How to ride yourself fit

The 5 rules of healthy riding

You don't need a brutal training regime to get fit and healthy

Riding for health is not about trying to do 13mph up Alpe d’Huez like the pro peloton, or even 6-8mph like Etape du Tour contestants. Riding for health means keeping trim, being able to propel yourself to work and back (or the shops maybe) and keeping your internal organs in ship-shape fashion.


Here are Five simple rules for healthy riding and below we look at how to make them work for you…

1. Do moderate activity (50-80% HRmax) at least three to five days per week for 20 to 60 minutes

2. Low impact cycling should be supplemented by resistance training two days a week (doing 8-10 exercises; 8-12 repetitions) to maintain fat-free mass and function

3. Make your exercise dovetail into your life as part of a long-term commitment to keep healthy and have fun doing it

4. Set a goal to be a certain weight, use a certain number of calories or go a certain distance. This will be a clear personal achievement that you can use for motivation

5. Get friends and family on your side. Meeting up with fellow riders for a social spin is a great way to motivate you and them to turn up week after week

Although you won’ t be stalked by autograph hunters every time you ride, or even become a competitive racing snake, you will still probably be considered fit by sedentary people. It’s a worthy goal.

Calorie counting

So what effort do you have to put in to be fit and healthy? One novel approach for fitness riders is to aim to use 2,000 calories per week, a level that will lower your risk of heart disease… which has to be worth it because statistics show that someone has a heart attack every two minutes in the UK. How much riding you will need to do to hit this magic number depends on your fitness level, your size and how much you ride.

According to Cycling Health and Physiology (Burke 1992), if you are 12 stone (77kg), riding at 15mph you’ll use around 8 calories per minute or close to 500 per hour. For smaller riders or at a slower speed you’ll need to reduce this guestimate. Certain heart rate monitors calculate and track your calorie use; this is more useful than tracking average speed as hillier courses may cause you to expend more calories but show a slower speed than other rides. It also show you just how much effort it takes to use up 1,000 calories. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea to go ever faster to use more calories per minute.

Go hard, let’s say above 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate, and you use a large proportion of calories from carbohydrate. It takes time to recover from this

Steady does it

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) produced a position stand on the recommended exercise for health in the 1990s. It suggests that two days of exercise per week is too little, three gives a good payback and over five days gives little useful payback to the health-orientated adult. So you can ride for three to five days a week which is ideal for the commuter or weekend rider who also does spinning, indoor training or cross training.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to do massive amounts to improve your health, burn calories and thus be far better off than the average sedentary person.

Interestingly, the ACSM suggest that heart rate needs to be in the low to moderate range. This would be around 50 to 80% of your maximum (HRmax), not that different to lower training values for fitter riders. The difference? Healthy riders don’t need to batter their bodies with intervals, group burn-ups or races.

Most cyclists will get the majority of their health and fitness benefits from riding steady’ in this modest 50 to 80% HRmax area. If you don’t use a heart rate monitor or are unsure of your HRmax, it feels like light to moderate effort. You can nose breathe, chat and not feel any burning sensations in your muscles. The length of ride could be as short as 20 to 30 minutes and can be up to 60 minutes; hours of toil are not needed.


Heed the advice of the ACSM: “The important factor is to design a program for the individual to provide the proper amount of physical activity to attain maximal benefit at the lowest risk. Emphasis should be placed on factors that result in permanent lifestyle change and encourage a lifetime of physical activity”