People ride bikes for many reasons. I ride for transportation because it’s fun, fast, inexpensive and it lets me exercise without having to set aside time to work out — win, win, win, win. So, I am often flummoxed that more people don’t commute by bike.
A common reason I hear is that bike commuting is “not really exercise.” This usually comes from folks who only bike to “get a good workout.” This means a spinning class or setting aside a few hours to bike on rural roads. Personally, I rarely — if ever — have time for these types of activities, so I squeeze my workouts into little trips around town.
Luckily, short bouts of activity can be as effective as longer workouts. Studies show that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is an effective way to work out in a short time. Essentially, brief bursts of intense activity are as, if not more, effective than longer workouts at moderate levels of exertion.
A lot of folks don’t realize that bike commuting offers the perfect framework for HIIT. Rather than just schlepping myself around town on my bike, I turn commutes into high-intensity workouts. Here’s how you can, too:
First: Rather than opt for an ultra-light bike made from space-age materials and special lightweight aerodynamic clothing, I ride a steel bike with fenders, racks, kickstand, lights, generator hub and saddlebags. I wear everyday clothes, often adding heavy boots for good measure. The idea is to add weight rather than shaving grams. After all, we are trying to get a good workout.
To make the bike even heavier — and to be able to help folks I meet along the way — I always carry a toolkit with a full complement of Allen wrenches, adjustable crescents, a bottle opener, screwdrivers, an inflator, spare tubes, bungee cords and first-aid supplies.
In addition, I carry what I need for that day, which usually consists of lunch, purse, jacket and a real book made of paper — the bigger the better. These days, I’m schlepping “Infinite Jest,” weighing in at 1,000-plus pages. Remember, this is about getting a good workout, so the heavier the better.
Second: Choose circuitous routes with lots of hills. Hilly terrain offers great opportunities for high-intensity intervals. When climbing, always push as hard and fast as possible. We are trying to get our heart rates up, and keep them up for 30-90 seconds. Enjoy the coast down the other side of the hill as your recovery interval.
Third: Choose routes with multiple stops and starts. Remember — this is about short intervals at high intensity, not about moderate, consistent effort. The spaces between intersections are your intervals. Start as quickly as you can, sprint as hard as you can, and use the time at the stoplights for recovery. When the light turns green: Go!Push as hard and fast as possible until the next intersection, then rest. Don’t get a red light? See if you can push on through and make the interval two blocks long. Too tired? Just slow your pace to a moderate level and keep going, recovering as you pedal at the slower rate.
A high-intensity interval training commute not only allows you to get a good workout while going about your day, it is a great way to build bike-handling skills by practicing quick and effective stops and starts and mastering your gears on climbs. It also requires more intense focus and attention than sitting on a stationary bike or tooling along a country road on a sunny afternoon. Bike commuting — it’s not just an efficient and fun way to get around, it’s an opportunity for a great workout.
Gina Overshiner is a licensed cycling instructor who teaches cycling-related classes and leads group rides. She gave up motorized transportation for the grand adventure of raising her two children, now teenagers, mostly car-free. Often this is done to her husband’s chagrin.
Posted in Community on Monday, October 12, 2015 2:00 pm.