Building Fitness Through Cycling

Cycling can be a fantastic way to improve fitness for riders of all age groups and abilities, but before embarking on an intense training programme, it is important for cyclists to determine their current level of fitness.

A simple test can be used to ascertain fitness levels, but first ensure the bike is in good order – take it to a shop for a service if necessary – and get a general health check from a doctor.

For the test, find a flat course that measures three miles (five kilometres) and is not too busy with traffic. Choose a day when there is little or no wind and the temperature is mild. Eat and drink healthy throughout the day, but try not to eat in the two hours before the test.

Warm up for 10 minutes, doing enough to breathe hard but not going flat out. Ideally, the rider should have someone available to hold them up at the start, but if not roll up to the start slowly.

Try not to start too quickly, allowing around two minutes to reach top speed, and select a gear that allows a pedal rate, or cadence, of between 80 and 90 revolutions per minute, as this is an efficient rate of pedalling.

Cool Down

Time the test to the nearest second and afterwards record the weather conditions, gearing used and how much effort it took, rated from one to 10 with one being the easiest and 10 the hardest. Finish the test with an easy ride of at least five minutes in a low gear to cool down.

Men who take over 12 minutes to cover the three miles are ranked novices. Beginners will take between 10 and 12 minutes, intermediates eight to 10 minutes and sport cyclists under eight minutes.

For women, novices take over 14 minutes, beginners 12 to 14 minutes, intermediates 10 to 12 minutes and sport cyclists under 10 minutes. T

hose who complete the course significantly quicker than the times for sports cyclists should consider contacting a coach or joining a club to improve their skills.

Choosing a Suitable Training Programme

Once the level of fitness has been established, a suitable training programme can be developed. In order to boost fitness, use a mix of four different training routines, namely:

  • Constant speed training: Keep a relatively low cadence of between 80 and 90 rpm and try to ride the whole length of the workout with as few interruptions as possible. This will raise aerobic capacity.
  • Revolutions training: On a fairly flat road, use light gears and low pedal resistance. Start with a cadence of 90 to 100 rpm and slowly increase it to a maximum of 120 rpm. Pedal smoothly and try not to bounce or rock on the saddle. This will improve pedalling efficiency.
  • Stop-start training: On a long, clear stretch of road or an indoor trainer, choose a gear that allows a cadence of over 100rpm. Keep a good pedal rate, changing down gears if necessary, and maintain the intensity. Train in three-minute bursts with three minutes of recovery time between stints. This will increase the body’s efficiency.
  • Full tilt training: Choose a moderate gear and get up to a moderate speed on flat terrain and then sprint, getting out of the saddle to start with and then sitting down if necessary. Give it 100 per cent and maintain a high cadence and good technique. Sprint bursts should last no more than 12 seconds with at least five minutes of recovery between stints. This will boost acceleration rate.

Initially, all riders should train for only two-and-a-half hours per week. Beginners can gradually build up to four hours per week by the eighth week. Workouts should be of moderate intensity and progressive to improve aerobic fitness.

Intermediates can build up to five-and-a-half hours per week and will soon be able to maintain a faster riding pace. Sport cyclists can develop the ability to handle changes in pace when riding in a group by training for up to six-and-a-half hours per week at a more intense level.

After around eight weeks of training, riders can retake the initial fitness test, using the same route. Take note of any improvements and switch to a more appropriate training routine if necessary.