This guide will be focusing on improving your fitness, condition & heart rate, riding styles & techniques and, for more ambitious cyclists, to be more competitive on cycling events, such as: clothing, basic stuff for beginners, advanced training methods and exercises.
1) Cycling Clothing For Training
Starting from top to bottom:
Most important thing, to have and wear, is helmet. Before buying one, make sure it fits you properly. Helmets should have reflective stripes for urban and open road cycling.
Glasses are not necessary for short runs, but if you are training and planning to ride 1-3 hours, it would be desirable to wear ones. Purpose of wearing is protecting your eyes from sunlight, wind, insects and dust.
Sweat suit or cycling kit is made of a material which absorbs body fluids and it will keep you dryer. If you do not have one, or not planning to buy, you can wear regular t-shirt, shorts or track suit. But always bring spare ones, so you can change and dry yourself. Advantage of cycling kit, beside sweat absorption, is that it will give you more aerodynamic line and wind protection. It also has pockets on the back, so you can put tools, spare tires, snacks, phone, et cetera. Cycling shorts (bib-shorts) have cushioning for your crotch to make a ride more pleasant and reduce pressure, from saddle, on your genitals (especially helpful for women)
If you are touring, make sure to protect your exposed body parts from sunlight withjacket, armbands and long shorts. Consider wearing cycling gloves, because it will help you with handle grip. They have small cushions for more comfortable ride.
For beginners, I will not recommend cycling shoes, because they might have trouble on stopping bicycle. Locking them on pedals and riding is easy, but stopping the bike can be tricky. Before stopping, obviously, you need to unlock one leg by pushing heel sideways. But if bicycle tilts towards opposing direction of unlocked foot, at the same moment it stops, you will fall. If you decide to buy ones over regular sneaks, take mountain bike SPD shoes. They are easy to lock/unlock, comfortable and good for walking, unlike road cycling shoes. Experienced cyclists should have them because they have a lot advantages towards regular sneaker shoes:
- Correct foot placement
- Lock system provides efficient power transfer
- You, simultaneously, push and pull pedals, making your legs distribute closer power ratio
- Are able to generate more cadence than regulars in same gear (speed)
- Saves energy and rider is more durable and capable to cover bigger distance.
- SPD shoes are better suited for hybrid, mountain and touring bikes
- Regular cycling shoes are best road racing bikes
2) Training Tips For Beginners
For starters, train 2-3 per week. You do need to push yourself to much because in order to improve, your body needs rest, otherwise it will suffer from fatigue. If you use cycling, besides training, for transport or relaxation, do not hesitate to ride on resting days, just go for it. Distance coverage is more important than measuring time and do not bother yourself clocking time for certain distance. Starting distance suggestion: First 2 weeks: working days (Tue-Fri) 2x (20 to 25) km / (12.5 to 15.65) m, Sat (rest), Sun (weekend ride) 30-35 km / 18.75-21.85m, Mon (rest) .
Image Source: Bodyrock.tv
During the first week, you will have pain in legs and probably some difficulties with saddle adaption. That is unavoidable and it will be a ‘shock’ for your body because it was not accustomed on similar training conditions, unless you had other exercise activities (running, ball sports and gym). In the 2nd week all the pain will be gone and you will have smoother ride.
Next 2 weeks: 2x 25-30 km / 15.65-18.75 m, weekend ride 35-40 km / 21.85-25 m, Mon (rest)
After one month of training you will visibly improve your fitness, endurance, lung capacity and loose a couple of pounds. For next period of time you can add more distance or put one more day in your training schedule. But newer overdo it because your body needs rest at least 2 days / week. For weekend longer rides, bring some friend to accompany you, or join some local cycling club. That way it will be safer and you can learn a lot from experienced cyclists.
For selection for cycling route, always choose known roads, because you will have better sense for the environment. If you are just starting to cycle, I recommend cycling paths (assuming having one in your city / vicinity). Riding in less known surroundings and exploring new ones, is essence of cycling, but always bring fully charged phone and someone to accompany you in case if something happens (fall, flat tire, exhaustion and, god forbid, traffic accident)
Your introductory route should have 25-35 % climb with small incline between 2-4%. For people with weight issues, I recommend very small climbs or just flats, so they can avoid exhaustion & hyperinflation. Downhill roads should be wide and have long turns, or if there is no alternative you can always turn around on the end of the climb. Choose flats surrounded by tries, alleys, houses and buildings, so you can be protected from side/front wind. Avoid cycling in heavy traffic.
