With the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, the nation is suddenly finding itself spending a lot more time indoors.
And now that all gyms — and a huge number of parks and gardens — are closed to the public, the question has to be asked: how are we going to stay fit?
Cycling might just be the answer you’re looking for.
Why cycling is pandemic-proof
While there are several exercise options to choose from, none of them are quite as well-suited to the COVID-19 crisis as cycling is. Here’s why:
1. It gets the most out of the one-hour rule
Under the latest lockdown rules, the UK Government stipulates that citizens should only go outside to exercise “for a maximum of one hour a day”.
But while an hour of walking burns less than 250 calories, that same hour on the bike can take your total up to almost 600 calories: that’s more than double.
Cycling also has several beneficial effects on muscles which are particularly important when a lot of time will be spent at home. It works your glutes, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, calves, quadriceps and your core, helping you maintain all-round fitness.
2. It maintains social distancing rules
Restricting all non-essential travel means that, while you’re still likely to cross paths with pedestrians or runners on the pavement, the roads are empty.
With no motorists around, cyclists can make more use of the roads. That way, they can keep at least two metres apart from potentially vulnerable pedestrians at all times with minimal effort.
For those frontline workers who are keeping us safe, cycling is also a great way to commute. It means you can avoid the close contact you might get on public transport from other commuters while keeping your heart healthy.
3. It boosts your mental health
One of the biggest side effects of the lockdown has been the impact it’s had on mental health. Research shows that cycling can make you happier for up to 12 hours after you’ve finished. One ride a day can be the difference between staying positive and succumbing to common mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
So what about those who have to stay confined indoors? The Government stipulates that those sharing a household with anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19 must stay indoors for 14 days; that’s an awfully long time to stay out of the saddle.
We spoke to Merlin Cycles’ Bex Rimmington about how you can make indoor cycling work for you so you can take your training to the next level even when you’re stuck inside.
1. Invest in the right equipment
The lockdown might not seem like a big opportunity to increase your fitness levels but we have more time than ever to invest in our exercise routines.
For those wanting to ramp things up, it might be worth investing financially, too. “Equipment can vary depending on how much you want to spend and whether you want to join in with the technology that is out there,” says Rimmington.
“Basic turbo trainers allow you to do your training while you watch a movie or listen to music. For those wanting to spend a bit more money, there is the option of buying a smart trainer, and an ANT+ dongle to allow you to connect your mobile or device so that you can join in with Zwift and other cycling gaming platforms.
“However, you can join in with Zwift with a basic turbo just using an ANT+ Speed and cadence sensor so you don’t have to spend hundreds to get set up if you just want something to get started.”
2. Go online
For those missing the social aspect of cycling, Rimmington recommends taking your rides online from your living room. “The great thing about online platforms such as Zwift is that you can create meetups with your friends, join in on group sessions and sessions with intervals. You can challenge yourself to climb the virtual Alpe d’Huez or try to tick off all 50 levels — which will require a great deal of effort.”
3. Build a training plan
“There is the option to load your training plan through training peaks or today’s plan to Zwift,” advises Rimmington. “This will allow you to follow the session if your coach has prescribed something for you without having to stick a post-it note on your handlebars.
“Alternatively, you can keep it simple with a bike computer. It records metrics such as heart rate, perceived exertion or power. Rimmington recommends planning some of your time to focus on improving your technique, which will benefit your overall performance.
“The turbo allows you to practice getting that pedal stroke nice and smooth. You can do one-legged pedalling drills at a variety of cadences and see whether you can keep that smooth circular motion; you want to avoid the clunking sound that can sometimes happen.”
4. Try out rollers
Turbo trainers aren’t necessarily the only way to go, even if you are a fitness junky. “Whilst the rollers will struggle to offer the same resistance as a turbo, you can still get a great work out trying to keep your cadence up on the harder gears. Once you have mastered the balance, you have to keep your concentration and can enjoy just a steady spin or some fun intervals.”
5. Stay hydrated
With the fridge only metres away, it’s easy to put off rehydrating until after your session when cycling indoors. However, this can create problems for both your performance and your health.
“Hydration is really important to remember on indoor sessions as it can get hot and sweaty without much ventilation,” warns Rimmington. “Make sure you have a mat or towel to put under your turbo and bike, have a drink bottle and ideally a fan so that you can keep your body temperature cooler and get more out of your workouts.”
The best thing about cycling or any type of cardio exercise is that it keeps you fit and boosts your mood. In a time when the nation’s mental health is at threat, it’s more important than ever to have an outlet for any anxiety we might be feeling about the future.