How Much Cycling Is Too Much for a Beginner?

Man on a bike
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Everyone starts somewhere. This is true in all aspects of life, including cycling. When it comes to self-improvement, cycling is an effective and efficient way to better your physical and mental health. Even short trips every day can benefit your cardiovascular health. To bring your bicycle out of the garage or to buy a new one may be appealing, but before you start, you need to know where to begin. How much cycling is too much for a beginner?

Starting too strong or too aggressively can cause injuries and hurt your drive to continue biking. Before you hit the streets, let’s go over the dos and don’ts of beginning biking.

How To Safely Cycle As a Beginner

Before you begin, make sure your bike is ready for the adventure. Don’t start your journey with worn brake pads, tires, or chains. You do not have to spend extra money on expensive gear as a beginner. Instead, make sure you have some padded cycling shorts and moisture-wicking fabrics. Helmets may be a no-brainer, but make sure that yours is properly fitted.

Plan for the First Week

Your first week is critical to starting a new fitness plan. It takes between 18 and 54 days to establish a habit. When you’re new to cycling, the first week could make or break you. If you’re miserable at the onset, you probably won’t continue long enough to make riding a part of your lifestyle.

When you cycle too hard at once, you may want to drop your bike off at a pawn shop on your way home. Hitting intense inclines out of the gate will wear you down before you’re able to see cycling as a challenge. You need to set reasonable goals for yourself.

Be okay with being a beginner. No one expects you to be an expert. If you already cycle occasionally, plan to increase your time. Do not focus on mileage and instead try to cycle about 10% more than your average. If you do not bike at all, then shoot for about 30 to 60 minutes at a time about three to five times a week.

Your initial pace should be conversational. This means that if you ride with a partner, you can carry on a conversation and speak in full sentences with one another. You want to stay at a moderately intense pace.

Plan for the Month

Every week, take a rest day. If you have work during the week, try to add extra time to your weekend rides. Longer times allow for more training stimulus. Training stimulus aids in your body’s ability to grow stronger and to adapt to your routine. If there is a cycling community in your area, you may choose to connect over your first month. When you ride with experienced cyclists, you are more likely to pick up new skills and gain confidence.

Plan for the First Three Months

While time matters at first, you may stop seeing improvement if you only focus on how long you ride throughout the week. A lot of people don’t have the time to ride more than 10 hours a week. Others may only manage about six. To prevent plateauing, you can increase the intensity of your workout. Interval training involves alternating between high-intensity exercise and recovery periods. Set your own goals for interval training. Your intervals could be easy, challenging, or anywhere in between.

As a beginner, start with a tempo workout. Tempo is more difficult than your cruising endurance, but you can still speak in short sentences. Start your tempo workouts at about 15 minutes. Eventually, you can reach 60 minutes.

Once you master tempo, you can move onto a steady state. For a steady state, you work out for 10 to 20 minutes at your maximum output. Maximum output is when your breathing is deep, and you can only speak in short phrases.

How To Determine You’re Riding Too Much

When you start cycling, you may think that there’s no such thing as riding too much. After all, cycling is great for your physical fitness! Remember that you can have too much of a good thing. To answer how much cycling is too much, you have to pay attention to your body.

Mental Fog and Fatigue

When you train, you break down energy. If you’re in a constant state of stress or if you’re working out too much, you’re going to feel fatigued. You may lose your ability to focus or perform tasks that require mental energy. It’s normal to feel tired after an intense workout, but you may be overworking your body if you feel fatigued all of the time.

Give yourself time to rest and recover. Additionally, if you train without nourishing your body, you will also feel consistently tired. Remember that healthy eating is important, no matter your workout schedule.

Pain and Soreness

Muscle soreness is normal when you start cycling. It’s also normal whenever you challenge yourself physically. When you’re doing interval training, pay attention to your body’s pain response. You should not experience muscle strain or any sharp or intense pain. Some people think that if they push themselves past their limits, they’ll become stronger. The reality is that you can seriously injure yourself.

You could tear your muscles or develop other overuse injuries. If you do injure yourself, make sure to rest and heal properly. Do not jump back on the bike until you are better to reduce the risk of hurting yourself.

