Coach Hughes: Cycling & Coronavirus (COVID 19) Staying Fit
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Motivation for cycling: How to get & stay motivated during the coronavirus (COVID 19)

All physical activity is good!

by Coach John Hughes
May 14, 2020

John Hughes is the author of Anti-Aging: 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process and of the book Distance Cycling. He has written 40 articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for More about Coach Hughes.
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

As of this writing many states are starting to relax stay at home recommendations / requirements. However, many opportunities for exercise are still limited and many of us continue to worry about exposure to COVID 19. Colorado where I live is shifting from Stay at Home to Safer at Home.

In a recent column I discussed how you lose fitness through inactivity, what you can do now to slow the loss of fitness and how to regain fitness. A number of readers responded with “How do I stop looking at the screen?”, “How do I get off the coach?” Etc.

Why do you exercise?
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. Socializing in group activities
  8. Competition
  9. Your doctor told you that you should
  10. Your significant other wants you to
  11. Losing weight so you’ll look better
  12. Other goals

Motivation is a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Overall good health, personal fitness and endorphins are examples of intrinsic factors. Group activities, competition and your doctor are examples of extrinsic motivation.

Explore your motivation with the following questions:

  • Is a significant part of your identity being a cyclist? Why or why not? (When your friends think of you do they think, “Joe’s a cyclist”?) The more you integrate being cyclist into your identity, the better!
  • How does exercise make you feel? What do you like about it?
  • What’s at the heart/root of why you exercise?

Once you’ve explored your answers to these questions, change your internal dialogue to be more intrinsically focused about exercise. When you think about exercising think about what it does for you personally.

What are your impediments to exercising?
The following can be demotivating:

  • Cancellation of a planned event for which you were training
  • Loss of group activities
  • Disruption of family life due to both working at home and having kids at home
  • Interruption of a regular exercise schedule, for example, riding after work, hitting the gym at noon, etc.
  • Anxiety for which you self-medicate. You could be using screen time to distract you from your worries. Or you could be overeating. Or something else

Which of these factors are demotivating for you?

For more see Why Exercise Can Be Hard to Get Right Now in the Washington Post.

Key points

Family first. One of my clients reported he didn’t do many of the workouts last week because he was with his new grandson. Right on!

Cut yourself some slack. One of the most important things to do right now is not to beat yourself up because you’re slacking off.

Coach John Hughes

Variety. Equally important is broadening what you do to include all kinds of activities. My neighborhood has dirt roads, which provide variety and have low traffic.

Small amounts count. You don’t have to exercise for an hour or more at a time. Ride for half an hour, spend twenty minutes doing chores like vacuuming and mowing the lawn, go for a half-hour walk after dinner, stretch for 10 minutes watching the tube and you have ninety minutes of activity for the day.

What’s fun? You’re more likely to exercise if you do something really fun. What would you enjoy that’s still exercise. My wife is gardening. You have time now to wrestle with the kids or play fetch with your dog. Or?

Act like it’s winter. Forget about how many miles you’d normally ride in April and May. In the winter the weather, which you can’t control, significantly limits your miles. Now the pandemic, which you can’t control, also limits your miles. What would you normally be doing in the winter? You might get some ideas from my column on the off-season.

Structure helps

For many people a structure is very helpful for motivation. The structure includes daily and weekly schedules. These are based on goals that are reasonable and achievable, a simple plan to meet the goals and a way to be accountable. Structure 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. Suppose typically in April and May Joe rides 75 - 100 miles totaling six to eight hours a week. The combination of social distancing and lots of people exercising outdoors may make it very difficult for him to do that much volume.

  • Time not miles. Joe can’t ride as many outdoor miles as usual so Joe is also riding the trainer (ugh) and going for walks. Joe should set his goal(s) by time not miles so he can aggregate all his different activities.
  • Start small. Small, readily achievable goals are more motivating than big goals. Whatever your baseline of exercise has been for the past month or so set a goal(s) that are a little bigger. For example, each week Joe has been doing a couple of 20 - 30 mile (1:30 - 2:30 hours) outdoor rides a week and been on the trainer two or three times a week (1:00 - 1:30 hours). This totals 2:30 - 4:00 hours a week. Joe’s goals could be to continue to exercise for or five days a week totaling 3:00 - 4:30 hours a week, some of which could be walking instead of the damn trainer. This is an increase of just 30 minutes a week.
  • Increase your goals. After Joe’s met this goal for a couple of weeks he could increase it to 3:30 - 5:00 hours a week to get fitter. If he just wants to maintain fitness and doesn’t want to increase his time, that’s fine, too. The point is not to decrease his time per week. If you’re already exercising 20 minutes a day four days a week, your goal could be to exercise at least 30 minutes a day four days a week. Or at least 20 minutes a day five days a week. Or to exercise a certain number of days or hours over the next month. Or?

Here’s a column I wrote on Setting Goals as You Grow Older.

Make a schedule. You’re more likely to meet your goal(s) if you make specific plans.

  • Daily. Decide on a specific time(s) each day when you’ll do a particular activity. These don’t have to be the same time every day. I try to practice Tai Chi daily and my weekly hours include it. I know I’m more likely to practice if I do so when I get up. I’m typing this before lunch and still haven’t practiced my Tai Chi — better close my computer and practice before lunch.
  • Follow your body’s rhythms. You may have a more flexible schedule now so you can do your workouts when you have the most energy. A short exercise break during your workday might re-vitalize you.
  • Weekly. I’m back after my Tai Chi and a burrito. Each Sunday night plan out your week.
  • Flexibility. You may not be able to follow your plan for a week. Substitute anything that gets you moving.

