I had an interesting exchange of comments with the Highway Cycling Group this evening about how to cycle when you aim to lose weight and get fit.
Given the current increasing popularity of cycling in the UK and elsewhere, it is safe to assume that there are many people who are considering joining in the fun but some of them, who are overweight or of advancing years, or both, might be worried about launching into this seemingly strenuous exercise having done nothing of the sort for many years.
Well, the first thing I must say is that I am not a medical person and it makes good sense to consult your doctor first if you have such worries. Secondly, cycling need not be as strenuous as you may imagine.
The main point here is how to cycle to achieve your particular objective. It is probably an oversimplification but it seems that there are two options here and you can choose either or both.
First, if you want to build muscles and strength and be the next winner of Le Tour de France then you will have to push yourself, that is, aim to cycle faster and faster over time, and tackle those hills with grim determination – and believe me it can be grim as they get steeper and longer. You won’t do your knees a lot of good and your muscles will burn with the effort but you will get stronger. Apparently it is not the length of the ride that matters here so much as the amount of effort involved.
But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be like that. Merely to lose weight and gain fitness you are free to approach your cycling in a much more dignified and leisurely fashion.
Evidently, our bodies don’t start using the energy which is stored as fat until we have been pretty active for around 30 minutes. After that time we are using our fat reserves to supply the required energy – and that means losing weight – provided of course that we don’t increase our food intake to compensate. The thing is that you don’t have to “bust a gut” to lose weight. There is no need to make hard work of it. You DO need to cycle for between one and two hours but you can take it at a comfortable pace.
So, to summarise, make heavy work of your cycling, but in short sessions, if you are aiming at building muscles and strength. Make light work of it to lose weight and gain fitness – that is, a comfortable speed for you, and use your gears to pedal faster rather than harder.
All comments welcome, especially from medical and sports fitness specialists.