Getting on your bike is a simple, cheap and convenient way to get fit that is easy to incorporate into your daily routine.
Not only that, but cycling is sociable and environmentally-friendly too. The sport has increased in popularity with role models such as Team GB gold medalists Victoria Pendleton and Bradley Wiggins.
A regular cycling fitness programme will give you a healthy heart. One major study of more than 10,000 people found those who cycle at least 20 miles a week are half as likely to have heart problems as those who don’t cycle at all. And at a moderate pace (12-14mph) a person weighing just over 11st (70kg) will burn 560 calories in an hour, so it’s great for losing and maintaining weight too.
Being low impact, your bicycle supports your bodyweight and means that cycling is good for you if you have bone and joint problems. It will also increase fast twitch muscle fibres (those which are without oxygen), which are thicker and give you definition, without bulking you up. Cycling will give you a pert bottom, toned legs and a lean upper body, too.
Set your goal
Before you set your goal you should decide what sort of bike you want to use in your fitness regime, for example you may prefer an indoor studio cycling or spinning group session, static exercise bike or an outdoor bike – or a mix of all three.
Classes take the planning out of it as the instructor guides you through intensity changes, your goal may be to join a class three times a week, or move from a beginner to advanced class. If you’re cycling to and from work you may wish to set a time goal to aim for – for example 150 minutes a week, the government’s recommendation for weekly activity.
Or you may wish to work to a heart rate target. Aim to build your base for three weeks minimum by doing four cycles a week at below 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age), then add in some higher intensity sessions (see below).
Getting fit and losing weight is great, but another goal could be to complete one of the 2,500 events registered with British Cycling, see British Cycling for some inspiration.
Planning and training
Get your equipment sorted first. As well as a good bike suitable for the terrain you plan to cycle over (road, off road or both), you’ll need a safety helmet, technical clothing (cycling shorts etc) and shoes (optional at the beginning), plus good lights, a puncture repair kit, pump and spare inner tubes.
Once you’ve built your base, try the following sessions.
- Threshold: Work to up to 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate or ‘comfortably’ hard. Cycle for an hour to two hours and include 10-20 minutes at this intensity, repeated two to three times with five minutes easy riding in between. As you get fitter you can cycle for 40 minutes continuously at this pace. Or try regular time trials https://www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk instead.
- Intervals/hills: A great workout for boosting fitness and best done indoors or on an empty road. Cycle for 30 minutes to an hour and include 4-10 x 30 sec to 3 minute flat out, out of the saddle bursts – or cycle fast up a hill for 15 seconds four or five times.
- Long and hilly: Find a long, hilly course and ride for two hours or more to build strength and endurance and burn fat. Make sure you make the most of the hills, get up out of the saddle and work them.