Getting physically prepared for your next major tour
One of the more common questions that comes in relates to preparing yourself for the incredible hardships of your next major tour. Of course most people worry and frit about how to prepare before they tour for the first time and then rapidly discover that bicycle touring is most of the time only as physically challenging as you want to make it.
A lot of people aim for high distance days or high daily elevation counts begging the question of why? There are invariably a number of answers but they all tend to boil down to a personal choice.
"You train for the tour or the tour trains you" is a common phrase that basically refers to the personal decision people make to either accept a few rougher days in the beginning of a long tour or to give up some precious free time prior to a tour to get some training in advance.
When I tour I typically like the idea of covering approximately 100 - 120 km per day. I also aim to have at least one 160+ km day if it turns out that the opportunity presents itself. Most of my tours involve some pre-tour training but I have also gone on one major tour without my usual advance training. The first few days were rougher then expected but three weeks later I was in stride. Probably the best reason for training in advance is that it makes it easier to really enjoy the world around you rather then becoming fixed on how far you still have left to go.
My next major tour is about three months away so I am just now stepping up my training program. I've decided to share it with you. I should emphasize that the following works for me but since all individuals are different you should use your own common sense when deciding what elements, if any, you care to utilize yourself.
- Early third of training time (first month in this case)
- Ride twenty km per day minimum five days a week. I commute via bicycle so this is an easy requirement for me. Remember that another saying is that the distance you usually ride in a week is often the distance that you can easily cover on your first day touring. Most of my riding at this point is road riding with a mix of riding my geared touring bike and riding my fixed gear bike gradually increasing the cog size as time passes
- Full body weight training with emphasis on exercising my entire body with modest weight but lots of repetitions one or two times per week taking about 45 to 60 minutes each session. I find that barbell workouts are relatively inexpensive and can be performed safely at home
- Gentle stretching of all body areas to help increase flexibility. I always do this after a ride when the muscles are already warm. I believe that this reduces the chance of muscle injury while touring. Two or three times per week for about 20 minutes each time.
- Add at least one core body activity session each week. Core body refers to exercises that strengthen your abs and your back muscles both areas that apparently go a long way towards helping keep long days in the saddle comfortable
- Increased rest to allow my body the time it needs to recuperate fully from the extra effort I am giving it
- Since I live in an apartment building I have added a daily requirement to climb at least 11 flights of stairs. This exercise occurs after my ride home so my muscles are already warmed up plus the climb causes some repetitive movements that really seem to help my legs over time
- Better attention to food intake with emphasis on nutritious meals and smaller portions. Generally I eat too much so embarking on a gentle program of reduced intake allows me to become better prepared for the upcoming ride. My reduction is very small and with the weight workouts that I am doing I am not concerned about potential muscle loss
- Improved water intake. Most of us don't drink enough water. I make it much more of a habit to consume water more often and in all cases I want to take in enough water to have clear urine
- At some point in this phase and usually towards the end of the first third I plan a weekend tour with daily distances of approximately 100 km per day. This gives me a taste of the upcoming touring experience as both a reward and as an attempt to see how my program is working for me. I also get the chance to test out my bicycle, my camping gear and anything else that I intend to take with me on my major tour
- Second third of training time (second month in this case)
- Increase riding time gradually by adding in small sections to my daily commute with the ultimate goal to add somewhere between 10 and 20 kilometers daily. Since this added distance is actually occuring over two rides it doesn't take much time to add in the extra bits. I also look for hill climbing opportunities as much as possible
- Increase the amount of off road riding that I do. I find that doing more off road riding gives me the opportunity to do more interval like riding with bursts of coasting along coupled with moments of high intensity. This also does wonders for improving reaction times in tricky terrain which directly relates to handling awful roads while propelling a fully loaded touring bike. The last benefit is that it nicely refreshes mental energy just from the sheer difference of the ride itself
- Increase weight training to three times per week still staying focused on a full body workout with lots of repetitions and modest weight. I am seeking strength and endurance but not necessarily bulk
- Stretching exercises once each day usually after the morning ride. Each individual session takes only a small amount of time but certainly goes a long way towards increasing my overall flexibility. I always do the stretches after a ride so that the muscles are already warmed up and hopefully less prone to injury
- Continued attention to nutrition, rest and hydration
- A second tour is planned towards the end of this training period. The emphasis on this tour is strictly to enjoy myself and give my gear one last test before the actual tour begins
- Final third (third month in my case)
- I maintain the extended daily riding time mentioned in the previous section but also include at least one 50 km ride per week, preferably two
- Reduced emphasis on weight training
- Reduced emphasis on core body exercises
- Continued attention to stretching, nutrition, rest and hydration
- More time with friends and family since these are the people I generally leave behind during a major tour
Wow! Looking at this typed out it looks like a very serious list but the execution of each of these things is really not too bad time wise since so much of it occurs as an added activity at the end of a ride. When you ride 20+ times a week it becomes really easy to add in small activities at the end of the ride when your muscles are already warmed up.
One key comment about this routine is that the core exercise is riding a bike. By bicycle commuting I am able to get to work in anywhere from the same amount of time to twice as much time as by car but with the benefit of getting my pre-tour training out of the way to mention just one of the benefits only.
Training before a tour isn't mandatory but it is something that I personally recommend. I've found that if you are in better shape the first day of your tour then your chances of really experiencing that first day in a positive manner are greatly improved!
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