The locked down cyclist's guide to getting fit and staying fit from the comfort of home

Stuck indoors but determined to say fit? Here's what you need to know to ride out the pandemic: training tips, nutrition, even simple off-bike exercises you can do at home...

With COVID-19 not going away any time soon, plenty of you will be taking extra precautions such as working from home and social distancing... and soon, cyclists in the UK may have no choice but to fire up Zwift and train indoors if the government send us into full lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic. 

Okay, nobody wants to lose fitness - especially after a riding through the winter either indoors our out, but the first thing to stress, although we're sure you know this already, is that you shouldn't train when you're ill or get back on the bike until you're fully recovered. Given that Covid-19 a global pandemic that in the worst case scenario could infect 80 per cent of the population you should factor in the possibility that you are going to get ill too and not make that illness worse by over-doing it in Watopia or by doing interval sessions when you shouldn't. 

Dealing with illness and coming back from it

All that said, given the length of time that most healthy adults have and then take to recover from Covid-19 there's also the chance in the coming weeks (and possibly months) when you're not ill, or recovering – what follows is for those times.

13 of the best smart home trainers
6 reasons why using a home trainer is the best way to get fit

British Cycling’s announcement that it has suspended all events until April 30, based on the prime minister’s caution against unnecessary travel and contact with others, left most of us feeling disappointed and worried and wondering what to do next. Cycling Time Trials has also decided to cancel all open and club events up to and including May 31, and Cycling UK is advising the cancellation of all group rides, asking its members to follow government guidelines and best practice. 

However, there are plenty of options for staying fit – and still competing – while social distancing...

Zwift

zwift indoor training 1

At the time of writing, many cyclists are wondering whether 'unnecessary travel' includes solo recreational cycling, as it does under the lockdowns in Italy and Spain; so the most obvious way to continue training and racing, whether you’re self-isolating or social distancing, is on Zwift. The online app was booming before the coronavirus; now the roads of Watopia will be rammed with races and virtual group rides. Luckily you can just ride straight ‘through’ other cyclists without crashing!

How to get started with Zwift

Zwift has recently been stepping up efforts to put on plenty of events for social-distancing cyclists. Chris Snook, Zwift’s senior PR manager, told road.cc: “As you'd imagine we've been pretty overwhelmed with requests from media, events organisers, athletes (grassroots and pro) over the last few days. 

“Our focus at the minute is on delivering the content to allow people to be able to connect, stay fit and have some fun during this difficult time. We are currently delivering the planned event series, the Tour of Watopia. We are seeing a number of pros like Geraint Thomas, Andre Greipel and Robert Gesink taking part and providing an opportunity for Zwifters to join them and ask questions. The Mitchelton-Scott series is an example of some of the new additions that are coming into the calendar and providing new experiences.”

Mitchelton-Scott launched its Where the World Rides series, with rides and races running most days through March, after the team pulled out of outdoor racing. On March 19th the 2018 Vuelta a Espana winner Simon Yates leads a ‘Pace and Race Challenge’ - check out the full schedule of events here

Zwift road.cc group ride

If you haven’t discovered Zwift yet, in a nutshell it’s an app that runs on all the latest operating systems that allows you to ride your bike online in a virtual world. Its most compelling feature is the ability to ride with (or compete against) other people across the world. You can just hook up with your mates – plus the Mitchleton-Scott team – or you can train and race at any level, all the way up to the inaugural UCI esports World Championships which will take place in 2020.

Zwift Newbie: my first experience of riding in Watopia

Zwift road.cc group workout

To use Zwift, you put your bike in a smart turbo trainer linked with a computer, tablet or phone, and you choose your online course. Popular ones include Zwift’s own imaginary Watopia, the Yorkshire World Championship course, London, New York Central Park and a mountainous Innsbruck parcours. It’s a cross between gaming and training, with your legs controlling your performance. Check out our guide to getting started on Zwift, and how to ride in road.cc kit so your avatar can look as dashing as the riders in the pics above... 

Other indoor training apps

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Zwift is the most popular indoor training app, and in terms of its graphics and rider experience it is arguably the most immersive... but it’s by no means the only one. Most smart trainers come with a proprietary training app – think Tacx, Bkook. Rouvy (formerly CycleOps) and the gym bunny’s favourite Technogym.

