Getting Back on the Bike After Time Off

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By Sarah Kaufmann — So you have been off the bike for a period of time. Whether it was the result of our snowy Utah winter, an injury, sickness or any other reason, it can be difficult to get back on the proverbial horse and redevelop cycling and general fitness. Here are five tips to make it easier:

Sarah Kaufmann on a fun ‘recovery' ride at Snowbird, Utah. Photo by Cathy Fegan-Kim, cottonsoxphotography.net
  1. Don’t rush it. After you have been off the bike for a long time, you may feel a sense of urgency to get your cycling fitness back. Keep some perspective. You did not lose fitness overnight and you will not get it back overnight either. Take a long-view approach. Depending on what you have been doing in the time off and how long it’s been, it may be a matter of weeks, months or longer. Start slow, and build with a progressive and periodized training plan so you avoid injury get back to riding strong in the most efficient way possible.
  2. But rush it a little. Mix it up and include speed work. When you first get back on the bike, your initial goal will be to simply build some base fitness and redevelop the cycling specific neuromuscular channels. That means simple riding without much intensity. That said, depending on your general level of health and your reasons for taking a break from the bike (ie., you were skiing or being otherwise active all winter, not, you have been suffering an illness, injury or other health condition and have had no physical activity), it is okay to make yourself suffer a little. Go ahead and ride with your fast friends, even if that means getting dropped and feeling beat up. Instead of getting demoralized, use it as motivation and recognize the fitness boost you are getting out of the effort. The training methodologies that advocate only LSD (long, slow, distance) to begin with have been disproved. Sprint work will give you a jump start and allow you to build cycling fitness more quickly.
  3. Do some off-the-bike strength work. Strength work not only makes you more injury-proof and preserves bone mass, it will act in the same way as the sprint work mentioned above and allow you to build bike-specific fitness more easily. You will be less likely to suffer back/shoulder/neck or other aches and pains when you get back on the bike. Just sitting on a bike can be uncomfortable and doing so with correct form takes strength. You want a bike-specific program that works with and not against your cycling training. I recommend Art O’Connor of WUKAR Fit, wukarfit.com
  4. Set a goal. It can be demoralizing to get back on the bike after a long time off. Whether it’s a big ride with friends, a century ride or a race, having a goal dangling in front of you can make it easier to stay motivated through the natural ebbs and flows of training.
  5. Hire a coach. It’s a big challenge to build fitness after a break. I am a coach and I have a coach. The tips above and a well-designed, periodized training program are a great start but the objective eyes of a coach will keep you on track and make adjustments as life inevitably gets in the way.

 

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