If you’re commuting to school or work by bike, you have an excellent chance to improve your fitness along the way. Biking is more than just a great cardio workout, it can also help you build muscle tone and strength throughout your core and lower body. To help you turn your everyday ride into a serious workout that you can get excited about, we’ll look at five different ways you can modify your bike commute.
1. Extend Your Mileage
The first thing you can do to get more of a workout from your commute is to simply extend the miles you ride each day between home and work. Where you used to go straight, make a turn and go explore some new road.
The result is that you can turn what would have been a 20-minute ride – just enough time to get warmed up – into something much bigger. You can go for long, slower rides to recover and build endurance, or just add in enough mileage to practice some intervals. If you’re headed out for a ride longer than about 15 miles, just make sure you bring some snacks and liquids, to stay hydrated, along with you.
Depending on where you live, you may also be able to find some less busy roads than the ones you normally ride to work. That’s a major advantage, since you don’t want to be worrying about cars passing at high speed while you’re focusing on the workouts we’re about to cover.
2. Increase Your Cadence
One of the simplest ways you can build both bike fitness and endurance is to simply increase your cadence – your rate of pedaling. Moving your feet faster teaches your legs to move more quickly, which works on a very different set of muscle fibers compared to mashing down on the pedals. Even better, pedaling quickly at a lighter resistance will help you ride for more miles without wearing down your leg muscles.
What constitutes high cadence? Generally, riding above 90 RPM is considered high. But, if you’re going to practice high cadence intervals, aim for a pedaling rate of more than 105 RPM. You can monitor your cadence with a simple device that attaches to your pedal. High cadence intervals are a great way to cap off a warmup before you get into some more difficult riding.
3. Add Resistance
Adding resistance is like the opposite of riding at high cadence. Rather than take gears off, you’ll put them on so that you really are mashing down on the pedals with each stroke. This type of riding works out your glutes and quads, with an emphasis on building strength more than endurance. Make sure that you focus both on pushing down on the pedals and pulling them back up to get the most out of this workout.
It’s still important to think about cadence when riding with high resistance, too. If your pedaling speed drops below 60 RPM, you can actually damage your knee joints by putting too much pressure on them. This is especially important for older cyclists. If you find that you can’t sustain at least a pedaling rate of 60 RPM, ease up on the gears a little bit.
4. Head for the Hills
If you live in an area with hills, it’s easy to add a workout into your bike commute. In the simplest sense, you can increase your overall riding fitness, lose weight, and build muscle mass simply by tacking hilly miles onto your commute rather than flat miles. The hillier the route you can create, the better.
If you’ve only got one hill within a reasonable distance of your home or office, don’t worry. Adding hill sprint repeats into your workout is a great way to build strength. The idea is simple – just ride up the hill as hard as you can, glide back down, and then do it all again. Start out with just a few repeats when you’re first adding hills into your bike commute, and gradually add additional laps up the hill as you get stronger.
5. Add Tempo Intervals
Tempo intervals are the bread and butter of bike training. They demand endurance, strength, and mental persistence. “Tempo” could mean different things to different people, but in general it’s the fastest pace you could keep up for 30 minutes when going all-out on the bike. Since there’s a 30-minute cap on how long you can ride like this, it’s not very time consuming to add these intervals into your bike commute.
In general, you’ll want to find an open stretch of relatively flat road for this type of interval workout. Make sure you give yourself plenty of rest between reps as well – as much as half the time of each interval should be spent biking easy. If you’re really tight on time, you can also turn tempo intervals into fartleks. With fartleks, simply ride as hard as you can for as far as you feel, then rest and do it again.
In the end
Bike commuting to work or school provides ample opportunity for getting in a good workout. With the right commuter bike, you can carry your stuff, sprint up hills, and practice riding at tempo pace for extended periods. Best of all, these workouts don’t add much time to your commute and take advantage of the fact that you’re already on your bike. So, try out these add-on workouts the next time you’re riding to work to transform your bike commute into training, just be sure that you have access to a shower at work!
Daniel Atlas is the editor at Rydoze. He loves the great outdoors and wilderness. You’ll find him writing about biking, environment and outdoor world all the time.