The media somewhat disparagingly call them MAMILS (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) but the rise of cycling and triathlon as pastimes, replacing football and squash, is one of the big sporting commercial success stories of the last few years. Off the back of Olympic and Tour de France glory, British Cycling set a new record membership in 2012.
Whilst the sight of grown men shaving their legs (without really knowing why) and guzzling down energy drinks (without really knowing why) in the hope of emulating their professional idols creates a uniquely post-modern mid life crisis, as Weltschmerz anxiety reactions go it’s positively beneficial.
As with almost all exercise cycling is good for you. Numerous studies specifically looking at the sport have suggested it has beneficial effects on body fat, cardiovascular health and diabetes, particularly for beginners.1 Cycling is also a low-impact sport. Unlike running, 70% of your body weight goes through the saddle and handlebars which makes it a particularly good choice for those new to, or coming back to, exercise, especially if they’re carrying a little bit of extra padding.
Finally cycling, alongside walking and running as a form of travel, is one of the easiest forms of exercise to incorporate into daily life.
However, in the interest of balance, it should be highlighted that there are concerns about the effect of sitting in the saddle for prolonged periods, with links at the elite level to a loss of sensation in the genitals and lowered sperm counts. There are also obvious dangers to hurtling around on an exposed two wheeled vehicle, particularly on busy London roads; however several studies have demonstrated the health benefits of cycling outweigh the associated risks.2 In fact most risks could be cut dramatically by changes to cycling policy and infrastructure, as seen in Holland in the 1970s which has also demonstrated a clear cost benefit to the economy of increased cycling.3 You can sign this petition here to ‘Get Britain Cycling‘.
Unsurprisingly we work with many clients at Foundry:City who cycle or compete in triathlons outside of work and who often do so as a popular way to raise funds for charity. Any fitness professional who ignores the meteoric rise of the competitive Mamil is turning away business from passionate people, hungry for knowledge and coaching, with the financial means to pay for it.
In this series of articles we will be profiling the following case studies of clients embarking on long distance cycle rides for charities and discussing their specific training and rehab requirements. In addition to training support, The Foundry is also making charitable donations to their chosen charities so we also hope to highlight these good causes.
Mike and Paul are cycling 300 miles across Europe for Right To Play, a global organisation that uses the transformation power of sport and games to educate and empower children facing adversity. http://www.justgiving.com/Setters300miles http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/PaulSimms
Tim is cycling from Paris to Geneva in September to support the Meningitis Trust after his son Alex contracted meningitis at the age of 10 months. http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/TimBoag
For most Foundry clients we look at cycling as a base line fitness activity and as such there are many ways we can help prevent injuries and increase bike strength and power through postural correction, dietary approaches and resistance training.
Whilst the neuro-muscular stimulus of cycling itself will be enough for many beginners to see rapid improvements, beyond this stage, we find strength and power training, and the addition of lean muscle mass, are essential for optimal cycling performance. The management of body mass and body fat is the other critical component; carrying excess weight comes with a huge physical cost in work. The more weight, the more drag, the less speed.
Cycling requires the best possible power to weight ratio. It is often said a rider capable of winning the Tour de France requires the ability to deliver over 6 watts per kilo on the final climb of a mountain stage.4 There are clearly two ways to increase power-to-weight ratio. Either increase the power or reduce the weight.
In 2009, a study of club level cyclists, triathletes and mountain bikers gave participants either 2 extra sprint interval sessions a week, or a weight loss diet. At the end of the 10 weeks both groups improved peak and anaerobic power-to-weight ratios by about 10%, but neither method proved to be a superior approach.5 Most surprising of all is that participants who did both sprint interval training and weight loss did not improve their power-to-weight ratio at all, the problem being that losing a significant amount of weight through calorie restriction prevented them from gaining any power through interval training.
So which approach is better? In our experience, despite this research, the answer is both, but not at the same time and weight loss should certainly not be at the expense of inadequate protein intake! In the next article in this series we will expand on this and highlight and discuss the training and nutrition which we use to support our cycling clients.
If you’re thinking that personal training is not for you, or it’s too expensive, then do also consider how much money is wasted on gym memberships that don’t get used, and how a few sessions with a real professional could help you assess exactly what training and diet works for you personally – you’ll essentially be far healthier for life.