Zwift vs TrainerRoad: Which is best for you?

Meanwhile, third-party indoor training apps such as TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest have their loyal followers. TrainerRoad’s biggest appeal is the vast number of workouts and training plans it provides. There are a staggering 1,000+ workouts for all tastes and requirements. You can also follow a training plan (there are 100+) with plans for every type of cyclist, covering early season base work to race preparation.

The Sufferfest - workout details.jpg

Sufferfest might not provide a virtual world to cycle around, but the real pro race footage, music and storylines are very compelling and provide a great distraction and keep you pedalling hard while you're self-isolating.

Review: The Sufferfest Indoor Training App 

The company has also developed what it calls Four-Dimensional Power, or 4DP for short, which it reckons goes beyond FTP in using four metrics to help personalise the workouts to your exact needs. And now, as well as actual training, Sufferest is branching out by offering yoga, mental toughness and strength training programmes aimed at the needs of cyclists.

Want more training app suggestions to keep you occupied? Check out our guide to 13 of the best

Smart trainers

Elite Direto Interactive Power Meter Trainer 2.jpg

If you want to use any of the above training apps, you’ll need a smart trainer with a wireless connection that will pair with your device, via Bluetooth or ANT+ FE-C. The two main types are direct drive and wheel-on. With the former you remove the rear wheel and clamp the bike into the trainer so that it drives the trainer’s own cassette. With the latter, clamp the bike rear wheel and all to a more traditional-looking turbo where it drives a roller.

Read our buyer's guide to the best smart trainers

Direct-drive turbos are more expensive but feel more solid, are generally more accurate, have a higher resistance so that you can climb, sprint or do low-cadence/high power intervals where you’d get wheel slip with a wheel-on model. On the downside direct-drive trainers are much heavier and more awkward to move since they typically weigh around 20kg.

Try this FTP booster session

indoor training on zwift - roadcc kit and elite zumo Liam.PNG

Even if you don’t have a smart turbo trainer you can still make the most of indoor training. Coach Simon Beldon, who works with Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching, suggests this FTP-boosting session (if you're not acquainted with your Functional Threshold Power yet, check out our guide to what it is and how to find out yours)... 

25 mins warm-up L1-L2, cadence 100 RPM (revolutions per minute)
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20 mins: 3mins @ FTP/2 mins @ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 RPM (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete) 
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10 mins recovery – L2, cadence 100 RPM
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20 mins – 3mins @ FTP/2 mins @ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 RPM (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete) 
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10 mins recovery – L2, cadence 100 RPM
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20 mins – 3mins @ FTP/2 mins@ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 revs (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete
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5 mins recovery

Off-bike exercises while social distancing

stretching - wikimedia commons

If you’re suddenly increasing your indoor training time, it’s essential to include some off-bike exercises at the same time, as Laurence Plant, clinic director at the Henley Practice, explains: “Turbo training generally is not as comfortable as outdoor riding, because the bike is fixed. As such, pressure and postural stresses build up. Saddle discomfort is magnified, as is shoulder and neck discomfort and lower back. On the road you’re continually adjusting your posture and shape even if you’re not realising it, which alleviates those postural stresses.

“On the turbo you can drills like alternating which hand you take off the handlebars to make sure your core still activates. If you’re on the hoods try to unweight one hand without changing your upper body posture. Do single-leg pedalling drills, trying to keep it smooth. Here you’re combining hip flexor activation with your downstroke firing smoothly.

“Off the bike you have to ramp up a bit of mobility work. Open up your hip flexors, glutes, quads, dominant muscles around the lower body. That will take the pressure off your lower back. A lot of people focus on stretching hamstrings, but a lot of us feel as though we have tight hamstrings because the hip flexors and quads are pulling the pelvis forward. Because the pelvis is being pulled forward, it puts tension on the hamstrings. Cyclists get very tight hip flexors and very tight quads. If you’re social distancing, working from home and going straight from the turbo back to your laptop, it’s double compounded.

