Getting Fit For People With Day Jobs

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The Challenge of Training and Juggling Life, Work, Family

Most of us can’t spend hours in the gym and on the bike training to get fit. For those who work full time, trying to juggle a job, family obligations, and the mundane minutiae of life, getting and staying fit is a challenge.

I’m a high school English teacher and my days in the education trenches can be 10+ hours long. Planning and delivering lessons, tutoring “after” school, skipping lunch to help struggling students, grading papers and tests, is exhausting and time devouring.

If you have a rough work schedule, there are a few things that you should do before you start trying to squeeze in rides and workouts. Long before you start trying to ride to work, and figuring out how to

  • Get a post-commute shower
  • Carry clothes and toiletries
  • Figure out a way to safely store your bike at work
  • Complete those before, during and after work errands via bike

You need to consider YOUR personality type and how you can manage the logistics of living life and training for love – the love of the buzz we get from riding a bicycle.

Cyclist, Know Thyself

I’m a morning person. Going to the gym or getting in a ride after work is nigh unto impossible for me. Some days I can barely drag my overstuffed backpack to the car, much less drag my edu-exhausted body to the gym. And doing battle for equipment and space at a busy gym is not my idea of a good time. Especially after a day of high school student shenanigans.  I want to get in and get out.  If afternoons and evenings are your best/preferred time, just know that at most gyms, that is their peak time and getting in a quick,  QUALITY, efficient workout may prove frustrating.

So if I’m going to get in a quality workout, then I need to set that alarm, get on the bike or to the gym and start my day the best way I know how.  If you live in a colder climate “riding”  – especially with the short daylight of winter – means a stationary trainer.  I despise these noisy contraptions, but I hate showing up in springtime or the starting line, out of shape and overweight.  So, if, like me,  you don’t enjoy riding indoors, winter is a good time to review your goals and create a training mantra.  A carefully placed motivational sign on the bathroom mirror, or in your car, or on your workplace desk can help train your focus.  As a competitive mountain biker, my mantra has become – “Those guys are doing it.”  This is usually enough to goad me onto to the bike or into the gym.

Here is the good thing about a stationary trainer.  They take up little space. You can fall out of bed, pull on some shorts and shoes, fill a water bottle, and start pedaling in minutes.  (Don’t forget to press the start button on the coffee-maker.)  You can leave your gear by your bike  – shoes, shorts, t-shirt, filled water bottle, towel and tunes – and be ready to ride even more quickly.

Oh! The Noise!

If you have an old trainer, it might be time to look at some new ones. Old wind trainers, fluid drives and others where the rear tire roars on a spinning roller can wake the dead.  Look for one of the newer direct-drive types.  They are much quieter and will help keep the peace in the place you call home.

If you prefer the gym for logistical reasons, some of those stationary bikes will work in pinch.  They may not be adjustable to the same fit of your bike, but your heart won’t know and you can get in a good workout for that little pump that fuels the joys of cycling.  The saddles are often Barcalounger huge and the handlebar reach too close, but you can still do a planned workout that will benefit your aerobic capacity – and feed that hunger to achieve your year’s cycling goals.  Stationary trainers at most gyms are compromises, but the alternative – fat, slow, and unfit when outdoor weather arrives  – is worse!

Tips For Riding Indoors @ Your Gym*

  • Take some measurements of your bicycle with a tape measure and try to adjust the gym’s stationary trainer as close as possible
  • Some gyms have bikes with clipless pedals – if so, wear you cycling shoes
  • Get a good heart-rate monitor, with a chest strap (these are more accurate than watch types) Some of those grip-type HR monitors on gym bikes are inaccurate, inoperative or wildly inconsistent.  Often you have to have both hands on pickups and you lose you HR readout when you adjust the resistance or drink or wipe. This can be a pain when doing interval work
  • Wear bike shorts – but PLEASE don’t be one of those folks who need to advertise, “I ride bikes” by wearing a cycling jersey – a t-shirt is fine
  • Take two water bottles – you don’t want to run out in a stuffy, too hot gym
  • Spend a few minutes learning about the brand/type of trainers at the gym or see if you can find a personal trainer or staffer that knows about them (some are quite loaded with usable features, but like so many electronic products (Smart Phones should come with a semester-long course!) they are often complex to use
  • Take a towel to wipe off with – you won’t have the same wind-chill and drying factor that you do on a real bike
  • Use good gym etiquette and wipe down the equipment after (and maybe before) you ride

If You Have to Ride Indoors

A home trainer is the best solution to short days and busy schedules.  The bike fits.  It’s nearby.  Your clipless shoes and pedals interface.  And there’s no waiting to get on a gym bike – or time limits once on the saddle.  Or chance of contracting an cold or the flu from some sweaty Eddie or Betty who doesn’t have the sense to leave their germs at home!  (Even if the person at the gym wipes down the bike you are about to get on – wipe it down WELL before you get on.  Nothing is more motivation-crushing to your training than a cold.)

*More on stationary bikes and winter or inclement weather training in a later post.

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