.
WHY IS TRAINING ESSENTIAL?
Whichever sport it may be, when talking about improving your fitness, everybody is going to tell you that training is essential. Training is a controlled way of challenging our bodies – regular training allows the body to adapt and get fitter.
To keep progressing you need to keep increasing the difficulty of your training efforts. This can mean riding further or maybe even harder. However, without stressing your body with new physical challenges, your fitness levels will not get any better. That being said, your training needs to be frequent enough to apply some stress, but be balanced enough to allow the proper recovery process to take place.
FITNESS THROUGH CYCLING
On your journey to fitness through cycling, your number 1 priority needs to be your diet. You may cycle hundreds of kilometers in a week but if you don’t eat the right meals and the right kind of food then it’s pointless.
First things first, get rid of all of the refined sugar. Fizzy drinks and junk food, and are one of the leading causes of obesity and diabetes. But did you know it can also play havoc with your energy levels? Some sugary foods may leave you with a spike in energy when riding but you’re better off using natural sweeteners like honey or jaggery that are a much better alternative for your morning coffee and cereal, but it’s even better to wean yourself off entirely.
Natural sweeteners like agave syrup are a much better alternative for your morning coffee and cereal, but it’s even better to wean yourself off entirely.
Eat less, but more frequently. That should be your mantra for long term sustainable fitness. You want to avoid binging. Plan your snack times so you’re never without food or drink for longer than four hours. Nuts, fruit, yogurt, etc are all good bets. Don’t overdo it, keep in mind that you’re not trying to fill your stomach but instead are having lighter but more frequent meals.
For the initial part, we recommend the use of an application such as MyFitnesspal to track your calorific intake and output. This way it’ll become a habit and soon you’ll be eating this way without a reminder. They can help you get a good idea of what your diet currently looks like and identify areas where you could improve. Use apps like these only initially, anything more and it may become an unpleasant obsession.
2. STRUCTURED TRAINING
In a month, try and structure out your training rides so that you can ensure there is some variety and progressiveness. The balance of training efforts, duration, and types of training is dependent on where you are in your training cycle and what level of fitness you are trying to achieve.
Towards the end of each “phase” or the end of the month, you may want to include a “recovery period” during which you will reduce volume and intensity. External stress from work and family commitments that you are under also affects your ability to recover and improve.
During these intensive weeks you must also ensure that you are getting good quality sleep at night and eating a well-balanced diet.
3. VOLUME AND INTENSITY
To optimize your journey to a fitter self, you must know, what is better for your particular training, is it more volume or more intensity on the workouts? Volume being the frequency and duration of workouts and intensity referring to workouts which have intervals around your threshold level or above it.
To answer this, introspect into your own mental health. If an you have a poor fitness level, then high-intensity training might be too strenious for you to handle. If the body is not able to sustain the efforts, overtraining and other not-so-productive things will take place.
It is best to start with a moderate increase in volume partnered with a slow increase in intensity over time. The perfect level of balance for your training will have to be personalized to accommodate each rider’s needs and requirements.
A truly accurate training plan can only be put together based on your daily sessions of volume and intensity that will address your unique requirements to stimulate an improvement in your fitness.
4. BRING IN VARIETY
Interval training is not only something that is specific to cycling. Interval training has been proven to improve peak performance levels in athletes of all disciplines and levels.
When it comes to cycling specifically, try and incorporate endurance rides, hill climbs, and some agressive sprints into your training.
Endurance rides should be at a moderate pace and for longer than usual distances. At this pace, your breathing is deep, rhythmic, and regular, and should never feel strained, For these rides stick to flat or rolling terrain rather than hills. Focus on keeping a smooth high cadence, and use your long ride to get used to eating and drinking on the move – sip water every 10-15 minutes.
These rides will train your body to get used to burning fuel efficiently. It will also help you to improve your riding posture and help you to get used to sitting on the saddle for extended periods of time.
Hard/sprint rides basically incorporate a lot of High Intensity Training (HIIT). During the intervals you have to work very hard – it needs 100% effort but the intervals are very short. After a good 10-minute warm-up, spend five minutes alternating between 30-seconds all-out effort and 30-seconds’ recovery. Pedal easily for five minutes and then repeat.
Just three sessions of HIIT training a week are good enough to improve your overall fitness.
Hill climbs are a good addition to the variation as they help improve your muscular efficiency and will make climbing feel easier in the future.
Long gradual climbs are ideal for this session – get into a big gear and get off the saddle and try and maintain this position for as long as possible. Pedal for about five minutes at a pace that feels hard but controllable. You should be breathing deeply. Recover for one minute and then repeat.
Aim for a minimum of 20 minutes at the hard pace per session. If you have more time, aim for 10 minutes at the hard pace before your one-minute recovery.
Recovery is something that a majority of us don’t take seriously. We feel it’s necessary and that it doesn’t really make a difference. However, the reality is quite the opposite.
Giving your body the chance to repair itself after the stress you’ve put it through is essential. This can be done in a number of ways, but getting enough sleep is the most important. Eight or nine hours per night is the ideal, especially if you’re training hard.
After a tough training ride, a gentle spin-down can help ease the muscles, improve circulation, and may actually help the body repair itself more quickly than complete rest. Many riders find this super helpful and we hope you think so too.
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WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING
I’m an avid mountain biker and I like riding fast and flowy singletrack. As I keep riding, I continuously work on honing my riding skills. I like to ride whenever possible, especially with friends. I also like to influence folk into getting to ride more often.
Working on bicycles has also been a keen interest of mine for quite some time.
DISCIPLINE: Mountain biking and Road biking
CURRENT BIKE: RockRider 5.3 & Specialized Allez Elite DSW
DREAM BIKE: Santa Cruz 5010