Cycling and the Coronavirus

By Coach John Hughes

We are proud to offer an article by the highly regarded Coach John Hughes, who has written extensively about bicycle training including nutrition, conditioning, slowing the aging process and otherwise keeping fit. Among his personal accomplishments in endurance racing, John set the course records for the Furnace Creek 508 in 1989 and Boston-Montreal-Boston in 1992. He has been a USA Cycling certified coach since ’96, and has lectured on endurance at numerous events. John has coached CRW members and has earned high praise for increasing their fitness in preparing for ultra-endurance cycling events and facilitating recovery after major surgery.

You enjoy cycling and know it’s good for your physical and mental health.  Like me you may not be able to spend as much time riding as usual. Here are summaries of three articles I’ve written about cycling and the coronavirus

  1. How Much and How Hard Should You Exercise?
  2. How to Slow the Loss of Fitness and How to Regain Fitness
  3. How to Get and Stay Motivated
How Much and How Hard Should You Exercise?
The training paradigm is straight-forward: you overload your cardiovascular system and muscles and this results in some breakdown, you’re weaker. If you allow time for recovery then your body recuperates and you improve. Should you continue to ride hard enough and/or far enough to produce the overload?


Recommendations of experts
The American College of Sports Medicine advises, “moderate-intensity physical activity is associated with better immune function. Regular physical activity can help reduce your feeling of stress and anxiety (which many of us may be feeling in the wake of he COVID-19 pandemic).”

In an article in Bicycling Dr. David Nieman advises, “I would caution cyclists to avoid long, intense rides or workouts right now until we get through all this and just to kind of keep things under control,” Nieman says. “Don’t overdo it. Be worried more about health than fitness.” (Nieman is a health professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus.) 

After a hard ride your immune system does not function as well. If later you are exposed to someone who is sick with the coronavirus, your body’s defenses are down. Remember someone may have COVID 19 and not yet developed symptoms – one of the primary reasons for social distancing.

In general:

  1. Exercise for health, not fitness.
  2. Exercise for maintenance, not improvement.
  3. Total exercise time should be less than usual.
  4. Total time doing intensity should be less than usual.
  5. Don't exercise to exhaustion.

Here’s the original article I wrote at the beginning of April.  The recommendations still apply.

How to Slow the Loss of Fitness and How to Regain Fitness
Considerable research has been done on what happens if an athlete completely stops exercising because of illness, injury or other reasons. You probably have continued to ride — just less than usual — and so you are losing fitness more slowly.

How many years you’ve been riding is the biggest factor in how slowly you lose fitness and how rapidly you can recover the lost fitness. This relates to my concept of athletic maturity. This column explains how you can assess your athletic maturity and the following column explains how to improve your athletic maturity.

If you cut back on exercise you lose fitness differentially:

  • Power and capacity to ride hard and climb well starts to decrease first.
  • Endurance doesn’t decrease as fast.
  • Muscle strength decreases slowly.
  • Skills don’t decrease!


What to do:
Remember that hard rides deplete your immune system more than endurance rides.
  1. Progressively do more of the kinds of endurance rides you enjoy: longer rides or more riding in general.
  2. Progressively mix in intensity starting with short workouts. As you increase the intensity reduce your total riding. As you increase your endurance riding then cut back (but don’t stop) your harder workouts.
  3. Recover more and better.
  4. Build back up slowly to reduce the risk of injury and overtraining.
  5. Pay attention to negative changes in your performance and mood — you might be doing too much.

Here’s the original article I wrote in May.  The recommendations still apply.

How to get and stay motivated
Thinking about why you exercise can help you to understand why you are demotivated and to figure out what you can do now for exercise. We exercise for many reasons:
  1. Overall good health to enjoy life and do things with your family
  2. Longevity to enjoy your grandkids
  3. Personal fitness
  4. Endorphins
  5. Achieve personal goals
  6. Fun
  7. Group activities
  8. Compete
  9. Your doctor told you that you should
  10. Your significant other wants you to
  11. Losing weight so you’re look better
  12. Other goals

Which of these are your goals? What kinds of riding and other activities help you with the above?

For many people a structure is very helpful for motivation. The structure includes goals that are reasonable and achievable, a simple plan to meet the goals and a way to be accountable. This works better than relying on inspiration or will power in the moment. But structure may not work for you.  That’s okay, too.
  • Set goals. Now that you know why you exercise setting reasonable achievable goals is the next step. What are your goals? Write them down.
  • Accountability. Much of what I do as a coach is to make a client accountable to follow the training program. Share your goal(s) and plan(s) with your significant other or a riding buddy. Then meet their expectations.
  • Make a simple schedule. You’re more likely to meet your goal(s) if you make specific daily and weekly plans. Write down your schedule(s).
  • Plan with others. Decide to do club rides and arrange rides with friends.
  • Keep a simple log. Note on your schedule what you actually did. 

This doesn’t need to be complicated. Keep it simple, e.g.,

Joe’s Goal's: Ride at least four days this week totaling at least 65 miles following this schedule:

  • Monday: Ride one hour for 15 miles.
    • Actual: Rode the hilly 13-mile three bumps loop in an hour.
  • Wednesday: Ride one hour for 15 miles with Bill and Liz.
    • Actual: Fun 20-mile (1:15) ride with Bill and Liz.
  • Friday: Ride 30-minutes on the trainer. (Count trainer miles based on your outdoor riding speed so a 30-minute ride would be 7.5 miles.)
    • Actual: Thursday rode to coffee shop, coffee with Sam, rode home. 5 miles total in 30 minutes. Took Friday off.
  • Saturday: Go on the CRW 35-mile ride.
    • Actual: Great to be out with people! 35 miles in 2:15

For the week Joe rode 75 miles in five hours. Joe was flexible with his riding rather than slavishly following the schedule but he still met his goals.

Here’s the original article.

My website has many articles on cycling and the pandemic.

Stay safe and have fun!

Coach Hughes has written over 40 eBooks for RoadBikeRider.