I hope all of you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving! Carol and I got in our first two days of XC skiing. We were very pleased that I’ve totally rehabbed my broken ankle from last January and it didn’t give me any problems. Years when we ski by Thanksgiving are usually good ski years, so we’re excited.
It’s four weeks to Christmas and you’re busier than usual. What can you do to maintain fitness in limited time?
Two weeks ago I wrote about How Fast Do You Lose Fitness? You start to lose fitness in your 50s and unfortunately if you don’t do anything, you lose fitness at an accelerating rate. You lose more fitness in your 60s than in your 50s and even more in your 70s than in your 60s. Fortunately much of this loss is preventable and even reversible. I had breakfast with my 81-year-old friend, John. Although he stays active he isn’t at all athletic. He’s losing some of his cardio: hilly walks are now pretty taxing and he prefers walking on the flats. However, he has been taking a yoga class twice a week for months and he’s noticing a dramatic increase in his range of motion.
John’s example illustrates two key factors in staving off and even reversing the natural effects of aging:
- Consistency— John has been doing yoga for months.
- Frequency — John does yoga twice a week.
The results show: He’s improving.
American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) Recommendations
For overall good health the ACSM recommends year-round:
- Cardiorespiratory: You should do a minimum of 150 minutes / week of moderate cardio exercise up to 300 minutes / week, or 75 – 150 minutes of intense exercise or a combination of the two most days of the week.
- Strength training: You should do a minimum of 30 minutes of strength training two to three days / week.
- Stretching/flexibility exercises: You should stretch for 5 – 10 minutes at least four times a week — it only takes 5 – 10 minutes per session.
- Weight-bearing exercises: Riding — even sprinting — doesn’t load your skeleton as much as plain walking! You should do 30 – 60 minutes a day of weight-bearing exercise three to five days a week.
- Balance exercises: You should do balance drills both for general mobility and cycling safety.
More on the ACSM Recommendations.
Just doing the minimum recommendations takes six hours a week and as a roadie you probably ride more than the recommendation for cardio. You’re too busy with family, work, social activities and riding to have time consistently to do everything the ACSM recommends.
Maintaining Fitness During the Holidays
Enjoy spending time with family.
Family is first; however, during the height of the cycling season you may not make enough time with them. Now is the time to make up for that.
Cross-train and have fun.
Almost all cross-training activities can be done with non-cycling family and friends. For suggestions see my column on cross-training.
Set exercise priorities.
If you only have three or four hours a week for the rest of the year what’s the best way to use that time? There are two approaches:
- Look at the five ACSM recommendations. Where could you improve the most? You already ride a lot so your cardio is good. Over the holidays spend about half your time on cardio such as riding and cross-training. Spend the other half of your time working on your weakest of the ACSM recommendations where you have the most to gain in limited time.
- Think about your goals for the next year. If you’re planning a big ride then using your available time on cardio is key. You can pick up the other activities in January.
Setting exercise priorities for a given time is a form of periodization. Periodization recognizes that you can’t do everything at once and that you’ll improve faster if you concentrate on one activity for a period that could range from a few weeks to many months. My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes a sample periodization plan of which types of cycling exercise (endurance, power, technique, etc.) to prioritize in different months. Built around the riding plan is a plan of which of the ACSM recommendations to prioritize in different months. For example, the off-season is the period to improve strength while maintaining cardio.
Frequency is better than a long ride.
The weekend long ride is the highlight of many roadies’ weeks. If you are pressed for time to exercise you’ll get more benefit from multiple shorter rides than just one long ride. When you do a long ride your body maintains that level of endurance and if the ride is sufficiently challenging your endurance improves. However, when you’re inactive for the next six days your body slowly loses fitness, more fitness than the next weekend’s long ride can reverse. If you only have four hours you’ll get more benefit from three rides during the week totaling two hours and a two-hour ride on the weekend.
Quality over quantity.
A corollary to the above is that when you’re pressed for time you’ll get more benefit out of quality workouts than trying to squeeze in more volume. Quality means rides that have specific purposes, not just accumulating miles. The ACSM recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Quality could be a 30-minute intensity workout of intervals including warm-up and cool-down. Or it could be a 20-minute workout of drills to make your cadence smoother and your riding more economical. Or it could be a 45-minute brisk ride that includes several sprints. A sprint demands maximum power so sprinting improves the coordination of the firing of your muscle fibers, which is similar to dialing in the timing of a car engine.
Set other priorities.
Do you really want to go to that party? Do you really want to spend all evening at that party? What is life enhancing? What doesn’t degrade your fitness?
Working out consistently in the above five areas doesn’t have to take 6 to 12 hours. Cycling isn’t weight-bearing; however, strength training is. If you do strength training using free weights instead of machines you can also work on your balance.
How can you combine activities of daily living with exercise? You could run errands on your bike. You could park at the far end of the parking lot and walk to the store and back. Doing 30 minutes of weight bearing activities doesn’t have to be a consistent 30 minutes. Five minutes here and five minutes there can make a difference. You could stretch or ride the trainer while watching a game and ride hard during every commercial break. While brushing your teeth you could practice balance or do one-legged squats. I have a client who commutes by subway to Wall Street. He gets off a couple of stops early and walks 15 minutes to the office and then 15 minutes back after work.
Much of what I purchase I buy online. Amazon will deliver the kibble that my kitties like. I use a grocery shopping service once a week to shop for much of what I’ll need for the week. It costs more than shopping myself but it also saves me a couple of hours a week. I use a service that takes care of my kitties when I’m gone. If I pay for it they’ll also empty the litter boxes and water all the house plants.
Cut yourself some slack.
Much of the year you do focused training, which requires discipline. Relax. Instead of setting clear weekly goals for the different ACSM activities just commit to doing most of the stuff most weeks.
Exercise is only one component of living a long, healthy and happy life. What you eat is just as important. Next week I’ll write about how you can enjoy the holidays and still eat a reasonably healthy diet.
For more information see my eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process. Chronological aging is inevitable. However, you have control over how well you will age. Anti-Aging describes the physiological changes that take place as you age, how to assess your current fitness, the training principles that apply to older roadies and exercise programs for each of the ACSM’s recommendations. The 107-page Anti-Aging is $14.99 and only $12.74 for our Premium members with your 15% discount.
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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.