Before you start cycling, make sure you arrange all the preparations (checking tire for scraps & pressure, brakes and accessories that provides position for safety in traffic). Bring bottle of water and carry it on a small carrier (bottle cage) on bottom frame tube. Also take snacks with you that are easy for consumption and digestion (banana, chocolate, energy bar or gel). You can store them in your backpack or cycling shirt pocket.
Do not cycle right after your daily meal, because you might throw up during climb. During training, always make sure to hydrate yourself (every 5-10 minutes dependable of seasons, only small sips in order to not disturb breathing) so you won’t overheat your body or have exhaustion. Eat your snacks between 40-60 min. cycling interval (do not stuff yourself, eat slowly and save some if you plan to ride more), it will restore some of your energy for rest of the trip.
During summer days, ride in mornings or late afternoons so you can avoid heat. Always bring more liquid (2 bottles per 1,5hr) and do not take cold water (not good for body in training conditions). Drink lukewarm water and only apply cold water on your forehead or neck, to cool yourself from heat.
Dress yourself appropriate for colder conditions: wear long pants and jacket or sweat suit over cycling clothes. For longer rides, bring extra shirt and underwear for change in order to stay drier. While riding, try to inhale air with your nose and exhale trough mouth because cold air can be problematic for throat (you can wear ski mask or scarf)
When you start to cycling, never try to build up as much as speed possible and for next couple of miles, ride bicycle with low gear ratio producing high cadence (rpm). That way you will warm your ankles and muscles faster. In general every cyclist while training should pedal with high cadence (80-110 rotations per minute) so he can build up strength and endurance. Do not bother with high gears and pedaling low rpm, because it will just give you pain in legs and climbs would be less bearable.
After you done some warming up on flats, next up is climbing and I will show you tips and couple of tricks on how to handle climbs:
- Always be relaxed, do not think much about hill itself and keep eyes on the road
- Listening to music always helps a lot, but if traffic is tight, avoid it unless you are riding in parks, countryside, or cycling path.
- Choose 2nd (middle) crank chain ring for climbing, ride with 70-95 rotations / min (2nd or 3rd sprocket row on cassette, dependable on cadence and pace)
- At the beginning of climb, never force yourself and always try to save energy, because you will be cycling 20-30 min uphill (dependable of route choosing)
- Loosen grip on handlebar, lower your head a bit, relax shoulders, back need to be straight and move bottom onwards. While pedaling, make sure you do not spread legs and keep the knees close to top frame tube. Position like this will help you to better support upper body, make more space for lung expansion and it will give you more efficient power transfer on crank.
- If you have problem with pain in legs, downshift to bigger cassette sprocket and increase rpm for next 30-60 sec. You muscles will work faster that way, pain should be reduced and you can shift on initial gear.
- Cycling with high cadence will accelerate your heart rate, so if you have problems with breathing, shift to harder gear. That will low cadence, your legs will do more labor and after some short period of time you will breathe easier.
- On short heavy climbs, shift for 2 harder gears, elevate yourself from saddle and ride out of the saddle until you pass it. Use small flats on hills to refresh yourself and do not drink when you can hear your heart beating.
- Climbing can also be a bit psychological. Sweat, fast hearth beat, heavy breathing and pain can be frustrating, but that is part of every sport. Concentration and focus will be the key for overcoming such problems. You can also find a little compromise: always choose small movement over stopping, shift the lowest gear on crank. That way you body will recover fast and you will be able to accelerate again, or you can just walk and push the bike until the top.
- When you reach the top or certain climbing distance, make a quick stop to refresh & recover, eat some snacks and dry yourself.
Nothing is more trilling & exciting than cycling downhill but still you need to be careful about some things:
- Zip your jacket, especially during colder days because you need to protect yourself from wind and air while riding downhill
- Harden your handgrip on handlebar, have your index and middle finger always ready for braking.
- Follow your side line and never cut narrow corners.
- Only brake before turns and do not bother pedal in them.
- Pedal on straights but not to build more speed, just to keep your muscles warm
- Last section of your training should be flats:
- Ride on the biggest crank chain ring and keep high cadence (75-100 rotation / min)
- Try to choose a route with out heavy traffic, cross sections and traffic lights and follow the rules.
