The trails are buff and ripe for riding so it’s time to shake off the dregs of winter excess and get your engine – your body – firing on all cylinders. If you’ve been hardy enough to ride through the winter it’s a case of sharpening up, but if the winter blues proved too much there’s no time like the present to get your motor running.
To help you get fit to ride strong now, we’ve put together 15 ways to help you get out and make the most of the all-too-short but glorious summer trails with speed and style.
Ride to the top
Try to conquer every hill you see: it’s like doing a weight training session on the bike, and will help increase the strength in your legs, up your heart rate and force you to use more power effectively. Keep the effort going over the top of the hill as it flattens out just to prove a point.
Ditch the car
Try to ride or walk instead of taking the car, whether it’s your journey to work or nipping to the shops. Riding to work and back will have a significant impact on your metabolism, and will straighten your head out better than sitting in a traffic jam getting frustrated. Use junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights as mini race starts: go as fast off the mark as possible to push the pace and up your heart rate.
Mix it up
You can’t ride your bike every day or you’ll get bored, but days off the bike don’t have to mean slobbing on the sofa. Take a long walk in the countryside or, if you’re game, try out a new sport like surfing, rock climbing, fell running or kayaking – they work different muscles to cycling and will force your body to adapt, making it fitter and stronger.
Get the map out and find some new places to ride – your body will get used to riding the same old trails. Tackling new routes will make your body work harder as it doesn’t know what to expect round the next corner, and will stimulate your senses with new sights and sounds. It’s almost like interval training without realising that you’re doing it.
Develop legs of steel
Your bike rides will make your legs stronger but doing some resistance training in the gym once a week will make them feel like steel. Lunges and step-ups are a great place to start.
- Lunges: Stride one foot in front of the other to simulate the position your feet would be on the pedals and then squat down, making your back leg bend at the knee until your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Pause for two seconds and slowly return to the start position. Start with three sets of five reps and work up to three sets of 20.
- Step-ups: stand side-on to a weights bench or sturdy chair and place one foot up on it as your leading leg. Use your leading leg to lift your body weight up till you are standing on one leg balancing on the bench or chair. Pause for two seconds, holding your balance, then slowly lower yourself back down to the floor. Start with three sets of five reps and build up to three sets of 20 after a few weeks.
You may not need the energy until later in your ride, but if you fuel up with a sports drink (one containing carbohydrates, such as High5 Energy Source) before you start, you’ll stop your body raiding its glycogen stores for energy. Dehydration also makes your heart work harder by reducing blood volume, which can lead to cramps and dizziness, so keeping hydrated will let you ride for longer. In real terms, it means you’ll have enough energy left to take the hilly route home.
Two hours before you ride, drink 400 to 600ml of sports drink with some carbohydrate content (1g per kilo of body weight). During the ride, drink 400 to 800ml of fluid per hour (hypotonic or isotonic solutions which will help with water absorption). After exercise, drink 1.5l of fluid for every 1.5kg of weight loss.
Joining a club will not only help you assess your current fitness level, it’ll motivate you to get better. Also, exercising with others encourages gentle competition and helps keep your motivation on track – no-one wants to slow down or drop out in front of other people! You’ll also discover different routes and styles of riding, which will keep you interested.
In order to ride strong you need a steady source of fuel for your muscles, so keep your sugar level constant by adding slow release carbohydrates (those listed as low or medium GI foods on the Glycemic Index: www.the-gi-diet.org/glycemicindexchart) to your diet, along with more veggies and protein. A good rule of thumb is if it comes in a packet, it’s likely to be processed and contain too much sugar and salt. Our ancestors were lean, mean fighting machines and they only ate what their bodies were designed to eat, which meant foods they could grow or hunt.
Use the beat
It can be hard to motivate yourself all the time, especially if you have to get fit on your own. Music is a great motivator and can help distract attention from burning muscles. Make a compilation of your favourite tunes to play while riding or running: you’ll notice a huge difference in the way you feel. When putting together playlists, however, think carefully about pace: if you’re planning a challenging ride with intervals, listening to slow music will only hold you back; go for songs with a higher bpm (beats per minute) to encourage you to pick up the pace.
Strengthen your upper body
Getting a stronger upper body will give you the power to keep the front of the bike under control through challenging terrain. The main muscles to work on are the triceps (the muscles at the back of the upper arm), chest and wrists.
Press-ups replicate the action of holding yourself up on the bars, so include three sets of 10 press-ups twice a week, building up to five sets of 10. Make sure your hands and elbows are in line with your chest.
Wrist curls will help strengthen the hands and wrists so you can feather the brakes for longer. Hold a weight or water bottle in each hand with your palms facing upwards, curl your wrists up until you feel the tension in the forearms; take three seconds to curl up and back. Add three sets of 10 wrist curls to your weekly workout.
Rest is one of the most important elements to getting fitter. Taking at least two days off a week is essential to allow your body to repair so you can come back stronger and fitter. Try taking Mondays and Fridays, for example, as rest days – this will allow your body to recover after longer training sessions on weekends, and to get prepared for the weekend to come.
Stretching increases the blood flow to your muscles, helps prevent injury and promotes faster recovery. Riders should focus on stretching their hamstring muscles (cycling will shorten them), lower back (where a lot of power comes from) and chest (to stop the shoulders becoming rounded in the ‘cycling position’). However modern research suggests that stretching after your workout, when your muscles are warm and pliable, may be more effective than before.
Do these stretches after every ride, holding them for 20 to 30 seconds:
- For hamstrings, lie on your back – keeping your legs straight – and slowly pull one leg up until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg.
- For your back, get on all fours and then push your buttocks back onto your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you.
- For the chest, place your arms either side of a doorframe and lean through it to feel the stretch in the front and corners of your chest.
There’s nothing like entering an event to put yourself under a bit of pressure to get fit. On those days when you want to sit on the couch and watch DVDs, use the event as a kick up the arse to force you out there – that’s how top athletes motivate themselves. Forget saying: “I’ll do one when I am fitter, or I need to get fit first.” Do it now.
Riding at one pace will work for the first few weeks, but after that you won’t see any benefits as your body gets used to it. Varying the pace – which is the basic tenet of interval training – will force your body to respond and get fitter as well as helping you tolerate the pain of lactic acid in the muscles. Try doing 60 second sprints every five minutes, or race up every hill you come across.
Why do one when you can do three?
Having a new goal will add variety to your regime, so why not enter a triathlon? The swimming and running sections of the event will make you work harder, pulling and turning your body’s muscles in different ways to give you better all-round fitness. You may not be the best swimmer or runner in the world, but you’ll be up against triathletes who generally don’t have great bike skills, so it all evens out.
About our coaching expert
Andy Wadsworth BAsHms is an ex World Cup mountain bike rider and Xterra triathlon amateur world champion who looks after a number of athletes from beginner to elite. Find out more at My Life Personal Training.