“Can I replace intervals with hilly rides”?

As cyclists, regardless of the level, be it recreational or competitive, we all share the common desire to feel stronger, fitter and better able to handle the rides we do on a weekly basis. I am asked if simply riding hilly terrains can be a substitute for interval training, which is commonly know to produce a fitter more efficient rider.

Hilly terrain riding will increase the heart rate (exertion level) as you climb, and decrease the heart rate as you descend, in essence, providing an “interval training effect”, which does stimulate an improvement in ones level of fitness, if performed on a regular basis. However, the question is “can it be used to replace traditional interval training”, which is timed periods of high intensity riding, followed by periods of easy lower intensity riding. If one lives in an area where there is limited flat sections of road, then hilly terrain riding is a good substitute for interval training, but to ensure the full “training effect” I would suggest the following riding protocol:

Start your ride with a good 15-20 minutes of light easy cycling, to warm up the body, muscles, tendons and ligaments. After the warm up, then approach each hill at approximately 80% of maximum intensity, knowing that you will be using the downhill portion of the hill to recover and bring the heart rate down. Depending on how frequently the hills come in your riding route, this will determine how hard the workout is, if the hills come close together, then there will be less recovery, hence producing greater benefits aerobically.

Traditional interval training is usually done on flat terrain, and can be performed in many formats. The typically format for a cyclist to start with is, an equal work: rest ratio. For example, ride at 80% of maximum intensity for 1 minute, then follow by 1 minute of easy recovery spinning. As one becomes fitter and more efficient, then the work to rest ratio can be altered to provide a harder workout. Using the same example provided above, the 1 minute of 80% intensity riding, would be followed by only 30 seconds of recovery spinning, producing a 2:1 work to rest ratio.

Regardless of whether you choose traditional interval training or hilly terrain cycling, each provides the cyclists a stimulus to promote higher fitness levels, with a lower heart rate and lower level of perceived exertion.

The added benefit of these two types of training, increases the amount of calories that are burned, and adds variety into the weekly riding schedule.
I suggest mixing up your rides, to prevent staleness and boredom, and also, you will be pleasantly surprised by the results you will see.

“How do I determine my optimal weight to be strong and fit on my bike”?

This is a very good question, and one that is asked many times over. However, it is not an easy question to answer, given everybody has different body physiology and also different cycling goals. As a result the genetic makeup of our body will affects our bodies ability to lose and gain weight and lose and gain lean muscle mass. This being said, your body weight, lean muscle mass, body-fat percentage, body-mass distribution and body-fat distribution all play a big role in your performance on the bike.

In the world of cycling, there are basically two different body types. One that is very muscular and powerful. These body types do very well riding on mostly flat terrain, and tend to be good sprinters, as they have big and powerful legs.

The second body type we see in cycling is the “hill climbers”. These cyclist tend to be shorter, and typically very light with very low body fat percentages. However, being short and extremely light is not enough to make one a good hill climber. A cyclist who has a desire to be a good hill climber, also needs to have what is known as, a high power to weight ratio. What this means is they the strength and ability to generate big power in relationship to their light body weight. It is critical to sustain raw power to climb, and to climb steep inclines over long distances without fatiguing to point of exhaustion.

There is also a “middle cycling body type”. This is the term I use to describe a body that is in-between that of a very lean and light hill climber, and that of a big strong powerful flat riding sprinter. This body is typically the body of time trialist. This cycling body type needs the power of a sprinter, needed to sustain a particular speed, yet at the same time needs to be not too heavy as pushing weight on any terrain makes riding that much harder.

So where does this leave all of us? Well the commonality to all these body types is cyclist, is the leg muscularity, as the leg muscles provide all the energy for forward motion. Therefore our weight distribution is important, we require a largest percentage of muscle mass to be in our legs, and less in our upper bodies. Having said this, we still need to have strong backs to support our bodies while riding, to maintain good posture and help to prevent soreness in our neck and lower back muscles.

