First, the Basics
Muscles are where fat is burned. Muscle is the engine. The goal here are two-fold.
First, we are doing Zwift indoor cycling as part of our effort to burn fat. Outdoor riding and especially hill climbs are wonderful for this goal. We need specific efforts in indoor cycling to target fat burning. We need gears and a cadence that will incorporate our strength.
The second goal is retaining and increasing muscle mass. Aerobic exercise by itself will not build the strength we want. Strength exercise like weight lifting prevents the body from stealing unused muscle tissue for energy, protein, and nutrients. Don’t confuse thin with fit. If weight loss is mostly muscle loss, losing fat becomes more difficult.
The body does not like to burn fat. It requires more energy to convert fat into usable fuel than it does to burn simple sugars. To encourage the process of using stored body fat for fuel, we want to exercise early in the morning before eating. Our body should be using fat while we sleep and, in a true sense, we are fasting for those eight to twelve hours. This process will continue by lifting weights, cycling, and jogging. As soon as you increase your cycling or running to a high aerobic effort, you start to burn more calories than your body can provide by converting fat into fuel.
Eating right before exercise will only tell your body to burn those calories instead of using stored fat. There is a totally different approach for athletes before an intense race. Morning workouts will raise your metabolism for up to eighteen hours. Having more muscle through strength training will keep your resting metabolic rate (RMR) higher too.
Sprinting and anaerobic efforts kick your body into burning its supply of muscle glycogen. On the other hand, long endurance training can cause muscle loss. Your body may break down muscle tissue in your arms, back or chest to provide protein, energy, and nutrients to your body. This is why we need to keep calories, nutrients, and protein at the proper levels while reducing fat intake. Marathon runners and many Ironman competitors are training on the edge of what is possible. The risk of long endurance exercise includes overtraining, being under nourished, and suffering muscle deterioration. They may look ultra lean, but often they suffer hormone deficiencies, iron depletion, and training injuries. Leave that to the pros.
Strength training the whole body raises muscle mass. Additionally, it raises hormone levels. With sprinters, the muscle cells in their arms, shoulders, and chest store more fuel (as in carb loading) and provide more energy when needed. This is why a sprinter who uses weight training for only the leg muscles will not become a world champion. But look at well known sprinter is Usain Bolt’s upper body muscle structure!
Weight training is necessary. You might only be able to go once a week and lift. If so, work your entire body. I prefer to go twice a week and do half my body each time. Best scenario is to do some type of weights daily, even just a few minutes with a pair of light dumbbells. Personal trainers are in the best position to access your needs. Always stick to good form, perfect form. Don’t compromise form in order to lift more weight. Do the down movement slowly, eccentric movement. It is the hardest to do in a gym with other people because most don’t set a good example.
Make a Schedule
The best scenario for power cycling is sixty minutes of low intensity exercise each and every day. A good level might also be something like 3 days of 45 minutes, 2 days of 20 minutes, and one day of 90 minutes, with one day open. The minimum amount of exercise is four sessions of 30 minutes each.
Make a Routine
After getting up early a few days in a row, you will want a day to sleep in. You can skip the bike, get up late, make some coffee. But then go for a walk outside or do 20 minutes of other exercise, such as the foundation exercise linked below. Don’t let yourself get lazy. That’s not an option.
If you wake up five minutes before your alarm goes off, that’s a bonus. It may seem hard to do all of this regularly. It will become much easier when it becomes an ingrained habit. Many sources say it takes three to five weeks of steady behavior before our body and mind reprograms. Until then, it may fight you from time to time. Expect a setback or two, a temporary weight gain, a lack of motivation, or some other diversion. It will get easier when your program becomes a habit, the normal routine.
Preparation will help your new routine. Before going to bed, lay out your clothing for the morning. Set up the coffee maker, pack your lunch for work. Take a minute and oil your chain. Check the tire pressure. Above all, make sure you get enough sleep, at least eight hours.
Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration will not only hamper performance. It will hinder fat burning as well. I use filtered water with a splash of lime juice. I find I drink slightly more that way. Read a few more thoughts in the article Hydration for Zwifters.
Variety is the Spice
Keep it fresh. Change your weight routine without trying to add five pounds every workout. Find some new music on Pandora or YouTube. Enter a race, try a group ride, or do a different type of workout. Only did 3 of 6 sections? So what? Next time try to do 4. The improvement is more important than the success.
On the Bike
You might want to ride a straight 45 to 60 minutes every day in a gear that puts your cadence under 80 rpms. Intervals break up the monotony of long segments. Please, don’t use a huge gear that will make your knees ache. Everyone is different. (I am giving general directions but I am not a personal trainer.) All advice has to be tailored to your level of fitness and ability. It is safest to consult a professional that will help you individually.
Here is an example of a low cadence workout at whatsonzwift.com:
Note the effort is in the blue zone. This is a fairly easy ride. You might want to skip the yellow and red sections. Green is medium, yellow is a bit harder. Orange is hard and red is very hard. Remember, the high levels are burning very little fat. If you are gasping for air, then your body has to burn glycogen, sugars, and carbs.
Another example from whatsonzwift.com
Note this is a very long workout. It does use the blue and green zones well. Don’t forget, when you use a workout like this, you can skip ahead by hitting the tab button. Use it to shorten your warm-up or finish early. I left the Zwift ad in there on purpose.
Core Training, Foundation Work, and Weight Training
I have found these videos to be of great benefit personally. There are many other programs and routines available. Check the source and their credentials. As stated everywhere: “Check with your Doctor especially regarding any health conditions you may have.”
I have been taught through the Colgan Institute and reflect a lot of that in my training, diet, and advice. I am always learning more on nutrition and diet.