“To stretch hip flexors, go to the bottom position of a lunge, then really scoop the front of your pelvis up using your abdominals. You should feel the stretch on the front of your hip. Tight hip flexors are one of the primary causes of low back pain, particularly in the athletic population.

foam roller - wikimedia commons

“Try a thoracic extension. If you picture an aerodynamic cyclist you’ve got a little bit of a humped back, but you don’t want it to get too curved. Lying lengthwise down a foam roller, the end on the base of the skull and – if you have a 90cm roller – your tailbone on the other end. Put your arms out in a cross position. That basically opens up your pectorals as your arms relax and it opens up your thoracic spine and ribcage. It’s a very easy one. The more classic one is where you put the foam roller across your back. Rather than parallel to your spine you go perpendicular and that increases your thoracic extension. That way you end up with better thoracic mobility so that you don’t end up shaped to your desk or your chair.

“Cyclists should always be getting a lacrosse ball into their glutes or doing a pigeon – one knee crossed up underneath you. It’s really good for opening up your glutes and sacroiliac joints. It’s an age-old yoga stretch, but a real back-saver. Your glutes are the powerhouse of your leg drive. And any cyclist not foam-rolling their quads is going to develop issues around the hip, because they won’t be releasing out their iliotibial band and their vastus lateralis, which is the lateral aspect of the top. Or, if they don’t manifest at the top, the problems will manifest around the knee.

“Those are the five or so exercises cyclists should be doing the stretching world. There are a whole host of strengthening exercises cyclists can do, but that’s all down to how dedicated somebody is to being even better." 

Check out NHS-approved Meglio for the 90cm foam roller and lacrosse ball... and if you have even more time to ease, strengthen and relax your tired muscles, check out our series on yoga for cyclists

Nutrition

Vegetables (copyright Professor Bop via Flickr)

“You cannot boost your immune system through diet and no specific food or supplement will prevent you from catching COVID-19/coronavirus,” says the British Dietetic Association. “Good hygiene remains the best means of avoiding infection.”

The BDA recommends paying attention to maintaining a healthy, balanced and varied diet to support immune function that includes copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D.

No pasta? No problem!

Fresh Pasta meal - wikimedia commons

If your local supermarket has run out of pasta, why not make your own? Here’s a classic fresh pasta recipe from BBC Good Food

Ingredients

300g ‘00’ pasta flour plus extra for dusting

2 eggs and 4 yolks, lightly beaten

Semolina flour for dusting

Method

1. Put the flour in a food processor with ¾ of your egg mixture and a pinch of salt. Blitz to large crumbs – they should come together to form a dough when squeezed (if it feels a little dry gradually add a bit more egg). Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead for 1 min or until nice and smooth – don’t worry if it’s quite firm as it will soften when it rests. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 30 mins.

2. Cut away ¼ of the dough (keep the rest covered with cling film) and feed it through the widest setting on your pasta machine. (If you don’t have a machine, use a heavy rolling pin to roll the dough as thinly as possible.) Then fold into three, give the dough a quarter turn and feed through the pasta machine again. Repeat this process once more then continue to pass the dough through the machine, progressively narrowing the rollers, one notch at a time, until you have a smooth sheet of pasta. On the narrowest setting, feed the sheet through twice.

3. Cut as required to use for filled pastas like tortellini, or cut into lengths to make spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle, or pappardelle. Then, dust in semolina flour and set aside, or hang until dry (an hour will be enough time.) Store in a sealed container in the fridge and use within a couple of days, or freeze for 1 month.

Indoor training (Liam from Zwift video) 1

In addition to keeping up with the latest advice for cyclists, do read the NHS advice on coronavirus, and the government’s information about social distancing... stay safe and see you on the other side!

Simon finished his Masters in online journalism back in 2003 when the internet wasn't very exciting or popular yet. So he got a job as a sub editor on Britain's biggest weekly cycling magazine, where as well as taking out commas and putting them back in again he got to review a lot of bikes and kit.

As a keen time triallist he has spent many hours riding up and down dual carriageways early in the morning and has a national medal, a 19-minute 10 and a few open wins in his palmarès.

He and his seven-year-old son do the school run on a tandem, beating the traffic in car-choked Reigate and getting a great workout at the same time (for one of them).

 

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