Want to be faster on the bike? Want to feel awesome off the bike? With a little hard work and training know-how, these things are easily within your grasp.
These are the key things you need to know to get you on track to being a faster, fitter you!
Key Training Principles:
There are three main areas you should work on to build your cycling fitness. Ensuring that you get a good balance of each of these will help you get fitter, faster. If you only devote time to one of these principles your overall fitness will suffer.
- Ride shorter, go longer! Performing short, high intensity interval training (HIIT) means that you ride very hard (imagine you’re chasing your buddies) for a short period, over and over again, with short rests. This type of workout is an excellent way to boost cycling fitness, even if you’re training for long bike rides. HIIT sessions improve your lung and heart volume, meaning you can get more oxygen to your muscles as they work.
- No pain, no gain! The way in which HIIT works your cardiovascular system means you get big boosts in fitness in a time efficient manner….. but it’s gonna hurt! As these are tough workouts, you should only do 2-3 per week, or you risk overly fatiguing yourself. Make sure you feel fresh and rested when you perform these to as to get the most benefit.
- Spin it up! Spin classes at your local gym are a great place to perform intervals as you will have an instructor guiding and shouting motivation at you, and it will be a well-controlled environment. Furthermore, HIIT workouts are not always easy to perform out on the open road due to traffic and road junctions.
Steady endurance rides
- Slow and steady wins the race! Longer rides at a steadier pace – for example, one that would allow you to maintain a conversation, are an excellent aerobic workout that will boost your cycling endurance and general fitness. Go out with a buddy to keep you company and have a gossip! Riding at this lower level prepares your body for riding harder and faster, and builds your cardiovascular system from the lower level.
- Spin to win! Try to aim for an rpm of at least 80 when you ride, so you are working your cardiovascular system more than just grinding your legs slowly.
- Not too long, not too often! Aim to ride for at least 2-3 hours in these sessions to gain the benefit, and don’t do more than 5-6 hours unless you are accomplished and experienced, and so you don’t get bored! You only need to do long rides like this once or twice a week to gain cycling fitness. Make sure to eat and drink plenty as you ride to keep your energy levels up.
- The core is key. The most important type of gym work for cycling fitness, is core training. Moves such as planks and bird dogs strengthen the central core of your body – and you can see how to do these moves here. Making sure that the central trunk of your body is strong helps prevent injuries and discomfort to your back, and improves your pedal stroke, which will make you ride faster!
- Stronger is faster! Getting into the gym and lifting some light weights, aimed at strengthening your arms and legs, is a good way to build resilience and the power for pedalling. If you don’t have access to a gym, you can perform a range of moves at home, such as press-ups, lunges and single legged squats, such as the moves discussed here.
Key Diet Tips:
Food is fuel, and fuel will get you fit! You need to ensure that you’re fuelling your body well so that it has the energy to ride with, but you do not want to over-eat and gain weight. Below are the key principles to bear in mind.
- Carbohydrates are King! Although carbs get a bad press in the media, you simply cannot ride without them. Carbohydrate is converted to sugar by your body, and it is these that give you the energy to work out.
- You cannot always have your cake AND eat it. There is good reason for carbohydrate to have a bad reputation however, and that is a result of people eating the wrong type of carbohydrate at the wrong times. High sugar foods such as those oh-so tempting cookies, cakes and sweets should be avoided as much as possible when you’re not training. As these ‘bad’ carbohydrates contain a lot of fast releasing sugars, so if you eat them then just sit on the couch, they will not get used by the muscles and stored as fat.
- Channel your inner cookie monster! However, high sugar foods are perfect if you’re riding more than 90 minutes! When eaten just before or during a ride, a high sugar food such as an energy bar, dried fruits, or even cookies give your muscles fast fuel to top up your energy levels when they’re working hard. When you’re on a ride of over 90 minutes, it’s best to aim to consume around 40g of carbohydrate per hour. But remember to limit these naughties the rest of the time!
- Fuel your day! You shouldn’t totally avoid carbohydrate when you’re not riding of course. High quality carbohydrates found in vegetables and whole grains are an excellent slow-release fuel to help you go about your daily activity.
