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Ask Levi: How Can I Exercise At College Without My Bike?

It can be tough to transport your bike to college and to find suitable storage space once you’re there. Here’s how to improve your cycling fitness, even without your bike.

Hey I saw you rode bikes a lot in college. However, as a freshman I did not want to risk bringing my good road bike down to school for fear it would be stolen. I haven’t ridden since Thanksgiving and I plan on riding 50 miles a day this summer and want to be in good shape for riding from the very start.

What type of workouts would you recommend for getting into the cyclist physique? I’m currently lifting weights 6 days a week (alternating upper and lower body every day) and then doing about 20 minutes of cardio 3 days a week (usually interval training, but sometimes I’ll run 3 or 4 miles). What type of exercises will build the muscles I need to be in good shape by mid-May? I’m 5’11 and 160 pounds if that has any effect on the training I should be doing.

Thanks!

Jay (who wants to ride in May)

Hi Jay,

Yes, I did ride a lot during college. I also left my good bike at home freshman year, just taking a BMX bike and some running shoes instead. (I also bought a Kryptonite New York lock, because you can never be too careful.)

For workouts, I did quite a bit of running and weight lifting, and I did some interval training on a crappy stationary bike in the gym for good measure. The BMX bike was my mainly a commuting bike, although I took it out for hill intervals on one occasion! (We didn’t have bikes in the library back in those days!)

It sounds like you’re a good size for a cyclist, and everything you’re doing is right on par with a good off-bike program. I’ll try to give you a few tips though since you wrote in…

The first thing to keep in mind is that nothing you do now is going to translate directly to the endurance you need to ride long distances on a daily basis. There is going to be an adjustment period to get used to pedaling once again.

But, the power and anaerobic endurance you can build in the weight room and by running intervals is great for becoming a stronger rider! It’s a great mental refresher, too, so you’ll be more excited once you’re back on the bike than if you spent all winter logging miles on an indoor trainer.

Over the next 6-8 weeks, I would continue weight lifting, but I’d increase the intensity and decrease the volume. I’d only do two days per week with weights.

Maybe four days (Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday) if the workouts are short, since you seem to be able to handle the volume. Part of this depends on your course load!

The highest priority bike-specific exercise would be the squat. The back squat, front squat, and Zercher squat variations all do the job (i.e. beef up your leg strength). The squat is great for your core, too (abs, back, etc.) which will need to be strong to hold your body comfortably in position during the long rides.

Deadlifts are one of my favorites, too. And they hit your back side a little differently. They are extremely helpful for building your hamstrings!

I would also advise doing pull-ups since they’re great for your back. Additonally, some sort of row. The bent-over row and Yates bent row are my favorites, as they’ll strengthen your back and improve bike control, especially for mountain biking.

To get more core work and hit your muscles in different ways, I’d add in some calisthenics (i.e. body weight exercises). Specifically: lateral lunge, reverse lunge, plank position, and the bird dog.

Finally, the key ingredient – plyometrics. These jumping exercises are hard on your heart, lungs, and legs. It’s the perfect way to take the strength you’ve gained from weight lifting and get used to using it in a dynamic fashion (i.e. running or biking). Exercises like squat jumps, jumping lunges, lateral jumps, step ups, etc. are good ideas.

I would turn this into a workout plan with 3-4 hard days per week, making sure you get plenty of rest. (You don’t want to be sore when starting a workout filled with plyometrics!)

Here’s what I might try:

Monday: easy walk/jog and/or light stretching/yoga
Tuesday: heavy squats, followed by some bodyweight exercises
Wednesday: easy day
Thursday: upper body weight lifting, followed by some bodyweight exercises
Friday: easy day
Saturday: plyometrics followed by an interval workout
Sunday: run 3-5 miles at a fairly easy pace, depending on how sore you are

Another option is to start doing some longer runs (5-8 miles) to get your heart and lungs ready for extended efforts, but that’s not nearly as fun! Especially if you’re stuck on the treadmill.

To summarize: I would use the next 6-8 weeks to transition from weight room strength to “real world” strength by cutting back on weight lifting but increasing plyometrics and interval training (sprints, running up stairs, etc.) It’s basically what you’ve been doing but with the focus shifting away from weights and toward intervals.

One problem you’ll run into is getting your butt in shape. A few hours on the bike every single day is going to be torture at first! You need to be prepared for that, or you’ll despise riding. Get on a stationary bike if possible. If your school’s fitness center doesn’t have one, tell them they can get a decent one on Amazon.com for a mere $249.

P.S. That good bike I mentioned? It eventually made it to school with me, only to be stolen before I graduated. 🙁

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

usa cycling certified coach


pn1 certified coach
Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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Hometown, PA