Ride smart: get fit

Following on from our guide to healthy riding here are three simple riding techniques that will boost your fitness, give you an on-bike workout and help you establish your training zones if you want to take things further

You may not be training for a specific goal, but who doesn't want to be a fitter, faster rider? 'Smart' riding is about knowing your body so you ride more effectively toward your goal of being fitter. With three simple smart riding techniques, you can find your fitness-building cruise zone, learn how to cross over and back under your anaerobic threshold and build and test your leg strength.

1: The Nose Breather (30-90mins)

This is a steady ride that demonstrates how relaxed riding can be effective in terms of building fitness. Start off in an easy gear and gradually increase the intensity during the first ten minutes. This warming-up period is the minimum you need to ensure that joints, muscles and the cardiovascular system are primed for work. Then, simply close your mouth and breathe through your nose.

Concentrate on breathing into the stomach. If you use a heart-rate monitor you can see what rate this technique allows you to achieve. At first this will be about 70-75% of your maximum heart rate. As you get better at it you can raise this to 80% or a higher. The goal is not to push this breathing method to the limit but to use it to keep you relaxed and, most importantly, within your aerobic zone. Breathing correctly allows a relaxed ride and stops over exertion.

When to use this ride: When you need to control yourself, such as when returning to riding after a break, on commutes where it's easy to go too hard or when you just need to take it easy and chill.

2: The Cross Over

Start with the warm-up and at least ten minutes of good nose breathing, then ride harder for three to five minutes until your breathing becomes laboured and you're counting the seconds down. Ease back to very light riding for the same period of time. Repeat this pattern three to five times and then cool down with light riding for five to ten minutes.

You've now ventured into the anaerobic zone and have been going above then dropping back below your anaerobic threshold. This ride lets you know where your hard and easy threshold occurs.

When to use this ride: When you've just watched a stage of the Tour and feel fired up, with mates to make the efforts fun or when you've got some aggression to release.

3: The Strength Test (30-70mins)

Leaving the best until last, this is your chance to get a gym session on the bike and measure your strength. Warm up as per Ride Two but make sure you get in 20 minutes before you reach a climb of at least three minutes. First ride it in your normal gear - it should make you work up a sweat but not feel like your best effort. Cruise back down, ride for five minutes steady then go back to the hill and attack it in a harder gear.

You'll be riding at a lower cadence and should feel your legs taking a hammering, not your lungs. Turn around at the top, ride back down and repeat up to three times, not forgetting the five minutes of recovery riding each time. This ride teaches you to feel the pedal stroke and that hills are to be used as a tool to improve leg strength, not feared. Don't do this more than twice a week though.

Best times to use this ride: When you've done enough easy riding and want some strength, when you want to test if recent riding is making you stronger.

Five reasons to ride smarter

1 You get more fitness for the same riding time
2 You spend less time ill or burned out
3 You become more confident about your riding
4 You progress faster than your riding buddies
5 You have more enjoyment, less unnecessary pain

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