Five Effective Biking Programs

There is nothing wrong with just taking a bike ride on a sunny day and not worrying about speed or resistance or mileage. However, as in walking, intensity is key, and another key part of training is knowing how effective your training is. You need to keep track of your mileage, as well as have a general idea of how hard you are working. You can use RPE or you can follow a regular interval program (using resistance on the bike or hills) to see how intense you can make your ride.

In terms of distance, adding an inexpensive speedometer to your bike is the best way to keep track of your workouts, but you can also find the distance of a particular path with a car's odometer. If you know the distance you're biking, you can keep track of start and stop times to help you judge overall speed.

Your First Few Weeks of Training

Before you put yourself on a specific training program (whether you're on a bicycle outside, or a stationary cycle), take at least a week to work up to what is considered a moderate cycling day of 15 miles. Don't worry about time or speed on these rides. Take it easy and finish the full 15 miles, which can be done on a track, around your neighborhood, or on a trail (although it shouldn't be too hilly). The purpose of these rides is to gain and maintain basic cardiovascular fitness for cycling, as well as to get your muscles used to this new job.

After working up to the 15-mile moderate day, you can attempt an endurance day of double the mileage. Try to maintain the same pace you established during moderate days (in other words, it should take you double the time to do this ride). If you need to, slow down to make the full mileage.

After a few weeks at this level, try to do the 30 miles once a week. Or, if you work up to consistently higher mileage as part of your workout, do a double-the-mileage day once a week as part of your training.

Hills and Speed Intervals — Increasing Resistance

Now you need to find a trail (either plotted out for you or one you design) that includes at least one big hill. After you do a moderate day ride, go up the hill. Think of the ride down as recovery. Then, try to go up again. As your fitness improves, add more repeats. Hills increase your power and stamina.

If there are no hills around you, you can add intensity to your workouts with speed intervals. During a regular moderate day ride, pick a specific distance during which you will pedal faster. It could be, for example, a city block or even something as general as “up to that telephone pole.” Or, if you have the odometer on your bike, you could pick a specific distance like a mile. During that interval, speed up to a sprint, pedaling as fast as you can. Start with one each ride, and then add more and longer sprints each time you ride. Sprint for one “lap,” however long that distance is, and then slow down for a recovery lap, repeating the pattern as much as you want. Interval training and hill work improve overall speed, endurance, and your ability to recover, which are the keys to great fitness.

Interval Stationary Cycling

If you do your cycling workouts on a stationary bicycle, you still need to keep track of your mileage, speed, and resistance. Your resistance, of course, will come not from hills, but from the resistance you enter into your program.

The first thing you want to set a goal for is miles per hour, just as outdoor cyclists do. Then, if you want to add resistance, you'll increase the level number of your ride. This is the equivalent of adding hills.

Here is a sample interval stationary cycling program using speed as the interval. It assumes that you have worked up to a 15-mile ride, just like the beginner in the first workout.

Warm-up:

5 minutes at 11 mph.

Workout:

2 minutes at 15–18 mph; then 1 minute at 12 mph. Do this nine times.

Cooldown:

5 minutes from 11 mph to a slower speed.

Another option is to use resistance as your interval. So, for example, here's another sample program:

Warm-up:

5 minutes at 10 mph and level 2.

Workout:

2 minutes at 9–11 mph and level 4, alternating with 1 minute at 12–14 mph and level 2. Do this nine times.

Cooldown:

5 minutes, moving from 11 mph to a slower speed with 0 resistance.

These are fairly intense intervals. If you find they are too hard for you in the beginning, feel free to switch the intervals around. So, for example, your recovery time can be twice as long as the time for your intense interval. Eventually you'll work your way up to doing the program as it is written.

Spinning

Most of the time, the spinning teacher will lead the class, and you'll just follow her through the workout. However, if you want to do your own spinning workout, here is one that highlights what makes spinning great: high intensity coupled with a mind-body element.

This ride mimics a trip around part of San Francisco (including a killer hill). The visualization is the mind-body aspect. The best part? No traffic.

