Bicycle Commuting As Training

Can you count your commute to work as training?

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Can you count your commuting miles on a bicycle as training? Triathlon coach Troy Jacobson answers this question and provides tips on incorporating training into your daily ride to and from work. 

Dear Coach,

As a relatively new triathlete/cyclist, I would like to know how commuting to and from work (approximately eight miles one way in my case) affects training. Should I: a) Incorporate it as part of the training despite the short distance and lack of a shower at work, and if so, how b) Go slowly and enjoy the ride but not consider it part of my training, or c) Forgo the bike for my car as training is my primary goal?

-Erick Roen

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Commuting by bike to and from work is beneficial on several levels. Aside from the obvious benefits to the environment that result from cutting back on your driving, a twice-per-day commute can also serve to improve your health, your focus on tasks at work (early morning aerobic exercise tends to have this effect) and your triathlon performance if planned properly and integrated into a well-conceived training program.

Above all, commuting to work on your bike is an opportunity to efficiently increase your cycling training volume above the level you would be able to attain if you drove to work and had to find other times to do all of your bike training. This extra time in the saddle will increase your cycling fitness and probably make you leaner, thus improving your all-important power-to-weight ratio.

Before we address the training aspect, let me first give you some advice regarding that absence of a shower. You definitely don’t want to allow any post-ride “mustiness” to impact your relationship with your coworkers. I’m sure you can work around that small obstacle by using some baby wipes or other sanitizer and taking a clean change of clothes with you.

Assuming you average 16-18 mph, your eight-mile commute takes 20 to 30 minutes door to door. I would like to see you try to go at least 30 minutes, perhaps by adding another mile or two each way, to maximize the training effect.

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Here are some other suggestions to consider:

1. Don’t commute every day. Riding is important, but so are swimming and running if you wish to be a competitive triathlete. Too much ride time can detract from your ability to do the appropriate amount of swim and run training to achieve your goals. I’d suggest commuting two days per week, three max.

2. Focus on technique. I like newer athletes to focus on developing their technical skills before “dropping the hammer.” For example, in the morning commute, commit to a cadence of 100-110 rpm and learn to pedal efficiently, without bouncing or unnecessary upper body movement. For the afternoon commute, maintain the same high cadence and also stand to pedal periodically to develop ease and smoothness with that transition.

3. Go for quality. Once you have developed a solid base of fitness, and as your events draw closer, start integrating quality, or high intensity, into your workouts. For example, warm up for 10 minutes with a fast spin and do some openers—short, hard 20-30-second efforts with equal amounts of easy spinning between them. Then, hammer out a five-mile threshold effort at or slightly above your anticipated race pace, maintaining a lower cadence in the 70-80 rpm range to build strength. Use the morning workout as your technique session and this quality workout as your afternoon session.

4. Don’t get stuck in a rut. In other words, don’t train in the gray zone of moderately high intensity every day. When doing shorter workouts, it’s easy to think that, every day, harder is better. This is not the case, however, as training sort of hard day after day is the biggest mistake newer triathletes tend to make. Remember to differentiate each workout, with some being focused on aerobic base and technique and others being focused on high-quality threshold training.

Overall, I think you’ll see a notable boost in performance in your cycling as a result of regular commuting to and from work. Just remember to bring the baby wipes.

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