Fitness 101

We all started somewhere, and most of us need to start again with our basic fitness. Here are some tips to get you started

# 1: Follow a structured exercise program. Getting fit should be as simple as riding your bicycle whenever you can find the time, right? Well, not quite. If you simply go cycling whenever you can and not follow some sort of structured exercise program, then you will most likely fall into stagnation. Following an exercise program will give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you motivated. If you simply cycle, let’s say 10 km after work each day, then that will lead to boredom. The idea is to increase the intensity of your exercising over time and get better at what you do.

# 2: Change your mindset. Exercise programs are like diets. You simply don’t eat only salads for a few months to lose a few kilograms and then go back to eating unhealthy junk food again (and pick up those lost kilograms in the process again). Like diets, an exercise program is for life. Change your mindset and think healthy thoughts. Change your everyday habits. Instead of, let’s say, taking the lift to your office every morning, how about taking the stairs instead? Or taking the bicycle instead of the car to buy a loaf of bread at the corner garage shop. How about cycling to work every day?

# 3: Follow a healthy, balanced diet. There’s no point in still scoffing down those Cornish pies and Cokes when embarking on an exercise program. Couple to your exercise program to a balanced eating plan to get the best results. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking enough water, eat healthy carbohydrates (pasta for instance) for long rides to build energy, and avoid processed foods and too much sugar. Snack on apples, bananas, and the like. Try some energy bars and energy drinks.

# 4: Quit smoking. This is a no-brainer, sure. However, we at Ride are always astonished at how many people embark on exercising programs without ever quitting smoking. At the risk of sounding like your primary school teacher, smoking will kill you. Don’t be the most muscularly toned, lung cancer corpse in the morgue. Quitting smoking isn’t easy and might be one of the most difficult things you will ever do, but the rewards are endless. Quitting smoking when embarking on an exercise program is a good idea as you will simply cycle off any withdrawal frustrations. Avoid smoke-quitting fads and gizmos and simply go cold turkey. Don’t fall for the “smoking one cigarette less each day” plan either. That’s just prolonging the anguish.

# 5: Make the time. Time is your biggest enemy. In today’s hurried lives, it is difficult to juggle work requirements, family commitments, and time for exercise. It gets worse in the wintertime when it gets dark early. It’s a cliché, but make the time for exercise. Be adaptable. Change that exercise program so that Monday is now your rest day; move that meeting around so that you can make it to the gym; etc. However, since exercise programs are for life, make sure that your new schedule is sustainable in the long term. Don’t make things too difficult for yourself, but it will require some effort.

# 6: Exercise at home.  Look at investing in an indoor trainer or “roller.” A roller is like an exercise bike, except you use your own bicycle by “cycling” on some rolling wheels. You won’t learn any road handling skills but it’ll keep you fit during those winter months. Avoid cheaper models as they can be noisy and make sure you mount your bike right because if you don’t you can wind up damaging your bike’s frame. You might also consider an old-fashioned exercise bike too. See if you can find a second-hand one in good nick on the Internet or at a pawnshop.

# 7: Dress for safety. If you do insist on cycling outside when it’s dark, then make sure your bike is fitted with the proper headlights, reflectors, and so on. The more, the better. Dress in loud reflective neon clothing to be as visible to motorists as possible. Don’t worry about feeling like a mobile Christmas tree. This is your personal safety we’re talking about here. Ride extra careful and cautious.

# 8: Buy a bike computer. OK, the term “bike computer” sounds a bit overwhelming but what we’re talking about here is basically a speedometer that will tell you far you’ve cycled, how fast you’re cycling, your average speed, gives you the current time, how long you have cycled today, and so on. There are more advanced models out there that can do all kinds of complicated things, but for most cyclists a basic model will do. You might skimp on stuff like expensive heart rate monitors (HRMs) and HRM watches, but a bike computer is sort of the minimum requirement you need for following any structured exercise plan. Even if you don’t plan on following any sort of exercise program, then a bike computer is a nice-to-have. Knowing how far and how fast you’ve cycled each day gives one a sense of accomplishment. Plus you can bore your spouse with how far you’ve been cycling lately. “You wouldn’t believe it, honey, but I’ve cycled twenty kilometres today!” “That’s nice, dear.”

