Ask an expert: Gearing up your body for a cycling event

Q: “I have five weeks to train for Providence Bridge Pedal. Is that enough time? What should I do between now and then to get in shape for the ride?”

Answered by Bruce Rife, BS, CSCS, manager, Providence Mercantile Health and Fitness Center

Five weeks is plenty of time for most people to get in shape for Providence Bridge Pedal. This family-friendly event is designed more as a pleasure ride than an athletic competition. With three routes to choose from – including six bridges (13 miles), eight bridges (24 miles) and 10 bridges (33 miles) – even novice cyclers can complete the ride with little to no training. You’ll enjoy it more, though – and feel better afterwards – if you invest some time in preparing your body first.

Between now and Aug. 10 – the day of the 2014 event – I recommend focusing on three areas of fitness:

  • Cardiovascular exercise, which gives your heart and lungs the stamina to keep going without too much fatigue and heavy breathing 
  • Strength training, which builds muscle strength and endurance to power you comfortably through the ride 
  • Stretching, which helps your muscles move smoothly through the full range of motion required for cycling and reduces your chances of an injury
If you haven’t been active for a while, and especially if you have a medical condition that could be an issue, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor and get cleared to participate before you do anything else. Once you have the green light, step up your activity level as much as you can between now and the day of the event. Specifically, try to fit in all of the following:
  • Cardio – three to seven times a week: Get 20 to 40 minutes of cardiovascular activity at least three days a week, and ideally every day if you can. That can include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, using an elliptical trainer – anything that gets your heart thumping a little faster. Make sure that one or more of these weekly sessions are on an actual bike or stationary bicycle so that you can get used to riding. In general, the more activity, the better to get your heart and lungs in top shape.
  • Strength training – two to three times a week: Strong legs will improve your power on your ride, and strong muscles in your chest, back and abdomen will enhance your stability. Choose six to 10 exercises that strengthen these muscles. Floor exercises such as squats, lunges, push-ups, crunches and planks are great. Resistance exercises with stretchy bands are another effective way to go. Do one “set” (8 to 15 repetitions) of each exercise two or three times a week. By week three, see if you can do two sets at each session, and keep it up.
  • Stretching – every day: Stretch for several minutes at the end of each cardio and strength-training session, when your muscles are warm and flexible. Go slowly and gently, working all of the muscles that you’ve been using in your activity. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. Don’t bounce or push further than your comfort allows.
  • One long ride each week: This weekly bike ride counts as part of your cardio. Start with a four- to six-mile ride in the first week to see how you feel. Then increase your mileage every week leading up to the event. If you feel good after six miles, and can comfortably add six miles each week, you’ll be up to 30 miles the week before the race, giving you a pretty good idea of how you’ll feel on the full 33-mile route. If you’re more comfortable starting with a four- or five-mile ride and increasing by four or five miles each week, you’ll be able to handle the eight-bridge, 24-mile route, no problem.

Even with no training at all, most people in relatively good shape can complete Providence Bridge Pedal – they just need to take it a little slower, and they might feel it a little more the next day. But you’ll enjoy it much more if you can put in the time beforehand to get your body used to the activity and in shape for the ride. Either way, be sure to wear a helmet, drink a lot of water and ride at your own pace. And don’t forget the main reason you’re there – to have a great time, support a great cause and take in the amazing views from Portland’s bridges.

One last thing you need to do to enjoy Providence Bridge Pedal: Register to ride!

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