Whether you’re taking your first pedal strokes, riding to work or using cycling to shed a few pounds, you need some structure to your riding week. Why? Because a goal, and a plan to achieve that goal, will help you make the fitness – or commuting time – gains you crave.
A plan will help keep you focused but, more than that, when you tick off the rides from your to-do list and hit your target, you’ll be rewarded with an enormous sense of achievement.
For new riders, the goal should be simple. Just getting out on your bike more regularly, improving your confidence in traffic or losing a couple of pounds is a decent target.
Of course, one of the problems new riders have is inexperience. For some, riding a bike can be a little bit daunting – especially if your riding involves a few busy roads, or some scary looking descents. Practice makes perfect, though, and you’re only going to overcome your inexperience by getting out there and riding more (check our eight tips for safer cycling too, especially if there's traffic involved).
So make it your goal to ride your bike at least three times a week. This will help you get used to riding and start to sow the seeds of a cycling habit. The worst thing you can do with any pastime, sport or hobby is to do it erratically. You’re unlikely to make any significant improvements to your fitness, riding skills or confidence if you don’t ride regularly. And yes, we know it can feel like hard work the first few times you go for a ride, but we promise that’ll pass and you’ll soon find that you’re enjoying it.
You’re also in a position that more experienced riders envy – if you’re coming from a relatively – let’s call it – sedate background you will, as long as you take it sensibly, make some very rapid fitness gains. The key is to simply relax and enjoy the ride. Don’t listen to anyone who starts mentioning speed work, high intensity sessions or racing… that’ll likely come later!
Once you’re riding regularly, try to spend the next few months in a comfortable routine – don’t worry if you still have to get off and wheel your bike up hills every now and again. Just being out on your bike is your goal, so you don’t need to push yourself too hard. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself if you feel like it…
Tuesday Simply get out and spin in a relaxed and easy gear, preferably on a relatively flat, traffic-free route. Aim for between 30-60 minutes of riding.
Thursday Again aim for between 30 and 60 minutes of cycling. Start in an easy gear and spin your legs for 10 minutes or so to warm up. Try a few out-of-the-saddle bursts or faster cadence spins for a varied leg workout.
Friday Relax or try a little cross-training such as running, swimming or weight training. Keep it easy to moderate for 30 to 60 minutes.
Saturday/Sunday On one of these days aim for a longer ride of one to one-and-a-half hours. Try to keep to flat or rolling terrain and don’t forget to take some energy drink with you to provide energy through the ride and to help you recover afterwards.
Who says getting to work (or more likely getting home) can’t be fun? That’s part of the deal with being a cycle commuter – yeah, work is… work, but you’ve got your bike! Add to that fitness gains that feel as if they’re free, a slight sense of superiority over your train/car-bound colleagues and the fact that exercise is proven to make you a better worker, what’s not to like?
Unsurprisingly, committed bike commuters are some of the hardiest riders around and aren’t put off by things like rain or wind or rail strikes. But where ride-to-work workers can fall down is variety. Too often, the trip to the office can simply be a head down, full-on misery fest. We know of a number of commuters who have forgotten that riding a bike is supposed be enjoyable…
And we should be smiling as we ride to work – it’s a really useful activity. Because much of ‘utility’ cycling is done at a steady pace, it’s brilliant for both building endurance and burning fat. If you use a heart rate monitor, try to keep most of your ride to work at under 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). That way you’ll lose weight and prepare yourself for longer weekend rides without even trying – hey, you’re just going to work!
Of course, the commute is also an opportunity to spice things up, so vary your route to work and look for a ride with a few climbs in it. If that’s not possible, accelerating away from junctions and traffic lights or putting the hammer down between kebab shops is a great way to work above your comfort zone and liven up the ride.
Monday Steady ride to/from work. It’s going to be a long week, so there’s little point riding hard today. Make sure that you eat well once you get to work and have a mid-afternoon snack to fuel the ride home.
Tuesday Ride in at a steady pace, but use the ride home to get rid of pent up work stress. Warm up and then look for a hillier route home and push yourself on the climbs. By the time you get home your boss won’t seem such an idiot…
Wednesday It can be worth having a day off, especially if your commute is a long one. Take some clean gear to work, and bring home your dirty pants and cross-train in the gym or pool.
Thursday Steady ride as Monday.
Friday A good day for some harder riding – ride hard for eight to 10 seconds after each junction or red light. (You will have stopped for these, won’t you?)
Saturday/Sunday Many commuters feel as if they’ve done enough in the week, but if your commute is short then pop in a two or three-hour ride over the weekend. Not only will this sort of steady ride help your commuting fitness, but as it doesn’t finish at the office it should actually be fun…
Once upon a time you were definitely a beginner, and you may also have been or you still are a commuter. One thing is for sure, you now see yourself as a cyclist. If you’re at that stage where the sport is gradually taking over your life then welcome! No doubt for you riding is about having fun keeping the excess pounds at bay and taking part in the occasional challenge. Your key goal is progression: make the rides work to take your fitness, speed and calorie-burning up a notch.
Fitness gains come from a solid base of around three months of steady riding at under 80 percent of your MHR. If you’ve not reached that point yet, then the next few months is the perfect time to simply get out and ride. If you’ve had a winter/spring of boosting your miles, though, then now’s the time to start thinking about adding an extra dimension to your riding. This will keep you interested and will take your fitness up a notch or two.
Speed work is easy to incorporate into your longer, steadier rides. ‘Fartlek’ riding (it’s Swedish for ‘speed play’, so stop that sniggering at the back there!), where you push harder for varying periods of time before recovering, is great. And you can always up the ante by pushing hard on hills that you’d usually take easy. Aim for harder efforts of three- to eight-minute periods before easing off, riding steadily for two to three minutes and then repeating. You’ll see impressive fitness gains and find your riding rejuvenated.
Tuesday An easy spin of between 30 to 80 minutes. This is an easy, recovery type of ride – the kind of thing you could do on a turbo-trainer.
Wednesday A good day to start adding something a little spicier to your repertoire. You could find a hill of a decent length – 200m say – and ride a few harder repetitions, or simply find a nice hilly route with a number of regular lumpy bits for you to push yourself on. Alternatively, try an interval session. Start with four or five three-minute hard reps – at 85 to 90 per cent MHR – with a three-minute recovery between. Add an extra rep every fortnight.
Thursday As Tuesday but add some out-of-the-saddle riding or fast cadence spinning to give your legs a slightly different workout.
Saturday/Sunday Do a longer ride of one to two hours on one of these days.