There comes a time in every cyclist’s life when they just can’t ride a bike. Maybe for a few days, maybe for a few weeks or even a few months. No one wants to take time off from the bike, but sadly, it happens. When that happens, it’s easy to panic because your hard-earned fitness will be gone overnight. But even though your fitness may suffer a bit, there are lots of ways you can maintain the results you’ve already achieved on the bike, so that when you can start cycling again, you’re back to full strength quickly.
There are three main categories that could prevent you from cycling: you are sick or injured to the point where it is not advisable to do any training, you are injured from cycling but are still able to move, or can build fitness in other ways, or you have not cycled for a while because of the holidays or work trips.
Here, we spoke to some experts for tips for each scenario so you can learn how to stay bike fit, no matter what reason you can’t ride. Plus, we got suggestions on what to do No do!
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How to Stay Healthy When Sickness or Serious Injury Means You Can’t Ride At All
➥ Start With Time Off
Before you start freaking out about getting in shape, assess your situation. If you are frequently sick or injured, the best thing to do for your fitness is to press pause. Former professional cyclist and certified road cycling coach, Jakob Novak of ProCyclingCoaching.com says that a few days off goes a long way more than trying to add any training possible.
You’re better off using those hours of exercise for extra sleep, better nutrition, or light stretching—your body will recover more quickly as a result. “I see people trying to get through illness or injury all the time instead of just taking a few days off, and they often ruin their fitness for weeks as a result,” says Novak. “If they immediately take a few days off, they will recover much faster.”
➥ Check With Experts
Of course we know that every injury and recovery period will be different. Therefore, if you are getting off the bike because of a physical limitation more serious than a common cold or mild muscle ailment, talk to a professional.
Both Novak and mountain biker and physiotherapist Amanda Sin recommend seeking guidance from a medical professional before undertaking any kind of training while sick or during/after an injury. Each injury will have different limitations and healing times, and to maximize your fitness gains while minimizing risks, working with an expert is your best bet.
➥ See This as an Opportunity
Pausing cycling means you can focus on things like sleeping or creating mindfulness or relaxation exercises, says Sin. It plays into “a whole ecosystem for healing, which is very important,” he explains.
You can also use this time to do things like clean and tune up your bike, learn how to quickly change flats, clean out your tool closet, and finally dispose of any water bottles that have collected mold on the back of your bike. van. This sets you up for a return on your winnings when the time is right.
➥ Perform Exercises Recommended by Your Doctor
The quickest way to get back on the bike and come back from injury stronger than ever? Listen to your doctor and do their recommended physical therapy exercises (no more, no less). “The sooner you see a physical therapist and find out what’s going on, the better,” says Sin. “Seeing an injury earlier can mean a quicker recovery – don’t just put up with the pain and hope it goes away.”
What to Do When an Injury or Physiological Limitation Stops Your Cycling, But Not Other Activities
➥ Go to sleep
As mentioned above, when you can’t train on a bike, you can use that time to great gains in your health and fitness by reaching out to other important parts of your life.
If you’re someone who isn’t getting the necessary seven to nine hours of sleep each night, use the new hours you previously spent practicing to catch up. Kelly Starrett, physiotherapist and co-author Built to Movesays that sleep is often the biggest missing factor in a training schedule, especially for serious endurance athletes who often sacrifice zzzs in favor of traveling zone 2. Sleep is when most of the recovery process occurs, so if you want to get back to cycling more quickly, sleep is best medicine.
➥ Focus on Strengths You Can Improve
If you’re recovering from an injury such as an ACL tear, your range of motion will be limited, but you may still be able to stay fit by working on your weak points. Foot injuries offer a great opportunity to shift focus to your core and upper body, says Sin.
“You can focus on the strength and mobility exercises that work for you right now, so you maintain those aspects of fitness,” he says. A strong core, arms, and shoulders can greatly improve your riding when you get back on the bike, so focus on strengthening those areas rather than lamenting what you can’t do.
➥ Walk More
Starrett says that oftentimes, cyclists don’t actually walk enough from a health and longevity standpoint. Use this time to fix it! If you can walk while recovering from an injury or while dealing with physical limitations (like pregnancy, making it hard to reach the handlebars!), aiming for 8,000 to 12,000 steps per day is a great goal—and it will help you stay bike fit so that when you’re ready to start pedaling, you’ll quickly return to your old stride.
➥ Use Indoor Trainers—Be Careful
There are several injuries such as hand/wrist, collarbone and even concussion where an indoor trainer may be an option for you, if used carefully and with care. “Indoor trainers are a controllable way to keep bike fit when you can’t—or shouldn’t—bike outside,” says Sin. “Start very slow and easy, focusing only on the spins to get the blood flowing. Make sure you can balance easily, comfortably, and you don’t overcompensate anywhere.
He notes that things like a sprained wrist can cause you to rely heavily on the other side of your body for balance, which can lead to even more problems. So if you can’t balance and feel as if you’re overcompensating, skip the bike ride and opt for walking instead. You can also do lower body strength exercises, even if they are bodyweight exercises because you can’t hold weights.
How to stay fit when work or life keeps you from riding your bike
➥ Plan Ahead
Assuming you have a training schedule of some kind, you have—or should! — rest weeks are made every three to five weeks. Novak likes his athletes to keep track of upcoming vacations, work trips, or times of year when it’s too busy to spend hours on the bike, and he tries to fit those times into rest weeks. That way, you don’t miss the biggest weeks of your training, and you’re more able to enjoy your vacation or focus on work. You can do the same by shuffling your schedule to work with your time off.
➥ Improve Your Strength Training
Novak is a huge fan of strength training for cyclists, and whether you’re in a hotel at Disneyland with the family or stuck in a conference center for a weeklong gathering, you can make strength gains happen.
A simple plank set, wall mounts, and squats (with or without weights) can pay off big on a bike — and can be done in your hotel room if gym access isn’t available. She is also a big fan of yoga to work on strength and flexibility.
➥ Hike or Run
If you can’t ride just because you don’t have one, hiking or running are great alternatives for keeping fit temporarily, says Novak. But don’t start running for an hour if you haven’t run since doing long distance running in PE class in high school! Start with brisk walking, running/walking intervals, or climbing hills if you’re not already a regular runner.
Molly writes about cycling, nutrition, and training, with an emphasis on women in sports. Her new mid-range series, Shred Girls, debuted with Rodale Kids/Random House in 2019 with “Lindsay’s Joyride.” His other books include “Mud, Snow and Cyclocross,” “Saddle, Afternoon” and “Fuel Your Ride.” His work has been published in magazines such as Bicycling, Outside and Nylon. He co-hosts The Consummate Athlete Podcast.
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