- If heavy traffic is unavoidable do not rush to pass everyone. Ride slowly so drivers can spot you. That way you will reduce chance of getting someone or yourself involved in accident.
- Wind can be your greatest ally or worst enemy on flats, so if you want to avoid side and head wind, ride in arias with trees, alleys or parks.
- In case you have strong constant headwind, do not fight it with heavy gear ratio and downshift so you can oppose it with high cadence. Cycling on alternately winds is the worst and avoid to cycle on days like these. They are unpredictable and you can only fight them with force (changing to high gear and elevating from saddle), which is frustrating and exhausting.
- After the training take a cool shower, eat light and rest
If you like, you can always check and see what guides other follow that you can find on youtube .
3) Advanced Training With Road Bikes
Prefer training with road racer bikes? You want to improve your strength and endurance for competitive cycling events? We will show you methods for training and some riding techniques that will shape your own cycling style.
Firs off all, I will not recommend to follow all advices of all pro cyclists. For example:
- Length and time for training: Pro cyclists dedicate most of the time for their carrier, in order to win or be the best possible support for their team. To achieve that they train 40+ hours/ week (warm-ups, everyday rides, warm-downs, exercises in gym, diet), like person with his normal working hours. They usually suggest that the ideal number of training hours for amateurs, who wants to compete on local events or criteria, between 15-20 riding hrs per week. For my opinion that is too much. Normal cycling enthusiast, with full working time, simply cannot achieve their full potential with so much riding hours. You will be exhausted, stressed and perform poorly.
- Cycling techniques: Every pro cyclist has different riding style. Through years of training and competing, they develop their own suitable methods for overcome obstacles (hard climbs, windy flats, riding on the head of group, time trial). Imitating or ‘copying’ cycling style from their advices, interviews, videos and instantly applying them to your riding, will not be any good for you. This way you may learn some specific body movements, saddle & arms positioning, pedaling techniques but it does not mean that you will instantly improve your performance. Worse is that there is a high chance that it will drop, simply because your body is not used to it. In order to avoid this, I will explain some fundamental things you need to know, in order to improve your own riding style.
- In order to get in shape for competitive amateur cycling, it is enough to train 3-4 times during a week with having plenty of time for rest and daily obligations.
- Train between 10-12 hours/week (250-300km) which includes 2 hrs of non-cycling exercises
Weekly Training Schedule:
Monday: always REST day
Tuesday: 1hr cycling (rpm heart rate training), 15min warm-up, 30min intense, 15min cool-down and 1hr of exercise
Wednesday: steady 2.5-3 hrs cycling with 75-80% power output
Thursday: 1hr cycling for body distressing from previous day
Friday: 2hrs of hill climb and hill repeats
Saturday: 1hr of exercise
Sunday: 3-4 hrs of steady ride
Rest day is very important to have after a long ride in order to fully recover. Light exercise, stretching and massage along with rich and healthy meals will help you recover more efficiently.
Rpm (cadence) training is for heart rate improvement and lungs capacity. You can train indoors, if you have cycling trainer for spinning, or riding on a hill with small slope (2-4% incline). Warm your muscles for 10-15 min with low gear ratio and start changing to harder gears during the next 20 min, maintaining the same high rpm (80-120). This will be hard and painful and if you are having second thoughts to stop pedaling you can always downshift or slow the pace for 30-40 sec, so your body can recover. For the last 2-3min shift to hardest gear you can possibly handle and give your 100% output. After that leave 10-15 min for cool-down so that you can distress and “calm” your body. Train like this twice a week for 1hr and you will improve cardiovascular system which will distinctly influence your performance on cycling.
Steady rides are meant for building strength and endurance. Choose your route based on known environment and terrain profile (2 climbs, 1 longer / straighter, 1 shorter / steeper and a lot of flats out of heavy traffic). Prep yourself well for 3-5 hrs rides (spare tire, tools, kits, liquid and food) and always try to bring someone riding with you. When training, do not put all your power at once (75-80% power output is enough) and if you are cycling in a group, cooperate, do not slack off. If you are newbie for several-hour rides, reduce your training 2-3 hrs max until you get enough shape and do not push yourself. Try to eat well at day before long ride and take a lot of carbohydrates (rice and pasta, avoid beans, they will give you bowel gases). During the ride you will burn a lot of calories and this will help you to store enough energy for trip. Also bring food that is easy to digest (banana, energy bar), water with dextrose (grape sugar) and small can of energy or soft drink. After the training, make sure you stretch and massage your muscles and have a full day rest.
