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From not being able to ride a bicycle as a child in the late 1980s, to completing her first 200km brevet (long-distance cycling) in 2015, Ranjana Deopa has come a long way. Deopa is, in fact, now a triathlete, having completed the Ironman 70.3 in December 2016 at Bahrain in 7.56 hours.

“I remember that before the first brevet in 2015, I had somehow not trained as much as I would have wanted to. I wasn’t even sure how I would sit on the saddle for so long and how my body would react when I got tired," says Deopa, founder and chief executive officer of Altavis Consulting and chief operating officer of BD Foundation, a non-profit that provides a platform for creating awareness on inclusive practices, conducting research and building an advocacy platform to promote inclusive leadership. She finished the 200km, cheered on by her husband Nitin Chadha, a super randonneur himself.

There is more to cycling, however, than long distances and titles. It is a sport almost anyone can pick up. In a study titled Health Benefits Of Cycling: A Systematic Review (2011), published in the Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine And Science In Sports, the lead authors of the study, P. Oja and S. Titze, found children and adolescents who were regulars in recreational cycling showed strong evidence of improved cardio-respiratory endurance and muscular fitness, better bone health, and improved cardiovascular and metabolic health biomarkers. In adults, there was strong evidence, for instance, of lower risk of early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, adverse blood lipid profiles, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancers.

“Anyone can take up cycling. Since your weight gets distributed among your seat, hands and feet while riding, the chances of injury are less. This is also relatively easier for people suffering from lower limb problems—like knee issues, osteoarthritis or imbalance—compared to exercises like jogging or running," explains Prateek Kumar Gupta, consultant orthopaedic and sports surgeon at south Delhi’s A+ Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine clinic.

If you are inspired to take up cycling, here’s how you can get started.

Step 1: Bike basics

Mumbai-based Vivek Menon returned to cycling in 2013 after 18 years. Since then, he has participated in cycling events as well as triathlons, including the Ironman 70.3 in Colombo on 25 February.

Menon, who also trains enthusiasts, has realized that many recreational cyclists buy low-budget cycles. “You can’t be stingy about buying a cycle. A cheap bike is not built to last for long. The wear and tear on the bike will send you rushing to the repair shop more often than not, especially if you are on the heavier side."

Ranjana Deopa can reduce your chances of injury. Photo:Priyanka Parashar/Mint
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Ranjana Deopa can reduce your chances of injury. Photo:Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Just buying an expensive and hi-tech bike will not be enough, however. Most bikes come in a standard size, and need to be readjusted to your size so that you can enjoy longer rides without pain from sitting in an uncomfortable posture.

“The key adjustments you need to do to your bike has to be the seat height and handlebar length. While your seat should be at a height that lets your knee bend only a little (about 10-20 degrees), your handlebar reach should be such that you do not overextend your arms or keep them completely bent," explains Pune-based Kaustubh Radkar, sports medicines specialist and founder-chief executive officer of RadStrong coaching, which specializes in marathon and triathlon training.

Step 2: Injury prevention

Any sport, whether for recreation or otherwise, comes with its risks and benefits. But compared to the other popular recreation sport—long-distance running—cycling has less impact on the knees and ankles, and can, therefore, be less harmful for the joints. “As a matter of fact, even if you are overweight, you can still cycle, while it might be difficult for you to run suddenly. It is a good fat-burning exercise that is safer for you to try," adds Radkar.

Stretching before and after a ride is important to avoid injuries. “That said, a beginner must learn the proper techniques. Adjust the correct saddle height, ride with elbows slightly bent, do not drop your wrist below the handlebar and distribute your weight appropriately between the saddle and handlebar," explains Girish Pandit, a recreational cyclist and an ultrasonologist at The Ultrasound Clinic in Gurugram, near Delhi.

Step 3: Invest in proper gear

It goes without saying that our city roads are not cycle-friendly. “If the road is not smooth, you can jump while riding, leading to stress on the back. This results in back pain and irritation both during and after your ride," explains Dr Gupta.

“No matter what the distance or speed, you must wear a helmet at all times if you are riding on the road. The second thing you can buy are elbow pads, knee pads and cycling shorts which have pads in the groin area to prevent chafing," says Radkar.

For additional safety, especially if you are riding in the night or early mornings, buy reflective gear.

Step 4: Before the actual ride

Gaurav Wadhwa, a cyclist and owner of The Bike Shop, Delhi, suggests joining a group for any long ride, especially if you are just starting out. “A solo ride can be monotonous and a group will keep you motivated. Start small, maybe do 20-25km twice or thrice a week for a month, and take it up to 50km and 75km in the next few months," says Wadhwa.

Wadhwa stresses on the need to warm up and stretch properly before and after the ride. A few minutes of dynamic warm-ups before the ride, and lunges, leg and back stretches, as well as a foam roller to relax tired muscles after the ride, can help.

The essentials for your ride

A helmet, front and rear lights are mandatory for any ride.

You can also invest in reflective jackets and belts, or strips for your bike. This will help other vehicles to spot you.

Carry a spare tube, a tyre lever and a pump for your rides, especially if you are heading out of the city or riding at odd hours.

Get a water-bottle holder fixed to the cycle, so you can stay hydrated. You can gradually include fish oils, energy gels, and a post-ride recovery protein in your nutrition plan.

It is advisable to invest in a pair of sports-focused eyewear. These are made of unbreakable polycarbonate lenses and protect the rider’s eyes from dust, pollution and small bugs.

— Gaurav Wadhwa, owner, The Bike Shop

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