Body physiology is important and genetically inherited, and equally important, is the emphasis of how much body fat we carry. Excess body fat, becomes what is known as “dead weight”, which simply means weight that does not contribute to strength, power or speed. Typical body fat percentages for female competitive cyclists is very low, and is around 12 – 16%, and in the average female, is around 18 – 25%. So how do we work with what our genes have given us, without carrying extra body fat? The answer to this, is what and how much we eat. All cyclists need to fuel their bodies with abundant high quality unprocessed carbohydrates, lean proteins, good unsaturated fats, and a variety of vegetables and fruits. But the difference lies in how much of the above foods we consume.

If we determine our body fat is too high for our body type, we should focus on reducing our serving sizes, while at the same time maintaining at least 3 hours of cycling per week, in addition to 1-2 weight training sessions, to maintain lean muscle mass and core body strength. Also, there are specific “power and strength” workouts on the bike that could be added into our weekly training rides, to assist us to becoming stronger and more powerful, at the same time extra body fat is lost. I would suggest to these cyclists, to keep a food daily food log, which provides a reflection of what and how much you are eating, as most of us are eat well, but the key lies in the amount of calories, in relation to how many calories is being expended on the bike.

Those who wish to maintain their current body weight, and wish to become stronger and more powerful, need to diligent at keeping a steady and consistent amount of good quality calories coming in on a regular timed basis, along with the addition of “power and strength” specific workouts on the bike to achieve these goals.

To summarize, all cyclist have certain body types, which we cannot change. What we can be responsible for, is keeping our diet “clean” from highly processed foods, saturated fats, and sugar loaded foods. While keeping the emphasis on fueling ourselves with good quality slow burning carbohydrates, lean proteins, and ample vegetables and fruits, to keep our bodies lean, yet strong to tackle whatever our riding goals are.


1. Set a goal to maintain weight, instead of still trying to lose weight:
- try and article of clothing on before you go away that fits you nicely. Then take that article with you, ensuring each time to put it on, it fits the same, it will be a good reminder, instead of waiting until you get back home.

2. Incorporate fitness:
- walking as much as possible (taking the stairs, parking at the back of a parking lot when shopping, walking the beach or part of the lake)
- body weight exercises (do not require a gym) lunges, squats, push up's, triceps dips, abdominal crunches and waist twists, planks. You can do a full workout with nothing but your own body.
- walk the entire mall more than once, the first time slowly to shop or browse, the second time for a quick calorie burn
- remember activities that you would not normally equate with calorie burning activities can actually mean you are stoking the body’s metabolism - water-skiing, golf, playing in the pool or wave pool with your kids. If you own a cottage, then mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, and other regular household chores.
- walking up and down the stairs in your cottage.
- organize an activity with your family that involves movement and keep it fun, award prizes to motivate participation- beach volleyball, bocce, water tag, swim races.
- take a taxi one way, and walk the other way to your destination.
- pack resistance tubing in your bag, for 10 minutes of exercise before breakfast, good way to kick start the metabolism.
- take the stairs instead of the elevator in your hotel.

3. Food and drink strategies:
- interspersing a sparkling water after every alcoholic drink
- to avoid overeating, drink a large glass of water before every meal
- snack on very fibrous foods in-between meals (carrots, celery, salad greens)
- pack fruit and trail mix in your bag while on the go, to avoid snacking on chips, muffins, and other fast food options.
- instead of deprivation, and not allowing yourself ice cream or some other kind of summer treat, balance it with leaving 2 mouthfuls of food at lunch and dinner. Remember one or two mouthfuls of food can add upwards of 200 - 300 calories depending on the meal.


