byline: Fred Matheny (ed.)

Healthy Habits

SMALL CHANGES: 15 Quick Tricks to Add Spice to Your Training

Dawn in the desert.  A blood-red sun rising over an Arizona motel parking lot reflects off the jerseys of 40 cyclists shivering in the long March chill.  Race Across America legend Long Haldeman is partial to early starts at his spring training camp in Sierra Vista, so some riders are making perfunctory efforts at calf-stretching and derailleur-tweaking. The air that drifts in from the Chiricahua mountains to the east carries an odor of dust, cactus, greening shrubs and chain lube.  We're like restless cattle, eager for the day's ride- 75 miles over Mule Pass, out of mining town and tourist attraction Bisbee, then on to Tombstone where the real West lies buried at the OK Corral.

But over to one side, a lone cowboy is prone on the blacktop.  He's a wiry figure in lycra pumping out pushups, his breath coming in intermittent puffs of steam.  Must be Jeff Poulin, a software engineer from Owego (not Oswego- we checked), New York, whom I  met earlier- an otherwise ordinary guy who impressed me with his strong riding and attention to detail.

But pushups at 8 a.m., before a 75-mile ride? "What's up?" I ask him.

"We all develop habits," he says, "some good and some bad."  He springs off the ground and climbs onto his bike. "So one morning I made a list of simple things to do every day- habits that will help my cycling and my health.  Like early morning pushups."

Great idea. It works too--Poulin's efficient daily routine helped him win his first criterium several months later.

"It's easier to change bad habits into good ones if you make changes slowly," says Poulin. "Try for one new behavior a week. And remember:  You're trying to build a few good habits, not become a quivering neurotic, so don't worry when you backslide occasionally."

So, with Poulin's help, we came up with a list of good cycling habits and advice on how to nurture them- to compensate for a few of those bad habits you've picked up along the way.  After all, you don't want to take up premature residence in Boot Hill.


Healthy Habit #1- Warm Up Slowly

Do you jump on the bike and go hard from the start of every ride?  Bad idea.  Instead, ride in the small chainring, spinning gently at 90 rpm or more. If you wear a heart rate monitor, vow not to hit triple digits for at least 10 minutes.

Healthy Habit #2- Vary Your Rides

Are all your rides the same?  The cure is to choose a goal for every one. Want to become a better sprinter? Go all-out for the city limit sign each time you return to town. Or make it a habit to sprint at pre-determined cues. Poulin's cycling club does "yellow diamond" rides where they all sprint for road signs. "We have a blast," says Poulin. "Sometimes we see signs far away and play cat and mouse while sometimes the appear unexpectedly so we have a wild dash."  Improving bike handling skills can be another goal.  One evening per week, ride your mountain bike, or use your road bike on trails.

Healthy Habit #3- Learn to Love the Hills
Most people hate hills because they, well, hurt. But climbs also make yiou stronger. So include one hilly ride a week in your regimen.  In the process, you'll ifnd the climbing style that works for you.  Remember that '98 Tour de France winner Marco Pantani "dances" up climbs at a cadence of 80-90 rpm while '97 winner Jan Ullrich "grinds" up effectively at about 60 rpm.

Healthy Habit #4- Master the Minutiae

Are there certain technical skills that you can't seem to conquer? Make a point of honing one or two techniques a week. For instance, if you fumble trying to get clipped into your pedals, practice at each traffic light or stop sign. Remind yourself to stop and unclip, and you'll be forced to practice turning over the pedal and engaging the cleat. Don't know how to bunny hop or carve a tight turn? Find an empty parking lot and play "jump and dodge the potholes."  (Or do it in a grassy field.)  The same things goes for no-handed riding, reaching for a bottle, and other skills.

