Hack Your Daily Routine
In this article, we are going to look at five activities that anyone can easily incorporate into their daily routine to help transform their cycling. I do these activities every day, and I have seen benefits in mental toughness, coordination, balance and skills on the bike, so why not give them a go and let me know how they work for you. The first ‘hack’ is probably the hardest to start doing, especially as the weather is still a bit on the chilly side, but do persevere with it, it does get easier over time.
1. Cold shower
Seriously, you are probably thinking this is some kind of torture technique. But bear with me while I explain the benefits and how to incorporate this into everyday life.
Cold exposure (you may have heard it called cold thermogenesis) achieves a similar level of fat burning to low-level exercise. The body has two types of fat. The first is white fat, which is what most of us think of when we mention fat. The other type is brown fat (also known as BAT or brown adipose tissue). This BAT is actually good for us, and its purpose is to burn calories in order to generate heat.
When the body is exposed to cold, white fat get converted to brown fat. Brown fat burns calories, and so your basal metabolic rate increases, and it can be easier to get a calorie deficit if it is your goal to lose some kgs.
Slowly start your cold shower exposure by switching the hot tap off at the end of your regular shower. Focus on your breathing, take long controlled breaths and tap into channelling positive mental thoughts. Both of these will help overcome the general unpleasantness of the cold shower.
Over time you should be able to spend a greater percentage of your shower time in the cold rather than the heat. Stick with it, and you will become much more mentally resilient and reap the rewards of the health benefits. The mental toughness will transfer to other aspects of your life and mountain biking, such as being able to push through hard training sessions or tough sections of races.
2. Eating with the opposite hand
The science and studies behind this hack show that giving the brain new experiences keeps it healthy.
Research has shown that using your non-dominant hand can result in rapid and substantial help in memory and resilience to aging. It can be as simple (and messy) as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or (my favourite) eating dinner with the knife and fork in the opposite hands.
This also has another excellent benefit of slowing down your eating, which results in better digestions, easier weight loss or maintenance and greater satisfaction with your meal. The longer it takes you to eat your meal, the more it gives your body time to recognise that its full, so you tend to not overeat.
It may seem obvious, but the more you use your brain and expose it to learning new and different tasks, the better it is going to perform in general. This means that you will become a faster learner in all sort of different skills and areas, for example learning a new skill on the bike. Try use your non-dominant hand in many more of your regular daily tasks.
3. Finish each ride with trackstand practice
The trackstand not only looks cool, and is a wicked trick to impress your friends and any onlookers at the traffic lights, but there are many carryover skills for mountain biking.
The trackstand is the hands down best balance drill you can learn on the bike. The low speed balance and coordination needed to fully master tricky switchbacks, rock gardens and difficult climbs can be learnt and enhanced by mastering the trackstand. Being able to track stand with either leg forwards is also something you want to practice. Having your dominant leg forwards will feel the most natural, but challenge yourself and practice with your other leg forwards as well.
Also practice the trackstand seated and standing up: no doubt one will feel easier than the other but practice both, as being able to balance on the bike in any situation will help you immensely when you are out on the trails.
There are a few key pointers that will help:
• Start learning with flat shoes rather than SPD pedals/shoes.
• It is much easier to learn on a slight uphill gradient as it gives you something to push against.
• Always have the front wheel angled left or right, never straight. This helps provide a bigger base of support.
4. The 'do anywhere' arm bar
Let's face it, most of us are either hunched over our desks or hunched over on a bike for a large proportion of our day. The 'anywhere arm bar' is a stretch which can be done multiple times a day to help open up the shoulder and thoracic spine, which are pretty tight for most of us.
It is so simple that you can do it while you brush your teeth, while you wait for the kettle to boil or just about anywhere there is a solid wall.
Use the wall to push the shoulder blade into its socket while you turn away from your extended arm, all the time keeping your shoulder blade down and away from your ear. As you progress with this exercise, so you can move your feet further away from the wall which increase the resistance against your shoulder muscles.
As you turn away from your extended arm, only go as far as is comfortable. If you do this regularly you will see improvements in your range of motion and you will be able to turn further, but don’t push it too hard.
5. Hanging from a pull up bar
I know not all of you will have a pull up bar in the house, but this can also be done on a set of monkey bars in a playground or park. If the bar is too low so you cannot hang without your feet touching the ground, do not worry. You get the same benefits from this exercise by bending your legs and lightly placing your toes on the ground.
The benefits from just ‘hanging’ around are:
• Everyday activities can result in the spine taking quite some loading, hanging helps decompress the spine.
• Better posture by reversing the slouching tendency that so many of us desk warriors have.
• Building a crushing grip strength.
• Stabilising the shoulder by strengthening the smaller stabilising muscles.
Start with just ten seconds hanging, with the aim to progress towards one minute over time. Your tendons and muscles need some time to adapt to this new position, so start with hanging for short periods of time.
There is a caveat to this hanging exercise: there are a few contraindications which would warrant further consultation with you GP or physio before doing this. These are: general shoulder problems, shoulder impingement, shoulder dislocation and lack of range of motion when the arm is above the head.
Hacking your day
These five ‘hacks’ can be easily incorporated into everyday life without much difficulty.
Here is my typical day and how I do it:
Get up, do a 15-second ‘do anywhere arm bar’ on each arm while brushing teeth with non-dominant hand.
Hang on pull up bar for 30 seconds before going for morning ride.
Finish ride with two minutes of track stand practice.
Cold shower: some days this is tougher than others, but I always feel awesome afterwards.
Eat dinner with knife and fork in opposite hands.
Hang on pull up bar for 30 seconds before going to bed.
Brush teeth and do 15 seconds of ‘do anywhere arm bar’ on each arm.
Total extra time taken in the day: two to three minutes. Such a small investment for a great return!
Sarah is a long-time contributor and Performance Cycling Coach at FTP Training. Click here for more.