Cycling is a great way to keep fit, enjoy scenic landscapes and spend some leisure time with family. It really works wonders and you don’t require any special training to enjoy this simple activity. Gouri Choundikar, PT helps you gear up for one of the most fun-filled activities.
We all remember the first time when we were gifted our very own bicycle – one of the dearest things that kids of all ages desire. Learning to cycle does not require a lot of training. As with swimming, once you learn cycling, you never really forget it, no matter how long you have been out of practise. It becomes one of the most cherished memories that we carry with us in our journey called life.
A better mode of transport
Development of modern technologies and easy access to things are making people sedentary. Also, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating habits are adding to unnecessary weight gain and obesity. Many corporate organisations and companies are now promoting cycling and walking as alternatives for short to moderate distance travelling.
Outdoor activities are always considered a great way of exercising. Cycling is one of the most effective modes of transportation. You can cycle anywhere and anytime of the year. It is one of best ways to explore your neighbourhood or city without having to juggle with parking spots or getting stuck in a traffic jam.
If you don’t feel like cycling alone you can join cycling groups. It is not only environment friendly but also easy on the pocket as you don’t have to worry about fuel prices – you are the fuel! Also, maintaining a bicycle is much more convenient than having to spend a day at the garage to get your vehicle serviced.
Cycling benefits all
Cycling is a great workout for all parts of your body as you balance yourself while pedalling the bike. It is comfortable and enjoyable form for losing weight and is relatively a non-weight bearing exercise unless you’re cycling in a standing position. In addition it also:
- Improves your cardiovascular fitness – Cycling makes the heart beat in a steady manner and improves cardiovascular fitness. Since it utilises the largest muscle groups, i.e. legs, it increases the heart rate and improves overall stamina and fitness. According to the British Medical Association, cycling just 20 miles a week can reduce the risk of heart disease by 50 per cent.
- Boosts stamina – cycling regularly enhances your endurance levels. However, cyclers never realise the amount of the distance they cover each time they cycle.
- Builds strength and muscle tone – cycling improves your muscle strength and tone. Since cycling involves working the entire body, not only the legs, it builds the entire body strength in a holistic manner.
- Aids in weight loss and management – cycling helps to shed fat and keep the weight off. Regular bike riding keeps the body lean and toned (less opportunity for flabby arms and legs). Although most people feel that the abdominal muscles are not being exercised the truth is that cycling also tightens the abdominal muscles and makes you look better defined.
- Great workout in certain medical conditions – cycling can be done even if you have arthritis of the lower limbs, lower back pains and history of knee or ankle injuries. Since pedal power is low impact, it takes the weight of the body. Therefore, most people who cannot do high impact sports or activities because of the pressure it puts on their joints, such as running, cycling serves a great alternative.
- Reduces stress – cycling reduces stress and depression and improves overall well-being and self-esteem. It is great for the mind and soul. Cycling outdoors is also a good way to be one with nature and to rejuvenate as it de-stresses the mind and releases happy hormones, endorphins.
- Rehabilitation – cycling improves your overall range of motion of lower limb joints not overall cause it only legs. Being a non-weight bearing exercise it does not put pressure on the joints. Stationary cycle (may or may not be accompanied with a back rest) and recumbent cycle (bicycles with back rest) are commonly recommended for people with leg injury, diabetic neuropathy, lower back aches and pains, central obesity etc. Owing to the low impact it has on the joints it is commonly used in foot and knee rehabilitation programs.
Make it interesting
Cycling need not be boring. With advances in technology most bicycles that are available in the market or in the gym are connected to video games, setting up a challenging workout for you. Many gyms these days conduct spinning classes, which are high energy intense work out done on a spinning cycle. With a motivating environment, music, beats, lightings and the instructor commands it is a fun way to burn fat. Some instructors also combine it with strength training, Pilates and yoga breaking the monotony from regular gym cycling.
Before heading out to engage in this sport, it is best to consider buying the right type of bicycle. Listed below are a few tips to help you.
- Right frame – while buying a bicycle suiting your body type and frame, straddle the bike and stand flat footed. If you are opting for road bikes (travelling on the roads, pavement or cycles track) there should be 1-2 inches of clearance between your groin and the top tube (connects the head of the top tube to the junction of the seat tube). For mountain biking, the clearance should be 2 inches. Handle bars in both cases should be 1 inch lower than the seat top.
- Getting the right seat – it would be absolutely uncomfortable to ride a bike with hard and narrow seat, especially for women who have wide sit bones. Saddle, which is anatomically designed wider, well- cushioned, gel filled or made of sheep skin is most preferable to ease the discomfort, friction and pressure. The seat should also be well adjusted so that the knees don’t get locked while extending or bend too much while rotating.
- Starting slowly - whether you are a beginner or totally out of shape it’s best to start slowly. Pedal for 30 minutes on an even terrain for 3–4 weeks and then gradually start challenging yourself with different terrains (e.g. hill), duration and intensity. Riding in groups, with friends will zip the distance faster and motivate you to become a better cyclist.
If you love outdoor cycling, here are some tips you should keep in mind before heading out:
- Dress right – while cycling it is best to wear sleek cycling shorts, preferably climalite as the fabric has fewer tendencies to wrinkle and cause less skin irritation. Also, opting for seamless cycling shorts with special lining, especially around the groin, will wick away perspiration. Wear bright coloured, reflective clothing in low light conditions. Put reflective taping on helmet, front and behind the bicycle. Additionally, you could put blinking tail lights on your bicycle. Wearing appropriate shoes to fit the pedal is also important to prevent the leg from slipping while pedalling.Also it is necessary to wear a helmet, elbow pads and knee pads to reduce the intensity of injury.
- Follow traffic rules and have road sense – give hand signals while turning, stay away from the driver’s blind spot, keep an eye out for potholes, vehicles etc. It is advisable to attach a rear-view handle bar mirror for safety.
- Stay hydrated – cycling causes sweating. Keep sipping a little water to replace the lost fluid and electrolytes.
- Shift position – frequently changing your hand and body position changes the angle on your back, neck and arms so that different muscles are worked and pressure is put on different nerves. Also avoid keeping your hands on the curved part of the handle bar for a long time as this causes cramps in hands, shoulders and neck. Try and keep the arms relaxed; and avoid elbow locking, as this will act as a shock absorber.
Gouri Choundikar (PT) is a Physiotherapist at Chellaram Diabetes Institute, Pune.