With lockdown back—because Covid-19 cases and deaths surged over Christmas and New Year—plenty of you will be taking precautions such as working from home and social distancing. The latest rule for exercising is that you must only ride solo, with other members of your household or with one person from another household (only if on your own)—once per day. The government guidance document also says: "This [outdoor exercise] should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel a short distance within your area to do so if necessary (for example, to access an open space)". Firing up Zwift and training indoors could once again prove to be the most reliable, easiest and safest option for many...
Nobody wants to lose fitness, 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 is extremely easy to catch, 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.
All that said, given the length of time that most healthy adults take to recover from Covid-19 there's also going to be decent periods when you're not ill, or recovering – what follows is for those times.
British Cycling are regularly updating their COVID-19 guidance with what the current government guidelines means for riders, clubs, events, facilities, coaches and others involved in our sport. Cycling UK is also keeping a live document on the best practice to follow in line with the regulations.
Despite the ever-changing situation, there are plenty of options for staying fit – and still competing – while social distancing. Here are our top tips for staying fit and healthy.
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!
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 or you can train and race at any level.
With these platforms being so engaging and motivating—thanks to in-game achievements—it can be easier to commit to exercising on a regular basis and significant fitness gains can be made. But be careful not to overdo it...Find out about the gamification of cycling platforms, exercise addiction and overtraining here.
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...
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, Bkool. Rouvy (formerly CycleOps) and the gym bunny’s favourite Technogym.
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.
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.
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, Sufferfest 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
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.
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
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)
20 mins: 3mins @ FTP/2 mins @ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 RPM (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete)
10 mins recovery – L2, cadence 100 RPM
20 mins – 3mins @ FTP/2 mins @ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 RPM (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete)
10 mins recovery – L2, cadence 100 RPM
20 mins – 3mins @ FTP/2 mins@ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 revs (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete
5 mins recovery
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.
“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."
“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.
However, people who live in Northern latitudes are often deficient in vitamin D in the winter because we don't get enough sunshine to make the body's required amount. There's also some evidence that vitamin D might have a modest preventative effect on respiratory infections.
In a short discussion paper on the topic, The Lancet concludes: "it would seem uncontroversial to enthusiastically promote efforts to achieve reference nutrient intakes of vitamin D … there is a chance that their implementation might also reduce the impact of COVID-19 in populations where vitamin D deficiency is prevalent; there is nothing to lose from their implementation, and potentially much to gain."
In addition to keeping up with the latest advice for cyclists, do read the NHS advice on coronavirus, and the government’s latest information about social distancing... stay safe and see you on the other side!