When you get a new toy, it's tempting to throw caution to the wind and spend tons of time playing with it. But when that toy is a new bike, pacing yourself should take precedence over a pedal-to-the-metal mindset. Although your new bicycle should be built to last and take you many miles, your body may not be so road-ready straight out of the box.
Riding your bike too much too soon can easily result in overtraining, burnout, or even injury. When you overtire your body and don't give it time to adequately rest, recover, and rebuild muscle, you'll ultimately do more harm than good. However, if you take off too much time between rides, will will be difficult to make progress.
The key to burnout-free cycling is to consistently train the right amount to improve your fitness level and stay healthy. Riders who adhere to a steady, reasonable regimen enjoy greater and longer-lasting benefits than those who push too hard, too quickly. Your body needs time to repair itself after workouts—a process known as "progressive adaptation." In layman's terms, the next time you work out, you should be a little stronger than you were the last time.
Here are five tips for making sure you follow the right schedule, and that every pedal push makes you better:
- Listen to your body. Cycling is a workout for your heart, lungs, and legs—and for other parts of your body you don't even consider until they're sore. Pressure from the seat of the bike and fatigue in the hands, arms, and neck are often adjustments for new cyclists. As your body gets tired and sore, your focus can fade, which increases your chance of suffering an injury or worse, an accident. A squeaky wheel doesn't eek for no reason, and the same is true of your body.
- Keep a little gas in the tank. When you start a cycling program, always finish your ride feeling like you could comfortably do a bit more. This will help ensure you don't overdo it and stress your body—and that you'll be ready for the next ride.
- Build over time. Because your body must progressively adapt to cycling, it's important to take it slow early on. During your first week, you might try a couple of short rides. As weeks go by and your body grows stronger, start extending the length of each ride at a rate that makes sense for you. You can also start to ride more frequently while preventing overtraining and injury.
- Know your goals. Ride frequency can vary greatly depending on goals. If you're just starting out but shooting for the habits of heavy recreational or professional racers, you're looking at spending 20 hours per week or more on your bike. Such high volume is often needed for the maximum fitness gains required in high-level racing. You can't do this overnight, but if you want to be the "Energizer Bunny" of cycling, you have to train a little smarter and a lot harder. However, if you're looking simply to improve your overall fitness and lose weight, you won't need to ride nearly that much. Between 90 and 150 minutes of exercise per week can significantly improve your health.
- Visit your doctor. You should get a doctor's OK before starting any exercise program, and cycling is no different. Not looking before you leap is a surefire way to get seriously hurt.
Cycling is rewarding and fun, but doing too much too soon can harm your health. Play it safe to make sure your rides are full of enjoyment, not aches and pain.