Sitting not so pretty

I’m only a part-timer when it comes to cycling, and I’ve taken most of the winter off. I went out this weekend for my first proper ride back; only a couple of hours to work myself back in gently. By the evening, my backside felt really sore, a bit bruised and uncomfortable to sit on. What’s happened to me since the summer? Will I toughen up or do I need to think new shorts or saddles?
John Cavendish, email

If you are feeling bruised rather than rubbed or sore then it could well be a case of needing time to “toughen up”. Your sit bones – ischial tuberosities – are the nobbly, sticky-out bones that take part of your weight when you sit down, whether in the saddle or on a chair. In most people they don’t have much natural cushioning so bouncing around on them on a firm saddle can leave them feeling a bit tender. Check the obvious things first. Make sure your position is right and your saddle is either level or very slightly nose down. Make sure that when you are sat down and leaning forward on the bars your sit bones are the major point of contact with the saddle and that they are supported by the broader cushioning at the back. Wearing properly padded shorts under your baggies is a must for an XC ride. Check the padded insert is still soft or buy new shorts. After a few rides you’ll find it’s improved.

Couch potato

Despite a huge amount of enthusiasm last summer, I haven’t ridden my bike at all since the end of September. The sun’s out again and I’m looking forward to doing some events. It’s just dawned on me that it’s time to pull my finger out and start doing some riding as I’ve lost a lot of fitness. How long will it take me to get back to my previous fitness levels after six months of couch potato activity?
S Daniels, email

Firstly you are going to need a lot of patience and persistence. Your first few rides back will hopefully prove to be fun and inspirational, reminding you what you love about mountain biking, but equally you are going to be frustrated. After 6 months off the bike, hills you used to breeze up and single track you nailed every time are going to feel like hard work. You will have lost a fair amount of your speed and the power you need to get up short, sharp gradients. You might find your handling skills aren’t as good as they used to be either. One of the key principles of fitness training is that the effects are reversible. If you really have done nothing at all for 6 months, your fitness levels will have dropped to the same as those of someone sedentary who has never done anything at all. The good news is that you’ll get back to where you were a lot quicker than they would starting from scratch. Start off with rides that are much shorter than you used to do and gradually build up distance. Aim to ride 3-4 times a week. Mid-week rides only need to be 30-90mins long, but consistent riding several times a week will make more difference to your overall fitness than one or two long, hard rides at the weekend.

Cold comfort

With two kids, both of pre-school age, I’m finding that this year I seem to be more prone to getting run down and ill than previously, and as a consequence my riding is suffering.
The extra time and effort of looking after two small kids is wearing me down, but I am still trying to exercise at the same levels as before. Is the tiredness hammering my immune system and making me more susceptible to colds?
Charlie Russell, email

Young children have a tendency to pick up everything going and pass it on to their families. Children start to get colds at 6 months and then average 7-8 a year in their pre-school years. Ask any parent and they will say they frequently got ill in the early years of having children.
After hard training, your immune system remains weakened for several hours. You could try avoiding close contact with your kids until after you’ve been home for 4 hours, but that isn’t going to be practical. Instead, look at ways of helping support your immune system. If you are training heavily, try using a recovery drink with glutamine, such as RecoverMax by Maxi-muscle, or Science in Sport Rego, immediately on your return. Be clinical with your hygiene: wash hands frequently whether you think they need it or not. The cold virus enters your body when you rub your eyes, put something in your mouth or pick your nose, so don’t! Be careful not to share any cups or eating utensils with the kids.
Echinacea has some good research supporting it’s use in the early stages of a cold or as a preventative — ask in your local health food shop for advice — and vitamin C and zinc can help reduce the time it takes to shift a cold once you’ve got it.
The golden rule with exercise if you have a cold is that if symptoms remain above the neck, train lightly; but if symptoms are below the neck, ie a sore throat or chesty cough, stay home till the symptoms have gone.