Climbs are for development of leg muscles, pain tolerance and iron will. Almost every braking point of the race occurs on hills, so cyclists train themselves to survive or race on climbs. Find a hill or mountain with 8-15km of ascent road and terrain climbing variations (hard/short slopes, long/constant climbs, incline variations from 5-10%). Make sure you warm your legs on trainer or flat road before mountain. Do not climb with full force, divide strength on entire length of the road and save energy as much as you can. Rest and refresh yourself on flatter parts, elevate yourself from the saddle on short hard climbs. Saving the energy is the key for the next part of climb training: hill repeats. When you get to the top and turn around for downhill, ride from 3-5 min (time required for body recovery) or choose section with constant 5-7% incline, in order to repeat short climb distance. Purpose of hill repeats is for ‘learning’ how to ride out off comfort zone (breakouts on hills and chasing the ‘fugitive’ cyclist on climbs). Climb back with highest gear and rpm you can take for the next 1.6km (1 mile). Repeat this 5-6(later up 10) times and do not forget do refresh yourself on the way back. This is the hardest part of the training, with lot of pain, but after some time you will drastically improve heart rate, leg muscle volume and lungs will pull more air. Improving this, your performance on hills will be significant and since you accustomed body on that kind of conditions, you will feel less pain.
Before hitting the hill, relax and clear your mind, do not think too much about the climb.
Do not grip handlebars too much, relax shoulders and straighten your back. Position like this will release some pressure from diaphragm, enabling your lungs to expand. Having more air, your muscles will produce more energy for pedaling.
Ride most of your time sitting in saddle having steady cadence. There is no determined rpm for climbing. It is self-selected, so try to find your own suitable pace. On short steep sections of the road or serpentine corners, shift higher gear and ‘jump’ from the seat. That will slow your cadence, but it will give you more power to be able to pass it, with out loosing speed. Riding bike like this takes a lot of energy and strength, so do not pedal frequently in this position or it will lead towards exhaustion and pain.
Gear selection is also important for overcome different profiles of climbing road. The purpose of choosing the right gear is to avoid riding at 5-10% incline road with low cadence (30-50 rpm). For example, if you are pedaling on steep climb at 12-14 km/h with low cadence, having no option to lower your gear to bigger cassette sprocket, most likely is that you will get much more pain in legs, start slowly to lose strength and space for recovery. In another words climb will ‘break’ you and in situation like this most cyclists will stop or turn around. To avoid this, you need to have cassette gear ration with big sprockets (28-11, 32-12), for riding higher cadence (60-80 rpm).
Make sure you hydrate yourself on your way up and from time to time grab some snack (not before 45 min threshold). Do not drink or eat while having high heart rate. Wait for straighter sections of climb or slow your pace a bit, so you can refresh and recover. If the incline is constant, lower your cadence by up- shifting for 2-3 cassette sprockets. This way, your legs will do more labor and after 20-35 sec, it will slow your breathing, so you can have more room for refreshing. Do not hold this gear more that 1.5-2 min and change it to previous sprocket to release tension from legs.
Workout training exercises are designed to make your cycling performance and body support better. They enable you to use your muscles more efficiently in order to make more power for pedaling, take some tension form back and have reduced chance of injury. Start with basic warm-up (from neck to foot, and every ankle) for the next 10-15min and then begin with exercises for your support improvement:
- Side plank (60 seconds hold on both sides)
- Front plank (60 hold)
- Leg raise (60 seconds straight)
- Pelvic thrust (pushup your legs and hold 5-10 sec and down for another 5sec, repeat 5-6 times)
- Skydiver (hold from 60-90 sec)
- 90o sit ups (lay down on back and raise your legs up, so you can bend them 90o from ankles and push your head towards chest, holding for 5-10 sec), repeat 5-6 times.
