Cycling does wonders for your overall fitness. You can use it as part of cross-training for another sport like running or swimming, or as a complete beginner to improving your fitness – it’s the perfect alternative. Firstly, road cycling provides you with a much nicer atmosphere whilst training. If you cycle through a national park, quiet country roads that take you through the hills, or anywhere quiet and open, you’ll experience spectacular views whilst cycling that will keeps your mind active and refreshed as the breeze hits your face. This is a huge pro when comparing to a sport such as swimming where your views are limited and you’ll probably experience a little tedium if this is the only training you do. With cycling, you also cover much more distance than running!
Why is Cycling good for Fitness?
As a sport, cycling is very fast paced and slick – you can either ride on the track or on the road, depending on what you’re looking for in fitness. Road cycling is aimed at endurance, whereas on the track you can get your sprints and muscle mass up a notch from incorporating it in your training plan – even as a road cyclist, a switch to the velodrome occasionally wouldn’t be such a bad idea!
Being endurance-based, cycling is beneficial to build on your fitness as it puts you through your paces and works muscles that aren’t used to this. The more miles you put in, the more oxygen delivers to your muscles and therefore builds your intake and ability to keep going for longer.
If you are a regular sufferer of injures when playing sport then cycling is your go-to discipline for injury prevention. Being much less injury-prone, you will avoid niggles such as shin splints and stress fractures as there is absolutely no impact for your muscles or bones to endure as you simply spend the whole time pedaling.
How to Start Cycling for Fitness?
Get the Right Kit
If you’re a complete beginner, then the very first thing you need to do is get kitted out! We’ve got some very handy cycling buying guides for you to flick through and get all of the advice that you need on cycling kit: clothing, accessories, components and more.
Don’t Over-do it
The worst thing that you can do in any sport that you are new to is to push yourself beyond what you’re capable of. The technical term here is ‘overload’ and whilst this is usually incorporated into training plans, if you are a complete beginner I would advise against it! There are so many negatives to be taken from pushing yourself too hard. First and foremost, you can injure yourself. Going above and beyond and realising that you can’t do it or that you’re not as good as you thought you might be is also very bad for your mentality and your mentality is one of the main elements that gets you through training. Once this is destroyed, it’s very difficult to re-motivate yourself. This is why gradual progress is the best way to build up fitness.
Start with the Smaller Things
It’s best to start off with a regular cycle commute to work or to the shops. This way, you will get used to the movements, riding on the road and you’ll find that your fitness will improve without noticing a change. This type of exercise will allow you to become good at riding at a steady pace for however long it takes you to run those errands – which is great to start off with!
From building on this, you can then go out for a long ride without a purpose, just to get some exercise – no cycling to the shops, not to work, just a steady 40-60 minute cycle on a Sunday morning. This will get you focusing more on your technique, getting used to the gears, the road, the etiquette of riding and so on.
Take it up a Notch
Incorporating intervals into this is the next step. You’ve already built up that base fitness, so you can now cycle at ease for up to 60 minutes (which is great!) but now you can take it up a notch and target your speed. Incorporating small bursts of sprints into your long ride is the most effective way to do this – you also do this in running too. Cycle as fast as you can (safely) for one minute, and then come back down to a recovery pace where you are comfortable cycling. If you are riding for an hour, do this every 15 minutes, so you have four sprints in a session. After a couple of interval sessions, you will then find that you can get better at changing paces, and will be able to cycle faster without it feeling difficult.
Hills are another aspect to consider, especially when going on a long ride. Learn how to tackle hills. Start off with short, minor inclines and gradually build your hill climbs accordingly. We’ve written some advice on how to cycle uphill that you can read in the blog post below:
Join a Club
Do all of this and you’ve got the whole package – you can cycle for ages, you can easily change your pace, and you can ride up hill! From becoming a confident rider alone, you can then think about joining a cycling club. British Cycling has a whole list of cycling clubs across the country, so you can find your local group in their club finder.
How much Cycling for Fitness?
To repeat what’s been hinted above, it depends on your current fitness level. If you’re already in a sport and you are just using cycling for cross training, then simply replace one or two sessions during the week with a cycle – this can be a long road ride on a Sunday morning with your local club run, or an evening session on a turbo trainer – whatever is best for your current training schedule. I wouldn’t suggest adding to it, I’d simply replace.
If you are a complete beginner, then there is no need to hop on the bike for the first time and do a 50 miler! It’s recommended that you start off, as stated above, with the smaller rides – commutes, errands, and so on. After a week or two, you can begin to cycle as a ‘session’ but don’t go for longer than 15 – 20 miles as you’ll need to build your fitness level. Much like running, you should think of time here rather than distance. It’s much more beneficial for you to cycle for half an hour at a sweat-breaking pace, than it is to cycle 50 miles leisurely without getting out of breath!
What Fitness Tracker for Cycling?
There are plenty of fitness trackers out there. The most useful for cycling are GPS cycle computers. You can shop through a range of these below: