Cycling can be a great way to improve your physical and mental health. Not only is it perfect for getting in a great cardio session, but it’s easier on the joints than running, and it’s far more relaxing.
However, it can be easy to injure yourself if you don’t take the proper precautions. Before you get out on the road, review these six do’s and don’ts for using your bicycle to improve your overall health.
1. Do – Consult With Your Doctor First
Just like with any other exercise regime, you should consult with your doctor before you start cycling. This is especially important if you have a history of medical issues. The Mayo Clinic says that people with the following medical conditions are at greater risk for injury during exercise:
- Heart Disease
- High blood pressure
- Lung disease or asthma
- Either type of diabetes
- If you are being or have ever been treated for cancer
Additionally, if you are or suspect you may be pregnant, ensure you address it with your doctor.
2. Don’t – Do Too Much, Too Quickly
One of the most common mistakes that new exercisers make is trying to do too much before they’ve built up their endurance. Overtraining not only risks serious injury, but it can also slow your training progress. Very Well Fit says to watch out for the following signs of overtraining:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Soreness in your joints and muscles that won’t go away
- Chronic fatigue
- Constant shortness of breath
- A lack of appetite
Start off slow and gradually increase the speed and distance that you bike.
3. Do – Set Progressive Goals
Having a goal to focus on is essential to sticking with your exercise plan. The Huffington Post reported that out of the 45% of New Yorkers who make a New Year’s resolution, only 8% will see their resolution through to the end. One of the key reasons why they quit was because they didn’t have a goal to focus on. You can set effective, progressive goals using the acronym SMART.
Your goal should include a specific target. For example, don’t say, “I want to keep cycling;” say, “I want to be able to cycle for 10 miles without resting.”
You should be able to track your progress. For example, you can easily gauge where you are in reaching the above 10-mile goal. If you can reach 5 miles before you need to rest, you know where you stand.
Your goal should be realistic to help avoid overtraining and getting discouraged. It might sound nice to say, “I want to compete in an Iron Man in one month,” but it’s not realistic.
Your goals need to be relevant to what you’re trying to achieve. For example, “I’m going to buy the most expensive bicycle on the market,” does nothing to improve your overall health. You can get the same benefits on a cheap bike as you can the most pricey.
Deadlines can be frustrating, but they’re critical to keeping us on track. Whatever your goal, set a specific time to achieve it. For reaching 10 miles without rest, you might give yourself a month. Even if you don’t reach your goal, that’s okay. The work you’re doing is worth the effort.
4. Don’t – Ride Without Protective Equipment
Whenever you cycle, you should always wear your personal protective equipment (PPE) and use clipless platform bike pedals to keep yourself safe. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that in 83% of all fatal bicycle accidents, riders weren’t wearing helmets. Certain states even have laws that mandate the use of a helmet while cycling.
Common protective equipment you should use includes:
- Reflective Vest
- Handlebar mirrors
- Front and rear lights
In addition, you should wear clothing that fully covers your arms and legs when you ride. This may not be feasible in hot weather, but it will help protect you from injury.
Wearing protective equipment will help you survive an accident, but it won’t help prevent them. The only way to do that is to obey the rules of the road at all times. If you are ever involved in an accident, seek medical attention immediately, even if you think you’re fine. If you were the victim, you need to understand the rights you have to take legal action.
5. Do – Always Warm Up First
It’s important that you always warm up prior to your main work out. The American Heart Association recommends that you warm up for 5 to 10 minutes prior to exercising. For cycling, you can do about five minutes of static stretches, followed by five minutes riding at a slower pace than what you plan to do in the main workout.
6. Don’t – Ride on a Broken Bike
If your bike is having any kind of issue, don’t ride it – fix it first. If you had a flat tire, you wouldn’t drive your car; if you were leaking oil, you’d take it to a mechanic. The same rules apply for riding a bike. The two most common maintenance problems cyclists face are rusted wheel chains and worn out tires. Inspect both items before each ride, and fix any issues.