Invented in 1817, the bicycle has been used for recreation, transportation and sport ever since. Competitions are simple in that each participant competes to be the first to cross a defined finish line. Covering approximately 2,200 miles and usually lasting 23 days, the Tour de France is arguably the longest and most difficult bicycling race since its first event in 1903.
Cycling is one of the most practical and logical forms of exercise as it provides not only a means of obtaining physical fitness, but it also can provide transportation, a healthier environment and a thicker wallet because of the gas money going back in the cyclist’s pocket.
A study carried out for the Department of Transportation found that “even a small amount of cycling can lead to significant gains in fitness.” The study found that aerobic fitness was boosted by 11% after just 6 weeks of cycling “short distances” 4 times a week.
If cycling the equivalent of 4 miles to and from work in a day, the aerobic benefit increased to 17%. This same study found that people who did not exercise and then started cycling moved from the third of the population who were the least fit, to the fittest half of the population in just a few months.
Almost anyone of any age can begin cycling as a physical activity, whether as a way of getting from place to place or as a form of leisurely exercise. Some individuals may even choose to develop the activity competitively. The major contribution of cycling to overall health is its benefit in leg strength, cardiovascular development, and overall mobility.
Older individuals that may have a difficult time getting out of a chair will certainly find it easier after regular cycling. The development of leg muscles also makes this activity a valuable cross-training tool.
To get started, all the aspiring cyclist needs is a bike and a protective helmet. Be sure that the helmet fits properly by consulting a professional at a bike shop. Using the bike regularly to make short trips to work or to the store is all that is needed to begin the journey towards fitness. Gradually increase the distance of the trips over time, and your level of aerobic fitness will improve radically in as short as a few weeks.
If the weather is bad or if for any reason outdoor cycling is not an option, consider investing in a simple recumbent exercise bike. The recumbent exercise bike provides almost as much benefit aerobically as upright bicycles, and can be valuable when outdoor biking is out of the question. An added benefit of a recumbent bike is the ability to read or watch television while exercising. Some individuals even go as far as to only watch television when they are on the recumbent bicycle. The health benefits of incorporating exercise into activities usually regarded as sedentary are immeasurable.
A Sample Training Program for Competition
Many cyclists consider the milestone of their career to be riding 100 miles in a single day, known as a “century.” While riding a distance of 100 miles in a single day may certainly sounds like a lot, following exercise plan listed below, the milestone will seen much less intimidating and certainly more attainable.
Saturday: 1-2 hour ride with 30 minutes of hard effort
Sunday: 1-2 hour ride at steady pace (65% MHR)
Tuesday: 1-1.5 hour ride with hills
Wednesday: Rest or 1 hour easy recovery ride
Thursday: 1-1.5 hour ride with interval training
Friday: Rest or 30-minute easy recovery ride
Further Training Tips:
Maintain a cadence of 70 to 90 revolutions per minute. Gradually increase your mileage as you get closer to the century, increasing no more than 10% at a time.
Plan a 50 to 60-mile ride at least two weeks before the century ride. Taper your mileage back a week before the century ride. During the week prior to the century ride, you may even reduce your riding to one or two days of an easy five to ten-mile ride. Try to get plenty of sleep.
Typical Injuries Associated with Cycling
Plantar Fasciitis: The plantar fascia is a strong ligamentous band that runs along the bottom of the foot, from the heel to the ball of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is a condition that occurs when the fascia becomes inflamed and painful. Rest is the best medicine for plantar fasciitis.
Knee Bursitis: Bursitis is a condition where the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that cushions the tendons and ligaments where they cross the bone, becomes irritated and inflamed. This leads to redness, warmth and swelling in the area. The pain will subside with rest and the inflammation usually responds to ice during that rest.
Lower Back Pain: The riding position on the bike, especially during road racing, can cause pain in the lower back due to poor posture or fatigue. This pain usually subsides with rest and stretching. Pressure on the intervertebral discs may require medical help to relieve.
Nutritional Advice for Cyclists
Below is a common nutritional plan to be implemented prior to a competitive race. Following this plan or a similar one could make a big difference in your competition results.
4 days prior to the race – Consume a balanced diet with 60-70% of the calories coming from carbohydrates, 600 grams of carbohydrate per day in the three days prior to the event.
4 hours prior to the race – Do not eat in the 4 hours before the race.
4 minutes prior to the race – Consume a candy bar, energy bar, or other carbohydrate snack for energy.
During the event – Even for an event lasting 1.5 hours or less, a liquid carbohydrate supplement should be consumed. For longer events, you will definitely need to consume additional carbohydrate supplements (energy bars, candy bars, energy gels or sports drinks) as soon as the event starts and throughout the race to replace the calories burned during the race.
Post-ride – A post-ride carbohydrate snack, particularly in the 10 to 15 minutes immediately afterwards, will take advantage of the window for maximum glycogen resynthesis and may cut down on muscle soreness. Eat a high carbohydrate meal that night to replace the muscle glycogen that was depleted during the event.
Fluids – One 12-ounce water bottle per hour at an absolute minimum.