Help me exercise

Hi, I’m your weblog mistress, and I’m a couch potato.

When my Patient Husband brought home his bicycle (which he still isn’t cleared to ride due to the broken elbow) I began to think it would be a good idea for me to get one too. My pipe dream is that someday, we’ll be able to leave our kids with someone (or heck, by themselves) and go on local trail rides together.

My Patient Husband agrees that someday such a thing may be possible. By my estimation, I have five years to get into shape to do it.

This is how my Patient Husband, he who mows the lawn in nice straight lines, bought his commuter bicycle:
PH: I would like a bicycle to commute ten miles to work. I have researched the issues and would like to discuss the benefits of a carbon fork and test-ride five different styles of bike.
Bicycle Shop: We’ll order some test models and assemble them for you. In the meantime, here’s some more literature about the benefits of an aluminum frame. Within three weeks, you’ll have been able to make your decision.

This is how I bought my bicycle:
Me: I want a bike. I have a coupon.
Target: Here.

Because let’s face it, you don’t need very much bicycle to go around the block in Angelborough.

Interesting point of the day: I have to wear a size 8+ helmet. That’s right: my seven year old daughter and I have the same size head.

I got home and tested the thing out in the driveway, after which the other household guardian angels agreed they understood why my guardian angel might have grey feathers in his wings, when he didn’t about, oh, 40 years ago. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s where I need your help. I am exercise-stupid. I want to come up with something I can do that keeps me on the bike.

I live beside Angelborough Loop, which is almost exactly one mile long by the car’s odometer. It’s got a gradual hill on one side and a rather drastic hill on the other. Meaning I have to push hard to get up the first 3/4 of a mile and then coast at rather scary speeds down the rest. I figured that hill would be my well-intentioned death.

So you’ll imagine my surprise when I took the bike out for its maiden voyage and did it just fine! I was so busy explaining to God that I’d be turning around before I got to the top that I was stunned to actually see the top, and then I was past it, and then I zoomed home courtesy of gravity.

Clearly I have no idea what you’re supposed to do on a bike, mileage wise. On Sunday, I took it out again with Kiddo#2 and we did the loop three times. I felt I could do more, but I stopped.

I need some realistic goals:
-how often should I ride?
-how far should I ride? (In other words, what would a normal human be able to do? What’s the sign that I MUST stop now?)
-Is it better to push until it hurts, or stop before that point?

What’s your experience? And remember, I’m a couch potato and a mom of four, so whatever you suggest, it has to be something realistic.


  1. onebitcpu

    Find an ice-cream shop thats far enough away to net out to zero calories per trip.
    Or if you are taking the kids along, a nice park or playground somewhere close.

    1. philangelus

      I’m not sure how I’d bring the baby and the 5 year old along, though. Kiddo#2 can keep up with me, but I don’t trust Kiddo#3 on an open road, and Kiddo#4 is only 14 months.

      1. onebitcpu

        We had a trailer for that reason. Although I did learn that the extra weight makes steep hills trickier.

        1. philangelus

          Would a couch-potato be able to haul 50 pounds of kids in the trailer?

          The road I’d have to take them through to get to the park is a fairly heavily travelled road and doesn’t have a very wide shoulder. That part also worries me. Although I guess I could drive the bikes over there. (Which seems silly, but you know, I’d give it a try…)

          1. cricketB

            Hauling a trailer is doable, if the destination is close. Our trailer takes only a few minutes (when properly delegated) to move to the other parent’s bike. I’m also told it will hold groceries.

  2. onebitcpu

    Find an ice-cream shop that is far enough away to net out to zero calories.
    If the kids are coming along, a nice park or playground where they can burn off their extra energy is also a good choice. Just make sure its close enough that they can walk their bikes home. Walking one and carrying a second one is not a good way to end a bike ride. Trust me.

    1. philangelus

      I can imagine trying to push a bike while carrying a baby and another kid’s bike would be difficult, yeah. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Jen

    Do you have any measured rails-to-trails paths in your area? Those are nice for getting your basic endurance and confidence up before you start making those longer rides. Only problem is that if you go on the weekends, there are a LOT of kids, dogs, walkers, and other bikers on the path with you…

  4. Jen

    Oh, and to actually answer your questions:
    How often: as often as you like, without getting sick of it. Seriously.

    How far: This is going to change as you build up endurance, but really whatever you have the time and endurance to handle. I wouldn’t worry about mileage right away… just say to yourself, “I have an hour to bike… let’s explore the neighborhood.” If you feel tired before the hour is up, head home.

