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Training & Nutrition

How to: Step up from casual rider to serious cyclist

Think your daily commute is enough to turn you into a fully fledged cyclist? Think again girlfriend!

Cycling coach Jo McRae shows you how to utilise your time more effectively to up your bike hours – and your game.

Lots of us are active and cross-train effectively, putting cycling in the mix with a range of other activities and forms of exercise. If you believe in being healthy and active you may change your exercise routine from one activity to another to keep things interesting or to stay motivated. But if you are new to training specifically for cycling it can be difficult to pick the bones out of the fitness information out there.

From this… (Image by halfgeek via Flickr)

So, what do you have to do to cross that line and become a ‘cyclist’ rather than a mere fitness enthusiast, and what difference will it really make?

First of all it sounds obvious, but you have to be riding a bike regularly and it needs to be your main form of exercise. Look at the amount of time you have for exercise and other activities in your week and make sure you spend two-thirds to three-quarters of that time riding a bike.

As a beginner you will show training adaptions from any form of bike riding and it’s simply a question of spending progressive amounts of time in the saddle to get comfortable. You can include spin classes, time on a gym bike, commuting to work, as well as more focussed rides that you might do with training in mind.

Commuting

For many of us commuting to work or using your bike as a means of transport is the logical way to start, building 20-30 minute bouts of riding into your daily routine.

One of the main benefits of using your bike to get from A to B is that it will give you some valuable bike handling skills, with a lot of stopping, starting, short accelerations, and general riding awareness in constantly changing environments and moving traffic. These skills will be invaluable later on when you might want to participate in a group ride, sportive or race.

Staying indoors

To this (Image by Håkan Dahlström via Flickr)

If for whatever reason, be it time or location, training indoors is your only option, look at what is most likely to fit into your typical week.

Is it the gym bike at lunch time, a spin class, or a turbo training session at home? It is worth having several options up your sleeve so that you can be flexible depending on what time you have available, where you are, and what you feel like doing.

The important thing is to get some time in on a bike regularly, aiming to ride a bike four or five days a week, so be flexible and go with whatever works for your lifestyle.

Training buddies

When you get a chance, make a pact with a friend or training buddy to ride with some company at least once a week. You might go to the same spin class, a group turbo session, or ride together at the weekends. Finding groups or friends who you can ride with can be really motivating and make the training more enjoyable and sociable.

How much is enough?

Cycling is not a ‘natural’ human movement so it’s a sport where you need a good deal of basic conditioning before you consider looking too hard at ‘training zones’ or various other more scientific training elements. If you haven’t done a lot of bike riding in your youth, the skills element can be really important too in order for you to be able to use the kind of fitness you can develop indoors out on the open roads.

Some people really like having some stats to measure progress, so if you know this is your style invest in a gadget to measure your distance, speed or time, so that you can set yourself some personal targets. As a general rule it is best to build up your time or distance first before thinking too much about your intensity.

What about the other elements?

With a solid amount of consistent riding hours in your schedule you can start to look at that other quarter to third of your time for some constructive cross-training.

Most women will benefit most from something that improves strength or core control, so look for activities that favour these important aspects rather than more cardio. Choosing those elements that keep you fresh and make you feel better on the bike to fill in the gaps will give you a well-balanced cycling specific training program.

Special relationship

As a consequence of focusing on your cycling you should feel fitter and more comfortable on your bike and more confident in your ability. You should begin to feel like cycling is the most natural form of exercise and begin to build a special relationship with your bike. When you start to miss the days when you don’t ride, and want to spend your spare time with your new special friend you know you have made the transition. You are a cyclist!

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