Your bike is the fitness trainer that pays you - instead of shelling out gym fees why not get on your bike, it is much cheaper, will get you outside and most importantly, you can ride yourself fit, and maybe even shift those couple of extra pounds you've been trying to get rid of for forever.
Here, Jenny Copnall shows us how to cycle your way to fitness queen and QoM extraordinaire:
Don’t grind, spin
Riding in a huge gear, straining to rotate the pedals hurts, may cause injury, isn’t effective at improving aerobic fitness and brings fatigue into the equation much sooner.
Slogging around gives you slow, heavy, big legs rather than lean, quick, supple pins. It’s also unnecessary - most bikes have more than enough gears to cope with undulating terrain.
Racing cyclists pedal quickly in a lower gear (we call it a high cadence) because that is the most efficient way to ride long and fast. To begin with, you should use the gears to pedal slightly faster than you are used to, without bumping about in the saddle, keeping a light resistance on the pedals regardless of terrain. Aim to be turning your pedals a full circle in a little under a second.
When the route goes up, change to an easier gear and vice versa, to keep your effort constant. Focus on maintaining the same pedalling speed and keeping the perceived effort easy. Riding your bicycle in this way may feel strange at first, but trust me; this is the starting point for making cycling an enjoyable and productive part of your life.
Off-road terrain requires different rules but on tarmac stay seated. Standing on the pedals allows you to muscle the bike more quickly over short distances, but it is also a less efficient way to ride and a less secure position from which to react to erratic drivers or to carry luggage.
By riding in the correct gear for the terrain you will be able to remain sitting in the saddle. Try to keep your upper body as still as possible and relax your arms and shoulders. Focus on maintaining a smooth fast pedal stroke and keep looking ahead.
Speed, distance and frequency
A careful balanc of these three factors is what governs fitness gains. Take, for example, a regular ten-mile commute. You might begin your fitness regime by doing the trip by bicycle once a week, or perhaps one way on a Monday and back again on a Friday. You could then increase the frequency by riding there and back on Monday and again on Friday. Alternatively, you might choose to increase the distance of your home leg by taking a longer route. Or you may choose to start riding a little faster for sections of your ride or for certain rides per week.
Generally, the order of development begins with frequency, then distance and finally speed. The golden rule is to increase only one of these parameters at a time. In other words, if you suddenly try to ride every day of the week, on a longer route and at a faster pace and you will burn yourself out very quickly. Fitness is about patience, sense and small stepping-stones towards your end goal.
Hydration and nutrition
Always carry a water bottle on your bike and take regular sips. For very short and easy rides plain water may suffice; for any longer or tougher exercise, an energy drink will ensure that you fuel your effort.
Try to have a small high carbohydrate snack half an hour before you ride your bike; a banana is excellent for this. Finally, try to eat something within half an hour of reaching your destination. This could be a banana, a handful of nuts, a recovery bar or, indeed, a more substantial meal.
Stretching and core work
Depending to what extent you are using your cycling as a fitness tool you may wish to do a few exercises off the bike to complement the aerobic fitness that you have developed.
Cycling uses the stomach muscles very little. So, unless the lean legs flabby tummy look is one that is attractive to you, you ought to include some abdominal exercises into your weekly routine. You may choose to complement these with a few upper body exercises such as press ups or dips.
Cycling can also leave you with tight muscles in the gluteus, quads and hamstrings. Stretching for a few minutes after your cycle ride will help to alleviate this and will aid recovery and suppleness too.