If you are one of those people who leisurely pedal around the block or over a flat stretch of scenic road, you’ve probably been riding for sheer pleasure. Riding bikes for pleasure is a good form of aerobic exercise. But unless you map out a plan to “push yourself,” you probably won’t lose much weight.
I really get sick of hearing people say, “No pain, no gain!” But the old adage is true when it comes to riding bikes to lose weight. By pushing your cycling distance or speed, you are sure to feel some pain in your leg muscles, your hands, wrists, and your derriere– even some pain in your throat and lungs as your body tries to accommodate your increased demand for oxygen.
HEALTH TIP: Stretching exercises prior to exercising are helpful in preventing injury!
GETTING YOUR BICYCLE READY…TO ROLL OFF THE WEIGHT
Your first concern will be outfitting your bicycle. If you need an excuse to purchase a new bike, this is an excellent opportunity! I went from a 3-speed bicycle for leisure riding, to a 24-speed bicycle for more committed exercising. Once I learned how the different gears worked, I was very thankful for the extra speeds. They make my ride faster and the hills a lot easier to handle.
We’ve found the guys at the bicycle shop to be very helpful, and concerned for our unique cycling needs. Rather than simply steering us toward the most expensive bicycle available (as I had expected), they asked how much riding we would be doing, whether we were trying for speed or leisure, and whether we would be riding on paved roads or dirt trails. When you honestly share your goals and level of experience, the sales clerks can match you with exactly what you need. They want you to be successful in your biking venture!
Some state laws require bicycle lights. But if you will be riding anytime from dusk to dawn, common sense demands that you have lights on your bicycle. These little accessories are battery-operated and last a long time. There are a variety of lights to choose from. My tail light has different blinking speeds, and is designed to make my bike visible to cars approaching from both the rear and the sides. Check for brightness before you buy one. Install the light where it makes the most sense.
We held off on buying a speedometer and odometer unit for our bikes, but once we got serious about losing weight and getting in shape, this feature became a “must have.” You simply cannot track your progress without knowing how far and how fast you’re riding.
If you already have a bicycle, take it to the bike shop for a safety inspection each season. They should check the gears, tires and brakes to make sure everything is working properly. They can adjust your seat to fit your height and adjust the handlebars to fit your reach, making your ride more comfortable. If you’re lucky, they might even clean and polish your bike!
If you want to save money in the long run, you can find books and videos that teach you how to care for your own bicycle. It’s always a great idea to know how to change your own flat tire and adjust a loose chain.
Another must have is a bicycle pump. Ask your bike dealer how many pounds of air pressure to put in your bicycle tires. Check the tires each time you get ready to ride! We guessed at the air pressure one summer day, and lived to regret it. We rode the bikes to the swimming pool, not realizing that one tire was too full. While we were cooling off in the water, the hot sun was rapidly expanding the air in the tires-one tire blew as it sat in the parking lot. The day in the sun was not so fun, once the pool closed and we had to wait for a truck to haul us home!
HEALTH TIP: Talk with your doctor first, and get his or her blessing before you increase your rate of physical activity!
STAYING COMFORTABLE ON YOUR BIKE
Sitting for long periods of time on a bicycle seat can cause pain, discomfort, and even serious blood circulation problems in avid bicyclists. At your local bike shop, you’ll find a variety of bicycle seats made specifically for your comfort and health. The salespeople at our local bike shop encouraged us to try out new seats on our bikes for a few days. My husband found the split seat to be more comfortable for himself, while I opted to keep my old gel seat. Someone has even invented seats that look more like a bird perch than a bicycle seat!
HEALTH TIP: Get off your bicycle seat and walk around every 25 minutes or so to get the blood flow to important unmentionable parts of your body.
Think about your clothing…you don’t have to have padded biker shorts and special clothing to start riding bikes. There are actually scientifically engineered fabrics designed to pull sweat away from your body in the summer and to keep you from getting hypothermia in the winter. But for now, just wear layers of comfortable sports clothes.
Make sure your clothes aren’t so tight that you are miserable trying to pedal. But they shouldn’t be loose enough to become entangled in the bicycle chain, either! If you become overheated, strip off a layer. If you get cold, add a layer. Wear light or bright colors to allow drivers to see you easily.
It really helps to have a small cargo rack on the back of your bike. Mine looks like a little shelf over the back tire. It has two bungee cords to keep any cargo securely fastened to the bike. I’ve used it to tote a small picnic cooler, a shopping bag or extra clothes.
I had the bike shop attach a water bottle holder to the bike under my seat. I can grab a quick swig as I ride or pour some water over my pulse points to cool off a bit. Take small sips of water when needed during your bike ride, rather than chugging huge gulps.
A helmet is almost a must. Life is filled with hazards-and biking has its share. Be smart. Wear a helmet. You can buy a cool rear-view mirror for your helmet. The mirror helps you see when it’s safe to turn and lets you observe traffic coming up from behind.
I recommend wearing sunglasses-both for the sun and for bugs! At certain times of the year, the air is thick with flying insects. Getting a tiny bug in your eye is a painful event. For contact wearers, carry a contact case and lens cleaner on bike rides for just that reason. Some day you’ll be glad you did!
HEALTH TIP: Shake your hands downward frequently to get the blood flowing and to prevent pain or numbness in your arms and hands.
MAPPING OUT A WEIGHT LOSS PLAN
You will want to keep a record of your daily diet and food intake, your weekly body measurements and weight, as well as your bicycling miles and time.
The web site is an excellent way to track your progress. It is very easy to use-simply type in your information you wish to track. As the only community fitness web site of its kind, you’ll find it to be a fantastic motivation tool that will print out charts and graphs to show how much progress you’ve made in a few days, a week, or a month!
It keeps track of your food, vitamin, and supplement intake. Thousands of foods have already been analyzed by experts for number of calories, fat, carbs, and protein. You simply select the foods you ate from a pull down feature, and the daily total is tallied for you. Make sure you don’t exercise when you’ve just eaten, or when it’s almost meal time. Both times will slow you down.
No matter how humiliating it is, measure your arms, legs, chest, waist, neck, hips and thighs once a week. The software keeps track of your weight and body measurements. The thrill of seeing those same inches melt away in the coming weeks will be worth the effort. It’s especially impressive seen as a graph!
Consider investing in an instrument that actually measures body fat-there are inexpensive pincer-type instruments that measure fat by pinching you, or buy a set of bathroom scales that cost more but calculate body fat quite painlessly.
Try to ride 4-6 days per week. When you map out your weight loss plan, your short-term goals will change as you change. You’ll quickly develop stamina for longer distance. As fat turns to muscle, your speed will increase. Each week, try to increase either your mileage or your speed.
You know how far you’ve been able to ride, thus far. Start keeping track of the exact route you are taking, the total mileage, and the length of time it took you. Make notes in your records for special circumstances. Did it get dark outside so you were forced to cut your ride short? Did the road crews dump a layer of gravel on your normally paved road?
What was the weather like? Was it dangerously hot? Was it windy? The wind can be your friend or your enemy. When the wind is behind you, your ride is a breeze…but coming from any other direction, be prepared to huff and puff. Accept any length of time as a job well done and simply get the ride accomplished!
Finally, add an upper body workout three times per week. Bicycling works your legs, but to get the rest of your body firm and trim, you’ll need to exercise your upper body, as well. The web site, created by a certified personal fitness trainer, has excellent features which allow you to design and track this portion of your fitness program, as well.
Bicycle riding is a fun, inexpensive form of aerobic exercise-it’s good for every part of you. But be warned-you will need to buy a whole new wardrobe for the thinner, more beautifully fit body that emerges!