Am I Getting Fit?
As you are training and adding outdoor miles in preparation for the full Empire State Ride or a one-day ride, you are probably wondering how to tell if all the hours you are spending in the saddle are really having an effect. Before you start gathering numbers and comparing notes, it’s important to recognize what “fitness” means to you. In general, it is a relative term. What one person considers fit may not mean the same thing to someone else.
If your big fitness goal while training for the Empire State Ride is to be able to finish the ride and you are looking for general health benefits such as weight loss, there are two things you should look at. First, there is the trusty scale. Obviously most of us wish to see the numbers on the scale drop as we increase our riding. However, the one thing to note is that muscle weighs more per the same volume than fat. If you find the numbers staying the same or creeping up, don’t panic. Instead go to the tried and true “blue jeans test.” If your favorite pants are loose, you are most likely gaining muscle and decreasing fat. For that reason you should never be slave to the scale.
While you may wish to weigh less, having a higher muscle to fat ratio should be your goal. Added muscle increases your metabolism which means you will burn more calories while you are sedentary. Also, for older riders, adding muscle may aid in improving posture and minimizing osteoporosis. More muscle also means stronger legs to help climb hills and pedal through headwinds.
If your goal is not only to finish the Empire State Ride, but also to ride it with a consistently strong effort, then your fitness goals are more performance-based.
So, how can you tell if you are making training gains?
- If you are a numbers person and wear a heart rate monitor, you are often able to make the simple observation of having to work harder to keep your heart rate in the zone you are supposed to be training in. This isn’t because you are getting weaker, it is because as you increase your cardiovascular fitness, your heart becomes more efficient. For instance, if you previously were able to hold 13 mph on your flat route in zone 2, and now you find you are easily riding 15 mph in the same zone 2, this means that you are gaining fitness.
While you shouldn’t be a slave to numbers, they are the ideal way to tell if you are making fitness gains.
- If you went all out and own a power meter for your bike, you should also see an inverse correlation between heart rate and power output. This is identical to the above example with speed replaced by power. If you love numbers, power is a much more consistent variable than speed. Power units range in price, but for the diehard cyclist, they are a must have.
- If you have not yet begin training with heart rate, hopefully you are riding by RPE, rate of perceived exertion. In general, zone 2 will be that zone when you are working but still able to have a conversation. Once you reach anaerobic threshold, your breathing often becomes staggered and a full conversation is more difficult. You may find that as your fitness increases you have to ride harder to reach that level of exertion.
- If you want an even more accurate assessment of your training gains, get your heart rate zones re-tested. Often times your AT will increase as your cardiovascular fitness increases. If there is not a testing facility nearby, you may simply do the on-road test. (Click here for more information on how to do the test). The key is to set aside a day to do it where you have a rest day beforehand. Do not try to fit it in to your already packed training. Try to do these tests every eight weeks or so and be sure to use the same route. Even with weather variables, your heart rate zones will still be consistent. This same test may be done for power. Be sure to space them apart and do not get discouraged if the numbers do not change. Oftentimes athletes make initial gains quickly and then see the numbers plateau for a while. It takes consistency in training to see continual gains.
Regardless of what your fitness goals are, you should know that even if the numbers aren’t as low (for weight) or as high (for power) that you may like, just the act of consistent riding is the ideal exercise for your heart and muscular system.