Bicycle Network: Health Matters
Shape up on your bike
Slim and lean, big and powerful or somewhere in between; whatever your body type, bike riding can help you get in shape, writes Stephen Huntley.
As the weather improves and winter layers are shed, you may be reflecting on the sort of shape you’ll be revealing to the world. A bit of weight loss may be desirable and the good news is you don’t need to splash out on an expensive gym membership to get in shape; it can all be done on your bike.
Natural predisposition will help determine what is ultimately possible, but different types of riding can help emphasise different body characteristics.
Light and lean
If you want to shed some extra kilograms and tone up at the same time, target aerobic riding. One of the keys to this style is a high cadence; spinning your pedals very quickly (your cadence is how many revolutions a pedal makes in one minute). It means lots of gear changes to keep the cadence up, with very low (easy) gears up hills and into the wind, low to medium gears on the flat, and medium to high gears going down hills.
Long, flat and smooth routes are ideal for this sort of riding. It is great for your heart and your aerobic capacity, and if done regularly, the kilos will drop off (as long as you also eat sensibly: see below).
You are what you eat
You burn off about 500 kilojoules of energy in 15 minutes of low-intensity recreational riding, and about 1000 at high-intensity riding. If you step up the amount of exercise you are doing, but decide to reward yourself for making the effort with some bonus sugary treats, you may find you won’t lose any weight (there’s 1050 kilojoules of energy in a 53g Mars Bar).
The average person needs roughly 8,500 to 10,500 kilojoules a day, but it varies depending on your genetics, metabolism, height, amount of muscle, exercise levels, type of job, lifestyle, etc.
Get into the habit of checking out food labels. Low fat may mean high sugar (carbohydrates). And if you’re trying to build muscle, try increasing the protein in your diet.
Increasing muscle and strength
Bike-riding styles and exercises that combine strong resistance with explosive effort lead to muscle growth. Typically they involve multiple efforts using high (hard) gears and quick bursts of power, interspersed with short periods of recovery.
Repetition sprints are a good way to target your quadriceps. There are various techniques, but fundamentally it is about using a big (hard) gear, pedalling flat out for 200 to 250 metres, spending ten minutes recovering, then going again. Try building slowly up to doing three or four and see if there’s anything left in the tank.
Another great exercise is repetition rides up a small but hard hill, going all out in a tough gear and staying in the saddle (if you need to come out of the saddle, hover above it, not forward of it).
Champion track sprinter and conditioning coach Paul Parker, of Cycle Finesse, recommends a constant cadence of about 60rpm up a hill that takes between one and two minutes, then a turnaround, descend to recover and repeat (total recovery no more than five minutes). Try to build up to doing six to 10 efforts per session.
“Try not to go for too much gradient as style and technique will go out the window, and try to keep cadence around the 60 mark, so as not to put unnecessary load on the joints,” he says. “It is important to keep thinking in circles throughout the stroke. Poor technique will only reinforce problems rather than improve strength.
Target building your calf muscles when doing power riding by keeping the heel level or slightly lower than the pedal during the upper part of the down stroke, and then lifting the heel and pushing back with your foot at the bottom of the stroke (described as like trying to scrape something off the bottom of your foot).
Strength training can be very exhausting, and muscles can take quite a few days to repair themselves after a workout. Many experts now agree that exercising a particular muscle group for strength just once a week is ideal. Try to get in tune with your body and see what works best for you.
Paul Parker also recommends that after a very big endurance event or workout you should wait at least two days before doing a strength workout.
Mix it up
An ideal programme for you could well consist of a mixture of aerobic and strength-building riding. It can also be a good idea to supplement your routine with some simple exercises you can do at home, including some forms of push ups, sit ups, pull ups, tricep dips, simple squats and calf raises.
More muscle, less fat
Bike riding to add strength may also be of benefit as you age, by helping to increase your bone mineral density (BMD). Increased BMD reduces the risk of osteoporosis in later life.
If you are going to alter the style or amount of riding you do, and/or the food you eat, make sure you introduce change gradually. Going flat out too soon may lead to injury, and if it is too hard, you’ll just be put off. Better to set long-term goals through short-term achievable targets – and stick with it!
To contact Paul Parker email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in Ride On magazine's Oct-Nov 2010 issue.
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