Good techniques help maximize the benefits of your bicycle workout

As I have bicycled around the valley over the past several months, I have seen a lot of new riders on the road. In particular, I have seen numerous young (60+) adults like myself out riding. Seeing these "youngsters" pedaling gives me encouragement that other folks are finding the fountain of youth through bicycling.

However, whether you're young or just young at heart, knowing good bicycle workout techniques will help you get the most benefits out of a ride, improve your fitness level, minimize the aches and pains and increase your riding enjoyment.

A balanced cycling workout is the key to enjoying a ride while at the same time reaping the benefits of a good workout for the muscles, lungs and heart.

Regardless of your age and your goals, a good cycling workout should include three basic components: a warm-up, an aerobic phase and a cool down period.

Exercise and recovery comprise fitness conditioning. Short change either one of these components and you will compromise benefits and invite injury to your body. Wearing a heart monitor is the easiest way to measure how hard you are pushing your body and can help you recognize when you are pushing too hard. You can refer to my February 2006 column on using heart-rate monitors and my January 2006 column about overtraining by clicking on the links in this story at

A good warm-up prepares your muscles for cycling, decreases aches and pains and improves performance in the rest of your workout. Start the warm-up period by cycling at a slow pace and an easy pedal spin. You want to gradually increase your heart rate from its resting rate to a moderate level. Usually the warm-up period should be about five to 10 minutes and you should just be breaking a light sweat at the end of it.

A more vigorous form of cycling (aerobic riding) is the core of the workout program. The aerobic level should raise your heart rate to a level higher than the warm-up but not so high that it stresses your heart and lungs and you feel exhausted. Pedaling between 85 and 90 revolutions per minute will bring most cyclists into the aerobic range. The time you spend in aerobic phase will depend on your fitness level and where you are within your fitness training program.

The cool-down period enables your cardiovascular system to gradually return to normal and allows your muscles to rid themselves of the lactic acid that accumulated during the aerobic phase of the workout. Ten minutes is usually ample time for a good cool-down period as you reduce the pedal stroke revolutions per minute and shift into an easy gear. Stopping your cycling abruptly right after the aerobic phase can cause light headedness, muscle spasms, or cramps and stiff or sore muscles after the ride.

If you are new to cycling, especially if you are in your mature years, limit your cycling workouts to small doses, both in time and in miles. Work slowly into a more demanding routine, to avoid overtaxing your heart, lungs, and muscle groups.

Stretching your legs (quadriceps and hamstrings), lower back and neck before and after cycling workouts promotes flexibility and decreases the risk of injury.

Because cycling is a non-weight bearing exercise, consider balancing your regular exercise program with some form of weight bearing exercise (running, walking, and weight lifting). Weight bearing exercises are needed to maintain good bone health.

It's just as important to not "over do it" as it is to just "do it." Older bodies need more recovery time between periods of exercise. You are begging for an injury and serious fatigue if you don't plan recovery time into your bicycle riding schedule. A good rule of thumb for daily riders is to have at least one day off of the bicycle a week. For us "younger folks" like myself, it doesn't hurt to take two days off the bike. Or, take one day off the bike and another day with a very easy ride in which you barely elevate your heart rate. If you are just starting out with a bicycle exercise program, a ride every other day is sufficient.

Train smart, and you will stay healthier and be fit enough to ride your bicycle into the sunset years.

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.

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