Training for Bicycle Touring

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By following a comprehensive training routine anyone who is reasonably healthy and without serious physical problems can cycle long distances. Whether you train for a century, a week-long 500-mile trip or a trek cross-country the preparation is the same. Bicycle touring is an endurance activity so you need to spend time on your bike to condition your muscles and get your body used to extended periods in the saddle. If you've been away from cycling or exercising for a while, or have health problems it's best to check with your physician first before you start a training program.

  • Training strengthens your heart so it can pump more oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. It increases capillary network growth in your muscles to maximize circulation. It increases aerobic enzymes in your body so they can remove more oxygen from your blood to burn fat and make energy. It helps strengthen your muscles for more power on the bike.
  • Basics of training -

    When you train for a long distance ride, you're preparing for an endurance event. You have to set up a training plan and commit to it. The more structured the plan, the easier it will be to follow. Start slowly and go at your own pace. Design a plan around your lifestyle and goals. Your main objective is to work up to riding several, long consecutive days.Start a training diary that you can review regularly and monitor your progress. After each ride record: time of day, temperature, wind, mileage, average speed, elapsed time, gears used, the type of training (base, interval, climbing etc.), heart rate zones, the course (flat, hilly etc.) and how you felt.

    Avoid over training! If you have achy or tired muscles, fatigue, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, steady weight loss, flulike symptoms, an elevated resting heart rate, are depressed, irritable, lethargic, or your usual training rides feel more difficult, you are over training. It's time to take some time off for rest and relaxation. If you are sick or just miss a training day, don't try to make it up. Rest and recovery are importantparts of training. Make sure you build rest days into your plan. Once a month, schedule an easy riding week (at least 40% less than the previous week) to give your body and mind a break.

    Begin training at a comfortable distance, whether it is 5 or 20 miles. Warm up before your workout with 5 to 10 minutes of easy spinning.Try to ride at least 5 days a week and take at least one day off. Increase the weekly distance as slow as possible (not more than 10 % per week). Be careful not to increase too fast or you may injure yourself. If you are sore or feeling tired, stay at the current mileage a few days longer until you recover. Gradually work up to rides that are two-thirds of your average daily tour mileage. (If your average tour mileage is 60 miles a day, you should work up to riding 40 miles a day). Stretch and hydrate before, during and after rides to maintain flexibility and to avoid fatigue and injuries.

  • Three levels of training -

    Base level - Where you train to develop a base level of strength and endurance that will sustain riding without fatigue and muscle soreness. Base training is aerobic, and consists of long steady cycling, which allows you to feel comfortable on the bike for long periods of time. It will enhance your capillary developement improve your fat burning ability and build endurance. Over time, you should see a decrease in your blood pressure and resting heart rate. When you cycle you want to spin the bike at a cadence of 70 to 90 rpm (revolutions per minute), and use easy gears. You can do this inside on a trainer or outside on a bike.Strength level - After establishing good base training, the goal is to build up riding strength in your body by periodically adding resistance to your workouts. You should incorporate one or two strength workouts during the week. You can accomplish this by making one of your weekly rides a course of mostly hills. You can also incorporate strength training through interval training on a trainer or flat course. Interval training (sustained efforts) increases your speed, strength and endurance by putting stress on your circulatory and respiratory systems. When these systems adapt to stress, the oxygen supply to the tissues is enhanced and that expands the capacity for strenuous riding. Gradually include strength training in with your base training by mixing short sprint riding days with long easy days.

    Endurance level - Start by taking longer rides once or twice a week. By the end of this level, you should be riding 40 to 50 miles a day, twice a week. Start toning down the strength riding to give you more time in the saddle.

  • Measuring exercise intensity -

    When training you want to make sure you are exercising safely at a level, which will optimally provide improvement in your cardiovascular conditioning. You can measure your effort with a heart rate monitor or by using the RPE scale.Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) - This scale was developed in 1982 by Gunnar Borg to monitor intensity during exercise based on your perception of exertion or how hard you feel you are working. It is based on the physical sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue. Originally the scale ranged from 6 to 20 but in 1986 was revised to a scale of 0 (no exertion) to 10 (maximum exertion).

    A good way to measure RPE is by using breathing rate. With an RPE of 1-2, your breathing is light and relaxed. RPE of 3-5 your breathing is deep, steady and relaxed. This is your aerobic endurance training zone. With an RPE of 6 to 8, your breathing is short and rhythmic. This is your lactate threshold zone. With an RPE of 9 to 10, you are gasping for air. This is your VO2 max training zone.

    Heart rate monitor - The HRM measures and displays your cardiovascular and physiological stress during training sessions by measuring your heart rate in beats per minute (bpm). Heart rate monitors consist of a transmitter, which straps to your chest. The transmitter sends a wireless signal to a watch-like wristband or a computer that mounts to your handlebars.

  • Heart rate training zones -

    Monitoring your heart rate is the best way to train efficiently. It reduces your chance of injury, over training and helps you to accomplish your specific goal. Heart rate training is based on your maximum heart rate (MHR). Your true MHR is the highest pulse rate you can attain during all-out effort. It is the highest number of times your heart can beat in one minute. An easy way to determine MHR is to subtract your age from 220. Remember this is only an estimate. After you determine your maximum heart rate, you can determine your personal training zones.Training zones, expressed as a percentage of your MHR, reflect exercise intensity. Five training zones are based on the increase in heart rate. Each zone has its own benefits. As you move from Zone 1 to Zone 5 exercise intensity increases and there is a shift from the use of fat as an energy source for the muscle cell to carbohydrates. As the MHR is reached, there is a shift in the muscle cell towards anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism with increased lactic acid production.

    Zone 1 - 50-60% MHR. Most comfortable zone with the easiest pace. Your breathing will be light and relaxed. (RPE 1-2) Used for warm ups and recovery. Great for beginners. This zone helps strengthen your heart, and improves muscle mass. It reduces body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure and your risk for degenerative diseases. 85% of calories burned are fat.

    Zone 2 - 60-70 % MHR. At a cruising pace. Still at an aerobic level with deep, steady breathing. (RPE 3-4). Still at a relatively low level of effort, this zone starts training your body to increase the rate of fat release from the cells to the muscles for fuel. 85% of calories burned are fat.

    Zone 3 - 70-80% MHR. This high level, aerobic zone will improve your cardiovascular and respiratory systems and increases the size and strength of your heart. Your pace is steady and breathing slightly labored (RPE 5-6). This the preferred zone if you are training for an endurance event. You are burning fats and carbohydrates both at 50 %.

    Zone 4 - 80-90% MHR. Here you cycle at a brisk pace. You feel the burn. Your breathing is short and rhythmic (RPE 7-8). You increase your heart rate as you cross from aerobic to anaerobic training. You improve your VO2 max (the highest amount of oxygen you can consume during exercise). You improve your cardiorespiratory system and increase your lactate threshold, which means your endurance will improve and you'll be better able to fight fatigue. You burn only 15% fat.Zone 5 - 90-100% MHR. Maximum pace and effort. Breathing is rapid and heavy (RPE 9-10). This is used mainly as an interval training regiment (sprints, anaerobic training) with exertion done only in short to intermediate length bursts.
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