Huffing and puffing on your bike provides similar cardiovascular benefits as other activities such as running, jumping rope and turning circles on the elliptical. Bicycling outdoors also combines exercise with transportation, which can be a real time-saver. Bike to the gym, lift weights, and then bike home for a full-body cardio and strength workout. So skip happy hour and cycle off steam with a friend -- you’ll burn extra calories and also save those you would have gained with cocktails.
Engage in a solid aerobic workout on a long, local trail. Spend some solo time with your thoughts, or take your hubby along for company. Bike at a pace where you could have a short, choppy conversation with a friend or sing little phrases under your breath. The idea is to work hard enough to gain aerobic fitness and burn calories, but not so hard you can barely breathe.
Strengthen your legs, hips and butt with hills. While regular cycling will do this, you can stress the issue even more by picking a hilly route. Stand up for half the hills to focus on strengthening your hips and stay seated for the other half to toast your legs and butt. The hills will also provide natural intervals so that your heart rate is elevated for a period of time and then back to a moderate pace to recover. Intervals have been shown to increase fitness faster and burn more fat than steady-state cardio.
Challenge your balance on some technical terrain. Head to a wooded trail to test your cardio, strength and balance. Navigating winding paths, fallen branches, hills and valleys not only builds cardio and leg strength but a great amount of balance, upper body strength and core strength as well.
- Choose the right bike for optimal happiness on your ride. Choose a bike with big, knobby tires if you’ll mainly be out in the woods and a bike with smoother tires if you’ll mainly be on the road. A sturdy bike with medium-sized tires will work for a bit of both.
- Find a seat with a cushioned rear part and a cutout or indented middle. Your sit bones won’t be as sore, and your more delicate parts won’t feel as numb or mashed. A good bike shop attendant can help you find an ideal seat based on your body and the type of riding you’ll be doing.
- Use biking to get a longer bout of cardio one to two days each week. An hour will often go by more quickly when you’re dodging trees, conquering hills or circling a beautiful lake than it will when you’re chugging along on the elliptical while grazing through magazine ads.
- Bring lots of water to stay hydrated and a cell phone for safety.
- Have the bike fitted to your body by a trained bicycle mechanic. A proper fit will make for fewer joint problems and a more enjoyable ride.
- When biking in the streets, be vigilant of cars and traffic. Bike with traffic, as far to the right as possible and use hand signals when turning.
- Wear a helmet at all times to prevent head injury in the event of a fall.
Suzanne Reilley is a fitness professional with a BS in exercise science and more than four years of experience as a full-time ACSM-certified personal trainer. She has been featured in DailyCandy and "The Washington Post," and has taught at Rancho La Puerta, rated Top Destination Spa by "Travel + Leisure."