- Pushups (3x 10-30)
For Muscle Improvement:
- Squats (quads, gluts and hamstrings). You can do it with out adding weight, or go to gym and do it with weight bar. Begin with 3×10-30 (with out weight) or 3×8-12 (with weight or bar). If you are new for gym exercising, always start with small sets or less weight on bar and do not try to put as much weight you think can handle. It is important to do workouts correctly than adding more weight.
- Dead lift (gym, 3×8-12) for legs, core, lower/upper back, traps, shoulders, hamstrings. If you cannot do it properly with weigh, try only raising empty bar or small set of weights.
- Leg press (3×8-12) for quads, hamstrings, gluts. It is also great exercise for someone having problems with lower back or knees.
- Calf raises (3×8-15/per leg).
Train like this 1-2 times per week for 1hr and for short period of time you will slightly improve your performance and have more comfortable ride.
4) Indoor Cycling Tips For Training
If weather conditions, such as rain, snow and frost disables from riding outdoors, or you just find it more pleasant to train at home, we will provide you with some knowledge and guidance for indoor cycling.
There are couple options to consider for this kind of exercise. You can train at home, getting stationary bike for spinning, or, if budget becomes an issue for its purchase, visit very well equipped gym.
Besides stationary, if already have a regular bicycle, you can mount it on cycling trainer:
- Magnetic and fluid trainers are easy to adjust, and will provide you with fair road simulation. The difference is in method (magnetic/fluid), as traction resistance and price. They are very similar by appearance and magnetic one is cheaper, but unlike the fluid trainer, during higher cadence and resistance, makes a lot of noise. I will recommend getting special tire for ‘indoor cycling only’ and spare wheel with cassette. Normal tire will quickly wear out and having an extra wheel only for trainer should spare you from changing it every time when preparing to train indoors.
- Direct drive trainer is different by appearance and mounting, but it will give you best possible cycling simulation. On mounting spot there is a disk with an extra cassette, so you will need to remove rear wheel and mount bicycle on. This will provide more stability, comfort and you won’t need to bother with an extra wheel or special rubber for indoors. One downside of direct drive trainer is price.
- Rollers are the simplest of all cycling trainers. It is basically ground-on frame with 3 rollers, one for front and two for rear wheel. Because of different bike frame size, front roller can be adjusted, moving it forward/backward on frame (make sure that it is always 2-3 cm /1 inch in front of wheel axel). Mounting bicycle and yourself on it is tricky, so make sure you have two objects (chairs), or put it between door-way in order to help yourself while climbing. Before mounting, make sure that gears are not too high or low (choose middle cassette sprocket) and one hand needs to be on rear brake so it could not slide off or move rollers. While pedaling, do not grip handlebars to tight and try to have constant cadence or front wheel will wobble and you can lose balance. For maintaining stability, beside cadence, push pedals trough tour hips and always look ahead 1 or 2 m on the ground. It would take some time and practice for getting used to it but they are best for pre-ride warm-ups and learning stability control. The only downside is that they will not provide you with efficient resistance as direct drive or fluid trainers.
- Train 2-4 times per week up to maximum 1hr. For beginners it is enough to train 30min and I will not recommend passing one hour threshold, because indoor cycling is not meant particularly for building endurance. Some pro cyclists or ironman competitors are known to train several hours, but still if you are preparing yourself for some endurance competition and you are limited by only using trainer, ride up to maximum of 2 hours. Indoor cycling will help you to:
- Elevate your functional heart rate and power
- Improve your cycling technique (rollers) and muscular capability
- Accelerates metabolism and energy usage
In another words you will burn calories faster, get fitter and strengthen upper body support (back, core, abdomen, shoulders) as increasing leg muscle volume. Always make your train sessions measurable using display programs / apps with current hear rate, power output, rpm (cadence), time and et cetera. To enhance your motivation, listen to music, watch television or install some simulation programs for cycling on your PC. Start session with 10-15 min warm-up (beginners 5-10 min). Chose steady cadence (between 70-110 rpm) and for increasing effort, build more rpm or shift to higher gear with maintaining the same cadence. You can train 4×2 min (2×2 min beg) high power output with 3-4 min recovery.Or you can start riding 1 minute in each gear for 10min (5 min beg) with constant cadence and 3-5 min recovery. Close session with 5-10 min steady warm-down.
There are many free guide-training videos & programs on social internet media following indoor cycling, so feel free to check some direct instruction and train watching professional spin-trainer classes.