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I have just turned 40 and despite running many marathons in my younger days I'm finding it hard to get fitter again after too many years at a desk. I have a reasonable racing bike which I use for my 60 minute commute occasionally (45 minutes to work, 75 home) but wondering what a good set of exercises might be to increase my speed and stamina.

My commute is about 16 miles on reasonable roads, with about 4 miles being in the city, and an altitude difference along the run of about 150m with home being at the higher end, so I guess the specifics of my question are around whether I should try alternating sprints and coasting frequently, or whether I should focus on a single pace for the entire journey.

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Basically your stamina will be enough to travel 16 miles at your commute speeds. The body adjusts to the demands placed on it. If you want to significantly increase your stamina you need to increase your distance somehow. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 14 '11 at 1:31
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Train high pedal cadence is always a good exercise, specially if you concentrate on pedalling smoothly all the time –  heltonbiker Sep 14 '11 at 3:18
    
Are setting a goal? Is there a specific event or lifestyle or personal fitness regiment that you are after? –  GuyZee Sep 14 '11 at 15:18
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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think your problem is that you are not commuting daily. Clearly this is not possible if you have to be out and about off site, meeting clients and attending other events, however, you should aim to commute by bike every day, come rain or shine. Ice and snow should not really put you off and even not riding in fog because it is 'dangerous' is a little bit light-weight! You have got to be doing it every day to get to and maintain the speed you need to do it every day. Take a few days out and what once seemed heroically-manageable suddenly seems like hard work.

Putting in a good time regardless of what goes on en-route should be highlight of the day, twice over. It should not need to feel like it is a chore. Fitness is not the be-all and end-all of setting a good time, you need to think that every second counts and ride that way. That begins from the off, some people can just leap on a bike and go, others take a mystery ten seconds just mounting the bike for some reason. Become a meticulous time keeper. Be at your desk with coffee and logins already done by 9, don't be one of those cyclist that materializes some time after nine and spends until 10 showering, putting together a 'I am more athletic than you' breakfast and so on. Arrive on time and you can 'fairly' leave on time, taking any 'must do' work home with you. By leaving at the same time you can 'race yourself home' rather than trudge home to have half your evening already gone.

Use check-points. When cycling in it can be easy to go into a 'world of your own' and not really be focused on setting a good time. If there are any clocks along the way on public buildings expect to see certain times on them and, if you are running late on one checkpoint, put in a bit of an effort to make it to the next checkpoint on time. Obviously you can use a watch or speedometer for timing your checkpoints, but I personally like seeking out clocks, no matter how distant they are and using them for my en-route time keeping.

Every second counts, and that is all the way. Really your route through town is all about clearing obstacles that are different in same-but-different ways every day. Be observant of other riders and what they do to be quicker than you in situations. Jumping lights may not be your thing, however, making a good getaway just as the lights change really does save all important seconds. Learn the light cycles on your route and pre-empt each of them, to lay down the speed or not depending on what you can tell from having a good look ahead. This stuff really falls under the category of being the tortoise instead of the hare. Don't miss easy-win opportunities to get ahead.

Ride assertively, but not aggressively. Conflabs with motorists do not help your time. They are not a-holes, they are fellow road users that you form an on-road community with. Take up as much road as you need and use the lanes they use to make turns etc. Politely wave to them if they hoot at you because they think the outer lane is for them and not cyclists making a turn.

Take aero seriously. That billowing coat might be nice to have on but it is taking scores of seconds out of your time. If it is cold when you first leave the door just shove a plastic bag down your jersey to keep the breeze off your chest. You can pull it out five minutes in to your ride when you can handle the chill. Bags are another aero consideration. Check out the recently posted 'seat bag' question for some tips on that.

Be careful about your bike. Tyres pumped 'hard enough' are not the same as tyres pumped with a track pump. Have the brakes and gears working properly so you can get away without any un-wanted clunks and stop a bit better than a panamax supertanker. Keep the bike as well serviced as a soldier maintains his gun and it will save you those seconds. That carbon-fibre wannabee bike won't help, work with what you have got, keep it maintained and correctly adjusted for you. The only go-faster accessory that really will help are pedals, of the clipless variety, with shoes to go with. MTB SPD are what you want for the commute, not 'roadie' ones.

Those are the 'basics' of setting a good time on the commute, now onto your actual question. Your extra exercises to improve stamina and strength.

Because a bike has gears there really is not a lot of strength needed. Cycling is an aerobic exercise and higher cadence matters more than out and out strength for the ride you are doing. Remember that muscle weighs and any extra muscle has to be dragged along for when it might be needed, which will not be most of the time. That said, strength matters when pulling away from the lights or pushing up a hill. But that level of strength will come to you if you put in the miles. The same can be said for stamina. Yes you can get a trainer rig setup in the living room for your bike, or go to the gym or go for a swim, however, you are putting in a quality distance in on the bike and there should be no need for any extra-curricular extras. Just ride every day if you can and it will come to you.

