Cycling for beginners

Cycling is excellent for improving overall fitness and toning the lower body.  As a non-impact activity, it places no stress on the joints of the knee, ankle or back, making it ideal for anyone who is restricted by problems in these areas.

Most of us have a bike at the back of our garden shed or can borrow one from a friend but if you don’t have bicycle, or even if you’ve never ridden a bike before, you can still give cycling a go. All gyms have stationary cycles that are an excellent starting point for beginners. The workout below works equally well for indoor and outdoor cycling. 

Technique

If you learned to cycle as a child, you’ve probably paid little attention to your technique since.  A good technique can help prevent injury, general aches and pains, and help increase your speed. Try to keep your elbows bent and relaxed to absorb shock and prevent swerving if you hit a bump.  When pedalling push through the foot on the downstroke, then imagine scraping mud off the sole of your shoe at the bottom as the pedal moves back and up, at which point the other foot will push down and repeat the process. This pedalling motion will work more of the leg muscles.

6 week cycling workout

In six weeks you will be able to cycle continuously for 30mins, comfortably incorporating small hill climbs and intervals of speed cycling.

Warm up & cool down

Begin each session with two minutes of brisk walking or marching on the spot, followed by quad and hamstring stretches, holding each at the point where you feel a mild stretch for 30 seconds on each leg.  Finish each session with two minutes of slow cycling with very little resistance and the same quad and hamstring stretches.

Before you start:

Consider your route – If you’re outside, plan your route along quiet roads with less traffic and pollution. In later weeks, the workout incorporates hills so be sure to build those into your route. Since the majority of workouts are interval-style (periods of cycling and recovery), working out a loop that you can repeat might be beneficial. Check if your nearest park has dedicated cycle routes if you are nervous about cycling on-road.

Wear a watch – A watch with a digital display and/or stop clock will help you follow the workout timings and monitor your progress.

Challenge yourself – within your limits – If you’re finding the workout a breeze, then keep going for an extra couple of minutes before you take your recovery time. As the weeks progress, add more up-hill cycling and shorten your recovery times.

Week 1

Cycling during this week should be slow and steady (around 60-65 per cent effort), on flat ground.  The goal is to build the amount of time spent continuously cycling. 

On a stationary bike, aim to maintain a pedalling speed of 75-100 revolutions per minute (rpm). If you’re struggling, adjust the resistance settings on your bike so you can achieve this speed.

For outdoor cyclists, count the number of times you pedal with your right foot in 10 seconds then multiply that by six for a rough estimate of rpm.  If you’re easily cycling more than 100rpm, move into a higher gear. Come down a gear if you are finding it hard going.

During this week, and for the remainder of the plan, the recovery periods should consist of very easy cycling or free wheeling. Use the recovery time to stop briefly and rehydrate or stretch muscles if needed.

Monday – 5mins cycling, 2mins recovery (very easy cycling / free wheeling) – Repeat x4

Wednesday – 8mins cycling, 4mins recovery – Repeat x3

Friday – 5mins cycling, 2mins recovery – Repeat x4

Week 2

Cycling should again be slow and steady, on flat ground.  This week the goal is to increase the time spent cycling continuously.

Monday – 8mins cycling, 2mins recovery – Repeat x4

Wednesday – 10mins cycling, 3mins recovery – Repeat x3

Friday – 8mins cycling, 2mins recovery – Repeat x4

Week 3

Cycling this week should be slow and steady, but also incorporate small hills (75 per cent effort) to build stamina and tone the leg muscles. If you’re training on a stationary bike, use the level/resistance setting to simulate the hills and aim to maintain a pedalling speed of 50-60 rpm.

Monday – 10mins cycling, small hill climb, 3mins recovery – Repeat x3

Wednesday – 12mins cycling, 2mins recovery – Repeat x3

Friday – 10mins cycling, small hill climb, 3mins recovery – Repeat x3

Week 4

This week, the number of sessions increases to four, the length of time spent cycling continuously is extended and periods of faster cycling (80 per cent effort) are also included.

Aim to maintain an rpm of around 120.

Monday – 4mins cycling, 1min fast cycling, 2mins recovery – Repeat x5

Wednesday – 5mins cycling, small hill climb, 90secs recovery – Repeat x6

Friday – 4mins cycling, 1min fast cycling, 2mins recovery – Repeat x5

Sunday – 20mins continuous cycling

Week 5

The option of continuous cycling is included instead of recovery during this week, as well as combining intervals of faster cycling and hills in the same sessions.

Monday – 4mins cycling, 1min fast cycling, 2mins recovery or continue cycling – Repeat x2

3mins cycling, small hill climb, 90secs recovery/cycling – Repeat x3

Wednesday – 5mins cycling, small hill climb, 90secs recovery, 2mins cycling, 1min fast cycling – Repeat x4

Friday – 4mins cycling, 1min fast cycling, 2mins recovery/cycling – Repeat x2

3mins cycling, small hill climb, 90secs recovery/cycling – Repeat x3

Sunday – 22mins continuous cycling

Week 6

Week 6 builds on everything you’ve tried so far and you’ll now be comfortable cycling for 25-30mins.

Monday – 3mins cycling, 90secs fast cycling, 90secsmins recovery/cycling – Repeat x3

3mins Cycling, small hill climb, 90secs recovery/cycling, small hill climb – Repeat x3

Wednesday – 5mins cycling, small hill climb, 90secs recovery/cycling, 2mins cycling, 1min fast cycling – Repeat x4

Friday – 3mins cycling, 90secs fast Cycling, 90secs recovery/cycling – Repeat x3

3mins cycling, small hill climb, 90secs recovery/cycling, small hill climb – Repeat x3

Sunday – 25-30mins continuous cycling. Include a hill climb and at least one minute of fast cycling.

Cycling essentials

Get your saddle sorted:  The correct saddle height will help prevent injury. You should have a slight bend in the knee when the pedal is pushed all the way down. If you find your hips rocking from side to side, the seat is too high.

 Protect your head: Although wearing a helmet isn’t required by law, a well-fitting, hard-shell helmet could save you from serious head injuries should you fall off your bike.

Clothes: Wear comfortable clothing that lets the skin breathe. Avoid trousers that could interfere with your pedalling. Lightweight waterproofs are a good idea if you want to be more than a fair-weather cyclist. Trainers with decent grip will stop your feet slipping off the pedals.  

Puncture ready: Always check your tyres before you start out. Carry a small pump and puncture repair kit on longer rides. Lights and reflective clothing are essential for night cycling.

Kristoph Thompson
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