#StayFit 4 - cycling is the perfect alternative training session for open water swimming and swimmers. In this swimming blog open water swimmer Lars explains how he used cycling to stay fit during the corona crisis. It is the perfect work-out as a replacement for the longer cardio work-outs of swimming.

#StayFit 4: Keep your overall fitness high with cycling

Is has been more than one week now since the swimming pools have opened here in the Netherlands. Finally, I was also able to swim a couple of times. The first conclusion for myself is that I stayed incredible fit in the past 8 weeks that I (almost) couldn’t swim. I must admit that my swimming speed and technique is far from optimal, but these are great goals to work on for the upcoming period! Now it is time for blog 4 in the #StayFit series which is all about cycling as alternative training.


Cycling is the perfect work-out as a replacement for your long swim sessions. I bought a mountaintbike especially for these times to ride a lot of kilometers. And of course I already did, to stay fit. During my rides and sessions on the bike I discovered several pros and cons as a swimmer. Are your curious what those pros and cons are? Read along now.

Cycling as a swimmer – summary



The pros

  • Perfect for long cardio work-outs
  • Is not injury sensitive
  • Easy to train your aerobic condition

The cons

  • You’ll need a MTB or a professional bike
  • It is not 100% risk-free
  • It can be difficult to train in higher heart rate zones

And that’s another list of pros and cons. Now it is time to discuss every pro and con in more detail.



Every pro and con further explained



Pro 1: Perfect for long cardio work-outs


From all the sports I picked up – as a replacement for swimming – cycling is one of the best. For me this is the perfect work-out for my long cardio work-outs. I have to admit my mountainbike is not ideal for the real long work, but up to two hours is of riding it totally fine.


Cycling is different compared to running or skipping rope. Those two work-outs are – for me – a no go on the long run. But the problem is: I really need those longer sessions as I am used to practise up to two hours or more in a good swimming session. So, I am really happy I can use cycling to reach my weekly training hours.


I usually ride in the morning, before I start with my internship for my studies. At first, it can be pretty cold but as soon as the sun comes through it is actually very nice. If you like you can put on some music as well and you are all good to go.



Pro 2: Is not injury sensitive


Cycling is not injury sensitive, which is great. In contrary to running where shock resistance can be an issue (you can also read #StayFit 2 for this part). And because cycling is not injury sensitive it is particular good for these long training sessions I talked about. For instance, I can ride the bike for hours and my muscles are still not suffering. It is ideal.


The only thing I sometimes feel is that my hips are getting tight after a while. I can counter this part by staying relaxed while cycling. You can also do some dryland flexibility and mobility excercises which I talk about in #StayFit 3. However, the more I have cycled, the less my hips struggle.



Pro 3: Easy to train your aerobic condition


The last advantage I discovered while cycling is the following. It is the perfect work-out to train your aerobic condition. I also mentoined the importance of the aerboic condition in blog 1 of the StayFit series. With a couple of swim sessions done I felt that I have maintained my overall fitness really well. My condition is actually pretty good and I know it is thanks to all the cycling I did.


Because when you ride it is relatively easy to ride with a low heart rate. This is why is you can train in your lower heart zones: 1, 2 and 3. I usually stay in between the 110 and 140 beats per minute. This way you train your aerobic capacity. With running or skipping rope on the other hand, it is easier to train with a higher heart rate. This is not bad, but it is not priority number 1 in this situation.



Swim blog Lars - professional open water swimmer wants to reach the Olympic Games of Paris 2024 - explains why cycling is a good alternative training for swimming and swimmers. To increase your aerobic condition and your overall fitness level. This is good when you go for a open water swim again. Perfect alternative for the 10K olympic open water distance.



Con 1: You’ll need a MTB or a professional bike


Now that we’ve discussed the pros, it is time to discuss the cons. Cons 1 is unfortunately inevitable. You will need a mountainbike or a professionale bike to train this way. Not every swimmer has such a bike at home. For instance, I didn’t have a mountainbike myself before this special situation.


Luckily, my local bike shop could help me out. I had the opportunity to trade my city bike for a decent mountainbike. This has been a good investment since day one. I can do my sessions on the bike and train my legs. Of course, if I could choose I would go swimming, but swimming in the Netherlands is still far from ideal.


If you want to start with cycling, make sure to check with your local bikeshop. Maybe they can help you if you explain your situation. It is always worth a try.



Con 2: It is not 100% risk-free


Unfortunately, cycling isn’t without risks. Obviously, swimming isn’t either, but I think it is good to highlight this. As a cyclist you are a participant of traffic. And of course you have to comply with the general rules. You can’t go cycle like crazy without paying attention. As a cyclist you are vulnerable, so please be cautious of this.


I also bought a helmet. Let’s call it safety-first. If something happens and you crash, at least you have some protection on your head. I do think a helmet is basic equipment for a cyclist. Luckily, I didn’t experienced such a situation and I hope this is for everyone.



Con 3: It can be difficult to train in higher heart rate zones


The last con is in fact the oppposite of the last pro in this blog. How easy it is to train your aerobic condition, it is even harder to train at higher heart rate levels. Sometimes it can be good to train at a higher heart rate. To trigger the body and to push it harder. I mean in a race you want to perform at your best as well.


I think cycling is not the best sport for this. I haven’t cycled with a heart rate higher than 160 beats per minute. Maybe it is different when you have a professional bike instead of a mountainbike. I don’t know that, because I don’t have a professional bike. But my conclusion stays the same: cycling isn’t the best alternative training for this.


In this case it is better to run or to skip rope. If you enjoy these sports as well you can use these sessions to train with a higher heart rate. You can use cycling to improve your overall fitness. That is how I do it. And I am sure it has helped me stay fit in these past 8 weeks.



Keep doing the alternative training sessions, especially now



Slowly more swimming pools are opening it’s doors which is positive. Unfortunately, I also experienced the new situation for swimming is still far from ideal. And that is why I want to emphasize: keep doing your alternative training sessions.


In the Netherlands we have to keep 1.5m distance at all times. This is also a rule in the swimming pools. If I look at myself, I cannot start with a 20 hour swimming week anytime soon. I don’t think this is actually bad, because I have to increase my swimming hours again step-by-step. So for all of us, try to increase your swimming hours gradually next to your alternative training sessions.


With a good transition from alternative training sessions to regular swimming sessions you start fit and injury free. Good luck to you the upcoming couple of weeks. Next week it is a time for the next and last blog in the #StayFit series. Can you guess what this is about? Let me know in the comments below.



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