Establishing a cardio routine can be a daunting task, especially for those who don’t have a background in competitive sport, or for whom it has been a while since they were really active. While it seems simple, there can be much more to cardio than just lacing up your shoes and running straight off the bat. It requires discipline, organization, and at least some knowledge of one’s own body. To get some real insight into how to do all this, we spoke to some experts: Rally Cycling riders Holly Breck, Robin Carpenter, and Matteo Dal-Cin.
There was a consensus among the three riders about setting realistic, achievable goals for yourself at the beginning of your cardio journey.
“You’re not going to go out and kill it right away, so I would just say give yourself space to build up to a certain aspect,” said Breck. “Mainly just give yourself time, be gentle with yourself.”
However, easing your way into cardio doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stick to dull, simple exercises.
“The thing that people have trouble with in cardio is that it’s boring most of the time, and monotonous,” Carpenter said. “The biggest thing you can do to motivate yourself is to make sure whatever you’re doing has some variety in it.”
He went on to note that running, biking, and hiking in diverse locations can help keep the cardio experience fresh and enjoyable. While time, weather, and restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic may hinder our attempts to do this, even exploring your community can present opportunities for cardio.
Training, and overtraining
When you do embark on your cardio journey, it’s important to be mindful of your limits. Staggered workouts, ample recovery time, and days off are critical to developing healthy cardio habits.
“Consistency is important for making gains, but I think that most people struggle to remember that training gains come from rest,” said Carpenter. “Taking a small rest, taking a few days off, and not focusing on it as much, will probably help more in the long run than just trying to push through.”
Breck’s advice strongly mirrored Carpenter’s.
“You have to rest basically as hard as you train. It’s a very odd concept for people to wrap their heads around. Otherwise, you could end up getting sick or injured, which is never a good thing.”
Rally Cycling riders combine hard training days with ‘endurance days’ which represent a more low-intensity way of ‘training without suffering’.
“You might still be breaking a sweat, but your heart rate is not in your throat, you’re comfortable enough that you can have a chat but you’re still going harder than a Sunday stroll,” Dal-Cin explains. “You know you’re exercising, but the pace is not so high that you’re only thinking about the effort.”
Tricks and tools
One rider on the Rally Cycling roster who is certainly no stranger to cardio is Dal-Cin, who won a stage of the Virtual Tour de France last year. The Virtual Tour involved pro riders from around the world competing online using home trainers.
Virtual racing is often more action-packed and races are condensed into roughly an hour, compared to outdoor races which can be up to five or six hours long.
“The training and racing that has now developed online are very different from road racing. But being Canadian – we have long winters – it’s something that I think a lot of my fellow Canadians are used to doing.”
Dal-Cin described virtual racing as quick, and painful.
“The racing is very, very sharp at the start, and then it stays quite uncomfortable for the whole race! Thankfully the races are generally kept to a reasonable distance so that you finish them in an hour, hour, and a half.”
Although racing online might seem a little intimidating at first, Dal-Cin says that finding at-home strength exercises is a fantastic way to mix up your daily routine and prepare you for the rigors of competition.
“I would 100 percent recommend bodyweight exercises for anyone hoping to be more active. Even better if you have some hand weights to incorporate. It’s important to be a well-rounded athlete. So you may specialize in one particular discipline but that doesn’t mean you’re useless in other areas.”
It is, he says, a great time-saver.
“If you’re time-crunched and your bike is already on the trainer or your yoga mat laid out, you can do a quick workout, get showered, and only use 30 to 60 minutes of your time. Efficiency-wise, for somebody who’s trying to fit it into a workday, it’s amazing.”
Mixing it up
Breck and Carpenter also spoke of the benefits of cross-training. Implementing different kinds of cardio or even weight training into your workout can make a significant difference in your personal routine, especially when you can’t always go outside to ride your bike.
“When done correctly it can actually be quite beneficial to endurance sports,” said Carpenter. “There are a lot more pro cyclists lifting heavy weights in the winter these days, and especially if you live in someplace where the winters are a little harsher and you can’t always get outside without freezing.”
Once again, it all comes down to variation.
“There’s a lot of benefits to cross-training. It keeps you physically and mentally fresh,” Breck added.
Listen to your heart
Breck went on to mention that paying attention to your heart rate was a good way to determine how hard to push yourself.
“Heart rate I feel is huge in that respect… if your heart rate is high even when resting, then you know it’s been a big week. If my legs feel decent but my heart rate is going up higher than usual, or if my legs are burning and nothing’s really working, then I definitely know I’m overtraining.”
Rally Cycling’s riders wear heart rate monitors which communicate directly with their on-board GPS units. This allows riders to receive real-time data about how their efforts are affecting their heart.
It doesn’t need to be that complex, however. Almost all smartwatches now have some sort of heart rate monitoring functionality, and there are also smartphone apps that can help you get a reading. Failing that, you could do worse than check the ‘old-fashioned’ way by putting a couple of fingers on the pulse point at your neck and counting the beats. Check your heart rate often, to understand what is normal for you, pre-, post-, and mid-exercise. That way, you’ll be better at identifying the signs that your body needs rest.