Accountability. As a coach a weekly schedule is about 40% of what I provide a client and another 40% is accountability — did the client follow the plan? Only 20% or so of my coaching is more substantive.

  • Write your schedule on your calendar just like you’d enter a meeting with reminders on your calendar. You’re more likely to follow a written schedule you see every day.
  • Share your goals and plan. Tell your significant other or a buddy your general goals are and your plan for the week. Then tell him or her what you actually did.
  • Social media. Similarly post a weekly or monthly goal and then with each activity report your progress toward the goal.
  • Keep a log. Make yourself accountable by writing on your calendar what you did and then totally it up at the end of the week or month.

Cycling ideas

Get outdoors. It may be hard to get motivated, put on your kit, roll the bike out of the garage and go for a two to three hour ride (or longer). Go for short rides, which are beneficial for both your fitness and your state of mind. I usually ride for under an hour. For a short ride you don’t have to change your clothes, just put on your riding shoes and helmet. Walking outdoors is also great.

Group Activities. For many of us the social aspect is what makes riding lots of fun. Here are some suggestions:

  • Group rides. Riding in a group at least six feet apart is almost impossible; however, you can do that with another rider. My buddy and I go for a ride and take along lunch.
  • Shared routes. Another option is to ride the same route but not together and then enjoy sharing your experience virtually after the ride, an idea I got from Jan Heine.
  • Zwift. You can do individual rides around the world and chat with your friends and with other riders who are on their bikes at the same time. You can participate in organized rides. You don’t need a smart trainer to use Zwift.
  • Post rides via Facebook, Strava, etc. I make some my rides more interesting to me by coming up with a theme for the ride, stopping and taking photos. I can then post these as a story.
  • On-line programs. You can participate in various on-line challenges. For example, Ted King is offering DYI Gravel, which you can do by riding your road bike on any gravel road. I ride gravel because there’s less traffic. Look on-line for other programs.

Club ride series. The Redmond Cycling Club has created the Solo-na Virus Ride Series to keep riders fit during the pandemic. Help your group of buddies or club create something similar.

Designated streets for cycling and walking. Seattle has started a Stay Healthy Streets initiative. These routes limit vehicles to local traffic to provide safe places for people to bike and walk comfortably. Encourage your city to do this, too, if it isn’t already. For more information here’s an NPR story.

Coach John Hughes

Wander. Your favorite routes may have too many people for you to be comfortable with social distancing. Do a short ride exploring streets and roads around the neighborhood. I live on Wolverine and I’m going to check out Elkdale this afternoon.


Learn skills. As variety learn 10 essential bike handling skills.

Work on your weaknesses. Now is a good time to analyze your riding and determine where you can improve the most. Here’s a column on 10 different areas to consider.

Have a purpose for a ride. If it’s hard to force yourself to get out the door then have a specific purpose for the ride. Your purpose could be a ride that helps you meet your goal(s) or to learn a new skill or to work on a specific purpose. As an example here are 11 trainer workouts for endurance.

Two cautions:

  1. Be self-sufficient. Plan your ride so you won’t have to use any services. Bathrooms probably are closed and you probably won’t be able to get food and water.
  2. Stay safe. Given all the demands on our medical systems now is not the time to go to ER. Here are two columns on cycling safety pt. 1 and cycling safety pt. 2.

Other ideas

Overall fitness. Cyclists ride their bikes, which is great, but you should also do other activities for overall good health. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. That’s about 30 minutes of movement, five times per week. Two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minute workouts can benefit you just as much. This is a good baseline to maintain fitness

The ACSM also makes specific recommendations for activities for strength, flexibility, weight-bearing and balance. Don’t get gung ho and try to add all of these at once — that’s a recipe for failure. Pick one that’s easy for you, e.g., walking, which is both weight-bearing and aerobic exercise at the same time.

On-line workouts. Many gyms, e.g., my YMCA, offer on-line classes, etc. Participating in several classes each week gives some social connection. YouTube is a great resource for free workouts. You can find virtually any type of exercise at any workout length or intensity you’re looking for. One of my riding partners committed a 30-day yoga program with his daughter who doesn’t live at home. They each do the prescribed workout each day and then chat afterwards.

Get an app. Many apps are available both paid and free, that offer guided workouts and routines.

Slip movements into your daily routine. Even if you are mostly housebound, you can still incorporate movement into your day. Instead of trying to “exercise”, think of physical activity as part of your daily life.

  • Use your chores. As mentioned above household tasks add up when done at a brisk pace. They also work the muscles in your arms as well as your legs.
  • Exercise during commercial breaks. Do a few squats, push-ups, quick trips up and down the stairs, planks or crunches. You can either have a regular routine or do them randomly.
  • Take advantage of pauses during the day. Use times when you’re waiting for something to finish or start. Do some arm exercises or a few yoga poses while the dinner is cooking or while waiting for a Zoom meeting.
  • Keep some simple equipment handy. I just got four different strength exercise bands from Power Systems and have a few dumbbells. I can use these during commercials and pauses during the day.

    Coach John Hughes

  • Move around the house. Walk around while you’re on the phone. Get out of your chair and walk around the house outdoors or indoors. Go up and down the stairs more than usual.
  • Hourly. Build in one of the above activities for five minutes at the start of every hour.

Reward yourself. You did it! Find small ways to reward yourself. My daily reward is ice cream watching TV. Make a fruit smoothie after an exercise session (healthier than ice cream.) If you get in an hour of movement today then you can watch a favorite TV show. Call a friend or family member.

It’s all good.
The theme of this column is that all types of physical activity keep you healthy and fit. Some people like the structure of goals, plans, and logging activities. Some people like just doing a variety of physical activities. Just keep moving!

We're each an experiment of one and your experiences may differ.

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