The winter is not a nice time to go out on cycle rides. The long dark nights, the cruddy roads, the shorter days and the colder temperatures put many cyclists off, resulting in bikes being hung on the bike rack and the cycling gear put away until the more pleasant conditions of spring arrives many months down the line.
Extended periods off cycling will obviously affect the body. Going to the gym regularly, or doing some kind of regular exercise, will help to maintain core fitness levels however your cycling speed, stamina and technique will suffer somewhat. Some people may think that using an exercise bike, or a cross trainer, is a realistic and viable alternative to using a proper cycle however there are no substitutes for getting your bike out and hitting the road or the trails. So, what is the best way to get back in to cycling after a long break?
Because of the reduced cycling activity during the winter months the first thing to note is that you are not going to be able to ride as far as fast as you could do when you put your cycle away for the winter. Planning a long route and expecting to complete it in a personal best time is not going to happen, so don’t even bother trying this. Many people have fallen in to the trap of doing this, myself included, and there is nothing more de-motivating than struggling on your first ride after a long break.
So, in order to avoid disappointment and keep motivated the best thing to do is to start slowly and gradually build up. Your body would have had a break over the winter months, breaking the cycling habit so the first thing to do is to get this habit back. You need to start cycling regularly once more.
It is advisable the first ride out is no more than thirty minutes. This may seem like a waste of time compared to last summer when you were regularly out riding for a couple of hours, but you need to start slowly and build up your fitness once more. During the first week back you should complete a maximum of three rides totalling no more than two hours. You should also leave at least one day between rides to let your legs fully recover and prepare themselves for the next ride.
When starting back cycling you need to devise a plan. Start with short, easy rides and gradually increase the cycling time, and hence the distance. Don’t overdo it and try to go too far too soon as this is likely to end up in injury, which will set you back.
It is very tempting to do too much too soon, but it is important you resist. It is also easy to skip rides altogether, however you need to remain strong and motivated and go out on your bike. There are many excuses we can use to skip rides, such as poor weather, feeling tired or simply can’t be bothered. If you are serious about cycling you will get out on your bike regardless of the weather or how you feel, and whilst it may seem a chore to begin with a few miles down the road and you will soon find yourself feeling much better and motivated. So, the moral of the story is to religiously follow the plan.
You are more likely to stick to the plan if your rides are interesting. Doing the same routes over and over again will soon get boring which my lead to decreased motivation. To combat this you need to vary your rides and change them. When going out on a cycle ride never “wing it” and make it up as you go along. It is best to spend an evening devising several different routes and writing them down. Then, before you go for a cycle ride it is simply a matter of selecting a route and following it. The internet is a great tool for devising cycle routes and a great program to use is Gmap pedometer. This is easy to use, intuitive and best of all, it is totally free.
It is believed that the optimum training plan has a duration of seven weeks. It is thought that by then end of the seventh week the body has adapted to the training plan and will not progress any further. Bearing this in mind, it is advisable to have several training plans that last for say six weeks. You need to follow one and once complete move on to the next one, and then the next and so on. Each training plan should get progressively more difficult and contain longer and longer rides.
So, if you have had the winter off and are looking to get back in to your cycling again this spring the key things to remember are;
i) Start off slow and gradually increase the distance and speed of your rides
ii) Devise a plan and religiously stick to it for no more than six weeks
iii) Vary your routes to keep the rides interesting
iv) Maintain a training diary to keep track of your progress