How to Safely Make the Transition to Outdoor Training
For those trapped inside on a treadmill or trainer after a winter of snow covered roads, the first warm day beckons you to move outside. Before hitting the roads or sidewalks it is helpful to follow some basic guidelines that will help you avoid injury and stay safe.
Unless you have a dedicated trainer bike that never sees pavement, check your bike over closely or take it to your local bike shop for an overhaul. Even a bike attached to a trainer endures a fair amount of abuse, even though it doesn’t go anywhere. This is a perfect opportunity to replace cables and possibly bearings that have been corroded by copious amounts of sweat, gels, and sport drink dripping on the components, even if they are protected by a towel. Pay attention to the shift and brake cables, especially where they enter the frame or near the securing bolts.
Next, examine the rear tire. The normal round shape will likely have been worn flat by the trainer. Even if the tire seems fine, the heat of the roller will often harden the rubber resulting in much less traction on the road. Replace your tire with one that has flat protection layers as the early season roads are usually covered with debris that is left by the melting snow (and most of that is left in the bike lane or on the shoulder). Make sure you have two extra spare tubes, tire levers, and a pump with you just in case. Having a heavier set up will also provide that mental boost when you eventually lighten up and pare down your race bike in later months.
If you have done 90 to 120 minute trainer rides, generally it’s safe to head out on the road for a similar amount of time. However, keeping your first couple outdoor rides shorter is advisable. The initial rides are just to see how the body responds and to make sure everything on the bike is working properly. Dress appropriately for changing conditions, because what starts out as beautiful sunshine can often turn nasty at a moment’s notice. Wear bright coloured clothing to be visible to drivers not used to seeing cyclists on the road. Layering up with multiple lightweight layers allows fine tuning your own climate according to conditions. Consider carrying a light windproof vest stuffed in a pocket in case things get cold and wear a beanie under your helmet.
One piece of advice I like to tell my athlete is to check wind direction before heading out. Ride into the wind for the first part of the session, which helps you warm up. Having the wind at your back coming home is a more conservative approach for early season fitness (or lack thereof). If you are new to cycling and are just now ramping up the mileage, avoid overuse/repetition injuries by keeping the load on the knees low. This means taking care to not push big gears for extended periods in the first month or so. Keep it in your small chain ring and keep your knees warm.
Surface and Temperature
When switching from running on a treadmill to outdoors, head for hard packed trails and stay off the pavement if possible, particularly for extended downhills. Your body is used to the shock absorbing belt of the treadmill so it’s wise to minimize the impact of the ground. Wear softer, stable training shoes with good tread and grip for potentially slick or mucky trails.
Keep warm to remain injury free and stay healthy. Running is a high impact sport and cold muscles are less supple to absorb pounding. If the weather is below 52F (12C) avoid shorts. Keep your legs covered on windy days as well. Gloves and windproof gear are recommended, and don’t forget to dress in layers. A low core temperature stresses your immune system so keeping warm will help ward off illness.
Trim down your distance/time run on the treadmill by 10 to 20 percent initially. The motor of a treadmill is doing some of the work, with the belt pulling your stride though and it can take one to two weeks for the body to adapt to the change in forces acting on your ligaments and muscles. The speed or pace settings on a treadmill are not always 100 percent accurate so when you head outdoors, focus on your effort, such as heart rate, until you are comfortable it has settled down into familiar territory. This will also allow you to complete a prescribed workout in the appropriate heart rate zones. Use this time to consistently remind yourself of proper form– running tall and not over striding. Counting your cadence is a way to program yourself to hold that economical 90rpm. Aim for 22 steps in 15 seconds.
Another important bit of advice I give my athletes is to pay extra special attention to your nutrition. At this time, you have indoor fitness, which is against a very controlled resistance and load. Hitting the road on the bike and the trails while running introduces all those slight inclines and declines and changes in direction and accelerations. It does take some time for stability muscles to adapt and many actually have to work a little harder than they are used to. Also, a one and a half hour indoor ride often becomes a two and a half hour outdoor ride within a couple of weeks, increasing your caloric demands. The colder air and inclement weather also places extra stress on metabolism.
As these muscles work longer and harder, they require more glycogen. Staying on top of the energy that you are burning by consuming approximately 200 to 300 calories per hour on the bike can mean the difference between an enjoyable ride in the sunshine and the dreaded bonk 20 miles from home. Facilitate recovery by preparing your post-exercise meal before you depart, so you don’t eat “everything in the cupboard” when you get back!
Use the first two to three weeks to gradually transition your body to the outdoors. Get a sense of your pace and effort now so you can use the next stage to transition towards increased volume and intensity remaining injury free.
Thanks to LifeSport Senior Coach Dan Smith for his contribution to this article.