So you want to start cycling. That’s great news! Getting into the sport offers a range of benefits that will make starting a cycling routine worth the effort, including improved heart and brain health, better sleep, boosted mood, and more energy.
You don’t need to ride 100 miles to reap the benefits either, according to research. In fact, one study found that just 12-minute bursts of activity can improve metabolic health, while other research suggests that adding movement “snacks” to your day can help you build muscle, improve focus, and even help you live longer.
To help you get started—and create a schedule you’ll actually stick to—this guide to riding consistency offers ideas on how to build strong habits and establish a solid cycling routine.
Consistency: What It Really Means for Cyclists
According to Merriam-Webster, consistency means “firmness of constitution or character.” In plain-speak, consistency is repetition. It’s showing up every time. It’s showing up for yourself, sticking to your plan, doing what you know you need to do in order to reach your goals, even if you may not feel like it.
But hey, it’s not as intense as it sounds: Consistency doesn’t have to mean performing grueling, hours-long interval sessions every day. It doesn’t have to mean waking up at 5 a.m. and pedaling in the dark. And it doesn’t even have to mean cycling every single day (though more power to you if that’s what you love!).
Consistency, for cyclists, is showing up every day in the way that best positions you for long-term success. Some weeks, this’ll look like hitting all of your planned workouts—nothing more, nothing less.
Other weeks, this might look like sleeping an extra 30 minutes and riding for 30 instead of 60. It might mean skipping a ride altogether and doing a stretching session or strength workout. It might look like taking an unplanned rest day, or on the flip side, putting in an extra 30 minutes when you’re feeling especially good and have the time.
The main goal of consistency: “Start small, and set monthly goals to avoid injury and burnout,” says Kellie Kopach, certified cycling instructor at Lifetime Fitness.
Consistency will look different for every rider, because it depends on each individual’s goals and what they are realistically capable of achieving given their other life commitments. The most important aspect of creating a cycling routine is finding what works best for you to keep coming back to the sport.
Exactly How to Start Cycling
Kopach recommends that new riders start on an indoor stationary bike at home or at the gym, at least for the first ride.
“A beginner cycling class is a perfect introduction prior to riding outdoors,” she says. “Certified cycling coaches will help new riders set up their seats and handlebars, and also teach participants how to safely warm up and stretch. They will also explain heart rate zones, rpms (revolutions per minute), and watt outputs.”
Novice riders should begin riding two to three times per week, Kopach continues. “All of this foundational information will help new riders transfer to outdoor riding,” she adds.
Doing your first ride at a gym also means you don’t have to commit to buying a bike so soon.
If you are ready to start riding outside, though, USA Cycling Level 3 coach Paul Warloski of Simple Endurance Coaching recommends starting with two to three short outdoor rides per week. You can kick things off with 15 to 30 minutes and tack on an additional 10 to 15 minutes each week as your endurance improves. During these easy rides, your heart rate should remain low, and you should be able to hold a conversation if someone is riding next to you.
“The key is to keep everything easy the first few weeks,” Warloski says. “If you start slowly, you shouldn’t have too much muscle soreness, just a little fatigue. That’s the goal.”
10 Tips to Maintaining Your Cycling Routine
You’ve probably heard people say that getting started is the hardest part. And it is certainly hard, but there’s also the excitement of something new to keep you going! Once that novelty wears off, keeping up with your new cycling routine might begin to feel more difficult.
That’s where these tips from cycling coaches come in. Not all of these tips will apply to everyone, so read through and try out the ones that resonate with you. You can choose just one to focus on or mix and match until you find what works for you.
1. Get a Bike Fit
Getting a professional bike fit will make a world of difference in your experience and make you feel excited to get out on the road, rather than dreading your rides because you know you’ll wind up in pain.
2. Buy Basic Cycling Apparel
New cyclists will likely experience some saddle soreness in the beginning no matter what measures you take, says Kopach, but padded bike shorts can help. This is one of the first things she recommends to new riders, because it’s a fairly inexpensive and simple way to minimize discomfort that can lead to demotivation.
You don’t need to buy the flashiest, fanciest, most expensive bike shorts or bibs. There are plenty of budget-friendly options and you can even try some on at your local bike shop or sporting goods store.
3. Ride 15 Minutes and Check In
“Ride for 15 minutes and check in with your body,” Warloski says. “Are you getting sore anywhere? Tired? Hungry or thirsty? Those might be signs to turn around and finish the ride. It’s far better to ride less to start with than to do too much and not want to ride again!
This can also work in reverse: If you tell yourself you’re just going out to ride for 15 minutes to see how it feels, you might end up finishing your entire route and cycling for longer.
4. Move a Little More Every Day
Also, because you can reap the benefits of exercise in just a few minutes a day, focus on getting in those minutes of movement every day. “Moving and exercising a little every day is going to make the whole process work more smoothly,” Warloski says, even if you’re not cycling every day. “In general, a new cyclists should try to get a little something in for a workout every day to build consistency,” he says.
Doing something daily may feel intimidating, so try to start with just five minutes, that can include stretching, walking, or whatever you feel like doing. Just get moving, and you’ll find that you often end up moving for longer than a few minutes.
5. Try to Exercise at the Same Time Daily
Routine is helpful for busy individuals. So try to commit to a specific time of day to exercise and block that time out on your work calendar if possible.
Many busy professionals and parents find mornings to be the most reliable window, but whatever time of day you can realistically commit to is best.
6. Prepare Your Gear the Night Before
If you plan to ride in the morning, get everything ready the night before. Set out your cycling kit and shoes, put air in your tires, fill your water bottles and put them in the fridge, and decide what fuel you’re bringing along for the ride. This eliminates any fumbling around in the morning, and it allows you to sleep longer.
7. Eat and Drink Sufficiently
Working out is hard enough on its own. Don’t make it harder by failing to fuel your body! Your body needs adequate calories, fluids, and electrolytes to power through any type of exercise.
Starting a ride under-fueled or dehydrated is a recipe for misery, so make your rides more fun and successful by having a snack and water before you head out and bring any extra fuel with you that you might need for the road or trail.
8. Create an Indoor Riding Setup
Buying an indoor bike trainer can also help keep you consistent as you don’t have to worry about traffic, weather, or anything else that might keep you from outdoor riding, Kopach says. Choose a trainer that attaches to your outdoor bike or go for an indoor exercise bike.
If you need motivation to hit that indoor trainer, one trick is to save special shows, podcasts, or audiobooks solely for your indoor rides. That way, you look forward to your time on the trainer.
9. Give Yourself Time
It’s critical not to do too much, too fast, says Warloski. Realistically, a beginner could work up to a 25-mile ride or more in a month, but “the more time you give to your training, the easier the 25 miles is going to be. Give yourself enough time to build your fitness and overall strength so you can enjoy the longer ride, rather than suffer through it,” he adds.
10. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Finally, it’s important to be gracious with yourself. Too often, coaches and trainers see beginners develop an all-or-nothing mindset and completely abandon their new routine when they miss a day or two. Even if you miss a whole week or more, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay and you can pick up where you left off.
Life happens. We get sick, we get busy, and we take vacations. And sometimes we’re just plain tired. The best thing we can do is keep coming back—without a guilt-trip for taking a break.
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