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EXERCISE OPTIONS: BICYCLING


Biking can offer an excellent aerobic workout, especially in hilly areas.

If you're a beginner, the low gears on a 10- or 12-speed bicycle can help you negotiate even the steepest hills until you are conditioned enough to climb them in higher gears. To avoid sore knees, make sure your bicycle seat is neither too high nor too low. An easy test: Sit on your bicycle and with the ball of your right foot push the right pedal around and down as far as it will go. If your knee is just slightly flexed - not locked straight - the seat is probably just right. When you ride, keep the balls of your feet on the pedals. Also, to avoid knee strain, select gears that are easy to ride in. Forcing too hard with high gears creates strain.

As with jogging, if you haven't exercised regularly for a long time, don't start cycling right away. While walking makes daily use of the muscles in the back of the thigh (the hamstrings), both outdoor and stationary cycling work the less-utilized quadriceps in the front of the thigh. Outdoor riding on even a moderately hilly terrain will give you a good challenge, but until your "quads" are trained and you can pedal "against resistance" for at least 30 minutes, it's best to rely on walking or jogging as your primary form of exercise. Or if you have an indoor cycle which adjusts for varying levels of resistance (most do), or a device to turn your 10- or 12-speed bicycle into an exercise cycle, set the resistance or the gears on low and maintain a constant speed. Then step up both the gears and your speed as your leg strength increases with practice. Check your pulse from time to time to make sure you haven't "coasted" out of your training heart rate range.

The benefits of cycling - whether on a stationary bike or outdoors - are improved cardiovascular function, enhanced muscle tone, and definition in your legs. (This will be most noticeable on your quadriceps, but you'll also see some change on your hamstrings and a bit on your calves.)

Warm-up and cool-down sessions are as important to cyclists as they are to joggers and runners; be sure to include stretches for all your leg muscles after a bicycling workout. Outdoor cyclists should heed this winter warning, too: Take greater precautions against frostbite than joggers would because of the wind you generate while riding, even on calm or not terribly cold days.

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WEIGHT LOSS/BODY-BUILDING

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