Diet.

Hopefully you have a lovely partner and you don't have to lift anything more than a fork at din-dins time. At lunch and snack times you may think 'well, I am burning off x thousand calories a week, I can eat what I like'. You may also eat 'healthy' pre-prepared sandwiches from the supermarket near to your work or indulge in a sausage roll from the local bakery or pick up a small cake selection mid-ride. It is all too easy to go for quantity rather than quality. But, for maximum vitality you do need to look at everything you eat and see if you can do much, much better.

This need not be a miserable process such as what dieters put themselves through. You can up your vegetable and fruit intake, try new recipes and revitalise your passion for food to eat better stuff that is a pleasure to indulge in. Get your main meal right and you won't need to see a chocolate bar, packet of crisps, bottle of pop or other junk-food-ready-eat ever again.

One top tip for yourself and any other male reader wanting ideas is to get a bread making machine. You tip the ingredients in, set the timer and get a lovely loaf out, no washing up involved. In one stroke you are getting better bread than anything you can buy in the shops and you can start taking in your own sandwiches packed to the gills with goodness. The flour in your bread can be the good stuff that does not need all of the E numbers to keep it presentable. You can also add some mixed fruit, a couple of eggs and a spoonful of honey to your basic bread mix to make yourself the yummiest ever luxury-ready-eat item, knowing that nothing in it is anything but 100% good for you.

A lot of top athletes have gone 100% vegetarian, the world's best sprinter Mark Cavendish is probably the prime example, so consider following his example to get your cycling form to what it should be.

It does not take any money to become a cycling foodie, just an interest in doing better with your own chopping board, vegetable steamer, oven and bread machine than anything you can get ready made. Even that evil pizza can be a gourmet-healthy meal item with a DiY bread machine attitude. And no, it does not take longer to do food properly and even if it does the enjoyment is so worth it. You will make up a lot more time than time spent cooking by having better energy levels.

It took me a long time to find out how important the cycling food thing is, I lived many years under the illusion that it was calories that mattered, but, for me, it was actually only when I bucked up my ideas about cooking and food that I discovered how wrong I was. To then take over in the kitchen and try new recipes took some confidence, but you do need to be in control of what you eat if you are taking your diet and shape seriously.

To summarise, you have a splendid route that could be abbreviated with some on-bike time management improvements. You need to be going every day even if that kills you. It will come to you effortlessly after a sustained month of doing it every working day. Then there is the matter of diet, garbage in, garbage out. Up your eating game and you will notice benefits on the bike. I am sure a lot of the above is what you know already from doing running, but, you are on the right track and it will come to you.

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Very useful answer - I know one issue is that time aspect, as well as consistency, so that could well be the key area I need to push on: simply getting on the bike more often –  Rory Alsop Sep 14 '11 at 7:31
    
Excelent answer! –  jackJoe Sep 14 '11 at 8:20
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There's nothing bad about maintaining a steady pace but at some point you'll want to increase that pace. For a while you will be able to improve significantly by just informally "trying harder" and getting more skilled with the bike. After a while, however, you will plateau and it will seem like it is impossible to get much faster and you'll wonder how people on mapmyride (for example) can do the same route at unbelievable average speeds.

Of course it is possible to get much faster! And the most effective way to do it is with some type of regular interval training. This same concept applies to all endurance sports. The idea is that you have to push your exertion to at or above your lactate threshold to stimulate improvement. It is the aerobic analogy to lifting weights.

I am not going to attempt to lay out a program, but roughly it is going to be a series of efforts that last a couple of minutes with a few minutes of rest inbetween. During those intervals you really have to max out to get the benefit of the workout. A "real" interval workout is HARD and draining. It is not something that you'll want to do everyday.

Alternatively, just riding with fast group will do the same (albeit in a longer time) as guys tend to naturally compete and "put the hammer down" at every opportunity.

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oh yeah, and whatever you do, don't coast! Even after intervals. –  Angelo Sep 13 '11 at 22:55
    
+1 for intervals. I got a heart rate monitor that can be programmed to do intervals, and will beep at you when your heart rate is too low during the 'on' part of the interval, or too high during the 'off' part. It was a big help. –  rally25rs Sep 14 '11 at 0:10
    
yep, heart-rate is the most practical indicator. The Carmichael training method describes a "field test" to measure what that max heart rate should be for any particular individual. –  Angelo Sep 14 '11 at 1:07
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im not sure whether your commute is the right time for training, but why not time trial? seems like a good distance for it. you could clock yourself everyday and measure progress that way. i suppose its dangerous, painful and youll be in sweat when you arrive. but thats what effective training does for you. intervals are good too. as long as you dont rest (ie ride an easy pace) more than you ride at maximum pace.

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