Bicycling MARCH FEATURE
byline: Fred Matheny (ed.)
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
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.
ON YOUR RIDE
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
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
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.