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Gear Up for Your Own Tour de France

Tour de France Reuters

Saxo Bank rider Alberto Contador of Spain (R) cycles ahead of Europcar rider and race leader Thomas Voeckler of France (2nd R) and Leopard rider Andy Schleck of Luxembourg (C), BMC rider Cadel Evans of Australia (2L) and Leopard rider Frank Schleck of Luxembourg (L) during the 16th stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap at the Tour de France 2011 cycling race July 19, 2011. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

Watching the Tour de France can be a serious buzzkill for a guy trying to get in shape. Cyclists are among the most physically fit athletes in the world, and watching those guys go up a hill can be enough to make a guy trying in vain to get in shape to throw in the towel.

But if you can't beat 'em, as they say, join 'em. Cycling is an amazing way to get in shape, and the benefits start showing soon. Instead of letting the Tour de France discourage you, use the physical fitness of the cyclists as an inspiration, and introduce cycling to your summer workout routines.

Cycling is a great way to not only improve your conditioning this summer, but also to enhance your physique. Some of the best benefits you'll see with cycling training are the body’s enhanced utilization of oxygen, increased muscular strength and power in the legs, improved ability to buffer lactic acid buildup, and decreased body-fat percentage. From a strength standpoint, cycling is preferable to running as a cardiovascular workout, since you will be constantly working against resistance. That said, there are some important things you should consider when coming up with a summer cycling routine that will help you maximize your training.

A variety of workouts

One of the most important factors to consider when putting together your bike workout is variety. If you're doing the same workout day in and day out, your body is going to adapt to it very quickly and you will stop showing results. By changing it up on a frequent basis, you will keep your body guessing as you work your muscles on a variety of levels at the same time.

Including one or two "tempo" sessions will help you build a good base for your summer cycling routine. In these workouts, you will be riding at a constant, fairly high intensity for 20 to 25 minutes. The idea here is to help your body grow accustomed to tolerating lactic acid so that when you do decide to push harder, you will not fatigue as quickly. These workouts will also help to push up your relative speed, thereby increasing your performance.

One session per week should be dedicated to a longer-duration workout, as this will help you build cardiovascular endurance. Not only is this good for proper health, but it will also give your body a break from the very high intensity workouts. Aim to cycle continuously, at a comfortable pace, for about 45 minutes to an hour. There is no need to overdo it during these sessions, unless you are training for an endurance event. Excessive endurance training will lead to issues with recovery and will take time away from other workouts you should be concentrating on.

Finally, adding one or two sessions of sprint training is a smart move, as these are what will really bump up your fitness level. Aim to go 30 seconds to a minute at a very hard pace, and then take a rest period for two to three times the duration of the sprint interval. Repeat this process 6 to 12 more times before starting your cool down.

Proper rest

The next factor to consider when putting together your summer cycling routine is rest. Rest is absolutely critical if you hope to see progress, because if you don’t allow recuperation to take place, each session will only tear down your muscle fibers.

Along with scheduling days off, take into account any cross-training activities you participate in, such as weightlifting or other sports. If those are highly demanding physically, you will again need to scale back slightly on the cycling workouts so you do not overtrain.

Incorporating strength training

Adding a well rounded strength training program to your plan is a smart move if performance is a goal. Strength training will help to keep you injury-free, since your ligaments and muscles will be better able to support the stress you place on them, and it will also help you work at a higher level of intensity, thus increasing the level of your workout. If you have any muscular imbalances (outer quad is stronger than inner, for example), you will also want to assess this and find ways to correct it with your strength training. Doing so will prevent you from experiencing many troubles down the road.

The major lifts you definitely need to be doing are squats, hamstring curls, bench press, military presses, dead lifts, and some type of abdominal core work. These particular muscles are heavily used during your summer cycling routine, so strengthening them is important._________________________________________________________________________

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Utilizing hill sessions

Another type of workout you might consider doing as part of your summer cycling routine is a hill workout. These are especially good for building quad strength and increasing your ability to utilize oxygen. Try to find a course that is, for the most part, uphill, but be sure to start out gradually in terms of distance covered, as you will likely be very sore after these sessions. Once you get really good, you can start doing sprint sessions on hilly terrain.

Race-specific training

If you have decided that you are going to train for a particular cycling race, be it a triathlon or otherwise, you will want to begin to tailor your workouts to the race. Try to include more sessions of approximately the same distance that you will be racing, and if you can get your hands on information about what the course is like, find a similar course to train on. It is particularly important to take note of altitude at this point. If you are going to be racing at a considerably different altitude than you are used to, you will definitely want to factor this into your training. The higher up you go, the harder it will be on your muscles (due to decreased oxygen available to the body).

Proper nutrition

As with any workout, you must factor proper nutrition in with your training. On longer-duration, moderately paced sessions, you will be able to predominately use fat for fuel, so it is not entirely necessary to be eating a high-carbohydrate meal before. That said, if you are cycling for one or more hours at a time, you will likely find that your performance will be better if you do eat some carbohydrates, either before the session or partway through, in order to give your muscles their preferred source of fuel (the body burns carbs more easily than fat).

If you are performing a sprinting session, however, be aware that your body can only use carbohydrates during this type of activity due to the nature of the energy system, and, therefore, it is essential that you include carbohydrates in a pre-workout meal.

Finally, you must take hydration into account, because even a slight amount of dehydration can cause you to feel fatigued and become dizzy, with a drastic impact on how effectively your muscles function. On longer bike rides, be sure to bring a water bottle filled with water or an electrolyte-balancing solution that will replenish your water stores as well as your potassium and sodium levels (for those who sweat a great deal during their workouts, an electrolyte solution is preferable).

Roll with it

If you are looking for a new challenge to take on this summer, give cycling a try. There are many health benefits, and it is a great way to push your body past any plateaus you may be experiencing. Just ensure that you approach your summer cycling training in a smart way in order to reap the greatest rewards from the time you dedicate to your sessions.