Embarking on a new cycling program – Dr. Massimo Testa, BMC Pro Team

For a successful treatment of elevated cholesterol, it is important to maintain a healthy diet in combination with the right medications as well as a good exercise program.

For this to be successful, some attention should be put in selecting the right modality of exercise, and how to make it fun, sustainable, and injury-free.

Between the many exercise modalities, cycling is definitely one of the most indicated. Cycling is very friendly on the joints, and allows to reach a great cardiovascular fitness by involving big muscles activation in a rhythmic pattern. In cycling, particularly on flat terrain, the main source of energy, at mild to moderate riding intensity, comes from the combustion of fats and carbs. Lipid profile generally improves with regular cycling training. With this training, other benefits develop, like weight loss, reduced blood pressure and resting heart rate, increased plasma volume, improved muscles sensitivity to insulin, and many more.

Here are some recommendations before starting a cycling program:

  1. Get cleared by your physician. Regular exercise has a protective effect on health, but carries also some potential risks, particularly at the beginning of the program. Be sure to check your lipids annually to ensure your cholesterol levels are normal and you are not at risk for cardiovascular disease. You may be at risk for familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) if high cholesterol runs in your family.
  2. Make sure your bike fits you well. Wrong position could make riding less fun, and even trigger some aches and pains. A Sports Medicine physician, PT, or a bike shop could help to make you more comfortable, and efficient on the bike.
  3. Start with building some easy miles, on flat or rolling terrain, and at an enjoyable pace. This will allow your body to get use to the exercise modality, and to prepare to more intensity later into your program.
  4. Keep a cadence above 80-85 rpm. This will prevent some overuse injuries over time. It will also allow you to progress quicker in your fitness gain. Pro cyclists tend to pedal at 90-100 rpm!
  5. Increase gradually your riding time and speed. Avoid big increases of your training load. When you feel that training is getting easier, add some more kilometers, or some intensity, like some climbs or some short sprints (10 to 20 seconds). Short sprints will help with improving your skills, and will help also with weight loss.
  6. Vary your rides! Once your fitness allows you, have some days with longer rides on flats, others with shorter but on more challenging terrain.
  7. Be consistent! Try to ride 3 to 5 times a week. Cycling is friendly on muscles too, and recovery is quicker than with sports involving running or jumping.
  8. Be careful! If riding on the road, wear something that makes you more visible to cars, and respect the rules of the traffic. If you ride trails, be respectful of the challenges the terrain could present. Always, wear a helmet!

Cycling is one of the few sports “for life”. As a physician, I was able to appreciate over the years the many benefits this sport provided to the health of my patients. Most of them, now, with gray hair but strong bodies!

Cycling: BMC Racing Team 2015
©Tim DeWaele

Massimo Testa, MD
Sports Medicine
BMC Racing Team Chief Medical Officer

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