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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

How to turn a bike ride into a bike workout



Cyclists ride along the Hudson River Greenway in Riverside Park in New York, May 8, 2022. Biking is a great way to get outside, but it’s also a way to improve fitness, if you approach it with the right equipment and training. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times)

By Amanda Loudin


There’s no better way to take in a perfect spring day than from a bike. The songbirds are back, the daffodils are blooming and your dusty 10-speed is looking for a rider.


But hopping on a bike can be more than a way to pass a pleasant afternoon; cycling can also give your fitness level a powerful boost without straining your joints, preparing you for higher-impact sports like running or tennis.


“There’s a reason cycling is the gold standard for people rehabbing knee injuries,” said Seth Forman, a sports performance trainer in New Jersey.


Research suggests cycling can improve cardiovascular health, which in turn lowers cancer mortality. That said, riding is not a perfect form of exercise. While it’s excellent cardio, it won’t boost bone health as much as sports like running, because your weight is supported by the bike.


“You need to supplement with resistance training to fill in the gaps,” Forman said.


But you don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars in Lycra to take your Saturday fun ride up a few notches to become a workout. You just need the right bike, gear and training approach.

Finding the right bike for you


Whether you’re pulling an old bike out of the garage or buying new, your first trip should be to your local bike shop for sizing. “If you’re not comfortable on your bike, you’re not going to ride it much,” said Marilyn Chychota, a triathlon coach in Tucson, Arizona, and former professional athlete.


Joe Traill, who owns Joe’s Bike Shop in Baltimore, said most stores will make free sizing adjustment to a bike they’ve sold. A more involved option is called a bike fitting, which usually starts around $100 and can include body measurements, flexibility analysis and more.


Also think about whether you want to ride on streets or trails. If you’re unsure, begin with a hybrid bike, which has wider, more stable tires and flat handlebars for bumpy terrain.


E-bikes are another option if you live in a hilly area, want to bike commute or worry about keeping up with friends. “Even if you’re riding for fitness, studies show some people will ride more and get more of a workout with the electric assist,” Traill said. Be careful purchasing an e-bike online, however, as some off-brand versions may pose a fire hazard.


Also, plan to purchase a good helmet — in the range of at least $50 — that comes equipped with multiple impact protection system, or MIPS.



Getting fit


The first step in leveling up your bike ride is to focus on pedaling. You’re after a smooth pedal stroke, so begin in easy gears and aim to turn your pedals quickly.


Serious cyclists prefer clipless pedals and the special shoes that attach to them, which let you more effectively transfer power, especially on the upstroke. But they can be intimidating to beginning riders. Whether you use them or not, think about pushing and pulling your pedals in continuous circles, without any pauses or changes in cadence.


“Start by riding for about 20 minutes, three times a week, aiming for a nice consistent tempo,” Chychota said. “Ride at a perceived exertion of about five out of 10.” That means breathing at a rate that would still allow you to hold a conversation.


From there, extend the time you’re in the saddle for one of your weekly rides, ideally by about 10 minutes each time. Over the next three months, make it your goal to reach 90 minutes on that longer ride. On the other two, build the time as well, but cap it around 45 minutes to an hour, Chychota recommended.


This is true whether you’re new to cycling, or just getting back in shape after a long winter.

“I always start with shorter, easier rides,” said Steve Johnson, a travel writer in Minneapolis who returns to his bike every spring after months of winter sports. But he added: “I try not to miss more than three days in a row. By summer, I’m riding several times a week and doing long, hilly rides every weekend.”



Hills


Riding hills once a week is great way to push your fitness, Chychota said, once you’re comfortable riding the flats. She recommends starting with short climbs: Ride hard up a hill for one minute, return to the bottom at an easy pace — and then turn around and do it again. Start with four or five repeats, and gradually extend the length of these repeats until you can climb for four minutes, eight times over.



Intervals


On one of your shorter days each week, consider adding some interval training — short bursts of speed followed by easier riding to increase your endurance and performance. Find a faster pace, around 90% of your maximum, that you could hold for only five minutes, and look for flatter stretches of road.


Here is a weekly progression that Chychota recommends. You should be challenged, but if you struggle to complete one week’s workout, it’s fine to repeat it until you feel like moving on.


— Week 1: Five rounds: 30 seconds fast and one minute easier.

— Week 2: Eight rounds: 30 seconds fast and 30 seconds easier.

— Week 3: Two sets of eight rounds: 30 seconds fast and 30 seconds easier (with five minutes easy pedaling between them).

— Week 4: Eight rounds: one minute fast and two minutes easier.

— Week 5: Five rounds: two minutes fast and two minutes easier.

— Week 6: Five rounds: three minutes fast and three minutes easier.


After this, you will be a fairly fit cyclist, but keep these workouts in your routine. As with any activity, remember to start low and slow, but also, don’t be intimidated, Traill said: “Cycling is a great form of exercise, and it’s also inherently fun.”

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