Featured Fitness — 30 May 2011
5 Tips for toning legs through cycling

You’re looking good.  Your diet is helping you achieve your desired weight.  Now you want to tone up.  You start out to strengthen and tone your lower body.  You’ve tried jogging but, with jogging, the scenery changes too slowly, and you eventually get bored.  Besides, your knees ache.  And buying new jogging shoes once every 3 to 6 months gets to be costly.

As a change of pace, you opt for a new form of toning:  cycling.  You go out and purchase a good, reasonably priced mountain bike and helmet.  Then you hit the pavement.

Your goal is to tighten up those thighs and tone your calves.  It can’t be too hard, you tell yourself.  Every cyclist you have seen has incredible legs.  If they can do it, so can you, you say.

But after 3 weeks of riding you have gotten frustrated.  Aside from increasing your endurance, the hours you’ve spent cycling hasn’t yielded the results you expected.  Where are those bulging calves you’ve seen cyclists don?  Why are your thighs only gaining tone at the knee?

The dilemma:  You’re putting lots of effort into cycling but are producing little results.

The solution:  Implement a few of these well-known cycling techniques.

1. Use correct seat height.  This is a common mistake of many novice cyclers.  But correct seat height is key to uniform toning of the upper and lower leg.

Your seat should sit high enough that it almost fully extends your leg with each pedal, but not so high that the leg is fully extend.  There should remain a slight bend in your leg at the pedals lowest point.  Overextending your leg when pedaling can strain the backside of the knee – the plantaris muscle.

To get proper seat height:

Loosen your seat pole adjustment and stand over your bike.

With the pedal at its lowest point, put the ball of your foot on the pedal.

Push off the pedal, extending your leg, but leave a slight bend at the knee

Now raise the seat to meet your bottom and re-tighten the seat pole screw

2. Position ball of foot on pedal.  If your desire is to shape your calves, then appropriate foot-placement is the way to do it.  Aside from providing good balance, placing the balls of your feet on the pedals works each calf muscle, unlike placing the your mid-foot or heel on the pedal which only works your calves lateral head – the outer calf.

Placing the balls of your feet on the pedals when cycling works all three main areas of the calf:

the inner calf – the Gastrocnemius Medial Head
the outer calf – the Gastrocnemius Lateral Head
the internal mid-calf – the Soleus

Ball placement also tones the quadriceps, the upper thigh muscle, as well as the hamstring.

3. Keep pedaling.  The general idea of cycling for fitness is to keep your legs in motion.  Coast occasionally but mostly on down hills.  If you reach a hilly area, don’t get off the bike and walk.  Shift gears to a lower setting.  You’ll be amazed at how easy hills are to climb when using your gears efficiently.

4. Stay hydrated.  Water is your single most important nutrient.  When working out, water transports nutrients (energy) throughout the body.

Water aides in the excretion of waste products from the cells.  It suppresses the appetite; helps the body metabolize and break down fat deposits; prevents cramping; and keeps joints healthy.  Synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints, is composed of water.

5. Eat a good meal soon after cycling.  Research has shown that the enzyme, glycogen synthase, which turns food carbohydrates into glycogen for energy stores, is most active immediately after exercise.  This means that if you ingest carbohydrates within thirty minutes to an hour after exercising, you greatly increase your energy reserves, as opposed to eating several hours after a workout.

Make sure your post-cycling meal is rich in nutrients.  A mere soda and chips won’t do. You’ve just burned countless vitamins and sweated out stockpiles of minerals, breaking down muscles during your bike ride.  Now it’s time to pay the bill. Give your body what it needs to build those muscles back up stronger: a healthy meal.  Take a vitamin supplement with the meal if necessary.

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