Cycling is a great way to exercise, get active, and stay fit. Just a 30-minute session of cycling allows you to burn upward of 300 calories – yes, that’s the charm!1 Plus, if you’re cycling outdoors or in the countryside, it can be a wonderful way to get some fresh air. But, as with any sport, you need to get safety right, every time! By trying to do too much too soon, you could put yourself in harm’s way with strained muscles, aches and pains, or worse.
Here’s how you can make sure you don’t get off on the wrong foot when it comes to your cycling.
1. Do Your Bike Checks
This is rule number 1! Safety is especially important if you’re cycling with your kids. According to estimates, around 300,000 children end up needing emergency medical care linked to cycling injuries every year, and around 10,000 need hospitalization. Head injuries are a potentially life threatening issue, so be sure you’ve read up on how to make your ride as safe as possible.2
Here’s a quick run-through of some basics on your cycle itself3:
- Right-sized bike: Pick a bike that’s the correct size for you. When standing astride your bike with feet flat on the ground, ensure 1–3 inches between the top bar and your body.
- Brake check: Check them to see they’re working fine before you set off on a ride.
- Tire check: Ensure your tires are adequately inflated.
- Chain check: Grease your bike chain from time to time to keep it in good working order.
Needless to say, your bike must be fitted with reflectors and night lights.
2. Invest In The Gear
Getting the right attire for this form of exercise or sport is as important as in any other game. You wouldn’t play football or go swimming without the correct shoes or clothing, so give cycling the same consideration. Here are some things you should get yourself4:
- Bright clothes: Wear bright clothes so that motorists in cars and larger vehicles can see you easily and avoid collisions.
- No loose clothes: Loose clothing could get caught in the chain or tires of your bike and cause a nasty fall or accident. Wear clothes that allow for movement and are comfortable but have no loose parts.
- Elbow and knee pads: For those times when you do have a tumble, the extra layer of padding helps avoid bad scrapes, bumps, and bruises.
- Good biking helmet. Protecting your head is so vital in case of an accident. Invest in a good quality biking helmet.
After you’ve done your homework on road rules, basic cycling etiquette, and bike maintenance, you also need to be careful about your health. Train right, eat right, and use these tips to help lose weight, get fit, and build stamina for doing longer distances.
3. Always Warm Up First
Never hop on your bike and hit high speeds just because you can. You need a 10-minute warm up off your bike to get you ready. Once on your bike, start by cycling slowly at an easy pace for at least 5 minutes before you kick it up a notch. Feel your heart rate rise bit by bit and your body physically warm up as well.
A warm-up increases your blood flow, gets that circulation going, improves your range of motion, and makes muscles more limber. It also fires up your body’s communication systems – the brain, muscles, and nervous system. This goes a long way in preventing injury and making your body more responsive.
For more challenging rides, go the whole hog with a proper 20-minute warm-up. You could, for instance, intersperse fast pedaling with an easy and moderate pace at regular intervals during this spell.5
4. Stay Hydrated
Always remember to stay optimally hydrated. Even on days where you aren’t cycling, get in a couple of liters of water in the form of soups, juices, or just plain water. Remember, coffee and tea don’t count. When you are cycling, it is possible for you to drink too much water, so aim at just replenishing what you lose. Sip on water every 15 minutes or so that you’re cycling. After your biking is done, if it’s been an especially strenuous workout, you may need to replenish lost electrolytes.6
5. Protect Yourself From The Sun
Protect your body from sun damage and harmful ultraviolet radiation that can age your skin or put you at risk of skin cancer. Here’s how7:
- Use a high SPF sunscreen for your skin. This needs to be reapplied from time to time if you’re outdoors for a length of time. Every two hours is recommended.
- Don’t forget to apply some on the back of your neck, ears, and even the back of your legs as these tend to be exposed the most to direct sunlight as you ride.
