For those of you have just got a bike for Christmas the thought of training
has probably not even crossed your mind. Why should it? After all, mention the word training to most cyclists and it conjures up images of hungry, competitive race-goers almost killing themselves to shave a couple of milliseconds off their performance times. Not surprisingly this image does not appeal to the average cyclist. However, the term training does not necessarily mean this type of painful autocratic approach, in fact any regular exercise designed to accomplish a goal can be called training. Of course, getting out on your bike every now and then will have a greater fitness benefit than not riding at all, but without spending any more time in the saddle, a structured cycling programme will minimise wasted effort and give better results. Put another way, you will get ‘more bang for your buck’ and will not have to kill yourself in the process. The benefits of training for the recreational cyclist are wide and varied: like one day getting to the top of that hill you never previously have (and impressing your riding companions to boot), to being able to ride further and explore new places. You may well ask ‘won’t serious training detract from the pleasures of cycling?’ In all but the most extreme situations the above statement is untrue. In fact the reverse is often the case. If you are fitter you can ride further and explore new areas, your rides become relatively easier and the pleasure derived achieving a goal is immeasurable. You will be able to build upon your success and the enjoyment that you get from cycling.
Finding the time now that winter is here and the nights have drawn in, it can be even harder to find the motivation to include cycling into your everyday routine. The key to winter cycling is little and often. Your rides do not have to be of extensive duration to be of any physical good. In fact, the cumulative effect of many smaller rides throughout the week will have a similar beneficial impact on your health and fitness.
Granted it may be difficult to put aside regular times to train, but it is possible. For example, last autumn a friend asked me to design a training program for him in order to offset the weight gain he usually acquires during this time of year. The schedule had to fit around his other commitments (full time job and family) and as such he could only spare Sunday mornings and perhaps one evening a week at a push. Not much for me to go on. However, upon examination of his life style, it emerged that he spent every Saturday afternoon watching at least one hour of television (sound familiar?). After great persuasion he substituted the T.V. viewing time with a ride. This proved to be a great success because the television program was on regularly and my friend had already put aside the time in his weekly schedule to watch it, as a result no further reorganisation was required. One word of caution though, if you decide to adopt this approach don’t forget to set the video!
If you examine your own weekly routine you will no doubt be surprised where you can fit in a regular ride. Try commuting to work instead of taking the bus or car. An excellent compromise if you are pushed for time, or live far from your workplace, is to drive some of the distance and cycle the rest. Then when it is time to finish work, cycle back, pick your car up and drive back home. Alternatively you could go for a ride around town during your dinner hour. Even after allowing for time to change, warm-up and cool-down you can still do a beneficial half hour ride with the added bonus that it gets you out of the workplace and energises you for the afternoon.
The take home message is that weather permitting you should try and ride as often as you can. For instance, every time you pick up the car keys ask yourself, “could I cycle there?” Chances are the answer is yes. Adopt this approach and before long you will have a schedule of frequent short distance rides.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
A regular riding protocol makes your body less susceptible to injury than if you just ride every now and then or whenever you feel like it. As you get fitter your rides will become relatively easier and thus you will feel more comfortable and will be able to enjoy your riding even more. As with most aerobic exercise you will be able to benefit from an improved cardiovascular system; lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body fat; with an increase in fitness, body image, self confidence and sense of well being.
Overall there are probably as many benefits from regular cycle training as there are people cycling. We all have our own goals and reasons for riding, ranging from fun to fitness to weight loss, and a regular exercise program can help us accomplish them. Not achieving goals can lead to dissolution and is the fundamental reason why people quit sport. Can you imagine not being bothered to go out cycling? You owe it to yourself to try and ride regularly.
John Metcalfe is a mountainbike physiologist, regular mtb magazine contributor and avid racer. In order to pay the bills he is also a Sports Science Lecturer.