1. Get adequate sleep: One restful night’s sleep can leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated but missed sleep can have a negative impact over time
* Without enough sleep you don’t make as much muscle and you probably snack more than normal.
* Sleep may be the most underestimated and unappreciated activity in terms to its potency in maintaining health. Not only can insufficient sleep cause you to be groggy and moody,
* It also makes us unable to concentrate, damages our immune system and leaves you less able to tolerate stress.
* Habitually getting less sleep than we need can even accelerate the aging process. When you don’t get enough sleep your body produces more cortisol, a stress-associated hormone. When you are not getting enough sleep these levels of cortisol depletes the muscle by causing cellular breakdown. Higher levels of cortisol also increase fat storage and initially decrease the appetite but there is a rebound in an increase in appetite. Because fatigue also makes us feel like we are low in energy tend fuel the most common thing we do to combat the drained feeling is to eat, even when it is not really hunger driven.

2. Reduce Stress: Stress is not just bad for your head it is bad for your body
* Stress releases cortisol from the body and it is stored in the abdomen – the worse place for stored fat
* Stress is related to 99% of all illness
* Plan everything you do taking an extra 10 minutes - Leave for work 10 minutes early
* Get up every hour from your desk and walk to stretch out your legs and give your brain a rest.
* Set the alarm clock 10 minutes early than normal.

3. Exercise: A minimum of 30 minutes per day is all it takes to start an exercise program
* Exercise releases endorphins which stimulate the “good feelings’
*Exercise reduces heart disease, diabetes and obesity

4. Maintain good nutritional habits: Eating balanced meals will help you live a longer and healthier life
* Plan and prepare each daily intake
* Eat smaller portions more often, spreading them evenly throughout the day
* Jump start your metabolism every day by eating a breakfast that is low in fat high in fiber and rich in good quality carbohydrates and portions.

5. Set a personal goal: Accomplishing goals is empowering
* Begin with a weekly goal - write the goal down and work backwards
* Make sure the goals are SMART – simple, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound.
* Share your goal with someone and become accountable for achieving it

6. Stay hydrated: Every system of your body needs water- in fact approximately 70% of body is water.
* This vital fluid is one of the most important ingredients your body needs everyday.
* Water regulates body temperature, transports nutrients and oxygen, carries away wastes, helps detoxify the kidneys and liver, dissolves vitamins and minerals and cushions the body from injury.
*When the body does not receive enough water it goes into a state of dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration are: fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, and most notable is yellow color urine.
*There is also evidence that drinking adequate water may help prevent some diseases such as kidney stones, and may be associated with a lower incidence of colon cancer.
* Studies show the people who drink an average of 61/2 cups of water per day eat 200 fewer calories.

7. Take a supplement: Multivitamin and mineral supplements may provide a margin of safety by providing “nutritional insurance” but it will not compensate for a poor diet.
* Whenever our bodies endure stress from physical activity, pollution, or day to day family or job stress we all sometimes miss getting the full amount of vitamin and minerals in our diets.

8. Learn to listen: True listening requires not forming a response before the other person has finished and it also requires a willingness to follow another’s point of view with no preconceived notions.
* Listening requires curiosity, concentration on the details of what is being said.
* When we learn to listen better we become better friends, spouses, workers and more open to different viewpoints.
* Listening requires to fully letting go of control.
* True listening shows the person you are interested in what they have to say.

9. Stay young: It is about keeping a fresh vision of the world, being interested, being stimulated, being motivated, and being adventurous
* Try new food, going to new places, and trying new styles.
* Staying young is being open to new ways and ideas that others may have.
* Read and stay in touch with local and foreign news, cultures and religions.

10. Step out of your comfort zone: Expanding your comfort zone challenges our personal limits
* Stepping outside of our comfort zone will give you extra confidence.
* We impose a lot of restrictions on ourselves that limit us, taking the challenge to expand our comfort zone brings us out of ourselves and keep us learning and growing.
* It may be as simple as taking up a new hobby, or sport. It may becoming involved in a charity or becoming a mentor to a younger friend or relative.

*** The challenge is one a week for then next ten weeks. Then daily dose for a well rounded life***