What is the number one most important element in any fitness routine?
Nutrition? Exercise? Proper sleep?
How about none of the above?
While there is no question that all three are vitally important, none are as important as having fun. Â The majority of people fail to reach their true fitness potential because they are engaging in exercises that they don't enjoy. Â Whether it be running, boxing or weight-lifting, it is essential that you choose something you enjoy.
Cycling is an obvious choice for many reasons. Â It's quick and easy to learn, more engaging than running and has many practical uses. Â I got into cycling ten years ago when I was living in London, initially as a way to save money. Â Beyond the financial benefits, I quickly fell in love with the freedom, speed and convenience that cycling provided. Â Over time, I became fit without intending to. I started competing in races, got involved with triathlons and eventually completed my first Ironman event.
Let's look at some ways you can incorporate cycling into your fitness regime.
Make it Work for You
Iâ€™ll be the first to admit Iâ€™m lazy when it comes to exercise. Â I donâ€™t like running. When training for triathlons I really had to force myself to get out there and run. Â With cycling, I didnâ€™t have this problem. I didnâ€™t have to force myself to do a long distance ride, I simply rode to work and back – training done! Â
Cycling to work might not be practical for everybody, but anything that makes you get on the bike will help develop your fitness. Â Visiting friends, doing shopping, or simply exploring the neighbourhood. Donâ€™t just do one long ride on the weekend – you need to do many short rides three or four times a week to build fitness. Â It may seem tiring at first but I assure you, soon youâ€™ll be choosing the bike over the car.
Choose the Right Bike
There are a vast number of different bicycle options out there, and choosing the correct one is crucial if you want to have fun. Â Most bicycles fall into one of three categories: Road, MTB or Hybrid.
Road bikes are the typical racing style bicycles you would see in the Tour de France. Â These are not recommended for beginners as they have unusual handlebars, complex gear mechanisms and offer less balance. Â Once you are a seasoned cyclist, however, a road bike can be the most fun youâ€™ll have on two wheels. A good quality road bike can take you hundreds of miles in a day, over mountains and through valleys, to anywhere with a semi-decent road surface.
MTB (or mountain bikes)
Mountain bikes are great fun for anybody and an excellent beginner bike. Â They are strong, sturdy, easy to ride and less prone to punctures or mechanical faults. Â Iâ€™ve seen countless aspiring cyclists give up because of constant punctures that are difficult to fix. Â Until youâ€™re a puncture repair pro, a mountain bike will make your life easier and more fun.
If youâ€™re lucky enough to live near accessible countryside with bike tracks, getting out there and conquering a mountain (or even a small hill) is a very satisfying and enjoyable way to get fit. Â While powering up and down dirt roads through beautiful countryside, youâ€™ll forget youâ€™re even exercising.
Hybrid bikes, as the name suggests, are a mix between road and MTB. Â They have straight handlebars with simple gears like an MTB but are lighter and more suited to road cycling. Â Hybrids are the best for commuting, as they often come with a luggage carrier in the form of a pannier rack or a basket. Â They may not win you any races, but theyâ€™ll get you from A to B with minimal hassle and maximum comfort. For simply getting to work and back or doing the shopping, this is the best option.
Another option that has become popular lately are fixies (or single-speed) bikes. Â These come in 'road' or 'hybrid' shapes and have no gears, so arenâ€™t ideal if youâ€™re in a hilly area. Â However, they are good for just getting around town and no gears mean fewer potential mechanical problems.
One of the best things about cycling every day is not having to worry too much about what you eat. Â How often have you seen an overweight cyclist? Cycling is one of the best ways to burn fat while exerting the least amount of perceived effort.
However, nutrition is still important. Â As with any endurance sport, getting the correct balance of carbs, protein and fats, is paramount to muscle recovery. Rather than â€˜carbo-loadingâ€™ before an event and then â€˜protein loadingâ€™ afterwards, you should simply eat a good, balanced diet every day. Â
Slow-release carbs, like steel-cut oats or quinoa, are an excellent breakfast choice. Â They will provide you with constant energy throughout the day without converting to stored fat. Â Try to eat most of your daily food intake at breakfast – I eat 40% of my daily food at breakfast, 30% at lunch and 30% at dinner. Lean protein such as chicken breast, fish or beans, should make up the majority of your evening meal, as this will help repair muscle while you sleep. Â All meals should also include at least one-third fresh fruit and veg, or salad.
Rest and Recovery
For an average daily cyclist who doesnâ€™t cover too much distance a day, the only real recovery you should need is lots of water and a good night's sleep. Â Although when first starting out or after long distance rides, you might find you need some additional care.
For anything longer than half an hour, itâ€™s a good idea to stretch before riding. Â Basic leg, arm and neck stretches are generally prescribed. Some people also stretch after a ride, but studies show this provides little real benefit. Â After a particularly long ride, itâ€™s best to do a short five-minute walk until your heart rate reduces to normal, and then simply relax for the rest of the day.
Compression clothing has become very popular recently and is best worn after a ride rather than during. Â Special cycling pants that provide calf and thigh compression are available at most sports outlets. Cold baths are also a popular recovery method, although best reserved for after extreme long distance events as they really only work on severely damaged muscle.
Whichever cycling, nutrition and recovery methods you choose, always remember the most important thing – have fun!