Physical fitness is one of the keys to a long life and good health, not to mention the mental health benefits that also come with being active. There’s a wealth of research and evidence out there to support this.
As a nation, off the back of such evidence, we are being encouraged to get fitter and exercise regularly. You may have heard of the UK Chief Medical Officer’s physical activity guidelines. For able-bodied adults, this equates to 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
At Cycle Together we are naturally advocates of cycling as your weekly exercise. There are of course other forms of exercise available, including some day to day activities that you might not expect! Check out this handy infographic for more information about the intensity of exercise.
Benchmarking Fitness Levels
So how do I know if I’m fit and getting fitter we hear you ask?! First off, here’s a simple way you can benchmark your current fitness levels based on the amount of time you spend exercising and the intensity of the activity:
- Beginner fitness level: < 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week
- Intermediate fitness level: Between 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise a week
- Advanced fitness level: > 150 minutes of vigorous exercise or > 300 minutes of moderate exercise a week
How do I know if I’m fit?
As you become more active, how do you know if you’re actually ‘fit’? This is a very legitimate question, and of course everything is relative, but there are signs that can help you confirm.
There are plenty of gadgets and apps out there to help track and measure fitness levels. Here are a few signs and tests that you can use without any fancy technology to gauge your current fitness.
- Exercise consistently – you do 150 minutes of exercise a week, so that’s five lots of 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity (cycling, walking and even shopping are included here).
- Keeping up with your friends – if you are walking, cycling or running with friends who are regularly active and your breathing is under control and you’re able to chat, albeit in broken sentences, that’s a good indicator of fitness. Don’t forget that if your friends are extremely fit, you may not be judging yourself against a fair benchmark.
- Low resting heart rate (HR) – check it in the morning to give the most accurate reading. 60-100 beats per minute is a normal resting heart rate. Generally, the lower it is the more efficient your heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. To measure your heart rate, simply check your pulse. Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. When you feel your pulse, count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by four to calculate your beats per minute.
- Fast recovery time – your HR returns to its normal level within five minutes of finishing exercising.
- Taking the physical aspects of parenting in your stride – let’s face it, being a parent is pretty non-stop, especially with younger children. If you can carry your child, push a pram or crawl around after your little one without it causing discomfort, that’s a very positive sign!
- No fear of stairs – even if you don’t do it currently, you can choose to take the stairs rather than the lift at work. If you’re on a very high floor, perhaps take a mix of the stairs and the lift. It will help you get fit!
- Check your energy levels – do you sleep well at night and feel rested the next day? Are your energy levels good? These are all good signs that you’re fit and healthy.
- Good mental health – the benefits of exercise to your mental health are huge. If you’re exercising regularly you’ll definitely feel both physical and mental benefits. Check out our blog on mental health and cycling for more about the benefits.
How do I know if I’m fit enough to ride with a cycling club or group?
If you’ve ticked a few of the boxes above, you have a rudimentary idea of how fit you are. A common question we hear all the time and something that often stops people getting on a bike or riding with a club is “am I fit enough?”. Without riding with others or simply giving a club ride a try, this can be hard to judge.
In theory, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you getting on a bike and taking things at your own pace. There is no specified minimum fitness when it comes to cycling. There will always be people who can ride faster than you and there will always be people who ride slower than you. The most important thing is that you get on your bike and ride!
When it comes to riding with a cycling club, many do have minimum required speeds, so it’s best to check that in advance. Usually there will be club rides of different speeds going out at the same time from the same place so there should be something to suit a range of fitness levels.
If you do want to measure your pace to ensure you join the right speed group, our suggestion is a short test. Head to your local park or a road without traffic, and try to cycle for about 5k (you can plot out what that distance looks like using google maps beforehand). Cycle at a pace that is comfortable for you (you can still talk and aren’t gasping for breath) and time yourself. Do a simple calculation of 300 divided by the time in minutes it took you to ride the 5km and you will get a ballpark of your speed in kilometres per hour.
If you aren’t quite yet at the minimum speed required to join your local cycling club rides, you can improve your speed and fitness in a few small steps.
How do I improve my cycling fitness?
One of the incredible things about cycling is all the by-products and this includes increased fitness. A ride that may seem endless when you first start out, will quickly become more comfortable. There are many reasons for this, including improvements in your cardiovascular system, which becomes more efficient.
Consistency is key to improving fitness. Make cycling a habit and do it regularly. Arrange to meet friends and ride together, sign up to a spin class in your local gym, commute to work or all of the above, whatever it takes to get you on your bike time and again.
Ideally you want to ride 3 times a week to begin with for 30-60 minutes each time. Then build from there, increasing time on the bike gradually (adding 5-10 minutes, or 10% each time). Before long you’ll be clocking up the miles! Always remember to have at least one day off the bike a week (and total rest from all physical activity) to rest your body fully and you’ll be raring to go again the next time you jump on the bike.
Ready to join a cycling club? Check out our cycling club locator tool to find the right club for you.