- The building blocks! The key element of gaining cycling fitness is ensuring that you recover and allow your body to rebuild itself. Proteins are the foods that repair and rebuild your muscle tissue. It’s important to try to take on protein at every meal of the day to ensure that your muscles are constantly being fed with what they need to grow.
- Keep it lean and clean. Some proteins are of a higher quality than others, however. It’s best to limit your intake of processed meats such as beefburgers and sausages, as, although these contain protein, they are also high in fat and additives. The best forms of protein are lean meats, such as chicken and turkey, fish, eggs, and dairy such as milk and yoghurt.
Fat’s not always bad
- Not such a villain! Fats, like carbohydrates, get a bad press. However, fats are a vital part of your diet, and should make up around 20% of your daily calories. It’s essential to remember that there are good and bad fats however, and that too many of the latter may have a serious impact on your cycling fitness as they will cause you to gain weight.
- The good guys Natural fats, such as those from nuts, seeds, avocados, and oily fish are an excellent source of nutrition, and should form an integral part of your diet. These are nutrient rich, and are very good for satiating your appetite. Many fats are rich in Omega-3, and this is a vital substance that protects the heart, and controls blood pressure. They are high calorie however, so you need to be sure to not have too much of these food sources.
- And the bad guys It’s the ‘unnatural’ fats, also known as trans or hydrogenated fats that are the enemy. These are found in processed or fried foods, and clog your arteries and can cause heart diseases.
- We ARE water! When your body is made up of 60% of water, it’s vital to make sure that you drink enough both when you’re riding, and in your daily activity.
- On the bike. It’s surprising how much you sweat but don’t actually notice when you cycle, as the airflow evaporates the moisture from your skin before you realise it’s there. It only takes a small decline in your hydration to cause a drop in your performance. This is because dehydration damages your body’s ability to cool itself, and impacts the way in which our muscles can use blood sugars. When you’re on the bike, it’s good to aim to drink 500ml / 18oz water per hour to ensure you stay hydrated.
- Off the bike. Try to drink at least 3L / 100oz, evenly spread through the day. Fluid carries nutrients to your cells, lubricates your joints, and protects your brain. Its essential!
Cycling fitness is gained when you rest and recover, not when you ride. When you’re out cycling, you damage your muscles, and it’s when you rest that they repair and become stronger.
There are a few simple things that you can do help you recover faster and so improve your cycling fitness!
- Sleep yourself faster! A 30-90 minute nap has been proven to kick-start your recovery process as it allows your body to release hormones key to rebuilding your body.
- Not too long, not too late! Make sure you don’t nap after around 4pm, or you will risk impacting your nighttime sleep. Likewise, don’t sleep longer than 90 minutes!
- Pedal slow, get fast! Short recovery rides of around 30-60 minutes are an excellent way to loosen your muscles and flush out any lactic acid that may have accumulated after a tough session.
- Ride slow, spin fast! To get the best from your recovery ride, it must be easy! So, ride slow, but spin a good cadence of around 80-90rpm. This means you don’t tax the muscles too much and will help loosen them off.
- Healing hands. A proper sports massage is an excellent way to loosen off tight muscles. Your practitioner will work on the muscle groups most used as you ride and will ease out any knots and stiffnesses.
- Do it yourself! If you do not have a masseuse near you, using a foam roller at home can be an excellent way to keep your muscles loose and relaxed. Various types are available, some with nobbly bits to really get into those knotted muscles. At PRO Bike Tool, we particularly like these, by Trigger Point.
- Get flexible to get fit! Getting into the practice of stretching a few times a week improves your flexibility and can help your muscles recover quicker.
- Not just the legs! When you stretch, work on all areas of your body, not just your legs. Your neck, back and shoulders also take a lot of strain as you ride, so keeping these flexible and relaxed will help your body repair and prevent any injuries. Try performing the routine outlined here at least twice a week.
So, remember this basic guide to help you get fit and go faster than your buddies! Not only will using this blog make you faster on a bike, but you’ll feel better all day long.
You need to:
- Mix your workout routine with HIIT sessions, long steady rides, and some gym work.
- Look after your diet, and pay attention to what types of carbohydrate, protein and fat you eat.
- Recover well. Sleep, massage, recovery rides and stretching will all make you faster!