- Invest in ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) cycling clothing if you live in a sunny area or are cycling in the sun. These clothes block out much of the ultraviolet radiation and prevent it from actually reaching your skin.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
6. Eat Right
Having a good collection of healthy meal and snack ideas is always helpful. This will allow you to eat right, to give you the energy you need during the ride and to help your body recover well after cycling. Get in lots of fresh produce, lean protein, and healthy fats and fiber. Here are some snack and meal ideas to help you get going:
- Spinach and banana smoothie
- Protein balls made with nuts, seeds, dates, and coconut or honey for post-workout recovery
- Oat and banana muffins
- Salmon and eggs
- Fruit smoothie
- Oats porridge
7. Monitor Your Cycling Intensity
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, it is important to know at what intensity you’re exercising and how much you’re pushing your body. If you flat out increase the distance you ride or the time you train, you may end up fatigued and accumulate what experts call “junk miles,” which don’t really improve your fitness levels.
Instead, use a heart rate monitor and target getting into a fat-burn zone. A commonly used rule of thumb is to gun for “220 minus your age” as the heart rate to work out at. For a more accurate custom plan, however, get tested and find your functional threshold heart rate. This tells you the maximum physical intensity you can manage to sustain for about an hour. It is said to be a more relevant and accurate indicator.8
8. Supplement Cycling With Other Exercise
Whether you’re preparing for long distance cycling or just upping fitness and stamina so you can cycle further or faster, training and supplementary exercises are important.
- Try and get in various kinds of exercise. Work on your core, abs, and back. Leg weight training is also quite useful.
- Train using a mix of machines that give you an aerobic workout. A stepper or climber, a rowing machine, and even an exercise bike are good options.
- Get in ample rest and recovery days. Intersperse 2–3 days of hard training with a day’s rest. These are as important as days you cycle to prevent fatigue and strain.
9. Follow These Tips For Weight Loss Goals
If you plan to cycle to lose weight and get fit, you’re on the right track. When you cycle, you rev up your metabolism, causing your body to burn more energy. Thanks to the high-calorie burn involved, you could lose extra weight if you combine cycling with a healthy eating plan. As you build muscle and burn off that body fat, you should start to see results.9
Here are some nutrition tips for cyclists to enhance weight loss from cycling10:
- Don’t overdo refueling: Just be sure you don’t overdo the “refueling” while cycling. For short bike rides of an hour or less, you can do with just a pre-workout snack or drink and some water during. For longer sessions of cycling, keep the carb intake at 60–90 g for every hour that you cycle beyond the initial 60 minutes.
- Don’t confuse thirst for hunger: Sometimes, just being thirsty might trick you into feeling you’re hungry. Staying hydrated is important when you’re working out, so remember to drink enough water to quell that thirst before it becomes too intense.
- Eat small meals: Consuming smaller portions can give you the steady supply of energy you need without overloading on calories.
- Avoid high sugar recovery drinks and snacks: Don’t undo the goodness of your cycling by having a sugary or carb-laden recovery snack or drink. Have fruit or protein-rich snacks like nuts instead.
- Lay off alcohol: Alcohol is empty calories you can do without when you’re trying to combine the rigor of cycling with weight loss.
- Think non-starchy fruits and vegetables: Instead of consuming loads of starchy carbs like potatoes, have fresh, bright-colored fruits and vegetables packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You only need the carb-heavy intake if you’re training very hard.
- Balance it out with protein: Having protein like eggs, oily fish, or even turkey for meals and even snacks can keep you feeling full for longer.11
|↑1||Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑2, ↑3||Bike Safety. KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑4||Try cycling – it’s great fun!National Health Service.|
|↑5||Do you need to warm up before cycling? Cycling Weekly.|
|↑6||Hydration on the bike. British Cycling.|
|↑7||Cycling and Sun Protection. Skin Cancer Foundation.|
|↑8||Understanding Intensity. British Cycling.|
|↑9||Cycling – health benefits. Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia.|
|↑10||How to lose weight cycling: Six essential tips. Cycling Weekly.|
|↑11||Safe weight loss for cyclists. British Bicycling.|