Hard to believe it’s the end of March already! Daylight saving time is here, and spring has sprung. I know the weather doesn’t feel like spring right now, but at least the days are longer and (with the appropriate gear) you can ride outside.
In January we focused on mental and physical preparation; in February I talked specifically about what strength training to do. And now for March let’s talk about riding – yes, riding your bike!
It’s time to get on the bike at least 2-3 days a week so your body can get used to the physical act of riding your bike. But what should those rides look like? What if the weather is not cooperating? What about strength training?
The word I like to use this time of year is “consistency.” If you’re just starting to ride, spend 1-2 hours on each ride at a nice easy endurance pace (under 75% max HR, or where you can have a conversation on the bike). If you’ve been riding regularly (inside or out), throw in a longer ride at least one day a week, two if possible. You never want to increase your volume or intensity too much; gradually increase by 10-15% each week (if you’re going at a nice endurance/easy pace).
People often ask me, “What if I do spin class and it’s only 1 hour but at a higher intensity?” For high-intensity work, you should always listen to your body. You may need an extra easy day after any hard workouts you do this time of year, as your body may not be used to it. I’ll be suggesting starting some intensity next month, but for this month the best thing to do is get in endurance-effort rides plus strength and other overall fitness and fun activities. And be consistent!
Continue a full-body strength routine 2 days a week; just remember that, once you get back on the bike, you’ll most likely want to keep the weights on the lighter side with higher reps. Studies have shown that combining strength training with endurance riding does improve your overall endurance. You may not see the benefits for 4-6 weeks after you transition to a maintenance strength program, but it works. If you want to do an extra day of core work or yoga, that can only help you – as long as you’re getting enough recovery.
In a perfect world, what does a typical week look like? Ride 2-3 days a week at a minimum (do some other cardio – Nordic ski, hike, run – if you can’t ride), strength-train 2 days a week, and consider an optional third day of core only. For your riding and other cardio activities, stay in the endurance zone as much as possible and increase the volume over time as recommended above. Also, if you skate ski, that workout should be a bit shorter than an endurance bike ride (50-65% the length of time on the bike), since it is a more taxing workout.
People ask me, “What happens if I do go above the recommended zones?” Well, first and foremost, if your body isn’t ready for it (i.e., not enough base/easy work) or you’re already fatigued, you may end up sick or with an injury. You’ll need more recovery, and any early peak will not last as long as if you were to do appropriate base training with a gradual increase in intensity. Here’s a great article written by a very reputable source on why base building or endurance riding is so important: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/zone-2-training-for-endurance-athletes/.
Be sure to take at least one full day off a week; if you have a stressful job or are just tired, take two days off or one day off and an “active recovery” day (walk, yoga, easy spin of less than 1 hour at a low heart rate/just turning the pedals).
What is a full day off? That’s when you catch up on things around the house, rest your body or get a massage – but basically do nothing. If you’re someone who has a physically demanding job, you may need more than one day off from “structured” activity.
One thing to remember this month is that spring weather can be erratic and unpredictable. Dress in layers, carry rain gear and carry flat-changing tools/tube and nutrition/hydration – and pace yourself. Remember that when it’s cold outside we need to take in extra nutrition just to stay warm in addition to the nutrition to help us with the effort of the ride. It can be hard to remember to eat or drink when it’s cold outside, but that’s when you need it more.
Next month we’ll talk about introducing intensity into your rides, and nutrition.