Decreased Appetite and Weight Loss

After a healthy cycling session, you should have an increased appetite. Your body is working through its daily calories, and so you need to consume more as an athlete to maintain your weight and health. However, when you overtrain, you may feel less hungry. Hormone imbalances can decrease your appetite and cause weight loss beyond normal for beginning an exercise routine.

If you do not eat enough, your body has to rely on its energy reserves. You may develop anemia or other nutritional deficiencies. Serious complications may include gastrointestinal problems and cardiovascular issues.

Sleep Disturbances

Often, we expect working out to help us sleep at night. Too much training can cause your stress hormones to be out of balance. When this happens, it becomes difficult to rest at night or to let go of the tension you had during the day. Your body requires rest to repair itself. Without quality sleep, you could develop mood changes, fatigue, and other symptoms.

Lost Motivation

Did you start with a lot of motivation and notice it drop off suddenly? When you overtrain, you lose your motivation too. It could be because your body is exhausted or that you’re mentally exhausted. No matter the reason, burnout is real.

Difficulty Working Out

When you overtrain, you may stop improving. It may feel like you reach a plateau, or you may feel your abilities decrease. Overtraining reduces your reaction time, strength, and agility. Workouts that you could do before may suddenly feel more challenging. It can feel like you are working harder than before. Likewise, your heart rate may increase while cycling and could remain high during rest.

Weight Gain

Weight gain may be one of the last symptoms you would associate with cycling too much. When you do not rest enough, your testosterone levels may drop, and your cortisol levels may rise. These hormonal changes are associated with weight gain, excess belly fat, and muscle loss.

How To Avoid Cycling Injuries

If you have a better idea about how much cycling is too much for a beginner, that’s great! Staying aware of your body is the key to success. If you want to avoid any issues developing from cycling, here are some tips that should help.

Stay Hydrated at All Times

Staying hydrated is one of the number one rules in life and exercise. When you cycle, you should always have a water bottle with you. Drink when you’re thirsty because there is never a reason to deprive yourself of water. When you don’t hydrate, you could develop muscle cramps, not to mention dehydration can cause you to feel dizzy, experience headaches, and severe dehydration can lead to hospitalization.

If you are on shorter bike rides, a water bottle will suffice. However, if you’re on a long ride, you may want to have a sports drink. You can lose electrolytes during long rides that water cannot replace.

Have Your Bike Fitted

If you have the wrong size bike, you’ll begin to feel it. When you cycle, you’re not supposed to experience knee, back, or neck pain. Some riders complain of numbness in their hands and arms too. If you experience any of these issues, it could be a problem with the size of your bike.

Beginners often need help from bike shops to ensure the proper fit. Everyone has a different body, and so everyone has different needs. You may have a friend who loves his or her bike and swears by it, but it may not be right for you.

You can test your bike’s size by testing where your legs are when seated. Your legs should extend while pedaling, and you should have no trouble reaching the handlebars. Your arms should never be strained, and your elbows should stay slightly bent.

Stretch Before a Ride

You may have heard that you should always stretch before a workout. If you do not stretch, you have a high likelihood of developing overuse injuries and muscle cramps. Make sure to stretch your quadriceps and hamstrings. These are the muscles that experience that give cyclists the most trouble.

Suppose you experience a cramp while on a ride; take a break. Never try to ride through the pain. Use your knuckles to loosen the muscles. You can also try foam rollers to give yourself a massage if cramping becomes an issue.

Find the Right Saddle

Your bike’s saddle should be comfortable. An uncomfortable saddle may lead to numbness and pain while riding. You may also develop sores. While there are creams available to help with cycling sores, your best option is to find a new saddle. There are saddles with wide backs and cutouts that decrease pressure. When at a bike shop, be open about the issues with your seat. Bike shop owners have heard it all! More on this saddle matter for women here and for seniors here.

Cycling can be a fulfilling, exciting hobby that introduces health and fitness into your lifestyle. If you’re a beginner, don’t be afraid to start slow. Everyone has a starting point. Even professional cyclists started where you are! It is possible to overdo it, especially as a beginner. Listen to your body and recognize the signs of overtraining.

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