# 9: Find the exercise program for you. There is loads of cycling exercise programs to be found on the Internet. Like many things on the Internet, they should be taken with a pinch of salt. Beware “one size fits all” and miracle “get fit in a week!” plans. A good plan should be tailored to your fitness levels and involve some kind of rudimentary fitness test before embarking on a custom regimen. The fitness test should involve either a heart rate monitor or something basic such as calculating your body mass index (BMI) which involves measuring and weighing yourself, or how many push-ups you can manage in a full minute. If you’re very unfit or overweight, then consulting with your doctor before undertaking any sort of exercise plan is highly recommended. Consulting with a sport professional is also a good idea.

A cycling exercise program will be like a pyramid in which you first build up endurance by going on LSD rides (it’s not what you think, it means Long Steady Distance) before working your way towards the pinnacle by focusing on your speed on hill climbing skills.

# 10: Customise your exercise plan. Any good plan will allow you to adapt the plan according to your fitness level. If you’re a beginner for example, then you might start off with 30 minutes rides. Someone of intermediate fitness level would cycle for 45 minutes for example while advanced cyclists will start with one-hour rides. A good plan will allow for rest days and longer rides on weekends. Rest days might be completely exercise-free or include some “light” exercise such as going for strolls or the like.

# 11: Get used to your bike first. If you’re completely new to cycling, then don’t kick off right away with an exercise plan. First, spend a week or so getting to know the controls on your bike by simply cycling around some quiet, flat streets in your neighbourhood. Take it rustig as they say in Afrikaans.

# 12: Be patient. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If you’re a beginner and/or unfit, then patience is a virtue. Don’t worry if it’s taking longer than you had hoped to get fit and strong. You’ll get there. Besides, fitness is a life-long project. Even if you’re doing only five moderate 30-minutes rides a week, then you’re way ahead of a person who does no exercise at all. If the results of your exercise regimen really disappoint you, then re-evaluate it. You might not be pushing yourself as hard as you can. However, always keep in mind the diet you are following and how regularly you exercise.

# 13: Recover. Do warm-up stretches before as well as after rides to minimise muscle cramps and pains. When you start cycling, kick off in a lower gear with more pedalling and only switch to higher gears later on.

# 14: Keep a training diary. It will give you a sense of accomplishment and help you working towards a goal. How detailed it is will depend on you, but you can include anything from your weight to the distance and average speed you did each day of exercise.

# 15: Buy a heart rate monitor. Many exercise programs require one.

# 16: Consider weight lifting. Some moderate weight lifting will prevent your arms and shoulders from getting tired while cycling. Don’t overdo it though. Lots of muscle mass means chugging more weight up steep hills. (Discussing any weight lifting regimen beforehand with someone knowledgeable is a good idea.)

# 17: Consider cross training. Think about taking up other sports such as swimming or jogging for your “rest” days. A decent exercise plan should allow for this. Even going for a walk is a good idea.

#18: Don’t overtrain. Overtraining can be the worst thing for your fitness goals. The effects can be demoralising and even dangerous. If you’re feeling tired and fatigued, then take a rest day or even two or more if the feeling persists. Remember, a rest day can mean doing some moderate exercise. However, don’t be tempted to overdo it on such “rest” days or so-called recovery rides. If you haven’t cycled for a long time or are recovering from an injury, then it is best to talk to your doctor before undertaking any new exercise programs. Learn to listen to your body and give it rest when it needs it. See a doctor if fatigue becomes chronic.

# 19: Breathe deeply while exercising. Inhale thorough your nose and exhale through your mouth. Maintain a regular pattern.

# 20: Stay motivated. We lied. Your biggest enemy is yourself. The most difficult thing about going exercising is simply going out the front door some days. The best way to stay motivated is to keep cycling fun. If it feels like torture, then rethink your strategy. Choose quieter roads; try exploring new neighbourhoods; maybe pick a more pleasant time of day to go cycling; and so on. With any exercise plan the only person you are competing against is yourself. We can’t all be Eddie Merckx. Don’t compare your fitness level to those of others. You can’t expect a duck to climb a tree and all that. It is all about self-improvement, which is why that training diary is such a good idea because then you can have all the improvement you have made right in front of you in black & white. And you will get better if you stick to it. Now go out there and go cycling right now!

Fitness 101