    Your third question: If you feel pain, STOP. Muscle soreness is one thing, and that means you’re tired and don’t want to be TOO far away from home. ๐Ÿ™‚ Actual, searing pain is bad. If you do end up with that, get your bike setup checked.

    1. philangelus

      I liked the way I had my bike set up, but I found out according to the instructions I had it done wrong, so I had to lower the seat. Haven’t tried it since. But it was comfortable the other way. *whine*

      So stop before terrible pain. Got it.

  5. Jen

    And then you can move up to one of these bikes:

    (Kidding! Kidding!)

  6. cricketB

    Well, my uncle does 100km the first week of spring. He also does 24 hour rides.

    Go for something you enjoy, and make a routine of it. Assuming your 3rd stays on his own bike, treat it like a walk. You go the straight route. He circles in driveways. He’ll get exercise, you won’t get strained.

    Tricks: Keep the tires full — huge difference. (Get kids to experiment for you.) Learn to use the gears — your legs work best at a medium speed.

    Then, could you tell me how it goes? I miss the feel of cycling, but never make time for it.

  7. Rainha

    Everything Jen says ๐Ÿ™‚ Also, keep in mind that helmets expire! Replace them every few years, no point in wearing an unsafe helmet.

    I haven’t been biking in awhile (bike needs repairs), but I really enjoyed having a cycle computer. I felt very accomplished knowing I was going X miles per hour, or that I’d biked 15 miles that day.

    1. philangelus

      My Patient Husband attended a bicycle safety seminar yesterday. The instructor said, apparently, that after three years, a bicycle helmet becomes just a funny hat. Then I found your comment this morning. I had no idea! Mine is brand-new, but my daughter’s needs to be replaced.


      1. Rainha

        You’re welcome! Over time, the styrofoam just dries out. Remember that it could have been sitting on a shelf for a long time before purchase too – there should be a manufacturing date on it somewhere.

        It’s not a well known fact, although I think it should be (hence telling as many people as I can). I only know because my boyfriend was a bike messenger and racer for awhile.

  8. jaed

    Jen has said most of what I was thinking of saying, particularly about pain. A little soreness is OK, it just means you’ve worked your muscles hard. (Not too much – it should be gone within a couple of hours.) Any stabbing pain, any sudden pain, or any pain that is only present when you’re in a particular position (e.g. when you bend your knee) is not OK.

    If you’re developing a routine, one thing I’ve found that helps is to do it every day at a certain time, without fail. Even if it’s raining, even if it’s cold, even if it’s hot, even if you don’t feel great. Here’s the catch: you commit to doing it, but you can do as much or as little as you feel like that day. You can do any sort of trip, long or short, as long as you do it. If all you can stand is to go a couple of blocks and turn around, that counts.

    I found this very helpful in staying out of the “oh I can’t stand to do my quota today, I’ll just do twice as much tomorrow”, and then tomorrow it’s “oh I can’t stand to do twice as much today…” trap.

    1. philangelus

      Oh, that’s a good point. And once I’ve invested in the “startup cost” of actually getting my butt on the bike, I’m more likely to make it worthwhile to go out and do the whole ride rather than getting off in two minutes.

      I didn’t hurt so much after the third time on the bike, so does that mean I didn’t do enough? Should I make it a goal to work until it hurts a bit?

  9. jaed

    No! You should not make it a goal to hurt! ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Seriously, that sounds like a way to start dreading riding on days when you don’t feel very ambitious already.)

    Ideally you should feel pleasantly stretched out – like your muscles and body have been well-used, but not abused. Soreness is usually something you experience when starting out, or when you first start working at a new level of exertion (steeper hills, longer rides, etc.) – but you shouldn’t expect muscle soreness every time you work out well. It’s normal to not be so sore after a few days, it means your body’s starting to get into condition.

  10. cricketB

    Start with something you enjoy. Then experiment with something that makes you sore.

    Proper stretching makes a world of difference, at least it did back when I did aerobic classes. Get the blood flowing. Stretch so things move easily (but not extreme stretching — that loosens things so far they don’t do their job of supporting). Exercise. Exercise slower. Stretch out any muscle that you used (or that was sore last time you biked); this is the time for the long slow stretch. Do mild housework for another 10 minutes. 30 minutes of walk-and-talk immediately followed by computer = sore. Same walk followed by dishes or laundry = fine.

    If the “proper” fit of the bike is uncomfortable, then it’s not proper for you. As you get used to biking, and your muscles get stronger, the more efficient fit might become more comfortable. Yes, the quick release seat adjustment is worth the extra $5 at the bike parts store, so you don’t have to use the wrenches. We have them on the kids’ bikes, too.

    Will check our bike helmet ages this week. Oh, joy. I have a tough head to fit — the straps cut into my neck.