Healthy Habit #5- Find a Friend for Motivation

If you sometime lack motivation to get out the door and ride, find someone with similar goals and aspirations in the sport and share a ride at least once each week. "It helps you commit to your goals," says Poulin, "and it makes rides more fun.  My "bike buddy" and I ride at almost the same level but he likes to attack the hills and make me chase until my lungs explode. Then I try to get even on the flats until we finally call a truce. It's made us both a lot better."  If you can't locate someone to ride with, join a local cycling club.

Healthy Habit #6- Vary Your Speed

If you do all your rides at the same moderate speed, you don't improve. To solve this, determine your elapsed time on your cyclecomputer for a favorite training loop. Then, once a month, push hard and try to beat your previous record. Poulin's goal is to set a new personal record on his favorite loop once per year. One caution: don't go all-out too often. Most rides should be for fun and developing aerobic fitness.

Healthy Habit #7- Build Your Upper Body

Many cyclists have budded legs- but a wimpy upper body.  To solve this, as soon as you hang up the bike after your ride, do two sets of pushups, crunches and pullups. Between sets, slug down an energy-replacement drink so you're fueled up for tomorrow.


Healthy Habit #8- Stay Hydrated Throughout the Day

Do you swill multiple mugs of coffee as you toil in your beige cubicle?  Instead, fill your mug (better wash the coffee out first) with ice water. You can still make that sipping motion all day but you'll eliminate those caffeine jitters. And when it's time for your after-work ride, you'll be hydrated.  (Coffee is a diuretic and can have the opposite effect.)

Healthy Habit #9- Walk Your Way to Weight Loss

Many of us phone our colleagues even though they work in the same building.  Instead, walk to the other side of the building to see them in person. The walk will stretch your legs.  Another benefit: Each bit of exercise, no matter how modest, burns calories. So don't just amble down the hall.  Pick up the pace!  You'll get your heart pumping as you stride past others in the hallway.  And always take the stairs rather than the elevator- going up or down. Best of all, your fellow employee will appreciate the personal visit.

Healthy Habit #10- Perfect Your Posture

Do you hunch over your desk when reading those boring corporate reports?  Instead, plop down on the carpet and do some stretches while you read. You'll find it much more comfortable and your alertness will increase, too. You never know; there could be something important in there!  Other tips: Use a lubar pad, or adjust your computer screen to foster a more upright position.


Healthy Habit #11- Do Mornings Like a Marine

Sometimes when we crawl out of bed, it takes two hours to fully awaken. Jolt yourself into awareness by doing 25 pushups and 25 crunches as soon as you roll out, every other morning. Sure, this one takes some discipline to get started. But once you're in the habit, it's a relatively painless way to get in some quick upper body work.

Healthy Habit #12- Do Errands by Bike

We all use the car too much.  Instead, see how many errands you can do on the bike, such as going to the bank, buying stamps at the Post Office, or getting that cuppa joe.  (If you'r a tad shy about wearing Lycra in the bank, get some casual clothes for these errands, such as baggy shorts and a logo-free wool jersey.) If you have to drive, install a pull up bar in the doorway from the house to the garage and do five pullups every time you head for the car.  That'll teach ya.

Healthy Habit #13- Be Productive in Front of the TV

Ok, you're a TV addict. Many of us are.  Make something more of this time by doing a simple stretching routine. For a selection of useful stretches, see Bob Anderson's book Stretching (800/333-1307; CO).  When you're flaked out on the sofa watching TV in the evening, use the time for self-massage on those tired legs. (See Workout, November '98.)

Healthy Habit #14- Take a Bath Instead of a Shower
If your legs are sore from your ride, standing in the shower can make them worse. Instead, take a hot bath- it'll do wonders for the mind and body. Poulin says he takes a copy of Bicycling with him, "which explains why his old copies look like they've gone through the wash."  Hey, we prefer that to the other place that readers tell us they read our esteemed publication.

Healthy Habit #15- Do the "Dear Diary" Thing
If you don't have a record of your rides and events, you won't be able to decide what training techniques work and which ones don't. So keep a training log. Store it near your bike gear so you'll automatically remember to fill in the particulars of the day's jaunt.