Spring into shape


Whether winter had you hibernating or injury kept you sidelined, Harriet Edmund asks the experts for their top tips to help you back on the bike.

There’s no greater feeling than when the sun starts shining after a long winter. Fair weather rider or not, you can’t deny that sense of relief at the prospect of cycling without the threat of hypothermia or, at the least, a chain full of grit!

But don’t get too excited, warn our experts. Doing too much riding too quickly after a layoff is a sure way to set you back.

Here are 13 things you need to know about re-training, injury prevention and nutrition for your spring comeback.


It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of being back on your bike after a break, says pro track cyclist Kaarle McCulloch, who this year returned to the world stage after a career-threatening back injury. “When you start to see some improvement you might try to go too full on too quickly,” she says. “Allow your body to catch up to the intensity of exercise and ramp it up slowly.” Lucas Owen, of Melbourne’s Cycling Physiotherapy Centre, adds the low impact of cycling can cause riders to be over enthusiastic. He suggests allowing at least six to eight weeks to start feeling strong again.


Setting a realistic goal for your fitness ability and lifestyle is paramount to a successful return, says Mr Owen. “Whether it’s covering a certain number of kilometres per week, commuting to work or training for a major event, use your goal as the end point and work backwards from there,” he suggests. “Having a time frame will help you realise you have weeks to build up to that point.” Chose a goal that is a challenge, but not something you dread from day one.


If you’re suffering any back, hip or knee pain, have a stiff or sore neck, numbness and pain in your wrists and hands or you’re lacking power and explosiveness, your bike set-up could be incorrect. According to Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre guidelines a bike fit should take into account your body measurements and dimensions, regional strengths and weaknesses, flexibility and body position on the frame. Ask your physiotherapist or bike retailer to help get your bike fit right.


Overuse injuries, from the repetitive action of pedalling or postural asymmetry, are the most common reasons why riders get laid up, says Mr Owen. Acting fast when injury strikes is key to a good recovery. Says Ms McCulloch, “I never had the rest required to make a full recovery initially. In hindsight, I have no doubt had I taken the time to rest more and fix my back earlier, I could have been in much better form leading into London.”


Motivation is the driving force behind your desire and determination to achieve your goals, says Michelle Paccagnella, a psychologist at ACT Academy of Sport. She suggests the best ways to stay motivated include getting at least eight hours sleep a night, cross-training to keep boredom at bay, using imagery such as picturing yourself at your next event or riding injury free, plus making time for yourself aside from cycling, work, study and family commitments.


If you’ve been laid up with a lurgy the Australian Institute of Sport recommends resuming training in three phases: 1) Start increasing the frequency or number of sessions you can manage. 2) Gradually increase the duration or volume of each session. 3) Ramp up the intensity until you’re back to your full regime.


When injury strikes Ms McCulloch knows too well the challenges of a slow recovery. For two years injury plagued her career, until finally in 2014 she spent six months on the sidelines rehabilitating from a back injury. Not rushing her comeback meant when she could finally get back on the bike her body was well prepared. “There were times when I just wanted to ride my bike again or go to the gym, so on those days I had to find other things to focus on instead like doing my rehab or going for a walk.”


Watch out for warning signs that you may be overdoing it such as sore joints and muscles, poor sleep and mood disturbance. “Also, if you’re feeling psychologically as if riding has become a chore you are doing too much,” adds Mr Owen.


Wearing a heart rate monitor when you ride can help set parameters for how much or little you want to exert yourself. Start by checking your pulse first thing in the morning every day for a week to workout your resting heart rate. This is usually between 60 and 100 beats per minute or between 40 and 60 for well-trained athletes. Then calculate your maximum heart rate – about 220 minus your age (you can also use the Heart Online target heart rate calculator). From here you can determine your light, moderate and hard workout capacities. Start by keeping your heart rate at the lower end of your range and gradually build up until you can exercise comfortably at about 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate.


If you’ve had a layoff over winter not only will your bike fitness be down, but you could also be lacking flexibility and core strength, says Mr Owen. “Having an assessment and identifying your deficits, then incorporating stretches and strength work to address those will make you a better rider.” He recommends doing two 10-minute stretch sessions if you ride for three hours a week for example. Or you might dedicate two or three hours to off-bike work if you cycle for 15 hours a week.


Remember to stay hydrated when returning to riding, says Simone Austin, Melbourne-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. “When you haven’t trained for some time the cycle will be more difficult and your work rate higher. This can cause you to sweat more and need more fluids,” says the Dietitians Association of Australia spokesperson.


Eating and drinking while riding is a skill that takes practice – not only reaching for a bottle or snack, but also chewing and swallowing while exercising. This can be particularly challenging when you are not as fit as you once were. Carry foods that are easy to access and chew when your mouth is dry such as, dried fruit, bananas, fruitcake, pikelets, squeeze yoghurt or gels, suggests Ms Austin. Calculate the snacks you may need based on the time you ride rather than distance.


Cycling can be a great way to help drop any extra weight gained during a winter layoff, as long as you don’t over-estimate the amount of carbohydrates you might need! “If your cycle is less than one hour you probably won’t need to increase your food intake at all over the day,” says Ms Austin. “Simply move some food around to ensure you have eaten within 90 minutes of riding and preferably within the 30 minutes post ride.” Adding extra food could make it difficult to achieve a kilojoule/energy deficit in order to lose weight. A sports dietitian can help determine suitable intake for your weight loss and ride goals.


Did we miss anything? Have you got any Spring riding tips to add to the list? Leave your comments below. 


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