Cycle your way

🕔Mar 27, 2008

Looking for a low-impact activity that can maintain or improve your health, cardiovascular fitness and control your weight? Consider dusting off that bike in the garage and taking it out for
a spin!
Bicycling is a great way to see the outdoors, take in the fresh air, or simply get around town. It’s also an efficient way to burn some extra calories and build lean body mass. Depending on your body weight and the intensity of your ride, you will probably burn somewhere between 400 and 500 calories on a one-hour cycling trip.
In terms of distance related to energy expenditure, the bicycle is one of the most efficient forms of transportation in existence. Biking activities have the added bonus that they can be done anywhere, at any time (well, perhaps not mid-winter in northern BC—although some folks do pedal year-round!), alone or with a group. Northern BC has many biking opportunities, whether you want to race, ride smooth(ish) roads or challenging trails, or just prefer to go where nature and your imagination take you.
The motion of bicycling, especially uphill and with high intensity, is a great way to develop lean body mass. As both the large (quadriceps and hamstring) and small (calf) muscles of the legs work, they become stronger and more developed. The beauty of developing lean body mass is that it not only makes the body look leaner and stronger, but it raises the resting metabolic rate. The higher your resting metabolic rate, the more calories you burn even at rest. So eight hours after your bike ride, sitting on your couch, you’re still burning extra calories!
Bicycling also works to strengthen the core region of the body: the abdominal and back muscles. A strong “core” is essential for good balance and posture, and beneficial for activities of daily living such as lifting groceries, carrying children and doing yard-work.
So where do you start? Let’s start with the bike. Many biking injuries result from poor equipment fit, improper seat height, and absorption of shock from terrain. I recommend that you visit a good bike shop and get properly fitted for the type of biking you plan to do. If you already have a bike, make sure it is in good working condition and set up for you (the seat should be just high enough so the heel skims the pedal when the leg is fully extended).
Bikers must also be aware of road traffic, so wear appropriate safety gear at all times! And before you hit the road, become thoroughly familiar with the gears and brakes. Avoid “saddle” soreness by ensuring the seat is level and invest in some cycling shorts: your backside and inner thighs will thank you for it!
Okay…the bike is ready! Now what?
Too many beginning cyclists think they must train like elite athletes, but this is no way to start off. If you are training for a road event, say a 100-km ride, start with training rides of about 35% of your goal distance and build up to training rides of 80%. You don’t have to do the last 20% because on the actual day, the hype and the excitement of the event will get you through. I would suggest a minimum of a six-week build-up of two rides a week, gradually increasing your distance before trying a long-distance event.
Gym work will also help. Muscles that are commonly weak and need to be strengthened include gluteals, hamstrings, hip adductors, spinal stabilizers and abdominals, posterior shoulder girdle, and scapular stabilizers. In general, mountain-biking requires more upper-body strength and agility than road cycling. Do higher repetitions with moderate weight.
So maybe your goal isn’t an event, but you want to make bicycling part of your fitness/health/weight-loss regime. Try having a scheduled daily ride, starting off with 20 minutes (if you have done no previous biking), and building up until you can go for an hour. Even if it feels good at the start, don’t be fooled! Start slowly: a two-hour ride when you are not used to it will lead to a very sore backside—and may just put you off doing it again!
When considering your schedule, consider these options:
• Could you ride your bike to and from work or school? If you did this most days of the week and ate a healthy diet, you could easily expect to lose a pound a week.
• Plan family or group rides a few times a week. Once you have built up your mileage, make this a longer ride of a couple of hours. Couple this with a healthy diet and this too would bring a weight loss of about one pound per week.
• Plan times throughout your week to fit in a bike ride, such as running errands or visiting a friend.
These activities will all add up to calories burned and pounds shed. Plus, they are just a lot of fun, and a surprisingly easy way to fit in exercise. In time, cycling will help you feel stronger, leaner and more positive about your body. If you continue with daily activity and healthful eating, a better body is a sure thing.