Few things are more satisfying than achieving a major goal. For many cyclists, that goal is completing challenging events such as sixty- or one-hundred mile rides (called metric centuries and centuries, respectively), which take place throughout the season. Other riders enjoy helping society by raising money for and completing an MS-150, AIDS or Team In Training ride. Or, your goal might be something simpler but just as challenging, such as a quarter-century (25 miles), shedding pounds to improve your health or getting fit enough to keep up with a group of friends.
Whatever your goal, before you start logging miles, it’s best to have a plan. To help, here are some basic guidelines for training and fitness. Follow them and there’s an excellent chance that you’ll reach your goals.
Get A Check-Up
Before beginning a fitness program it’s best to get checked by your physician to ensure that it’s safe for you to begin cycling regularly. Additionally, you can discuss your fitness goal with your doctor for expert feedback. She may surprise you with some helpful training tips!
The secret to staying motivated to train is having something to look forward to. While you may already have your major long-term goal (finishing the century or event), it’s important to set short-term goals, too. These should be attainable and more immediate tasks such as riding four days a week, or getting to bed at a reasonable hour to speed recovery. The right goals keep you focused and provide day-to-day satisfaction during your regular training leading up to the big event.
Work Then Rest
The basic principle of exercise is stressing the body a certain amount and then letting it recover. During the recovery phase the body reacts to the work you did and actually gets stronger. And, over time, by gradually increasing the amount and intensity of the work and recovering carefully, you build fitness and improve. Keep this hard/easy principle in mind as you train and always remember that the easy part (rest) is just as important as the work part. Pay attention to how you feel after rides, to gauge your fatigue level and adjust your training accordingly for optimum recovery.
Build Fitness Gradually
To maintain a fitness level, you must ride at least three days a week. And the length and intensity of these rides should be based on your ability. If you’re just starting to train, your first rides might be at a conversational pace (an effort that allows you to talk to ride partners) and about an hour long on rolling or flat terrain. Then, to increase your range and ability to maintain a faster pace, you can add another ride to the week and/or increase the intensity of some of the rides (either by riding faster or including hills or hard efforts to increase the workload). What’s important is to add effort gradually. Aim for about a ten-percent increase per week in distance/time and no more. And, always back off if you feel tired. Take an easy day spinning comfortably around a flat loop or rest entirely.
Track Your Training
Another secret to success is keeping a training diary. Any notebook or electronic file is fine. After each ride, jot down a description, the distance, time, effort level and how you felt that day. You might also want to track your weight and resting heart rate. Once you’ve accumulated some data, the diary becomes a great tool for figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Use it to fine-tune your workouts to achieve your goals. A training log is also a fine motivator. As the pages fill with rides, you’ll be proud of your accomplishments and want to keep adding to it.
Make Time To Ride
If you’re a busy professional, the biggest challenge may be finding time to ride. It helps to be flexible, creative and stubborn. Keep in mind that any ride is better than no ride when it comes to achieving your goals and getting in your planned rides. Responsibilities eating up most of the day? Ride in the pre-dawn hours or evening with a light. If you have a shower at work, consider riding during your lunch break or commuting by bike. You might even be able to form a weekly lunch-group ride. Need to watch the kids during the time you set aside to ride? Pedal on a trainer in the living room so you can exercise and monitor the kids simultaneously. If you get creative and determined to fit your rides in, you’ll stick with your plan and succeed.
While everyone feels out of sorts at times, it shouldn’t jeopardize your fitness goals. Usually, the hardest part is getting out of the house and starting to ride. One great trick is having a training partner or riding group that meets regularly. It also helps to have those short-term goals we mentioned and to use them as focal points in your training. For example, you might write a training schedule and use it to set daily goals to keep you committed. Another trick is telling yourself beforehand that it’s going to be a great ride. Or, try focusing on something positive on the ride such as a bakery you can stop at or a thrilling descent. Keep things fun like this and you’ll stay on track and realize your goals. Good luck!
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