Warm-up:

You're going to start in the Marina District. Start with zero resistance for 5 minutes.

One full turn:

Stay that way for another 3 minutes.

Fast Flat:

Do another two full turns and ride for the next 7 minutes around Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Buildings toward downtown. Try to cycle fairly quickly. This is a speed part of the ride.

Hill:

You're going to go up to Coit Tower, which is an extraordinarily high hill (but not the steepest in the city and fortunately, you don't have to worry about turns). Raise your resistance three full turns (at least) and stand up to pedal. This should take 4 minutes.

Come down the hill:

Lower your resistance two turns and pedal as fast as you can for 2 minutes.

Recover:

Raise the resistance one turn and pedal at a moderate speed for 3 minutes.

Fast Flat:

Let's go around downtown and up to Washington Square Park. Raise your resistance one turn and pedal quickly (but not as fast as you can) for 3 minutes.

Slight Incline:

Raise your resistance two turns, and stand to pedal for 5 minutes.

Cooldown:

Start to lower your resistance, getting it to zero within 5 minutes.

Make sure you stretch your legs after your ride.

Cross-training Stationary Cycling

There are few things as boring and as potentially monotonous as an endurance ride on a stationary bicycle. And if you're watching TV to make the ride go faster, chances are you won't be giving your all to the ride. To combat these problems, try the following workout, which is similar to workouts you would get in spinning classes that combine cycling with strength training or yoga or Pilates. These classes, which are very popular with regular spinners, build cardiovascular health as well as upper-body strength through resistance exercise, and increase lower-body strength through cycling. End the workout with an abs routine, and you'll have done a total body workout in one hour, including cardio.

Preparation:

Place a body band near your bike, but not where you would step on it when you get off the bike.

Warm-up:

Ride the bike for 5 minutes, gradually going from zero resistance to three full turns.

Slow climb:

Do another full turn, and ride that way for 2 minutes. Then do two more full turns, stand up, and ride this way for 3 minutes.

Slow descent:

Go down a full turn and sit down for 1 minute.

First strength interval:

Get off the bike carefully and get your body band. Put the middle of the band under your foot and hold an end in each hand. Raise your arms in front of you to shoulder height for 30 reps.

Slow climb:

Do another full turn, and ride that way for 2 minutes. Then do two other full turns, stand up, and ride this way for 3 minutes.

Slow descent:

Go down a full turn, and sit down for 1 minute.

Second strength interval:

Get off the bike carefully and get out your body band. Hold the band with each hand about 12 inches away from the center. Bring the band over your head and bring your arms out to your sides in a wide arc. Do this 30 times.

Slow climb:

Do another full turn and ride that way for 2 minutes. Then, do two more full turns, stand up, and ride this way for 3 minutes.

Slow descent:

Go down a full turn, and sit down for 1 minute.

Third strength interval:

Put the center of the band under your foot and hold each end in your hand. Your arms should be straight down. Bend your elbows and bring your hands toward each shoulder in a bicep curl. Do this thirty times.

Slow climb:

Do another full turn, and ride that way for 2 minutes. Then, do two more full turns, stand up, and ride this way for 3 minutes.

Slow descent:

Go down a full turn, and sit down for 1 minute.

Fourth strength interval:

Put the center of the band under your foot, and hold each end in your hands. Bring the band and your arms behind you and over your head with straight arms. Now, bend your elbows and lower the band behind your head (this is an exercise called a French press). Do this thirty times. You need a very long band to do this. (If you don't have one, do a traditional triceps kickback with the band.)

Slow climb:

Do another full turn, and ride that way for two minutes. Then, do 2 other full turns, stand up, and ride this way for 3 minutes.

Slow descent:

Go down a full turn and sit down for 1 minute.

Fifth strength interval:

Put the middle of the band across your chest and wrap the ends around your back, holding an end in each hand, palms facing up, hands near your chest, elbows slightly bent. Straighten your arms and bring them forward, away from your torso. Do this 30 times.

Cooldown:

Get on your bike and pedal at a moderate pace and resistance, gradually going down to zero resistance. Get off the bike and stretch.

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