Recently I was having a chat to someone I know, we’ll call him George in this post. George is in his late 50’s and has had a weight problem for as long as I have known him, which must be about 10 years now. He’s hit 26 stone in the past but has lost an impressive amount of weight in the last year as he’s now down to 15 or 16 stone and looking much better.
George knew that I’d also lost some weight in recent years, mainly through running but he knows I cycle as well. He was asking me whether I thought he should take up running, now he’s lost all that weight and his Doctor is recommending he becomes a bit “more active” now.
Seeing as I really love running, I was tempted to say “yes of course, go for it”. Why shouldn’t I? Running is a fantastic sport; I love it for many reasons including its simplicity and fat-burning potential. Mile-for-mile I believe you’re likely to burn off considerably more calories in running compared to cycling.
Then I found myself thinking about the pounding his feet, ankles and knees would take if he took up running. It’s said that when we run, the effect of about 2 or 3 times our body weight lands on our foot with each step we take, regardless of our weight. While we are designed for this, I couldn’t help but thinking this wasn’t such a good thing for George at this stage as it would mean each step landing with a 45 stone load. Step after step after step. Wow 45 stone, that’s quite a weight on his knees and ankles.
So I said “why not combine some power walking with some cycling?”
“Power walking? Isn’t that a girly thing to do? As for cycling, nah I’m too heavy for a bike”
“No don’t worry George, power walking is a good way of getting you breathing and working up a sweat, and cycling will do exactly the same. You can go as fast or as slow as you want. And don’t forget, cycling isn’t really weight bearing so it will be kinder on your joints.”
Leaning towards a bike
George later confirmed he’d given up on the idea of being a lean runner, just for now. But when he said he was taking up cycling and was looking for a new bike I was delighted. I assured him that a decent bike would be fine. Even machine built factory wheels which are on the skinny side could cope with his weight. I’d suggest he aims for a hybrid bike to get him started and having 700 rims there’s a wide choice of tyre sizes. He could go for tyres as wide as 45c or maybe as narrow as 28c. Perhaps he could be looking at a road bike after he’s got into the swing of cycling after a few months and further weight loss – then he’ll be in the market for anything he fancies.
That’s the thing about cycling – it can be a brilliant way of steadily losing weight but without pounding those knees which could lead to injuries. In this respect, cycling is kinder on the body, compared to running. It’s not necessarily second-best to running in terms of weight loss potential. You can ride as hard or as gently as you want to. As George lives in an area where there are a few hills, he may be tempted to give these a go when he’s ready. Huffing and puffing up a steep hill for 3 or 4 minutes is brilliant interval training, where the heart rate is raised nicely and then you can take it easy at the top, or freewheeling down the other side. Freewheeling or gentle pedalling is a good way of recovering after the hard work going up hill, and kind of gives you a reward for the hard work you’ve put in.
For George, it might be worth considering a heart rate monitor, since I know he likes a few gadgets here and there. I would recommend his normal cycling would equate to his heart rate going up to about 60% of his maximum (and able to maintain some conversation). Interval training will push the heart rate much higher, perhaps to 70 – 80% of the maximum heart rate and where any more than a few words becomes impossible. While it is generally good for us to push ourselves in terms of raising our heart rate with interval training, being able to recover and come back down is also important. All this is on the assumption it is okay – medically speaking – to do this as I don’t want to hear of someone keeling over after reading this!